Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dropbox: Your Online Filing Cabinet

Dropbox logoEver in the classroom and realize you want a computer file that’s at home? I know it’s happened to me. Dropbox provides a fast, simple solution that can help you and students.

Dropbox, which went public last Thursday, bills itself at “the easiest way to share and store your files online.” So far, they live up to that reputation for me.

What Does Dropbox Do?

  • Provides you a free 2GB Internet storage folder.
  • Works just like any file folder on your computer—you can drag, drop, copy, delete, and so on.
  • Keeps all your files up-to-date automatically on multiple computers.
  • Lets you access your files from any Internet or mobile browser (yes, from your cell phone).
  • Includes public and shared folders, so you can share files with everyone or just the people you identify.
  • Keeps other files hidden from the public.
  • Organizes photos in simple galleries for sharing.
  • Works on Mac, Windows, and Linux.

How Does Dropbox Work?
View the Dropbox Screencast for a fast video overview or walk through the webpages on Dropbox’s features for all the details.

It’s really simple:

  1. Download the Dropbox application.
  2. Create a login.
  3. Start adding files to your Dropbox folder.

Really. That’s it. If you want to access the files on another personal computer, you can download the application and simply sign in.

Or just use the Web interface. That’s right. No download is necessary once you’ve set the program up on your personal computer.

How is Dropbox Helpful to Educators?
Once you try Dropbox, you’ll have no trouble thinking of uses, but I’ll brainstorm 10 ideas to get you started:

  1. Store handouts and assignments in Dropbox at home, and you can get to the files when you’re on a computer at school. Change a file at school, upload it to Dropbox, and you’ll have the fresh file at home.

  2. How about uploading your convention presentation so you have a ready backup?

  3. Place copies of files in public or shared folders and give students the URL. No excuse for lost or missing assignments when everything is available online.

  4. Have students sign up for their own Dropbox, if your school's Acceptable Use Policy allows. They can easily move their files between home and school computers too.

  5. Need an online portfolio space? Have students create a shared portfolio folder for their work. Set it up so that only peer group members and you can access the files.

  6. Work on more than one platform? Have both a Mac and a Windows machine? No more nuisance moving files back and forth on CDs or USB jump drives. Just drag a file to the Dropbox on one machine, and you can get to it on the other machine. Platform doesn't matter.

  7. Upload a collection of photos students need for a project, and you have a ready gallery to share (without having to worry about the problem files on Flickr).

  8. Collaborate with a colleague on an article about a teaching strategy you both use. Store your files in a shared Dropbox folder and you can both access the files easily.

  9. Compare different versions of a document, as a writer yourself or with students’ drafts. Dropbox keeps an archive of changed files, so you can easily step back to an older version.

  10. Have a certain set of files or tools you like to use? Maybe specific extensions for Firefox? Save them on Dropbox and it’s easy to keep your different machines synched. You don’t have to be all scholarly about it. The Dropbox folks report that some people use their folder for mods and customizations for games like World of Warcraft.

Have another idea?
Please share. Dropbox has a lot of potential. The 2GB size is limiting, but if you are careful and only place current files on the system, it should be a nice way to keep things available, no matter what computer you’re sitting at.



David said...

What about setting up folders for each student in your class and share only with them? Then you can use MS Word comment feature and respond to student work on-line and return graded papers to them via db.

Anyone tried this?

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