The first question that we faced when we decided that we needed to digitize all student work was, “How do you digitize work for K-2nd grades?” We had to take into consideration the following truths:
- Early learners have to develop motor skills, so digital assignments can be no more than 25% of what they do.
- Teachers have to be able to collect the work and sort it with little to no additional time spent.
- We have to be able to develop a filing system that curates student work because kinder students will have to learn this process after they start school.
- The work collection method has to be accessible to all teachers regardless of their technology comfort level.
These were big barriers, but we knew that there had to be a way to accomplish what we were driving towards. The first solution that we tried involved a photographic collection of student work. In this iteration of the solution, the teacher would use an iPad Mini to photograph all of the student work, then provide feedback using a “markup” tool. The upside was, iPads have a built in markup tool. The downside is, that we could not find a good way to automatically name student work when we moved it to the PC for the curating process. We tried a few different things, but none of them were simple enough to allow for this huge shift.
The big breakthrough happened like most of them do. We just sat down and thought about what the ideal solution would look like. We decided that ideally, we would have a way to:
- Collect all of the student work at once – by scanning it in a batch
- Then we could divide the pages based on the length of the assignment. If it was a two page assignment, then we would tell the computer to split the collection document every two pages.
- Then we would need the computer to recognize which student’s work was being looked at, and it would have to automatically name the file by student, section, and objective.
- Finally, the computer would have to file the student work into the correct folder. That folder structure would be Class Section>Student>Objective.
Let me tell you now, that this solution does not currently exist. If it does, then we failed in locating it. However, we found 75% of what we were looking for, and that is pretty darn good. The software we found would allow us to do everything but automatically file the work after it was separated and renamed. That dream software is called File Center and is produced by a company called Lucion.
With File Center, we are able to scan a single batch and rename the files based on something called Zonal OCR. OCR is a term that means Optical Character Recognition. This is a method of converting images to text. The Zonal part of the equation means that the user can predetermine a portion of the document to be read. So we simply say, “I want to name all of documents based on a single area of the document.”
The big challenge with Zonal OCR is that it is hit or miss when it comes to handwriting. Especially when that handwriting is from a Kindergarten student who has just learned to write their own name. In order to address this concern, we decided that we could print labels to stick on student work. This means all we have to do is spend about $5 per student per year on stickers, and we have the readable with OCR system that we were looking for.
This means all we have to do is spend about $5 per student per year on stickers, and we have the readable with OCR system that we were looking for.
The final step requires the teacher to drag and drop the named files into a matching folder. After a few tries, I was able to get this process down to about 1-1/2 minutes. We are comfortable that this is a workable solution for the teachers. In all, it appears that it will require the teacher to spend an additional 3 minutes per assignment they collect. And, of course, the pay off is a completely digitized catalog of all work completed by all students. I will have another post about how we are going to use this information as we move forward.
If you know about any other way to accomplish this with greater efficiency, then please send me a message on my twitter account @principalbarnes. I would love to hear if anyone else has already faced and overcome these challenges.