Saved by the cloud…

For several years, I’ve been pitching cloud based solutions particularly Dropbox, Evernote, and Google Apps.  I’ve always provided scenarios where the cloud could act as a knight in shining armor, but to be completely honest I never had to rely on the cloud for disaster recover.  In my travels, I’ve utilized an array of cloud based solutions, but until tonight those solutions have been used for their convenience and their power, not their abilities to save the day.

Twice a week I venture to a local community college to teach “Programming I.”  Tonight, I pulled into the parking lot, stepped out of my car, and opened the trunk only to realize that my laptop bag was still sitting on my kitchen floor.  After choking back a few expletives, I ran through what I would actually need the laptop for.  Well, I need to print the sign-in sheet.  I need my lesson plan, agenda, and a few presentation materials.  I’ll need to access the sample programs we were working with last class.

After going through the list, I felt a sense of calm, because I knew the day had come.  The day the cloud would have to live up to expectations and ensure the next two hours would not be wasted.

My classroom is a computer lab with a “teacher station.”  Over the last 4 years, the only time I have touched the teacher station is to unplug the VGA cable to hook my laptop into the projector.  So, once I reached my room, I quickly sat down at the teacher station and to the cloud I went…

1) Sign-In Sheet: I opened up a browser window and logged into dropbox.com.  Since I keep all my pertinent files in dropbox, the needed sign-in sheet was only a few clicks away.  I downloaded the file to the computer, but there was one hitch.  The sign-in sheet was created in Pages, which is Apple’s word processing app.  The lab is a PC lab.  I quickly realized it was not an issue.  I logged into my Google Apps account and uploaded the file to my Google Drive.  During the upload, my .pages files was converted to a Google Doc, which allowed me to change the date and print.  One down…

2) Lesson Plan / Agenda: My lesson plans are conveniently created and stored in Evernote.  While I could have logged into evernote.com to get my notes, I utlized my Evernote iPhone app and referenced it as needed throughout the class.  Two Down…

3) Presentation Materials: As a component of my “flipped classroom” approach, I have already uploaded the presentation and some other resources to the class’s Blackboard Site.  I pre-provided resources to the students, so they can get an understanding of the material before steeping foot in the door.  So, there was really no need for the laptop there.  Three Down.

4) Sample Programs: Once we got rolling, it was time to do some code walk throughs.  I planned on starting with the completion of a few programs that were started during our last class.  Luckily, all my pertinent files are securely stored in Dropbox, so I quickly went to dropbox.com and downloaded the 2 sources files.  After class, I simply uploaded the completed files and a few new files we created as a group back up to dropbox.  Next time I’m on the laptop, those files will already be updated and waiting for me.

Another successful class in the books.

Thanks Cloud…

 

Administrators in the Cloud: Volume 1 Dropbox – Part 2

Dropbox Public Folder

In this installment of Administrators in the Cloud, I’ll be focusing on Dropbox’s Public folder.  Dropbox’s Public folder provides administrators the ability to share files effectively,  efficiently, and at no cost by getting their files into the cloud.

Overview of The Public Folder

When you install Dropbox on your device, you’ll noticed that one of the default folders is named Public.  Files you want to share with your staff, or colleagues, can be kept in your Public folder.  All files stored there have a public link that can e-mailed, tweeted, blogged, or posted on a webpage Anyone who has that link can access your file from anywhere in the world.  Keep in mind that this folder is public and there is no way to restrict access to particular users, so be sure not to use this folder for documents that contain any sort of sensitive or private content.  The Public folder provides public READ-ONLY access to your documents.  You are still the only person who can create, edit, and delete files in this folder.  Below is a quick list of some key features / functionality of Dropbox’s public folder.

  • nested folders: You can neatly organize your public documents into sub-folders within the Public folder.
  • public links:  Each and every file within the Public folder, or any of its subfolders, has a public link.  The public link is simply the URL you can share via an e-mail, tweet, blog post, or webpage.  For instructions on how to get your document’s public link, check out this help page on the Dropbox website.
  • individual file sharing:  By design, the Dropbox Public folder only allows access to individual files.  There are no public folder links, only links to individual files.

Administrators’ Public Folders

The Dropbox Public folder isn’t going to solve all you file sharing or document distribution needs.  However, there are three clear benefits for school employees, all of which I use frequently and have outlined below.

Memos:  We often have to send out e-mails to our staff with a memo or document attached.  One con of the attachment approach to document sharing is, you are actually sending a copy of the file to every single recipient.  So, if your sending the e-mail to 200 people, that means 200 copies of the same exact file that are now sitting on your mail server.  Most attachments are small in size, so this isn’t necessarily a problem.  However, if you are sending a flyer for a fundraiser or a school event that contains pictures, this duplication can cause unnecessary stress on your servers.  If you were to place that document in your Dropbox Public folder, then you’d simply be e-mailing your staff a link to the document and everyone would be accessing the same document with the same ease of opening an attachment.

Along that line, have you ever e-mailed a document to your staff or students, only to realize there was a typo.  In the attachment method of sharing, you’re now resending the e-mail, which makes another 200 copies of that file on your mail server.  If you use the Dropbox Public Folder to share that file, you simply edit the file in the public folder and voila…  The same link you sent out will now take your staff to the updated and corrected document.  The Public folder is great for documents that may be fluid and for documents the staff might need to access multiple times.

Guidelines / Tutorials:  Schools often have network folders that contain tutorials, acceptable use policies, teacher handbooks, etc.  The downside of most network folders is that they are only accessible when you are within the walls of the school.  If you turn your Public folder into a Staff Resource folder by simply placing all those required documents inside your Dropbox Public folder and teachers will now be able to access those documents from anywhere in the world.

Bloggers and Tweeters:  Administrative bloggers and tweeters are often sharing forms and other documents with parents.  When you attach a file to a blog post or to a tweet, you’ve got to go through the upload file process, which again is creating a duplicate of your original document.  Instead you can put that document in your Dropbox Public folder and simply link to that file from your blog or tweet, in the form of a clickable hyperlink.  Again, the beauty of this method is that if you need to modify the document, your not going through the upload process again.  Just edit the doc in the Public folder and you’re good to go.

 

I’d love to hear how others out there are utilizing the Dropbox Public folder.  Please share you usage with a comment…

 

Administrators in the Cloud: Volume 1 Dropbox — Part 1

The Cloud

(Photo Credit: Shutterstock)


Series Overview

Welcome to the inaugural post of my Administrators in the Cloud blog series.  In this series I will focus on how administrators can utilize various cloud computing applications to improve their productivity, while fostering a collaborative environment within their building or across a district.  Including educational technology does just apply to the classroom, but instead educational technology tools can be utilized in our main offices as well.  I strongly believee effective leaders practice what they preach.  Talking to teachers about the importance of paperless classrooms, utilization of educational technology, and developing student centered classrooms isn’t enough.  I think the phrase I despise the most is, “this is the way we’ve always done it.”  It bugs me simply because, if something works doesn’t mean it can’t be improved.  Today’s administrators should be leading by example and should be finding ways to streamline procedures by using web based, dynamic, and scalable applications.

An Introduction to Dropbox

Dropbox in the simplest sense is nothing more than a folder on your computer.  Well, I guess it’s more like a folder with magical powers, but to the average user it acts and looks just like a normal folder.  What makes Dropbox magical is that the files you put in the Dropbox folder are implicitly synced to the cloud.  I’ll explain more about that in a minute.  After running a simple install program a folder is created for you named “Dropbox.”  Inside your Dropbox folder, you can create a hierarchy of folders and fill them with documents the same way you would in a “My Documents” folder on a harddrive, on an external USB drive, or on a network share.

What makes Dropbox magical is that it implicitly syncs all your files to the cloud.  This means that when you save a document, not only is the document saved physically on your computer it is also copied via the web to your secure account on the Dropbox server.  It is also copied to any other computer you have installed Dropbox on.  Example time!  You’re at work and save a file to your Dropbox folder.  You head home and head directly into your home office and turn on your home computer.  Guess what…  The file you made at work is waiting for you on your home PC.  Let’s say it’s a letter of recommendation and your going to make some final edits at home.  When you save the editted doc on the home PC, those changes are automatically copied to the Dropbox servers and back to your work PC.  If you have an iPad, Andriod Tablet, or Smartphone you can install the Dropbox app and access that letter of recommendation on the subway if need be.

Ok, so I’m going to stop here.  I wanted to provide you with an introductory taste.  That way, I can spend time in future posts fully explaining particular features and providing you with some concrete exmaples of how Dropbox is going to make you a better administrator and maybe a better person.

 

New England 1:1 Reflection – Student Presenters

ne121 summit student panel

New England 1:1 Summit - Student Panel

Along with roughly 300 teachers, administrators, and students, I attended the New England 1:1 Summit this past weekend.  I had the honor, and I don’t use the term lightly, of presenting on “classroom workflows and the cloud” to a crowd of close to 40 educators.  I hope that I was able to provide the attendees with a window into the world of digital classroom.

It was a day full of encouraging conversations, a pretty darn tasty lunch, and was even fun to boot.  There was an energy in the air and everyone seemed to have a little more hop in their step.  It’s Monday now and with the New England 1:1 Summit in the rear view, my focus should be on the week’s to do’s, because a DOE report looming, students requesting courses, and 1,700 elementary students looking for progress reports leaves little room for distraction this week.

Regretfully, I can’t stop thinking about last Saturday’s summit.  While I already take great pride in working in the school system I attended as a youngster and working in the town I grew up in (and currently reside in), Saturday’s summit made me proud to be part of Burlington Public Schools in new ways.  There were countless attendees enthralled with the student “help desk” panel.  During lunch, I overheard an assistant superintendent ask if she could “take one of them home with her.”  Every time I ventured to the BHS Main Lobby, there was at least three attendees getting assistance from the student hosts.  Since I was on the go for a better part of the day, and even found time to leave during Session 2 to take the family to the Francis Wyman Carnival, I wasn’t able to keep up with the twitter chat on the summit’s hashtag #ne121.  So, I spent a some time on Sunday going through the tweets and I have to admit that every time I came across one that mentioned the “awesome” BHS students I cracked a smile.

I had a Dr. Greg House moment this evening, which as an aside is the reason for this blog post and me finally making the decision to get into the blogging game.  Better late than never, right?  Anyway…  While taking the dog out this evening, for some reason I was thinking about my presentation and how I could improve it.  I’d restructure the timeline for more participation throughout the presentation instead of basically lecturing and saving the discussion / sharing piece for the end.  I’ve always be a proponent of student centered teaching and made an effort to practice it in the classroom, but for some reason whenever I think I professional development I always envision a presenter.  Don’t worry, it is something I promise to work on.  So, while thinking about my presentation the success of the student panel popped into my head and it hit me.  Why is it that on traditional PD days student’s have the day off from school, but educators are there to teach each other or learn from a paid presenter (aka expert)?  Why haven’t we involved students in the development of our craft and the development of our course content?  What if we had a full day of PD for teachers and administrators put on by students?  We talk all the time about the importance of student centered learning and the need for students to own their education, why not allow them to have a hand in the preparation of their educators as well.  Teachers still need to be the content experts and need to possess the social skills that go along with managing a classroom of 20+ students, but why haven’t we brought the students to the table more regarding the tools and methods we use?

 

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