- iPad for Edu
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Collecting, Annotating and Redistributing Student Work using an iPad, GoodReader, Dropbox (and optionally Jotform)
Cloud computing solutions and services are becoming extremely popular and now more options exist than ever before. iPads can harness this power, especially with apps like GoodReader. GoodReader ($4.99, iTunes) does a lot. It allows you access to all manner of cloud-based document servers, email attachments, locally saved files, and even S/FTP. It lets you view office docs, pdfs, images and multimedia files. It lets you zip files together, email from the app, or open the files in other apps for the purposes of editing. You can search within files, and most importantly for the present discussion, you can annotate files with drawings, highlights and sticky notes.
Use case: Collect work from students, mark or comment on it, send it back to them.
This is a fairly standard use case for teachers. Students have produced some work in the form of a document and you want to give them feedback. Here is the iPad workflow with some advanced tips.
There are various ways to go about this, but ideally you want the work to end up on a cloud server or on a network drive that you can access. I recommend Dropbox because it is flexible, cheap and it can be accessed by a number of different devices and services across platforms and the web. The simplest way to do this is to share a Dropbox folder with each individual student. They put assignments into the folder, you can access those files, create annotated versions of them, and drop them back into the folder. Simple, and it can be done on a laptop, desktop, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android device, Windows, Mac or Linux. Basically, no limitations. Another Dropbox-linking service is Jotform. Jotform is a slick web form builder with tons of features like calendar date pickers, various fields like email and full paragraph text, enhanced security, theme styling, etc. You can try the service for free: Jotform.com. Jotform recently came out with a way to include an “Upload File” field, where the file is saved to a folder on your Dropbox. Very clever and easy to set up. It isn’t free past 20 uploads per month (which you would need), but at $9.95 a month, it won’t break the bank. It is a simple matter to create a webform that looks like this:The <First Name> and <Last Name> fields allow Jotform to create a separate folder called “First Name Last Name” on my Dropbox, and the file gets placed within that folder automatically. I can also set it up to email me a notification when anyone submits a form, along with the contents of the form. Each file upload is logged, so you can keep track of when things are submitted. Jotform gives you the ability to include a password field, so only members of your class can submit files. And in the Jotform interface, it is easy to set a file size limit for uploads, so some student doesn’t inadvertently upload his entire collection of pirated episodes of Pokemon. Note: it may be a good idea for students to save their work as PDFs. This makes it easier to annotate.So, my students upload their work to separate folders on my Dropbox via the Jotform. Now I want to access their work, mark it or write comments on it, and return the feedback. I’d also like to create an archive of all the work and feedback, just in case. Backing things up is always a good idea.
Connect to Dropbox with GoodReader.Tap “Connect to Server”, then “Add”. Select “Dropbox”. (Note how many other cloud services GoodReader can access, including Google Docs. We’ll come back to those alternatives in a later post.)
Enter your Dropbox credentials. GoodReader creates a little Dropbox icon under “Connect to Server”. Tap it to access your Dropbox contents. Navigate to the Jotform folder or the shared folder you set up with your student. (A “Jotform” folder is created automatically when you allow Jotform access to your Dropbox.) Find the first student file and tap “Download”. Save it to the local iPad drive, and tap it to open it up.
Annotate and record feedback.
Tap and hold to select text, just as you would in any other text app on iOS. Instead of just “Copy”, though, you’ll be able to select “Note”, “Highlight”, “Markup…” and “Draw…”. The Note tab allows you to insert a text sticky note at the location of your cursor.
Highlight will highlight the selected text, Markup involves Highlighting as well as underline, squigly, cross out, insert and replace.
Draw lets you create lines, arrows, shapes, or freehand draw and write comments. I find that the draw feature works particularly well with a stylus, especially if you want to handwrite text, but you can also circle things or draw arrows with your finger.
GoodReader will ask you if you want to save a new version of the file or embed your annotations into the PDF permanently. If it is a draft, I just let the comments be embedded. Repeat the process with the rest of the files in the Jotform or shared Dropbox folders.
Distribute the files to students.When you’re finished, you’ll have a list of files on your GoodReader menu that need to be sent back to students, and they need to be backed up somehow. If you aren’t working with shared Dropbox folders, the easiest way to distribute files from the iPad to individuals is via email. Tap “Manage Files”, tap the file you want to email, tap “Email” and compose the message to send. I suggest pasting the name of the assignment into the subject line – don’t waste time with a formal email. If you have a shared folder with the student, tap “Connect to Server”, select Dropbox, navigate to the correct student Dropbox folder and tap “Upload”. Select the correct annotated file to upload it. The student will see the file appear in their Dropbox. Voila!
Backup your files.When you’ve handed the papers back, tap “Manage Files” again, select all the files you just graded by tapping each one (so they are selected as a group), and tap “Zip”. Tap the resulting Zip file and tap “Rename”. Rename the file with the name of the assignment and perhaps the date. Save the Zip archive to a special backup folder in your Dropbox by tapping “Connect to Server”, select your Dropbox, choose the location you want the file and then tap “Upload”. Select the Zip file you just created. Then you can happily delete all the annotated files that are stored locally (“Manage Files” > Select all the files > “Delete”).
Using this workflow with Turnitin.com.
Turnitin hasn’t released an iPad app, or a plugin for GoodReader, although if they did I think they could charge some money for it. In fact, because Turnitin has an API, an enterprising programmer could make this work. But alas. For now, you have to download the student work from Turnitin.com as PDFs, and save them to a folder in your Dropbox. This takes a minute or two, and it is tedious, but once it is done, you have all the student files as PDFs and they are organized and ready for the iPad to access them. Of course, the feedback you record using GoodReader isn’t saved in Turnitin.com.
If you have a classroom full of iPads (or laptops) in a 1:1 program.
A 1:1 situation is a slightly different story. iPads work well together. If the students have Dropbox and iPads, they can create content on their iPad using an app like QuickOffice and save it to the folder that they share with you on Dropbox. You can pick up the file from there, annotate it, and save a marked up copy in the same folder. If one of you accidentally deletes a file, you can restore it by visiting the Dropbox web interface. Dropbox saves the entire history of each file in each folder, so you can even go back to previous versions if something goes awry. In this scenario, Jotform is eliminated, and the process is simplified. Another thing it does is gives students wider access to the data they have submitted. Jotform, on the other hand, can be a slick way to have students answer specific questions. For example, you could set up a Jotform and make it a kind of quiz. The students would navigate to the proper page (perhaps, it’s password protected so a different class can’t see the quiz), fill in the Jotform, hit submit, and their answers would be logged as a file in your Dropbox. You could grade the quizzes that way, or you could even annotate their answers using the method above. Jotform is a more flexible and more powerful data collection tool than Google Forms, which is why it costs a little money. And it is better suited to iPads. (I’ll compare them at length in a separate post.)
And there you have it.
Now you can collect student work, record feedback, and redistribute it, all from the comfort of your iPad.