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?



When You Just Want To Write

I’ve got to admit right up front.  I’ve never been a fan of Microsoft Word, the feature rich wordprocessor.  Perhaps all of the features that it has are needed by some but surely not by me.  I’ve never had cause to use all the bells and whistles and probably never will.  It’s not that I’m against paying for productivity.  Years ago, I bought Sprint from Borland and it was my mainstay until the Ministry of Education licensed WordPerfect.  Both were very powerful and did the job.  Publishing to paper was never terribly exciting – publishing to the web and writing for it is.

I was thinking about writing habits and, these days, I use Evernote or Google Docs for my regular writing and notetaking.  I don’t suspect that I’m alone with this.  There is a real fascination of using Microsoft’s web offering, SkyDrive which certainly has a great deal of power to it.  I’m also cognizant of screen space and the ribbon just uses too much of it for my liking.

Even the layout kind of muddies things for me.  Easily distracted, when I’m using this, not only do I want to find what I want to do but I also want to find what else I can do!

A while back, @aforgrave introduced me to Ommwriter.  Advertised as minimalist, it’s just takes over your screen so that you can do your writing.  Nothing else.  To that end, it doesn’t compare with the functionality of a full blown wordprocessor but for my needs, it doesn’t need to.  It’s just a quiet place to writer.

Following up on the notion of doing things in a browser, I went looking to see if there was now a browser version.  Unfortunately, not.  But, I did find a very interesting application.  It’s called Writebox.  It pushes the concept of minimalist for me.  It installs as a Chrome application or you can use it through the web.

Of course, it has a title bar.  What would an application be if it didn’t?

There’s not much there to steal screen real estate or to distract you (or your students) when you open it in your browser.  But, start keyboarding and it gets better.  That titlebar just fades away and you have a blank page to do your writing.  No distractions whatsoever.  OK, I lied.  I’ve used computers long enough that NOT having a title bar was a distraction that I had to get used to.

There’s no Save button but there is a Sync button.  When you decide to Sync, you have two options.  Sync to your Dropbox account or to your Google Drive.  It’s very simple and straight forward.  I know that there are times when I want to take a few notes on one computer and access them on another.  Google Drive is perfect for that; and now so is Dropbox.

Just write (with no distractions) and sync and you’re done.  How’s that for minimalist?


It’s Great to Share

Last night, I was keeping one eye on the Twitter stream while working on another project and I saw this Twitter message fly by.

Now, I don’t know @ColleenKR but I do know @fryed so I figured, what the hey – Donna won’t mind if I try to help.  Why not jump in?

After all, I had run into a similar problem with my university classes and quickly had to find a solution to stop me from going nuts.  How do you collect assignments in this digital day and age?  I had just expected that the assignments would be emailed to me.  After all, I had given the class my university email account and we had practiced in class how to send attachments.

Not so.

I got some printed on laser; some on ink jet; a couple handed to me on memory key; one burned to CD; one burned to DVD; a number successfully emailed as attachments; and one that was only half finished an upload as an attachment.  Marking that first assignment took forever.  As I was marking and kicking myself for not being totally explicit, I vowed never to let it happen again.  Since the student assignments were done at their home at the university computer labs, they were coming from all locations.  I figured that I would give Dropbox a shot and never looked back.  It wasn’t just having a Dropbox account that did it, it was the accompanying application Dropittome that put it over the top.

So, back to @ColleenKR, I sent this reply…

The first is a shortener to the Dropittome site and the second was a blog post that I had written to describe the process.

A few hours later and I was delighted to read…

And, of course, celebrations are in order…

The moral of the story?  And, if this isn’t a reason to blog, I don’t know what is.  We all are constantly learning.  My university students know about Dropbox and Dropittome but I sure as heck didn’t when I was at teacher’s college.  It’s just part of the ongoing learning that we all do and it’s important to share what you’ve learned to help others.  I hope that @ColleenKR continues to have success with this technique and shares it with others that are interested in how her workflow works.  If someone comes along with a better idea, I think we all would be appreciative if they would share it.

Below, is a copy of my original post.

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 account.

3)     Connect the two accounts.  When you create your 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  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.

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Haiku Deck for iPad Presentations

I could have used this last week for my presentation in Sudbury.  There was a time when I was planning to switch between my presentation and an application I wanted to demonstrate on the iPad.  As it turns out, my only option was to physically move the VGA out connector between the devices.  I elected not to do that given the time constraints.  But Haiku Deck for the iPad would have been perfect.

I’ve got to state right from the beginning here that my friend Andy Forgrave dropped the ball on this.  He’s the master of the Haiku on Twitter and I would have thought that he’d be all over an application with a name like this!  We share everything.  In fact, if you search for “dougpete”, you’ll get this image.


Haiku Deck is a great utility for creating and displaying a presentation – all from your iPad.  (with the ability to synch to a website for other functionality)

The process for creating a presentation is a snap.  You’ll create an account on your iPad and you’re ready to create your first presentation.  Select a theme and away you go.

For this post, I thought I would create a short presentation highlighting the three “most popular” posts from this blog for the past month.  I grabbed my theme and was ready to go.  I was immediately impressed with what was NOT there.  There was no easy way to do bullet points and no way to throw in gratuitous slide transitions.  In other words, it’s the presentation package that lives and breathes what we want in a tool for students.  It’s all about the communication; not the slideshow.

How’s that for a thoughtful first slide for my presentation?  I’m even wearing my thoughtful shirt.  I think Andy even took that picture.

Here are the actual posts.  I used different layouts for each slide just to demo things.

Haiku Deck even puts a closing slide onto your presentation for you.

OK, how about creating the screens.  Like other presentation tools, you’ll choose a particular theme.

In addition to the free themes above, there are others available for a price.

Editing a slide is a piece of cake.  You choose the slide to edit and you’ll notice the three options on the left side of the screen below.  Tt lets you enter the text for the slide, the image option lets you bring in pictures, and the green layout option lets you choose where your text appears on the slide.

Haiku Deck is designed to be very visual in the design of your presentation and it shows when you’re choosing an image.  There’s an option to enter search keys, or to tap on a word that you’ve already entered on the slide.  The camera browses the Photo Gallery on your iPod or from a nice choice of other locations.

In my case, I went to the blog posts that I’m referring to and shot the images up to my Dropbox account.  It was a snap to bring them into the slides for the presentation.

It didn’t take long and I was done.  (Of course, it was a short presentation…)  Connect the iPad to a projector and away you go!  Use a finger swipe to move through each slide.  Had I used this package and wanted to demonstrate an application, it would just be a matter of a three finger gesture and select the application needed.  No more cabling swapping.

Meanwhile, back on the web, I’m able to log into to do some neat things.  My presentation appears in “My Gallery” where I could add speaker notes or even play through the presentation.  There are options to share and even embed the presentation where it’s available or include a link.

I’m so impressed with the product.  If the opportunity presents itself, I can see using this as a regular presentation package.  Imagine just walking up to a data projector with your iPad instead of lugging out a computer and getting it connected.  In the classroom, I like the fact that it doesn’t have all the annoyances that you’ll find in some of the big expensive products.  It turns the focus back on the student to become a communicator and not a reader of bullets.

It’s free; grab it and add it to your set of tools.  I’m sure that you’ll be glad that you did.

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This Week in Ontario Edublogs

It’s been a while since I’ve taken the opportunity to highlight some of the great content that Ontario bloggers are creating.  It’s not that I’ve given up reading the blogs – I still enjoy them daily – but I took the time to do some other Ontario things.

The list of Ontario blogs that I know about is available here through this Livebinder, which by the way is a great way to read them all.  All of the links take you to the blog embedded in the Livebinder so you don’t get lost.  In addition to the list of bloggers, there are also two list of Ontario Twitter users that you may find helpful.  List 1 has 499 people and List 2 has 38 and growing.  Recently, I’ve been spotting a number of new names and I’ve been adding them to the lists as I find them.  So, don’t let anyone tell you that nobody uses Twitter!  If you’re an Ontario educator and want your blog listed or your Twitter name added to the lists, just go here and complete the form.

Here’s a bit of what I had the pleasure to read this week.


How to Share a Dropbox Folder in an iPad Classroom

If you’ve heard about Dropbox but are in need of a little inspiration and a tutorial to get you started, head over to Kyle Pearce’s blog.  He’s written a combination tutorial/editorial about how to use it and, at the same time, why you should be using it.  He’s done a great job with text, screen captures, and embedded movies to give a complete guide.

If I could offer another read, I recently wrote a post called Deja Drop.  It extends a previous post I had made about using Dropbox as a hand-in folder and offers ideas about how to use it with an iPad now that iOS6 has been released.

I totally agree with Kyle – there are so many advantages to using Cloud storage and you can’t beat the feature set of Dropbox.


An Teaching Out Loud Exclusive: I’m A Big Boy Now!

There are three great ingredients to look for when reading a blog.

  1. Good news
  2. Cryptic messages
  3. Humour

Stephen Hurley’s recent post had them all.

In Ontario, there seems to be a scorecard passed around educators to let you know when someone is approaching the 85 factor.  Stephen rationalizes some of his personal thoughts in a post that includes all the successful ingredients.


Between a rock and a hard place

I’m really bad at reading blogs and not commenting immediately.  For that, I apologize to all whose blogs I have enjoyed but neglected to leave a post.  But Tim King’s recent post struck a nerve with me.  How many times is the computer science teacher weighed down with the responsibility of being the go-to person in the school when something computerish breaks?  I know that it happened to me many times and I think that’s why I found my head nodding as I read Tim’s post.  My scenario was like this – I was in the middle of dealing with a student’s problem and a colleague came between the student and me mid-conversation, looked me straight in the eye and complained “My printer doesn’t work”.

In the rush to have everyone class computer savvy, students and teachers are at times, pushed into the deep end in implementation without learning to float first.  Thank goodness for the computer science teacher.  I’ll just go bug him.

And yet, we still do it.  Are computer science teachers just that noble?


Minds on Math – Learning as a Community

In September, I had the chance to interview Shannon Smith when she was just a Newby in her role as principal.  One of the things that we discussed was her use of social media and how would it extend to her new school and its community.  She promised that she would be very transparent with parents, staff, and students.

Can it work when the day-to-day workload kick in?

Shannon’s school recently had a professional learning day and they were “all-in” for mathematics.  It would have been easy for her to have blogged “We did math stuff”.  Instead, she shared a complete set of details about what happened on that day.

I really like it.

If I’m a parent in that community, I know that the staff is dedicated and now I know what might be happening in my child’s math class.  It’s a great read and if any other principal is wondering what sharing with the community could be (other than when the next hot dog day is…), this is a perfect model.


The Trustee Dilemma

Trustees are people too.  In theory, they make the decisions that set governance and policy with school districts.  As you know, many things have been thrust upon local school districts by the Ministry of Education this fall.  The one voice that we seldom hear when it comes to this situation is that of the individual trustee.

We hear from teachers, we hear from the federations, we hear from the government, we hear from the school district, we certainly hear from newspaper reporters, and of course from the public that reply to their opinions.

But what about the lonely trustee sitting around the table at board meetings?

Robert Hunking took the time to share his thoughts about what’s happening in Ontario now.  For a completely different perspective, you should take the time to read this post.


This was a fun post to write.  I get a rush reading the great things that Ontario Educators write about.  Please check out the above and all the great things happening and made available through the LiveBinder.