Little Help Needed


You know that I really like DropBox and the DropItToMe combination.  I think it’s genius when looking at a web-based hand-in folder for students.  I wrote a post about it once and do repeat it as a “post from the past” at the beginning of the school year.  With more students involved with BYOD, it’s important to have their work submitted to the teacher and nobody wants more paper.  Electronic copies make so much sense.

Of course, when a student hands in a file for an assignment submission, they’ll attach their name to the file so that the teacher knows whose file is whose.

Recently, I had a former colleague ask a wide sweeping question about electronic hand-ins to her network on Facebook and I responded with my post above.  I, of course, tried it out again at home to make sure that it would work; she tried it out at her home and it worked and she was ready to go with it.

As her students started to submit their work, she noticed a problem.  Only a few of the submissions were getting to her.  She would download a file from DropBox and look at it; go back and get another submission; etc.  But, in a complete class, she wasn’t getting all of the submissions and was puzzled.  She asked me if there was a problem with Dropbox; I tested it and it sure looked like it worked.

So we did some digging around and got to the bottom of things.

She was using the Pic Collage application with her students.  It’s a nice app that creates a collage from content that you send it.  Once a student is happy with the results, she or he would save it to the camera roll on the iPad and then go through the process of submitting the finished product.  They would appear to be following instructions properly but she wasn’t getting the files.

I was able to replicate her frustration here.  The problem, as I see it, is that each file that was submitted from the camera roll is called “image.jpg”.  No many how many times you upload it, only one appears in Dropbox.  As I’m sure you can see by now, the problem is that subsequent uploads were simply overwriting the one uploaded before it.

No problem, I thought.  I’ve got a number of ideas that might solve the situation.

  1. Configure Dropbox to allow multiple copies of the same file.  It’s a pretty common activity – the application could just call the files image(1).jpg, image(2).jpg, …  or some similar naming convention.  Strike One.
  2. Go into Pic Collage and see if there’s a “Save As” or option to give the file that it creates a unique name.  None found.  Strike Two.
  3. Go into the Camera Roll and rename the file.  The only editing options deal with editing the image itself and not the filename.  Strike Three.

I am out of ideas.

Well, actually, I’m out of my own ideas so I’d like to turn to you for assistance.

I don’t think that what she’s asking from technology is something unreasonable.  Or is it just not possible when taking a consumer, one user product, and attempting to use it in a networked world?

I can see a couple of ways around it but they sure seem like a real jury rig.

  1. Sit at a computer with Dropbox open and have the students send the files one at a time and download them as they appear;
  2. Have the students transfer the file to a regular computer, rename it there and then upload it.

Both of these ideas would work but take all of the elegance and magic out of using a computer.  Surely, there’s a better way.

I’m hoping that I can’t see the forest for the trees and that one of my very talented blog readers has a simple solution.  Well?

 

Deja Drop


 

One of the most read post on this blog occurred on August 27, 2011.  At that time, I talked about using Dropbox as a Hand-in Folder for the classroom.  It’s a great concept…a student uses the website Dropitto.me to send a file from your computer to her/his teacher.  No more relying on USB keys or email or other schema.  The original post appears at the bottom of this post to jog your memory or to introduce it should you have missed it the first time.

It’s a great concept but had one problem.  It didn’t work on the iPad.

Until now!

With the upgrade to iOS6, you now have have a working upload button!

If you can take a picture or use an application that stores its output in the Photos folder, you’re good to go.  This doesn’t make the iPad as functional as a regular computer for uploading – Apple doesn’t let you browse outside the Photos folder but it does let you go there.

ORIGINAL POST

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.

DROPITTO.ME
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 is http://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.