Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Just Create a 'Drop'

Every once in a while we come across a tool that can radically change the way that we do things in the education world. For some it was a computer, for others the interactive whiteboard, but for me it has been

Simply put, is an easy to use, online collaboration and file sharing service that provides users with a simple, real-time and private way to chat and share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content through unique, user-created and controlled sharing points called ‘drops.’ Check out this link for more information and their introduction video.

In only two clicks users are able to seamlessly create personal sharing points, upload content via web, e-mail, MMS, Facebook, Firefox extension, phone and fax inputs and share it on-the-fly through’s various outputs including the web, e-mail, MMS, Twitter, iTunes, fax, and a whole lot more.

Furthermore, each ‘drop’ is non-searchable, non-networked, and does not require any type of account registration and can be password-protected and set to expire after a period of time. This allows sharing of information to happen for only as long as you really want it to.

‘Drops’ are being currently used by a wide range of people who seek a convenient and private method for sharing all types of digital content in dynamic, collaborative, and real-time workspaces.

As a school we got into creating ‘drops’ when I went to a conference with our high school social studies teacher. The presenter showed us how a Spanish teacher was using a ‘drop’ to have students call in their Spanish homework. At first I was a bit confused, but then the presenter explained a bit more. With each ‘drop’ a unique phone number can be created and hooked up to a voicemail hosted by Students in Spanish class were receiving homework written in English and were then required to translate it into Spanish and respond by calling into the voicemail and leaving a message in Spanish - essentially turning in their homework. Their message automatically showed up on the ‘drop’ in an MP3. The teacher was able to collect and grade speaking assignments from all the students in a fraction of the time and inconvenience that it took in a normal classroom before. Now our Spanish teacher is using her ‘drop’ for this feature and a whole lot more.

About a week after I turned on the Spanish teacher to using a ‘drop’ for her Spanish class, our other high school English teacher approached me for a simple, non-password protected way to have an out of class discussion. Many of his students were reading a book, but due to Post Secondary Education Options many students are not present in class throughout the week, thus making in class discussions difficult. He searched for a way to have this discussion happen both inside and outside of his classroom so that all his students could participate. After searching the web and looking into a variety of security settings and options with Wikispaces and Blogger sites I kept coming back to the idea of a ‘drop.’ Ever since I was introduced to a ‘drop’ I knew that there had to be more to the idea than using it as a voicemail box for a foreign language class. So I looked closer and found that indeed a ‘drop’ was the perfect way tool for my fellow English teacher’s class. Students do not need to login, but can comment on a Note posted on the ‘drop.’ The English teacher would go in and put information up or a discussion topic on the ‘drop’ and ask his students to respond by leaving a comment below the note. It worked out perfectly for him and his students. In addition, he moved into a film unit and put up images of the films the class watched and links to websites with pertinent information. He is currently completing a research paper unit and his students are submitting their papers electronically through the ‘drop,’ making grading a lot easier and the environmental and financial impact on paper use significantly less. This ‘drop’ for him has replaced his webpage, his Facebook account, and any other form of communication with his students. All the information his students need is on the ‘drop.’ To check out his ‘drop’ click here.

Having the English department tied into using a ‘drop’ was great, but I wanted to push the technology and the site even further. In talking with our social studies teacher a bit more he began an interdisciplinary project with his eleventh grade American history students. Each student created a ‘drop’ and it quickly became their primary location and depository for research. When they found a source they put their notes up on their own ‘drop.’ Instead of doing a citation at that moment they linked to the pertinent webpage. For grading purposes the social studies teacher looked at their ‘drop’ and then picked up his iPhone and called in with some verbal feedback. This was much easier and quicker than writing anything on a piece of paper or even leaving a note for the student on their ‘drop.’ As the assignment continued on both instructors gave feedback for the students on their ‘drops’ through downloading rough drafts, leaving comments digitally, and uploading feedback all onto the ‘drop.’ It was real-time collaboration and feedback in a true 21st Century educational setting. The social studies teacher also put up his notes for the project and linked all the students’ ‘drops’ to his own original assignment ‘drop.’ Click here to see a student ‘drop’ and here for the original assignment ‘drop.’

It has been really neat to see over the past few months how students have now gotten used to the phrase “Just drop it.” It has come to mean turn in your assignment electronically and not to physically drop anything. In my own English class I have used a ‘drop’ in a very limited way as a simple turn-in box for final creative pieces. Click here to see the 'drop.' Then I projected my ‘drop’ on the SMART Board and used the Preview option on the ‘drop’ to have students share their work with the class. No messy stack of papers to grade and nothing to lose. Everything was on the drop and there was no question of whether or not students turned their assignment in.

In the future I look forward to sharing with others about the power of a ‘drop.’ I feel as if in the high school we have seen only the tip of the iceberg in the true power of a ‘drop.’ I look forward to showing my students a more in-depth way of how to use their ‘drops’ for journals with their current interdisciplinary Personal Change project. Right now the students' drops are very basic, click here to see the 'drop' main page. There are a lot of things in the way of settings and personalization that can be configured on a ‘drop.’ Also, all the features of e-mailing documents, faxing them in, and using Facebook to post are all really intriguing and worth exploring further in the future.

One other part of the ‘drop’ interface that I have yet to fully explore is the functionality of the chat feature. Yes, every single drop is also a full functioning chat room. Imagine chatting in real-time about an assignment with a student in Israel for a family trip? Some of our teachers are doing that currently with a student. There are also some really intriguing options with presenting a ‘drop’ in real time, especially with a built-in conference call feature. This could make a virtual presentation significantly easier. It seems as there is always something to play with and learn with a new tool, but to see the changes in how students turn in and share documents has been incredible.

In closing, has to some degree radically changed how students collaborate and turn-in work in our school. It is simple to use for teachers and students alike and is secure enough through either a password or the simple fact that a user has to have the exact URL to find the ‘drop’ that there have been no issues with outside users interfering. I encourage you to look into the examples and see what a ‘drop’ is and what it could possibly do for your school. If nothing else do what I tell my students and “Just create a ‘drop’” to see what this whole thing is all about.