As high school teachers prepare to transition to new laptops, and our buildings open up more and more opportunities to collaborate and share, more people are looking for an easy-to-use space to back up and share files. Enter this week’s topic: Dropbox.com
Dropbox is an odd thing to describe. Imagine uploading your files to one folder and having them appear on every other computer you own. That’s what possible through Dropbox. Need a visual? Check out this video created by the people at CommonCraft.
So, how might Dropbox work for you?
- A quick solution for backing up those files on your laptop.
Installing Dropbox on two computers (for example, your school computer and your home computer) will set up an instant back up. Every time you save a file or folder (or drag an existing one) into your Dropbox folder, those files and folders will be automatically saved both to Dropbox.com as well as to your home computer. So, no more need for a flashdrive! For some additional back up hints, check out Bill Bass’ post from a couple weeks back.
- Access your files from anywhere, including your phone!
With Dropbox.com, you can access your files from any web browser, on any computer. But what if your computer isn’t around and you’d like to check that spreadsheet? If you have a smartphone (an iPhone, Android phone, or Blackberry) you can install Dropbox on your phone and open that file anywhere. There are a number of third-party apps that also extend Dropbox’s functionality on your phone. For example, one app allows you to record audio and save directly to Dropbox. Another allows you to automatically save to Dropbox any picture or video you take with your phone.
- Share your files – individually or collaboratively with shared folders.
Every Dropbox account has a “Public Folder.” Any file you save into that folder has a link that you can send to anyone, whether he has a Dropbox account or not. To get the link, simply right-click the file in your public folder and choose “Copy public link” Here’s the draft of this post, posted to my Dropbox folder. One way you might use your public folder is to easily update documents on your website.
Let’s say I always use a similar set of classroom expectations, but update that document with little changes each year as I learn better ways to manage my classroom. If I keep that document in my public Dropbox folder and make a link to it from my website, every time I open that document in Word and save it my website points to the most recent copy – I don’t have to mess with loading a new document every time I change my classroom routines.
In addition to sharing individual documents, colleagues who each have Dropbox accounts can share the contents of full folders. Using a shared folder incorporates all the functions of an individual account, but creates a pool of resources that any member of your group can access and update. For groups that are already collaborating, like 6th grade social studies, this shared folder can act as a hub for common resources, one that’s always backed up online and available anywhere. There is no longer any need to e-mail updates as resources are refined!
One more tip: Upgrade your account for free!
I hope you’ve seen something in the description above that has encouraged you to try out Dropbox! But before you sign up, though, you might consider one way to increase the space available to you and your group while still using the free version. Every time one person refers another to Dropbox, BOTH people receive 250 MB of additional space (everyone starts out with 2 GB). For one collaborative team, we created the largest free sharing space we could by having one person refer everyone else (see diagram below).
So, if you have someone in your collaborative group who already has a Dropbox account, I’d suggest asking him or her to send a referral to everyone else and then “host” your shared space on their Dropbox account. In this way, your group will have a collaborative space that’s a bit larger than if everyone signs up independently.
If you have any additional questions about Dropbox, or you’ve been using it in ways I haven’t described here, please include them in the comments below!