Ok, so most of the time, when I rely on anything electronic it ends up betraying me somehow. Nearly every gadget I own has turned on me to the point that when we go shopping, my wife refuses to allow me to pick the actual box we are taking home because my luck is so bad. I think most of my experience in technology can be traced to having it fail and being forced to fix it.
But for once, this is not one of those stories. For once, my horrible bad luck with all things gadget-y has turned. For the last few weeks, sixth grade has split its math classes into two groups: a standard math group and an advanced math group. For most schools, this is normal. But in our small school, it is unmarked territory. We have had to learn to make it work as we go. For the most part, it has gone great. The kids are picking up the concepts better than ever and everyone is challenged. As for the logistics, Scott (the other sixth grade teacher) and I shared an Excel document on Dropbox to keep track of grades so that we can coordinate and eventually feed them into our school’s online gradebook.
Let me repeat that: we are sharing a document.
I bet most of you who have done this already know what happened.
At some point, Scott (I choose to blame him; it just saves time) or I had the file open, then the other teacher opened it at the same time. One person saved the file over the other. The result: I lost two weeks of grading (Scott lost nothing, which makes it even more convenient for me to blame him). If this were a shared drive on our network, or a file on a disk drive, we would have been out of luck. But Scott, bless his heart, is a Dropbox user, and our Excel file was shared via Dropbox. In fewer than five minutes I was able to ‘restore’ my old grades and paste them into the new file without a single grade lost. With our third quarter ending this week, I was saved from certain doom. Seriously, if only for the ability to automatically track versions of your files and backing them up: START PUTTING YOUR FILES ON THE CLOUD NOW!
My fellow teachers! No more will I be a slave to the copy machine! Today I declare my independence from the daily ritual of lining up behind the beige, beeping monstrosity with blackline masters in hand! Today I took my fancy box of student handout masters, tore the bindings out of them, and stuffed them through the business end of said copier and set it for scan instead of copy. I spent the whole morning feeding the machine my masters. Sure, I had to unclog it a few times, but at the end of the morning all 30 weeks of my reading program were rendered into fancy, organized PDFs, now living happily on the cloud within my Dropbox.
Why scan all these in? Mostly to save time, to prevent having my eggs in one basket and hopefully allow me to be more versatile with how I can distribute my homework. Instead of having to spend time leafing through my book, figuring out the settings on the copier and barring access to the copier for my co-workers, I can now send the pages I want from my computer. (A trick accomplished by separating the pages with commas: for example, if I only want pages 5, 24, and 6 I tell the printer I want pages 5,24,6) Instead of having a single copy of my masters, through the magic of the cloud I have them at home on my iPad and on my SMARTboard at work. I can never lose the digital copy (hopefully) or have it damaged though a coffee spill or a hungry dog. If a student is absent, I can shoot them a PDF from my desk since I already have it on my computer. If I have an emergency, I can access the files I need from home and create a packet to send to my sub.
Would I replace my books for a digital edition? No. I like to have book to thumb through and mark up with sticky notes. But it helps to have a digital edition as well, since the act of printing and presenting can be hard on their binding. I hope that as ebooks and digital editions of textbooks become more common that more books include digital versions with their print materials. Then I don’t have to spend so many mornings wrestling with the great beige beast.