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Appealing Apps for Educators: Workflow Apps to Manage Student Work

by Jennie Magiera

Many educators are realizing that the most powerful apps are those that allow for student creation. Some apps, for example Pages, Explain Everything and Popplet, push students to demonstrate, apply and synthesize their learning. However, the question quickly becomes: How do the students turn in these digital work products? And... How do teachers then give feedback and grade them? The following apps offer promising solutions to this workflow issue. They each leverage the power of the cloud, allowing students to turn in work and receive feedback without relying on email. Hopefully you will find one that meets your needs!

Google Drive and Chrome (Free)

Many schools and districts have embraced Google Apps for Education, or GAFE. Their students are issued school-sanctioned Google accounts and with them the power to collaborate over the cloud. These apps allow students to leverage the power of Google Apps while working on an iOS device. While in the past Google Docs were not very iPad friendly, new updates to these two apps make the interface much cleaner. Google Drive offers a very simplified approach go Google Docs. It allows students to create documents, but provides limited editing options. The Chrome app, on the other hand, gives almost full desktop capability with the Google Apps productivity suite (so long as you select desktop mode at the bottom of the screen), but can be buggy at times. However, both apps draw on the sharing power of Google Apps, allowing students to share their work back with teachers or peers. Conversely, teachers are then able to annotate work in real time to provide instant feedback. While this workflow is instant and clean, its main limitations lie in two details: students must have a Google Account, and these apps only allow for document creation (no spreadsheets, video creation, drawing, presentations or mind mapping). In Google Chrome, you can create spreadsheets and forms, but the interface for spreadsheets is a bit complicated for many students to navigate successfully.

Compatible creation apps: Google Chrome (documents and spreadsheets) or Google Drive (documents)

Dropbox (Free)

Dropbox is a mainstay for many individuals who use cloud storage. The interface is easy and any file type can be uploaded to its server, so long as you have enough storage space. It also works with any app that has a “share to Dropbox option” or an “email” option (for this latter choice, use the service Send to Dropbox to have the email attachment save in your Dropbox folder). However, there are a few issues to consider. For this app, students must have an email address. While many middle and high school students have accounts, most primary and intermediate students do not. Another hurdle is organizing student work. Teachers who use this site often create class folders and then student subfolders to keep track of their work. Each student has their own login so that he or she cannot see another child’s assignments. The final consideration is providing feedback. Since Dropbox was designed mainly for file sharing, it doesn’t have intuitive systems in place for providing feedback on student work.

Compatible creation apps: Any that allow for “share via Dropbox” or “share via email” (for example: PaperPort Notes, Popplet, Comic Life, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, etc.)

Showbie (Free)

This little app can be viewed as Dropbox, education style. Like Dropbox, it allows students to share their work out from apps (any app that provides for sharing via WebDAV), however it doesn’t require students to have an email address. Moreover, it solves the organization issue, by creating a folder for each student and partitioning each folder with “My Work” and “Feedback” sections. When students turn in assignments, it is placed into the “My Work” section. At that point, teachers can open the assignments and provide feedback – either written or oral (via an audio-recording feature). Students can then resubmit their work should they so choose. The assignments are time-stamped and a version control feature is employed so that teachers don’t overwrite student work accidentally when giving feedback.

Compatible creation apps: Any that allow for “share via WebDAV” (for example: Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iAnnotate, iThoughtsHD, Explain Everything, etc.)

eBackpack ($99/teacher)

The most robust of these options, eBackpack is more of a learning management system than a workflow app. It comes with an entire backpack of tools, and a price to match. At $99 per teacher, this may break the bank for some schools, but many have found it well worth the price. Students can not only turn in work, but receive grades, assignments and create ePortfolios that follow them throughout their school career. Moreover, the company works with your school’s Studnet information system or learning management system to auto-populate your student rosters, and create the right classes for each teacher. They’ll even update the rosters through data dumps as your roster inevitably changes throughout the course of the year.

Compatible creation apps: Any that allow for “share via WebDAV” or “send to photo roll” (for eample: iMovie, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, iAnnotate, iThoughtsHD, Puppet Pals, Popplet, Doodle Buddy, etc.)