Tag Archives: DropBox

Dropbox: A Superb Classroom Tool

This has been reblogged from its original post at Voices from the Learning Revolution

Dropbox: A Superb Classroom Tool

When I mention Dropbox to friends and colleagues, I usually get one of two responses – a knowing smile and nod, or a puzzled and quizzical look. Whether you know what the program is, you have likely heard the name. But really, what is Dropbox?

Dropbox is many things — a multifaceted tool that’s so powerful, you’ll continue to discover new ways to use it. But the short and sweet of it is this: you can use it to store and sync documents and files across computers, tablets, and smart phones. I can write a lecture or lesson plan on my computer at home, put it in my Dropbox folder, and whoosh – it’s synced with my work computer. During my free period at school, I can open that file, make a few changes, and the changes are automatically synced with my home computer. It’s seamless, fast and free. Watch this and then read on to learn some of the ways I’m putting Dropbox to work in my classroom.

How Dropbox works

So, how can you use Dropbox as an educator? There are many ways that you can do this. One is to just manage your own material and make it more readily accessible. My PowerPoint presentations are very image intensive and quickly get over 20MB – not an emailable size (my server limits email space to 5MB). Rushing around in the morning, it’s easy to forgot to copy the new version of a big file onto my flash-drive. By keeping my lectures and other school materials on Dropbox, I always have access to the most recent changes.

Additionally, many applications that you likely use (Evernote, Things, 1Password, Elements, to name a few) have a Dropbox sync option. Check your favorite applications to see if they have a “save to Dropbox” feature. Since Dropbox works across platforms and devices, you can use a Mac at home, a PC at work (which I do), a Blackberry phone and an iPad, and you will have access to your documents on *all* of them (there are also Dropbox apps for iPhone, Android and Linux). Thanks to Dropbox’s syncing magic, your documents will be up to date at all times on all devices.

Using Dropbox with students

In addition to making your life a lot easier, Dropbox can be a great teaching/learning tool – and this is why I introduce it to my students. The first thing to do is to create a sharing folder for each class you teach so you can make information available to your students (PowerPoints, hand-outs, reading assignments, whatever).

You can call this folder anything. For my history classes, I usually use the word “share” and create folders with names like “Ancient History Share.” When you go to your Dropbox page on the web, this screenshot gives you some idea of what you will see.

Next step: Put your mouse over the folder and click on the arrow to the right – a drop-down menu will appear. Select “Invite to Folder.”

Next, you will get the window shown below. Input the email addresses of your students (this will also invite them to join Dropbox, giving you and them the free 250MB). You can also input a message like: “Accept this invitation to have access to our course materials.”

Once you have invited students, this becomes a “Shared Folder.” Whoever has access to this folder (everyone who has been invited and accepted the invitation) can add files, download content, and (whether you like it or not) delete content. However, only *you* (as the owner of the folder) can delete or edit out content permanently. If you want to check and see if there have been any inappropriate changes, click on the folder in Dropbox and then click on “Show Deleted Files.”

As the owner of this Dropbox account, you’ll be able to see what was deleted, when, and by whom. You can restore any deleted file or (if a student modified it) revert to an earlier version. I try to upload only locked PDF files to prevent students from accidentally altering content.

How do I employ Dropbox in my classroom?

I use Dropbox in a number of ways. Here are several:

  • To store additional copies of hand-outs. Students know to re-download and print on their own here if they missed a hand-out due to an absence or simply lost it (no one ever asks me for another copy).
  • To distribute PowerPoint presentations – most are too large for email.
  • As a way for students to turn in homework assignments. It’s an easy electronic homework drop (compared to email) and will time stamp submissions.

Dropbox can also be a useful tool in managing student projects and presentations. In my classes students use Dropbox to submit the visual components of class presentations, for instance. It’s a huge time saver, as it otherwise takes several minutes for students to log in/out of their school accounts to access presentations. If you don’t have individual accounts, you’ll quickly find ways to let Dropbox help you work around that issue.

With Dropbox, I also can visually determine that students have completed a particular portion of a project or presentation assignment. Best of all, since all presentations are “turned in” to same same virtual place, every student can access his or her presentation via one log-in (a huge time saver when you’re trying to get through many presentations in a single 50-minute class).

Students catch on quickly

I began using Dropbox during the first weeks of school. By the end of the school year, I noticed that more and more students were using Dropbox on their own. They would store homework assignments there for easy access (many of my students have at least two homes, rotating between parents, and also need quick access to material while in school. Synching makes keeping up simple).

Students can use Dropbox on their phones to review handouts (rather than a print-out, ultimately saving paper). And many of them have begun to sync their files across multiple computers outside of school. A few have even demonstrated Dropbox’s features to their parents.

This isn’t a program you will have to teach your students to use. Don’t be surprised if in a few weeks, they’re showing you some tricks you haven’t even considered. That’s something I always encourage. (Any student who can show me a new ed-tech trick gets 5 points of extra credit.)

Dropbox is more of a mega-utility than a simple tool. It begs you to think up new ways to use it, in and out of the classroom. If you download a free copy of Dropbox via this link, you’ll get an extra 250mb of storage space for free. Install it on your computers and any other compatible devices. Play with it and see what it has to offer!

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Update – Conference Talk: From Enemy to Asset, Cell Phones in the Classroom

Today, I gave my talk “Cell Phones in the Classroom: From Enemy to Asset,” (see my previous post on preparing for it) for the Independent Curriculum Group at the beautiful campus of St. Stephen’s Episcopal School in Austin, TX. Here was the published summary of my talk:

From Enemy to Asset: Cell Phones in the Classroom
Cell phones have replaced note-passing as the biggest distraction in the classroom. Schools have tried to attack the problem with blanket bans or restrictive policies. But what if instead of viewing cell phones as the enemy, we use them as teaching tools? Most students have more computing power in their pocket than was used by NASA to send men to the moon. This session will explore innovative classroom uses for cell phones.

I was quite nervous about this talk – my colleagues were entirely strangers, I was in a new environment, talking about a ‘controversial’ topic and at the last minute I found out two horrifying facts: that the session would be 75 minutes (I had anticipated 50-60) and that I would be presenting first! The night before, I spent a lot of time tossing and turning as well as frantically changing my content.

The day began and my room ended up being packed – we were dragging in extra chairs and for a time, it was standing room only. Seems like this was a topic that hit home for a lot of faculty – after all, cell phones are pervasive.

Turns out, I had a great audience. They were incredibly talkative and engaging. They asked pertinent questions, brought up legitimate concerns, and shared constructively. In fact, my problem wasn’t that I couldn’t fill up the time, I just didn’t have enough!

We spent most of our time playing with Poll Everywhere. I’ve posted previously about my very positive experiences with the software in previous blog posts. They liked its ease of use, the broad application, and moderator features. In fact, we spent probably 70% of the time talking about this particular piece. Here’s an example of one of our ‘back-channel’ chats

We next moved on to DropBox (if any conference attendees are reading this, remember this is the link that will get you 250mb of bonus space!) – I was surprised by the number of teachers that were unfamiliar with this program, but they all became excited quite quickly at its cross-platform capabilities, file storage and transfer, as well as means of distributing materials to students who now seem loathe to check their own emails (my students often ask me to text them when I email something important). I highlight DropBox in my post about using your Smart Phone to go paperless (or less paper-y).

By the time I finished both of these products, we had only a few minutes left. I showed them a few examples of other products, namely Scanner Applications (like Genius Scan Pro) that students can use in their process of research (and help organize with DropBox or Evernote).

A few of the conference goers stayed after ‘the bell’ to ask me about some of the creative suites (that I used for digital storytelling projects, which you can read about here). I also put out a stack of business cards that were collected up – hopefully to contact me in the future, but possibly to ensure they got the spelling right on their complaints.

I didn’t get a chance to distribute my handout (not sure what happened to my copies). But you can download a copy of it here: Austin Presentation (it includes all of the software I went over, or planned to go over, in the talk).

Using your Tablet & Smartphone to go Paperless (or Less Paper-y)

As of late, I’ve been trying to use less paper and to encourage my students to do the same. I certainly have not become paperless, but I have eliminated a lot of my paper-useage. I would love to continue this trend and still am looking for some alternative options to go wholly paperless. I still collect some written homework, students still work with their hands, and I still find reading/editing on paper easier than digitally. Still, there are a few options for me.

Alternatives to “Hard Copy” Assignments

One, when possible, I ask students to post on the class blog as opposed to handing in an assignment. This is especially good for tasks that I would like them to share. This way, they can also easily add links, pictures, and even videos. It’s still not great for all assignments and requires internet access. Currently, my students do not have access to computers & the internet 100% of the time (we book computer lab time), so this generally requires some advanced planning (at least a few days). Also, a lot of my students do their homework on buses to/from extra-curricular activities (often not getting home until 9 or 10 pm). so, this is not always feasible. At my husband’s school, many students do not have computers at home.

However, I have found that this is a great activity so long as I plan ahead for the project. You can see some of my examples below:

Using Blogs in Class – AP Art History

First Week Using Class Blogs

Update on Blogging in Class

This is still a work in progress for me. I’m finding things that work and others that do not work. Plus, I have some students that are very excited about it and others not as thrilled about the technology aspect.

Another great tool for students to hand in assignments is DropBox. I personally don’t like it when students email me their assignments as its so easy for it to get lost in my inbox. Plus, 47 assignments labeled “homework” is not remotely helpful. If I have them do a hand-in via DropBox, then I require that they save it in a particular format, e.g. “Homework57.Last Name.doc”. I have noticed that I must deduct points if they don’t save it properly, otherwise I get 47 DropBox files all labeled “Homework”. With projects, I will even have designed folders, see these AP Art History Assignments:

This is also a great way for students to share their assignments with one another (something I like them to do in Art History).

If you’re not familiar with DropBox, I highly recommend checking out my article: “DropBox – An Excellent and Free Resource for Educators.”

Alternative to Paper Hand-Outs

In all of my classes, I supplement with primary source readings, activities, work-sheets, whatever I feel a particular lesson calls for. I’ve started to distribute these in advance electronically and encourage my students, whenever possible, to not print it up – rather to access it electronically. This is not feasible for everyone, but the 70% with Smart-Phones use them in class.

Again, DropBox is a great tool for this – especially as many of the files I distribute are too large for email. I like to save them in PDF (Portable Document Format), and then I put them right into our “Shared” DropBox folder.

To access these, students have a few options. They can use a free PDF Reader like Adobe and then download, open, and print to bring to class. If they have a Smart Phone or a Tablet, they can download the free DropBox Application, download, and read electronically in class. If they would like to take notes on their electronic copy, they will need an application like PDF Reader Pro or iAnnotate. These will allow the user to highlight, make notes, and more.

Avoiding the Copying Machine

Perhaps the greatest arena of waste of paper is the copier. I’ve made too many copies, not enough, photocopied the wrong thing, dealt with mis-feeds, and seen so much paper thrown in the trash. Likewise, I’ve seen my students make a few dozen copies and then promptly toss them in the trash.

One solution for copies in the library is to encourage students to use their Smart Phones to take photos instead of make copies. There are several applications that will do this, my favorite are Genius Scan – PDF Scanner. This application will allow you to take pictures and convert them to PDF. It is specifically designed for use on documents, so it will focus and improve resolution to enhance text. Additionally, you can upload to DropBox or Evernote, email it to yourself, or simply store it on your device.

There are a lot of other applications that do the same: DocScanner, ScannerPro, Document Scanner, and more.

Not only great for my students, but I can use them in lieu of the copy machine myself.

These are only a few of the tools that I’m using. I’d love to hear others.

Best iPhone (iOS) Apps for Students

Today, my 9th graders were working in the library on their research papers. I had put a slew of books on reserve to ensure that all of the students would have access to them. However, this also meant that the students could not check them out of the library to use at home. One of the students was lamenting how many photocopies she would have to make and I suggest that she use her iPhone to take pictures of the pages using an iPhone Scanner App (Genius Scan – PDF). She quickly downloaded it and was thrilled with what she could do with it – especially that she could sync it with her DropBox account. She then mentioned that I ought to write a blog post about the best iPhone Apps for students. So, due to a student request, here it is (PS – most of the time, there is an Android equivalent).

DropBox (Free) – DropBox is by far the single best and most useful application for students. It allows you to sync files across devices – invaluable if you’re always on the go. You get 2GB of storage for free (more than enough for documents). If you join from this link, you’ll get an extra 250MB for free.

Genius Scan + – PDF Scanner ($2.99) – this allows you to turn your iPhone into a pocket scanner and upload documents to DropBox, Evernote, and Google Docs! If you’re in the library a lot and paying your life savings to the copy machine, this can save your sanity and your checkbook. With PDFs, you can even annotate and highlight. There is a free version, but doesn’t have the same syncing option.

Evernote (Free and Paid Options) – Evernote allows you to organize all of your notes via a collective database. You can clip articles, record receipts, leave yourself voice notes, etc. It’s so flexible, that you can adapt it to practically any environment.

Instapaper ($4.99) – allows you to download and save websites for offline reading. So, if you have a lengthy Wikipedia article, to read, simply select to “Read it Later.”

Pages ($9.99) – Apple’s word processing application in iOS form. With the new release of iCloud, you can now access your documents on all of your devices. Great little device for carrying your projects with you, editing, and creating.

Numbers ($9.99) – Apple’s spreadsheet application in iOS form. With the new release of iCloud, you can now access your documents on all of your devices. Great little device for carrying your projects with you, editing, and creating.

Keynote ($9.99) – Apple’s presentation application in iOS form. With the new release of iCloud, you can now access your documents on all of your devices. Great little device for carrying your projects with you, editing, and creating.

Mindmeister (Free & Paid Plans) – Amazing mind-mapping software. Great for outlining and collaborating.

TED (Free) – Catalogue of Ted-X talks.

Google Translate (Free) – Great tool for quick, on-the-go translations. You can even speak phrases!

Merriam Webster Dictionary (Free) – America’s most popular dictionary, free!

Phone Drive + File Sharing ($1.99) – Use your iPhone/iPad as a USB/WiFi flash drive. Play, browse, share, organize, and use your files right on your iPhone or iPad. There is also a free version with fewer features.

Google Search (Free) – Take a picture on your phone and run it through google’s image search! Seriously! Download this application, take a photo of a work of art or a building, and search by the image! It’s amazing! You can also do traditional google searches and even voice searches!

I know that there are many more useful applications out there. Please help by sharing your favorite apps!

Update – Using a Class Blog in AP Art History

I previously posted about using a class blog in conjunction with DropBox to do bi-monthly visual projects in AP Art History. You can read about them here: “Using Blogs in Class – AP Art History” and “DropBox – An Excellent and *Free* Resource for Educators.” This week, my students presented their second version of the project. They continue to impress me as they develop and hone their critical writing skills and ability to view and analyze Art. I am very happy with how this project has been developing for several reasons: it is a repository of visual information for the students to develop their image catalogue, they share information and further research on objects, it provides them regular and reviewed practice in analyzing and writing about Art, they are practicing their public speaking skills, and they are learning to read and constructively analyze their peers’ work.

Here are the instructions for the project itself:

For extra credit, I allow them to comment meaningfully on one-another’s stories. It encourages them to read each other’s work and to think about it seriously.

Here is an example of some of their phenomenal work this week.

DropBox – An Excellent and *Free* Resource for Educators

One thing that I will require of my students this Fall is that they all register for a DropBox account. If you are unfamiliar with DropBox it’s a ‘cloud’ syncing tool – it allows you to sync files across computers and devices. I’m always surprised when I meet other faculty or friends or students that have never heard of this amazing tool. If you do any work from home and then at the office and are used to transferring files via email (a pain if it’s a large file) or flash-drive (which are now prone to viruses and many employers block), DropBox is a God send. It keeps all of your files, documents, and other materials synced and readily accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection. What also makes it a life-saver is that it does not require a physical installation (although that is a great feature). You can access, upload, and download files from their website. If your employer is like mine, you generally cannot install software on your machine. This is a great work around.

This video is put out by the people of DropBox and gives you a brief intro and overview:

Now, DropBox starts you out with 2GB of space for free. There are quite a few ways to increase this amount of space. First and foremost, join DropBox from this link – it will give you an additional 250MB of space. The most effective way to get free space is to invite your friends (or require your students) to join – invite them and once they install the software, you will both get 250MB of free space (up to 8GB). If you have a .edu account (or your buddies do), they will double it! Sadly, this is *only* for .edu addresses – they refuse to acknowledge my school which has a .org email system.

So, how can you use DropBox as an educator? There are many ways that you can do this. One is to just manage your own material and make it more readily accessible. My PowerPoint presentations are very image intensive and quickly get over 20MB – not an emailable size (my server limits to 5MB) and, rushing around in the morning it’s easy to forgot to copy the new version onto my flash-drive. By keeping my lectures on DropBox I always have access to the most recent changes. Additionally, many applications that you likely use have a DropBox sync option. To see a list of applications that have partnered with DropBox check out the DropBox Apps page. DropBox works across platforms and devices – this means that you can use a Mac at home, a PC at work (which I do), a Blackberry phone and you will have access to your documents on *all* of them (they also have apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Linux).

In addition to making your life a lot easier, DropBox can be a great tool in the classroom – and this is why I use it for my students. The first thing to do is to create a folder for a particular class that you will use for information that you want to share (PowerPoints, hand-outs, reading assignments, whatever). You can call this folder whatever you want, I usually call it something like “Ancient History Share”). When you go to your DropBox page on the web, this is what you will see (well, similar – it depends on what your folders are):

Next, put your mouse over the folder and click on the arrow to the right – a drop-down menu will appear. Select “Invite to Folder”

Next, you will get this window – input the email addresses of your students (this will also invite them to DropBox giving you and them the free 250MB). You can also input a message, e.g. “Accept this invitation ot have access to course materials.”

Once you have invited students, this is now a “Shared Folder” – this means that whoever has access to this folder can add files, download content, and (whether you like it or not) delete content. However, only *you* can delete or edit permanently. If you want to check for changes, click on the folder in DropBox and then click on “Show Deleted Files”

You will be able to see what was deleted, when, and by whom – you can also restore the deleted file or, if a student modifies it, revert to an earlier version. I try to upload only PDF files to prevent students from accidentally altering content.

So, how do I use DropBox in my classroom? For a number of reasons:

  • To store additional copies of hand-outs, students know to re-download and print on their own here if they missed it due to an absence or simply lost it.
  • To distribute PowerPoint presentations – most are too large for email.
  • A way for students to turn in homework assignments – it’s an easy electronic homework drop (rather than email).
  • For students to submit visual components of in class presentations – it takes several minutes for students to log in/out of their campus accounts to access presentations. With DropBox, I can visual determine that they have completed this portion of the assignment and all may access from one log-in.

I have several students who use DropBox as an and-all-be-all homework drop, this way they always have access to assignments be it on campus or at home.

It’s an amazingly flexible tool that can facilitate a lot of activities that educators (and all people can use) that is free!! Check it out!

TVS Tech Kids – Final Day

Today was our last day of class. It was an intense experience, but very rewarding. Some of the tools went over better than others.

Today, we proceeded with the lesson plan for Google that I devised. The previous day, the students asked me if they could spend more time playing with the various Google Applications, and I gave them the last 30 minutes of class to do so. With Google Docs, I had them create and share a file with their classmates. One of them commented on how cool it was that they could see the name and time of the person who edited.

They played with a number of additional tools – Google Earth was the most popular and they really loved the Google Goggles feature of the mobile app search. Those who had capable phones started running around the classroom and taking photos (only a few searched successfully). As all of our other lesson plans, we had a Mind Meister map created

I also took about five minutes to introduce the students to DropBox. DropBox is one of my favorite free applications of all time. Heck, it will likely go into best software paid or free. If you’re unfamiliar with DropBox, they have a great video that introduces you to the tools:

If you decide to sign up, do it from one of my links above (you and I will both get a free additional 250mb of storage).

Here is another great instruction/how-to video on using DropBox

The last 30 minutes of class, I let them play around with any tools they liked – most of them played with Google Earth others with Evernote… the most popular were the applications that also felt like games with Google Flight Simulator being the most popular.

Afterwards, I asked the students if they honestly saw themselves using any of these tools in their school work. Some of them said no, but when I started to ask more directed questions like “What about using Google Docs to make a Presentation?” or “How about using Evernote to organize your research?” They started to make some more direct connections. One of them even asked me if I would be teaching another class on this material this summer.

It was a good summer – it was my first tech class. Most of the kids were eager and open to learning new material. They were all bright an innovative and I had a great time with them. There are definitely things I would do differently if I taught this class again.

If you want to see my lesson plans, you can see them here:

Day 1

Day 2

Day 3 (and this would be day four’s).

The software we specifically used was:

Mind Meister

Diigo

Evernote

DropBox

Google Docs and various other Apps you can find at Google