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4/2/2013
04:21 PM
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Dropbox In The Classroom: 4 Great Uses

Dropbox cloud-based service does more than basic storage jobs for educators, with no IT help required.

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When Dropbox arrived on the scene in the fall of 2009, it was aimed at consumers. But today, some of Dropbox's 100 million-plus users worldwide are students and teachers, who use the Web storage and file synchronization service in a variety of ways.

Because it is a browser-accessible Web service, Dropbox needs little in the way of IT intervention, and can be used by students on campus and off. And because it offers clients for Windows, Mac and Linux -- as well as Android, iOS and BlackBerry smartphones -- any student can use Dropbox, regardless of device.

Here are four great uses for Dropbox in the classroom.

1. Sharing Stored Files.

In the early days, some educators probably turned to Dropbox simply because their school's own networking setup lacked such a feature. Anecdotal reports suggest that schools now are sanctioning the use of cloud services like Dropbox.

[ What's the latest and greatest in Dropbox? Read Dropbox 2.0.0 Pretties Up the Menu. ]

Last year, Dropbox launched a program called Space Race, offering people with an .edu email address an extra 3 GB of storage -- on top of the 2 GB of storage all users get. At this writing, it is not clear if Dropbox will offer Space Race again this year.

2. Overcoming Email Limitations.

Over-size attachments, such as large PowerPoint files and videos, that never reach their intended recipient because the email program chokes on the file, is a common complaint of email users. Dropbox essentially solves this problem by bypassing email.

3. Turning In Homework.

In its simplest application, Dropbox can be as used a common filing cabinet through which teachers can provide documents, such as homework assignments and handouts, and media files for the entire class. But another popular use goes in the opposite direction, from students to teachers. Using Dropbox as a homework drop has the added benefit of providing, by default, a time-stamp for these submissions.

Of course, students can share Dropbox folders with each other too, and so collaborate on joint assignments. Happily, the free version of Dropbox saves a history of all deleted and earlier versions of files for 30 days. Paid Dropbox Pro accounts have a feature called Packrat that saves file history indefinitely.

4. Easy Saves From Popular Apps.

Quite a number of popular productivity and educational applications now feature a Dropbox "sync" option. Evernote, for example, has a "save to Dropbox" option. Other popular education apps with Dropbox integration include: Notability, iThoughtsHD and Ghostwriter Notes.

A free Dropbox account includes 2 GB of space. Users can earn more free space in a variety of ways. Also, more storage can be purchased via monthly or annual plans. For institutions needing even more storage, there is Dropbox for Teams, which adds a number of advanced account security and management options, as well as unlimited storage. Pricing for Dropbox for Teams starts at $795 for up to 250 licenses.

InformationWeek's March Must Reads is a compendium of our best recent coverage on collaboration. This Must Reads: Collaboration issue looks at how collaboration tools solve real problems, the potential for unified communications to expand collaboration outside your company, where the cloud fits in and more. (Free with registration.)

 

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Ellis Booker
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Ellis Booker,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/8/2013 | 3:00:59 PM
re: Dropbox In The Classroom: 4 Great Uses
Cara, I've always wondered how well these free services do at "upselling" their users to paid versions with, for example, extra storage. In my own case, for instance, I foolishly resisted upgrading Gmail (I was a very early user of it) for years and years, until I finally got sick of clearing out the account every 4 months to keep it under 2GB. I'm *very* willing to pay the $20/year for the extra space. So I wonder how cost-constrained schools see the free vs paid cloud app question.
Cara Latham
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Cara Latham,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/3/2013 | 1:51:56 PM
re: Dropbox In The Classroom: 4 Great Uses
I've noticed that more schools are catching onto Dropbox. I use it at work to transfer large photo files to and from co-workers and have had an easier time collaborating with them. If I had had access to such a tool when I was in school, it would have saved me and my classmates a lot of time and frustration when we were working on collaborative group projects and needed to share files, like, as Ellis mentions, PowerPoint slides and videos. Schools would be wise to examine this as a potential low-cost and efficient way of allowing students and teachers to collaborate and share files.
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