iPads in Education

Innovating education with technology.

Dropbox: Why You Shouldn't Need Your USB Key Again

"I will safely assume anyone who reads this blog is probably already up to date with Dropbox and its features. Please share this article with colleagues at your school who still have not migrated over from the USB key days of the mid-2000s."

Dropbox is my number one productivity tool that I use every single day, both for teaching and personal purposes. If you are still toting around USB thumb-drives and moving files from your home and work computers that way, keep on reading. If not, feel free to check out some of my more advanced Dropbox articles listed below.

For the completely uninitiated, Dropbox is a cloud storage solution that is free for the everyday user. Dropbox will give you (a rather paltry) 2GB of space when you first sign up. You can increase your free space to up to 19GB by doing certain tasks (referrals will net you an extra 500MB each). If you find that you need extra space, you can opt to purchase additional storage of up to 500GB total.

This was my first USB thumb drive: 256MB. Was I ever excited, this was the equivalent to over 177 of those 3.5 inch discs! I now own one that is 64GB which I use for watching movies on my PS3.

Let me quickly illustrate what most people did for file sharing a few years back, before Dropbox.

Was this you? Or is this still you?

  • Work on files (MSWord, Powerpoint, photo editing etc.) on a home computer;
  • Save them to a USB key;
  • The next day, bring the USB key to work and plug it in;
  • Open the files on the work computer, print or continue working;
  • Repeat several times over the course of the work week;

Things will become problematic when a USB key gets lost or misplaced. Hopefully you still have the last version saved on your hard drive! Did you lend your USB to someone and s/he corrupted the files, or deleted them by accident? Tough luck if you didn't back it up. Wear and tear of your USB might even cause it to break and be unusable.

Dropbox to the rescue!

I began using Dropbox in 2009. What a game changer! There are so many features of Dropbox, I can not even begin to try to describe them all.

Here are what I feel are the basic features:

  1. Once you install the Dropbox desktop client on all the computers you work on, you will probably never need, for most purposes, a USB again. All your files will magically sync immediately upon you pressing "Save" on the program you are working on. Your work computer will have the fully updated files when you open them in the morning. All changes will be updated. On your computer, drag desired files into your Dropbox folder. You can easily create folders within it, labelled with each subject or unit you teach. If you wish to keep things simple, set Dropbox as your "My Documents" folder.
  2. You don't have to have the desktop client installed on a computer for you to use your files. You can access your files on ANY computer with internet access. Traveling, but desperately need a file? Log in your credentials at dropbox.com and download the file there.
  3. Now comes the great part, if you are an iPad user, you have COMPLETE access to all your Dropbox files on your iPad. You can view most file types. Word documents will open up easily for quick reference. As you build up your storage, you can essentially put ALL of your documents on there for access 24/7, no matter where you are.
  4. Camera Uploads: This is an (optional) automatic feature that will upload all the photos you take with your iPhone or iPad camera. Have a look at the display of your photos
  5. Share working files with colleagues. You can create shared folders with your coworkers, and all changes that anyone makes will automatically sync for everyone.
  6. Email links (and not the actual large files) of any file you want to share with your students. They can either download it directly or save it to their own dropbox accounts.
  7. Make a mistake? Delete a file by accident? Not a problem. Go into Dropbox's "Events" tab and undelete any mistake you've made. Trust me, I've accidentally deleted thousands of files, at once(!), and was able to recover them within a day.
The Camera Upload interface on the Dropbox app is quite impressive:

There are other features, specifically for the iOS app, that Dropbox offers. Check out these Dropbox articles that I have written in the past:

Don't have Dropbox yet? Get it at dropbox.com (I've maxed out on my referrals, so find someone who has it, and get them to refer you! They will appreciate it!)

Any other Dropbox tips you can share with us would be greatly appreciated! Leave them in the comments!

About the author:

Steve Lai is a teacher, tech enthusiast, and iPad blogger, and author and founder of teachingwithipad.org, an iPad for educators blog since 2010. Follow him on Twitter @sly111.

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Comment by Steve Lai on October 19, 2013 at 3:16pm

Yes. Teachers must be careful in not putting confidential student information. 

I only have the Dropbox client installed on my work laptop. If I am using a different school computer, I just access my Dropbox files through the web.

Comment by JB on October 16, 2013 at 12:19pm
I don't blame them, I'm a network manager and I blocked Dropbox because teachers using if didn't have the slightest idea of what the dangers could be of copying all their students confidential info, pics and notes onto their home pc via drop box, the same pc that they share with their teenagers, that one downloading torrents, yes that one that has no password or antivirus and hasn't had windows updates for six months. Thins is exactly why we stopped pen drive access form school desktops 3 years ago...

We tried educating staff but when it comes down to them just "wanting to get something done", they are always happy to flaunt any rules around securing sensitive data.
Comment by Budd Turner on October 16, 2013 at 5:31am

After getting several teachers at my school to start using Dropbox, IT discovered and started blocking access.  I've gotten several to switch to Evernote, but most are afraid it will become blocked as soon as they learn it and switch.


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