For the past few years, my school has been implementing a new initiative called the Engaged Learning Initiative. It started in waves. This year, every high school student has an iPad that has basically been loaned out by the school for educational purposes.
As a person who grew up with the internet and computers, I figured that it wouldn't be a huge change for me to move to a technology only type of school. Get rid of pencil and paper? Okay, less trips to the copy machine sounds great. Use Dropbox to save files? I already do that. Create projects that require research that's at the fingertips of my students? Count me in.
Too bad it isn't always that easy.
To start with, students don't understand technology like we expected that they would. Many had never touched an iPad before and had a very limited understanding of what it was capable of, much less used for, for education. And more than that, we didn't get technology like we expected that we would. There were so many things out there to choose from -- Edmodo, Google Drive, or Dropbox? Which is the best? Which works best for my class? For my students?
And having students figure out how to turn things in -- oh that's where things got messy...
I started with Edmodo and felt pretty confident in my choice. I could grade easily, and students seemed pretty comfortable with it. They knew their passwords, I had folders clearly labeled that they could use to find handouts, and the alerts were useful for getting out important information quickly.
I used Google Drive for planning -- I created everything using Google Docs, Forms, and Presentations -- and for saving all of my classroom data. The more I played with Google Drive, the more I enjoyed it. My school system set up a Gmail account for each student, so they had access to Drive, Blogger, and all of the other Google apps. I figured, hey, since I enjoy Google so much, maybe my students will too.
I decided to have my students create and share a folder with me titled Last name, First name. In this folder, they were to create two different folders: "Turned in", and "Graded". When they needed an assignment graded, they would put it in the "Turned in" folder. After I had graded it, it went in the "Graded" folder. It seemed like a great system...for a while.
It didn't take me long to realize that this system was exceptionally time consuming.
Many, if not most, of my students have been trained into using Notability. Notability is an app that allows you to write on PDF documents. Students have grown accustomed to using this app in different classes, and you stick with what you know, right?
Well, my problem was that, in order to write directly on their work as I wanted to, I had to open each student's' folder, open their "Turned in" folder, and then export the document to Notability or another PDF-editing app. After I'd marked on their assignments, the document was exported once again back into Google Drive. It took forever. And honestly, it wasn't worth it.
So I started searching the web for something that made life easier. I knew it had to exist, I mean that's the point of technology, isn't it?
I love Google apps. I wanted my students to love Google apps the way that I do. I wanted them to be well-versed in how to use Google Drive -- how to save and create documents that they could keep forever up in that mysterious cloud. And as much as I wanted that, I needed something easy for me to use and even easier for me to grade.
That's how I found Doctopus.
I won't rehash how to use it, there are plenty of websites and videos out there to do that. What I do want to do, however, is give a quick overview and let you know about this fantastic resource that I had never heard of.
Doctopus is a script that you can run on a template Google Docs assignment to create individual Google Docs for each student. Okay, it sounds scary, but I promise you it's not. All you need is a template assignment and a Google Spreadsheet with students' first and last names, email addresses, and flags (I'll get to that in a minute).
Basically, you create an assignment, whether that be a worksheet, project directions, an interactive discussion, anything. After you've created the assignment, you run this script in order to make one of these sheets for every student -- just like you'd be handing out paper copies. Students can write and edit on their own or in groups. The editing right choices are fantastic for this program.
While running the script, Doctopus will create individual links that will take you to each student's assignment. All of these links will be found on the Google Spreadsheet that you started with (it's kind of amazing). So, as a grader, all you have to do is click on the link, and you're taken directly to the student's work. No flipping between apps. No exporting and importing documents.
The flag option is one of the most useful parts of Doctopus. You can choose to have students work in project groups (groups created by you with one document per group), whole class (one document shared by the whole class that anyone can edit), individual - all the same (every student gets his or her own document that are all the same), or individual - differentiated (every student gets his or her own document but can be different based on their flag). The last choice, individual - differentiated, is especially helpful for those of us with co-taught classes. This gives us the opportunity to create multiple documents that are based on different levels depending on each student's ability. This way, no student has to know what level anybody else is on. Those students with IEPs don't have to be embarrassed by getting a shortened worksheet, and the students who are gifted don't have to worry about working at a slower pace. It truly gives you the deep differentiation that technology usually lacks and many of us are searching for. All you have to do is give students "flags" or capital letters A-Z. I gave students two letters -- one for their differentiation flags and another for their jigsaw groups. This way, students had no idea what each letter meant, they just knew they were each different.
Another high point of Doctopus (gosh there are so many!) is how students turn in work. They just press "X"! That's it! They don't have to turn assignments in anywhere. Once they're finished with their work, they simply close it. No more claims that he or she "forgot" to turn in an assignment or that Google Drive "wouldn't let me." Also, to make sure that students don't work past the due date, there's an embargo option. This cuts off all editing rights of students so that the work that's completed on that date is what is considered turned in.
I've only used Doctopus once, but I'm already head over heels. I had students create a graphic organizer (you'll see it in my next post!) with a rationale included. I had certain students write less than others, so using Doctopus allowed me to have each student work on their own Google Doc created just for them with their differentiation level in mind. It was fantastic.
So far I have run across just a few tiny glitches in Doctopus. I had students fill out a Google Form in order to create my spreadsheet. (Actually, they did this twice -- one for the flags and another for the jigsaw groups). I didn't realize this, but make sure to have students enter their email address that they use to sign into Google Drive, not necessarily the one that they use all of the time. In order to access and edit their Doctopus created Google Doc, they'll need to be logged in using that email address.
Also, Doctopus can only handle so much when running the script. I made the mistake of creating one Google Spreadsheet for all of my students, and once it would stop running I would just rerun it. Well, that also meant that it sent another email out to my students telling them that I'd shared a document with them. I sent about 20 to one of my students on accident due to rerunning the script. I decided the best option was to split up the Google Spreadsheet based on periods. It's worked much better since then.
Here are a few great websites/videos to introduce you to Doctopus. This goes without saying, but I highly recommend it.
There's another great addition to Doctopus called Goobric, which basically incorporates a rubric into the assignment that you can access through the Google Chrome toolbar. I haven't tried Goobric in my class yet, but I will this week. I'll keep you all updated :).
I hope this helped give you some ideas about how technology can be useful and time-efficient.
Until next time,