Thursday, July 25, 2013


As you (may) know, I teach in off-site locations.  Both of my classes are in libraries in different parts of the city.  I drive to Class 1 in southwest Philadelphia, then I drive to a parking place near the subway and ride to the eastern side of Center City for Class 2.  Classes are 3 hours each and I have an hour to get from one to the other.  This has been workable over the last year because our agency has a small satellite location between these two spots where I can run in to heat up my healthy home-packed lunch and maybe throw a few pages into a copy machine before heading off to the second class.  Until today.  The satellite location closed this week due to an exploded bathroom, mold, and a copy machine meltdown!  (I didn't ask about the exploded bathroom. Some questions are better left unasked ...)

inconvenient and old-fashioned!
But seriously, I've been wondering how to replace the lost support going forward. Happily, I've minimized my dependence on photocopies thanks to an unplugged perspective, but there is still some need for stuff on paper thanks to agency requirements. I need to collect evidence of civics learning by stone-n-chisel -- um, I mean in paper student folders, for example.  So, what a happy coincidence that just last week I discovered camera scanning by smart phone!

For some months, I've been looking for a way to capture student information electronically (see earlier comments here).  I've been taking pictures, but these don't print out easily.  While looking for something else, I stumbled onto a description of a camera scanning app.  I rubbed my eyes and read it again, thinking, "This is too good to be true, what's wrong with it??"  I downloaded a free version of one of the apps and tried it and then did a happy dance around the office.  Well, pretty close anyway -- just ask my fellow teachers!

With an app like this, you take a picture of a document (or whatever) and it looks for the edges of the paper, puts a boundary around it and then converts whatever's inside the boundary to PDF (you can manually adjust the boundary).  There are several popular apps, and I chose CamScanner to experiment with.  I scanned a quiz from a student's folder and sent it to the printer at our office and the results were impressive! It looks like I'll be able to "collect" student work or other info (my own work on the whiteboard, team posters, etc.) just by snapping a photo.  I can convert it to PDF and print it out at home or whenever I get a chance to stop by the main office.

I've only just begun to look at this in detail, but there are several organizing features that may really make it worthwhile.  You can take several pictures and store them as pages in one PDF file.  You can hand-annotate the document.  You can assign tags to it.  And there's cloud storage, so you can access it from any computer.  (You can also export to other clouds: Box, Google Drive, Dropbox, and Evernote.)  With the "premium" version, you get more features such as optical character recognition. I'm not sure I need that, but I signed up for a month of premium anyway just to give the app a full test run.  Today, I scanned in the homework from one class (a writing assignment).  It was not a pain.  Let's see how it goes from here on out.

So ... the rambling teacher now has a portable copy machine?   Excellent!

The final question remains: where do I get lunch, check my email and (ahem) powder my nose between classes?  Well, it may be a hit to my health if I leave the virtuous lunch at home, but there's the Gold Standard Cafe.  Iced coffee, brunch items, pastries, good music, and Internet ... Hmmm, Plan B is starting to look better than Plan A!


  1. Interesting, Kath! Thanks for the shout. Now that I have a smart phone, I'm going to check it out :-)

  2. Let me know if it works for you!

    I've revived my efforts to use a wiki this year, too. (Per an old conversation we had a while back.) This new batch of learners seems pretty excited about it!

  3. Looking good... may be even better than my cheapo 3-in-1. Scanning pages off books can be awkward at the best of times, so camera scanning makes sense, just like in the good old spy days, lol. It's not perfect, of course, and I can't do any selection on the post-scanning pdf, so I'll have to make sure I do all the editing at the mobile phone stage. Eye-straining sometimes.
    The ads are very distracting so if I make use of it a lot, I might get the paid version.

  4. If it turns out to be really useful, I'll probably get the paid version. If you sign up (no cost) you get some free cloud storage. I had scanned student word directly from their notebooks and I downloaded it onto my laptop and opened the PDFs in Adobe Reader. I was able to annotate them (type in some comments, etc.) and then print them out for student folders, etc. I would consider using their tagging capability and their cloud offering for maintaining all student files, but it seems that the cloud website is kinda slow and pretty limited. Might use an alternative.

    I also noticed that you have to be careful about having enough light (otherwise the scan is kinda blurry). But in general, the scans I took are suitable!

  5. if you have a .edu email account (I don't :( ) you can apparently get an upgrade to the pro version for free!