One thing that I will require of my students this Fall is that they all register for a DropBox account. If you are unfamiliar with DropBox it’s a ‘cloud’ syncing tool – it allows you to sync files across computers and devices. I’m always surprised when I meet other faculty or friends or students that have never heard of this amazing tool. If you do any work from home and then at the office and are used to transferring files via email (a pain if it’s a large file) or flash-drive (which are now prone to viruses and many employers block), DropBox is a God send. It keeps all of your files, documents, and other materials synced and readily accessible from anywhere that has an internet connection. What also makes it a life-saver is that it does not require a physical installation (although that is a great feature). You can access, upload, and download files from their website. If your employer is like mine, you generally cannot install software on your machine. This is a great work around.
This video is put out by the people of DropBox and gives you a brief intro and overview:
Now, DropBox starts you out with 2GB of space for free. There are quite a few ways to increase this amount of space. First and foremost, join DropBox from this link – it will give you an additional 250MB of space. The most effective way to get free space is to invite your friends (or require your students) to join – invite them and once they install the software, you will both get 250MB of free space (up to 8GB). If you have a .edu account (or your buddies do), they will double it! Sadly, this is *only* for .edu addresses – they refuse to acknowledge my school which has a .org email system.
So, how can you use DropBox as an educator? There are many ways that you can do this. One is to just manage your own material and make it more readily accessible. My PowerPoint presentations are very image intensive and quickly get over 20MB – not an emailable size (my server limits to 5MB) and, rushing around in the morning it’s easy to forgot to copy the new version onto my flash-drive. By keeping my lectures on DropBox I always have access to the most recent changes. Additionally, many applications that you likely use have a DropBox sync option. To see a list of applications that have partnered with DropBox check out the DropBox Apps page. DropBox works across platforms and devices – this means that you can use a Mac at home, a PC at work (which I do), a Blackberry phone and you will have access to your documents on *all* of them (they also have apps for iPhone, iPad, Android, and Linux).
In addition to making your life a lot easier, DropBox can be a great tool in the classroom – and this is why I use it for my students. The first thing to do is to create a folder for a particular class that you will use for information that you want to share (PowerPoints, hand-outs, reading assignments, whatever). You can call this folder whatever you want, I usually call it something like “Ancient History Share”). When you go to your DropBox page on the web, this is what you will see (well, similar – it depends on what your folders are):
Next, put your mouse over the folder and click on the arrow to the right – a drop-down menu will appear. Select “Invite to Folder”
Next, you will get this window – input the email addresses of your students (this will also invite them to DropBox giving you and them the free 250MB). You can also input a message, e.g. “Accept this invitation ot have access to course materials.”
Once you have invited students, this is now a “Shared Folder” – this means that whoever has access to this folder can add files, download content, and (whether you like it or not) delete content. However, only *you* can delete or edit permanently. If you want to check for changes, click on the folder in DropBox and then click on “Show Deleted Files”
You will be able to see what was deleted, when, and by whom – you can also restore the deleted file or, if a student modifies it, revert to an earlier version. I try to upload only PDF files to prevent students from accidentally altering content.
So, how do I use DropBox in my classroom? For a number of reasons:
- To store additional copies of hand-outs, students know to re-download and print on their own here if they missed it due to an absence or simply lost it.
- To distribute PowerPoint presentations – most are too large for email.
- A way for students to turn in homework assignments – it’s an easy electronic homework drop (rather than email).
- For students to submit visual components of in class presentations – it takes several minutes for students to log in/out of their campus accounts to access presentations. With DropBox, I can visual determine that they have completed this portion of the assignment and all may access from one log-in.
I have several students who use DropBox as an and-all-be-all homework drop, this way they always have access to assignments be it on campus or at home.
It’s an amazingly flexible tool that can facilitate a lot of activities that educators (and all people can use) that is free!! Check it out!