OTR Links for 08/29/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Another Hand-in Option

I had this blog post queued and ready to go to complement the Dropbox / Dropitto.me post yesterday.  I didn’t expect the reaction to the original post though.  On Twitter, a spitting match about other services arose.  It’s always good to have a discussion but there’s no changing some people’s minds once they’re firmly convinced they’re right.  There was a great deal of positive feedback from people that I’m sure will give it a shot with students.  Then, there was a comment that Dropbox was blocked within a particular school district.  What a range of responses.  Anyway, I’ll proceed…

The Dropbox / Dropitto.me combination seems to me to be very easy to set up and use.  Just put a link to your upload site in your wiki or on your webpage and students can easily submit assignments.  No degree in Computer Science is necessary.  The only minor gotcha is that you have to leave the current page to perform the action and once you’re there, the design of the upload page is not customizable.  For all intents and purposes, I would consider these to be insignificant when you’re looking for ease of setup and subsequent ease of use.

But, with a little more work, things can be a little more seemless.  There’s a tad more work setting up a Jotform but you might find it worthwhile for hand-in and much more.  There is a free version with paid upgrades.  I decided to give the free version a shakedown.

What Jotform does is prepare the interface with the code to create a real form for your wiki page.  Using a simple-to-use drag and drop interface, you just drag the elements that you want to appear on your form to a workspace.

Each of the elements is configurable.  I decided to see how difficult it would be to create a hand-in folder logic and then embed it into a wiki page.

I was quite impressed with the selection of tools along the left side.  I pulled out a Heading and then a File Upload tool and customized both.  Under Power Tools, I see that they have the ability to insert a Captcha.  I’ve always wanted to do that and now I could.  Just to be annoying, I decided to redirect back to my blog after a file was submitted.  What I really liked was the collection of themes to automatically colour and change the design of your form.

So, I played around for a bit and it was time to put it on my wiki page.  There’s an “Embed Form” that opens a huge collection of destinations for your form.  Unfortunately, PBWorks wasn’t one of them but I just asked Jotform to give me the Embed Code.  Once copied, I went to my wiki page and asked PBWorks to “Insert HTML”, pasted the code generated and saved it.  All’s good so far.  Time to test…

It worked as promised.  (The annoying redirect at the end of the submission is really annoying – I’d think that through better if I was going into production with this.)  So, where did the file go?  Jotform will store your submitted files on their site.  When you select “My Forms”, you get a listing of all of the forms in your workspace and a badge indicates the number of new items.

If you’re interested, you can also configure this to send your files to your Dropbox account.  Once you head off to check submissions, you can download a summary as an Excel or CSV file – a nice touch to compare against your class list to make sure that you’ve got them all.  The whole process went very nicely.  I registered and was up and running literally in minutes.  The flexibility and the ability to customize was quite impressive.

The catch?  Here’s the rub.  I was using the Basic version of the product.  Most of the features are available but there are some limitations designed to make you move to a commercial version.  You’re limited to 100MB of storage space and 100 uploads a month.  Jotform is nice in that it does support payment systems and SSL connections but, again, there is a limitation to the number that you can use.  The first price up is $9.95 a month.  That level gives the amount of functionality that you’d use in the classroom but that equates to $100 a year.  I don’t see too many teacher budgets affording that.  This really is a nice product, generating a nice interface using a best of class builder and toolset.  It’s a shame that there isn’t flexibility in pricing for education use.

But, if Dropbox is blocked at your district, this may prove to be an option that will work for you.

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OTR Links for 08/28/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Dropbox as a Hand-in Folder

Dropbox is a terrific utility for storing files online.  It’s accessible with any computer that can connect to the internet.  (Don’t ignore the fact that your portable device is also a computer…)  If you’re interested in cloud storage, this is the real deal.  Just upload to your Dropbox account and access it from anywhere.  It should come as no surprise that you can share those files with others as well.

But, that’s not the story here.  Cloud is cloud.  But, I’m thinking now of real-world classroom applications.  Many systems will have centralized storage so that students can hand in their work.  The problem, though, is that they typically have to be using a school computer attached to the school network at school.  There’s a lot of school there!  If you’re moving to a more open approach to assignments, this sort of logic is old school.  Consider the following scenarios that just spring to mind.

1)     A student is using her own personal device and is attached to a guest network at school;
2)     A student is using her own personal device and is attached to the wireless at her favourite restaurant or her network at home.

Old school logic says to email it to the teacher (which means giving out your email address to students) or put it on a memory key, remember to put it in her backpack, plug the memory key into a computer at school and then submit it.

Now, if you’re using a wiki or learning management system, uploading of files is typically built into them so run with that.  But, what if you don’t want the hassle or don’t need the functionality of managing that?  Head back to Dropbox and see what else you can do with it.

This is one sweet working web application.  It integrates so nicely with your existing Dropbox and you can be up and running literally in minutes.

1)     Create a Dropbox account.  (If you haven’t done this already, do it now.  Even if you don’t go further, you’ll thank yourself)

2)     Create a Dropitto.me account.

3)     Connect the two accounts.  When you create your Dropito.me account, you’ll be asked by Dropbox to authorize this new service so that it has permission to upload to your account.  Of course, you’ll want to do this – you don’t want just anyone uploading to your cloud storage.  At this time, you’ll also set an upload password.  This password, you’ll give to your students so that they can hand their work in from whatever computer or whatever network they happen to be connected to when they finally get their work done.

4)     Give the students the URL to your handin folder or just make it a link in your class wiki.  It should come as no surprise that mine ishttp://dropitto.me/dougpete.  Remind them one last time what the upload password is…  and then get ready to mark.  When the students enter the URL that you’ve provided, they’re challenged for the password and then asked to locate the file to upload.

They find the file and send it.  Work is submitted.  It’s honestly and truthfully as simple as that.

5)     On your end, a new folder called Dropittome is created in your Dropbox space and uploads are time and date stamped.  You’ll know exactly whether or not assignments or documents are submitted on time.  You just open the document like you would any other file on your computer to see the work.

Besides the techy approach here, consider some of the other aspects.

If you’re interested in going paperless, you’re potentially there.  I shudder when I see the assignments that take half a sheet of paper, or assignments that are one page and one line, or computer science printouts that are pages and pages long, or Photoshop documents that run through toner like water or the excess pages printed and recycled because the user wasn’t patient and whacked the print key many times.

It’s a great opportunity to talk about the cloud.  This is a wonderful and practical example for students to try to come to grips conceptually with just where their documents go when they’re sent “out there” and magically arrive to the teacher.

I see it also as a great opportunity to talk about security of documents.  What are the implications of sending files this way?  How can we ensure that the document is only viewable by the teacher?  Could you talk about file sizes and how to optimize or compress the file to speed up the process on the students’ end?  When ready, you could even talk about adding a password to a zip or tar file to achieve both security and size concerns.

But, is it always about the students?  Would you care to know how many times I drove back to school after supper to pick up marking that I forgot to take home?  Or, thinking that I’ve got it all done and arriving at school the next morning to find more to mark in my mailbox or slid under my classroom door?  In a culture where handins are all electronic and cloud based, all of this goes away.

I would encourage you to give this a shot.  You’ll be amazed at how quickly and effortlessly you and your students are firing files around.

OTR Links for 08/27/2011

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.