Tag Archives: PLP

Google Drive: A Better Method for Giving Student Feedback

This is reblogged from my post at PLP Voices.

google-drive-logoLast year Google Docs was upgraded to become Google Drive. Like its predecessor, Google Drive allows you to create and share documents with ease. The enhanced Google Drive format has given the program some wonderful additional features that I encourage you to explore. However, right now I want to highlight how useful Google Drive is in providing feedback for students. (If you are not familiar with Google Drive, here is a brief video highlighting the concept.)

Google Drive is entirely free and works within any browser, although to enjoy all of its features, you do need to use Google’s Chrome Browser. Chrome is also free and will allow you to integrate content and material across devices and platforms. It’s certainly worth adding to your software toolkit.

Using Google Drive with student writers

With Google Drive students can create a variety of content, but here we are going to focus on word processing documents.

Create New DocumentThe Google Drive word processor is less feature-packed than Microsoft Word or Apple’s Pages — which actually makes it easier to use. That said, Google has included most of the popular word processing features, including text formatting, headers & footers, image insertion, etc.

Students will need a Google account to create and share documents; this is the way Google assures that document access can be controlled by the creator. When creating a new document, students simply select “create” and then “document.” Voila! A new text document appears and they proceed in the same way they would using any other word processor.

What makes Google Drive different is the ability to share documents with others. If a student shares a document with you (their teacher), you now have the ability to not only view the document, but to make revisions or comments along the way. (Be sure students choose the “can edit” option when they give you sharing privileges.)

Share-350The share/feedback feature is a really powerful teaching tool.

Instead of emailing documents back and forth (which is a huge pain with many opportunities for confusion) teachers can go quickly to Drive, find and open the student’s paper in the Drive table of contents, and make “live” comments and corrections on the student’s paper.

There are no duplicates or separate versions floating around in your inbox or mail folders — the student’s document is always available in the cloud at your Google Drive account.

To make a comment simply highlight a section with your cursor and click the “comment” button. You can add as little or as much text as you would like. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself giving students more feedback, more often, and in less time, thanks to Google Drive.


You can track the history of revisions

Google Drive also makes it easy to track revisions and a document’s history. After you make comments on your students’ writing and they make changes, you can go back and trace the alterations they have actually made, step by step, over the course of creation. Just select File > See Revision history and click on any date/time. If it’s too much detail, click on Show less detailed revisions. With a few minutes of review, you’ll have a better sense of how responsive students have been to your feedback and perhaps see ways you can make your feedback more effective.

Once the student’s paper is complete, it’s simple to pull a copy from Google Drive in any of several formats (including MS Word and PDF) by selecting File > Download as… or simply choosing File > Print.

More tools to play with

Once you have mastered the basic elements of Google Drive, it’s time to play with the advanced features. You can explore many tools for teachers at the Chrome store.

One of my favorite new techniques is to leave my students voice notes. By using the freeLearnly Voice Comments tool, you can incorporate your own spoken comments into any Google Drive document. This is a great way to provide broader feedback. Here’s a teacher at YouTube, describing how it works:

Shifting your classroom from paper or computer-resident writing systems into the cloud may seem like a big and even intimidating step. But the payoff is worth the effort. By harnessing the power of Google Drive, you can explore your students’ writing process in depth, at the click of a link, and provide them regular, dynamic and meaningful feedback. As a result their writing and research skills will improve and the feedback process will become more fluid and enjoyable for you.

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!

Powerful Learning Practices – Interview with Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach

This year, I have had the privilege of working with the PLP community (Powerful Learning Practices). It is an organization of educators that helps individuals to create action based learning projects for teachers and administrators in a professional development context. The year has been busy and, at times, overwhelming. However, I’ve learned so much and have had my own beliefs and practices reaffirmed.

Check out this interview that Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach recently gave about Passion-based learning in the 21st century. This is a great article that focuses on incorporating students’ interests and passions into the classroom – allowing them to drive their own education (to a certain degree) based on what interests them.

It’s not about ignoring the testing, the core curriculum or the standards. It’s about allowing them to pick an entry point they’re really excited about.

Read her interview here and you can also follow her on twitter.