Think Outside The Drop Box

If you are anything like me, you are not the most organized person in the world. I spend more time than I should be looking for things. See if you can identify with this scenario. You are ready to teach and you suddenly realize that the PowerPoint that was to go along with your lecture is on your desktop computer back at home. Bummer! Now, at least in one area of my life, I no longer have to look for computer files because I ALWAYS know where they are. That handy, dandy little tool is called Dropbox.

Dropbox was founded in 2007 by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, two MIT students tired of emailing files to themselves to work from more than one computer. Dropbox is a centralized, web based file storage system. It is a home for all of your files. When you upload a file to Dropbox, it will synchronize that file across ALL of your electronic devices as well as keeping a copy on a web based access point. The whole process is automatic and no computer skills are needed for files to update across your devices. That brings real comfort to those whose computers have been lost or damaged in travel or other nefarious methods. Dropbox works on both Windows and Mac based computers, tablets and phones.

A handy feature of Dropbox is that, not only will it store your files; it makes it easy to share and collaborate on projects with others. You simply either share the folder with others, making it public and allowing them access to that folder only or you can email a link to a particular file. You can create a shared file for any class that you might choose and share it with each student. When the need arises, you will now be able to drop files you want students to access easily from my desktop or any other device. When students use the Dropbox app on the iPads, they will be able to log in and access the files. They can edit the files and drop them into their personalized folders.

For a brief introduction to how Dropbox works visit this link.

How do you use Dropbox in the classroom? I’m glad you asked! Now, you have taken one more excuse for students not having their homework. Instead of delivering the assignment to the classroom, either in paper or electronic form, you simply require them to upload it to an assigned location on Dropbox. This won’t help those students who don’t actually get the work done, but it will be of benefit to those who really do have memory problems! In addition, for those assignments that have a deadline, the upload of documents imprints a date and time stamp on the file. No more arguing over whether a student was late with their submission or not.

Another use is the storage of handouts, worksheets and other storage guides. If a student loses their assigned work or if the dog ate it (remind me to tell you of the time my dog ate my Master’s thesis…while it was still in the computer), they can log on find the file and download or print it off for themselves. The savings in paper used in your classroom could be enormous.

Many students want the Powerpoints to follow during the lecture. There are pros and cons to this, but that is another day’s presentation. Most Powerpoints are too large to email due to constraints placed upon school’s email systems. Dropbox resolves this problem in that you can email the link to the students and they will now be able to download the Powerpoints themselves. Isn’t personal responsibility liberating!

But I Can’t Afford a “Clicker” System…Yes…You Can!

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But I Can’t Afford a “Clicker” System…Yes…You Can!

Ask your student questions and get immediate feedback.

Student response systems (SRS) commonly known as “clickers” are an excellent tool to gauge the understanding of your students during a lecture or class presentation. A really good system could easily run over $1000. However, there is an alternative for the educator on a budget. The frosting on the cake is that is won’t cost you anything more than the time to develop the content.

Poll Everywhere is an online polling service that allows you to take advantage of the text messaging capabilities of your student’s phones to function as a very effective SRS. The method of use is incredibly easy, especially since almost all of your students will be very comfortable with text messaging. You ask your student a question, they respond with a text and the results are almost instantly displayed on the screen in the form of a bar graph showing all the selected answers. Although I mostly use multiple choice formats, free text response is available as well. These questions can be embedded directly within your Power Point presentation with no need to leave the presentation to visit an additional website. There is no limit in the number of surveys you might wish to create. It even works if you are teaching your classes via distance delivery!

All responses are anonymous. One of the best features of this online service is that it will allow students who tend to be more introverted to actively take part in feedback without the possibility of being embarrassed. In addition students can respond by visiting a specific website to make their selection as well as by Twitter. Poll Everywhere includes settings that prohibit students from participating in a particular question more than once. This would be very important in gauging class comprehension.

Uses in the classroom are many. For example, beyond the obvious use, should you decide to utilize a Millionaire type game, this site would be ideal for the lifeline “poll the audience.”

There are some limitations. The free version limits you to 40 students. The 41st student will get a message back saying, “This poll is full and cannot accept more responses”. For most classrooms, this isn’t a problem, but should you decide to use this at a regional or national seminar, you might run into some problems. There is a premium version for a monthly fee, although I have never run into the need to upgrade. As of the writing of this post, the process only works within PowerPoint, although site administrators can log into the site to view responses directly.

To learn more, visit the Poll Everywhere Demonstration Video. I have used this service for many years. It is one of the simplest and cheapest (you can’t beat free) classroom response systems available.