dropbox: a love story

This is my third post in my series on teaching with technology.

This post reviews Dropbox, a online folder that saves and backs up your work online and syncs the files across your computers. It doesn’t back up and sync everything, just whatever is saved to the My Dropbox folder. The My Dropbox folder is like every other folder on your computer, where subfolders can be created to organize contents.  In this folder, Dropbox literally creates a copy of each file on each file in the folder on each computer (and backs them up online).  You can open and modify files offline, and then Dropbox will back up and sync files when it has a connection. I haven’t had a single problem with syncing.  I often copy my active work and papers to the My Dropbox folder so that I can work on them on my tablet in the evening.  That way, I always have my work with me, even if I forget my flash drive in my office.

Dropbox files are private.  There is a public folder that can be accessed (read only) by everyone.  Users can create shared folders.  The only problem with shared folders is that there is no owner, so all users can add to and delete files.  Some improvements to sharing options are the only way I could imagine improving Dropbox.

Dropbox is really useful, since I regularly use a tablet.  After a semester of saving my teaching files on a flash drive and transferring files to my desktop (where I back up my files), I pursued better alternatives.  Dropbox emerged as the single perfect tool for managing files across multiple computers. As an instructor, I use it to move files that I use for teaching between my PC and tablet. I use my tablet to create and edit most of my teaching content, but I like to back up all of my files on my main PC in my office.

I haven’t found too many other uses for Dropbox with regards to teaching. Dropbox requires downloading software to the computers where it will be used. It’s one thing to require students to create an account, another to ask them to install new programs (unless they are math or computational programs necessary for class).  However, I did create a shared folder for the students I worked with.  Only one student signed up for an Dropbox account, and we have yet to really start using it.

I don’t know how I lived without Dropbox for so long. Obviously, I find it indispensable as an instructor and researcher.  Its uses are unlimited when combined with other tools (Steve Brady recommends using Password Safe with Dropbox–I’ll have to check that out).

I would be happy to refer anyone to Dropbox (Disclaimer: I get extra storage for every user I refer–I could use the space).  Just use my email address.

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5 responses to “dropbox: a love story

  • iamreddave

    I have just started using it in conjunction with an ipad. Drop a pdf and at home have a read. Result no more bits of paper all over the house and thus a slightly lower chance of divorce.

  • Rodolfo Carvajal

    I would say that Dropbox is one of the great things that has happened to humanity during the last years. Thanks to it I don’t need to worry about computers crashing, reinstalling the OS… everything I need is there.

    Another great aspect of Dropbox is that since is not infinite capacity, I’ve learn to be organized with documents and be more strict on what is really important to keep.

  • Laura

    A twitter user writes, “you can get to your dropbox public folder via just a URL (without the app) – useful for distributing to students?”

    Agreed–this is very useful!

  • Paul A. Rubin

    On computers that lack the Dropbox software, you can still access your files via the web interface; you just don’t get automatic syncing.

    One enhancement I’d like to see if better handling of symlinks. I’m a bit anal about how I organize my files, and I don’t like to have all my work in the Dropbox folder, so I keep it where I normally would and put symlinks in the Dropbox folder (or, in a few cases, put the actual files in the Dropbox folder and the symlink in the “natural” home folder). This works well on Linux systems and tolerably on Windows (where I use an add-in to Explorer to create “junctions”, the Windows version of a symlink). The biggest pain is that, on Windows, Dropbox will automatically download updates of linked files but won’t automatically upload them; I have to remember to stop and restart Dropbox, which causes changes to linked files to be uploaded.

    Minor quibbles, though; I find Dropbox incredibly useful (and not at all a bandwidth hog, which was one worry I had). One other nice feature (which I’ve used once or twice): through the web interface, you can roll back to an earlier version of a file.

  • Robert

    I put ALL the files I own in Dropbox – about 2.5 Gb. I had to get the paid account, but I think it was worth it as I now don’t have to worry about backing up.

    I agree with Rodolfo that this is one of the best development of the last few years 😉

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