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Blackboard: The Digital Dropbox

Friday, January 22nd, 2010 by | Filed Under: Uncategorized

Blackboard uses a feature called the digital dropbox to transfer files between students and instructors. When a student wants to submit a paper to his instructor, instead of having to e-mail it, which could easily end up in the instructor’s junk mailbox (on purpose or not? We won’t go there….), the student submits the paper via the digital dropbox.

Why Use the Digital Dropbox Instead of E-mail?

The digital dropbox is useful for a number of reasons. One, the student does not have to leave the Blackboard system in order to send his file. That’s a good thing because once he leaves the system, he may not come back! Another reason is safety. We’ve all had our inbox flooded with spam. In those cases, it’s really easy to delete a harmless message along with the real vermin. We’ve also had our “friendly” messages get trapped in the spam folder along with enemy spam messages. Unless you go through your spam box regularly, you’re probably not getting all of your messages.

The same goes with instructors. If a student relies on e-mail to submit his paper, he may be waiting awhile. Because it’s not unusual for instructors to have a couple of hundred students, a student’s name may not immediately ring a bell with his instructor. In addition, many students don’t bother even setting their names in their e-mail, resulting in a message from “” that has no subject line. This message is just dying to get deleted: if the spam folder doesn’t get it, the instructor definitely will.

Using the digital dropbox to submit assignments is extremely reliable. Only students can submit files to instructors. There is no junk box in the digital dropbox. In addition, the student’s name is automatically assigned to the file whether he puts it there or not. In short, using the digital dropbox simplifies things immensely for both the instructor and the student. The only bad this is that there is not red flag that tells the instructor the file has arrived. The student will just have to trust his instructor to check the dropbox. Good luck with that….

Like every good thing, though, there is an element of danger.

Sending Versus Adding a File

The biggest problem with the dropbox is that students can either send a file or add one. Below is the screen the student receives once he clicks on Tools then on Digital Dropbox:


When students send a file, it goes straight to their instructor. Period. When they add one, it doesn’t really go anywhere. It’s just added to Blackboard for them in the off chance that they want to work on it while they are on Spring Break in the Grand Caymans.

Another problem: the upload screen for adding a file looks exactly the same as the upload screen for sending a file. The big question now is, “Which button did I push? The Add File button or the Send File button?”

Sending a File

A student who actually cares if his instructor gets his work wants to click on the Send File button.


This feature uploads the student’s file, allows him to create a subject line and write a comment (both which are optional) then sends the file directly to the instructor. Only a computer or server glitch—or Fate itself—will prevent the file from getting to the instructor. Once the file is sent, the student receives the following receipt page notifying him that the file submission was successful:


After he hits OK and returns to the digital dropbox page, he will see the file receipt which includes his name, the date and time he submitted the file, plus any comments he posted. He can see which file he sent by simply clicking on the underlined blue name.


Adding a File

Many students make the mistake of hitting the first button, the Add File button, instead of the Send File button when they want to submit their work to their instructor.


This is a travesty simply because the instructor cannot access files that have only been added to the student’s dropbox—unless the instructor has student’s usernames and passwords, and then they might have other problems.

One reason that students don’t realize that they’ve hit the wrong button is because the Add File upload screen is, crazily, the same as the Send File upload screen. Of all the times Blackboard decides not to use breadcrumbs (the links at the top of the page that show you where the heck you are in the class) they would pick now!

Fortunately, not all is lost. When a student hits the submit button from the upload screen, if he has chosen the Add File button, a warning message will appear to remind him that he is only adding the file:


When he returns to the digital dropbox page, he can send it using the Send File button.

Finally, to also remind the student that he has added the file instead of sent it, the receipt is a little different:


Notice that the “Essay #2” receipt on the screen above has two differences circled in red: there is a Remove button to the right and the words “Posted on” appear next to the date instead of the word “Submitted.”

Hopefully, knowing the difference between the Add File and Send File buttons will alleviate one of the most common problems students make using Blackboard. And now you have no excuse for not getting your paper in on time—unless your instructor doesn’t know you read this article!

~Karen Powers Liebhaber

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