In any given semester, I need to access files on three to seven* computers pretty regularly, plus others on occasion. Until last spring, I handled this in one of two ways: a flash drive, or self-e-mailing. Flash drives are convenient enough: they don’t require internet access, plus there’s just the one copy of the file, so you don’t have to remember what’s the most current. But, then again, you have to have it with you. (I think George solves this problem with this key-shaped drive.) And, if you lose the drive, or dunk it in your coffee, or your bag’s run over by a psycho driver, well, you’re in a world of hurt. E-mail’s convenient, too: you don’t have to carry anything, it’s less likely to be obliterated by accident, and you have a reminder that you need to do something with the file. Then again, I would start to proliferate copies of a file–I have whole rows of files with titles like grading2do.zip, grading2do.zip 1, grading2do.zip 3, etc. Not the best.
Dropbox is a service that allows files in a special folder to be 1) synced across multiple computers; 2) accessed from any computer 3) shared at any level of scale (not shared, shared with a couple of users, shared with the world). In addition, it provides backup and versioning. There’s a free 2GB version, plus $9.99/month (50GB) and $19.99/month (100GB) plans.
Here’s how I use the free version:
- Dropbox is installed on my office and home computers. That way, the contents of one folder are mirrored on both machines. It holds papers I’m currently grading, documents for committees I’m on, and such. Anytime I change them on one computer, the change is propagated on the other. When I overwrite my blank rubric by clicking “Save” instead of “Save As,” I right click on the file, and select “see previous versions”–bang! the file’s back.
- I can also access that folder through the Dropbox website, so when I’m in the classroom those files are also available to me. (No more fretting over whether I have the flash drive with the presentation on it; no more logging into Gmail in front of the entire faculty senate . . . )
- There’s a subfolder that’s public; anything in that folder has a public URL that you can give out, willy-nilly. (That’s how I made available the rubric in this post.) What’s nice about this is that the same rules apply–it’s just a document in a folder, so anytime you update it, the update is publicly available. There’s versioning, and it’s backed up.
- Any sub-folder can be shared with anyone else. I arranged for a speaker to come to campus last year; rather than e-mail his W-9 form and other paperwork, he just put it in a shared folder in our Dropbox. Rather than clog colleagues’ inboxes with huge attachments, it’s easy enough to just point them to a shared folder.
Jason Snell made a handy video that explains how it works. Dropbox has helped streamline my (often fairly shaggy) workflow more than any other site over the past couple of years.
(And when the iPhone app is approved . . . glory days will be at hand.)
Check out Dropbox here.
home + office + n, where n is the number of different classrooms n which I’m teaching.