Cloud-based file storage wünderkind!
I have been using Dropbox for almost two years now, in both my professional and personal life. I use it so much that I now rarely store any documents on my local "My Docuements" folder, but most everything goes into Dropbox. Started in 2007 by MIT graduates, it quickly gained a strong following. They run on the "Freemium" model, which grants new users a free allocation of 2GB of cloud based storage. Users are able to earn more storage by referring new users and through other, more fun events they stage throughout the year. Last year, they held a large scavenger hunt throughout the internet for prizes and free storage space. Overall, it is a strong model and many companies are starting to implement this structure.
Why should I be interested in Dropbox?
Fair question. We talked about the power of the "Cloud" (or digital storage on centralized servers that are accessible everywhere) in my posts about Google Docs. It allows users simplified collaboration, centralized access to their folders and files, and automatic backup options. From a school counselor's point of view, Dropbox is a powerful tool that lets us distribute files (like: permission slips, scholarship info, application guidelines, graduation requirements, and anything else you can think of) to anyone we share the link with. Also, like Google Docs -- users can elect to have people visiting the shared folder full access (read/write) or read-only access through sharing of a link (not able to make changes to files or delete them). In order to start using Dropbox, you need to 1.) signup for the service online and 2.) download the installer which integrates Dropbox into your Windows/Mac/Linux system. It is also able to be used on mobile smartphones (iOS, Blackberry, and Android) and iPads. It will have a system tray icon (that stuff next to the clock in Windows) and add options to your right-click context menu and a folder in your documents. Anything you put in that folder is sync'd with Dropbox automatically.
|Visual representation of how Dropbox works.|
Automatic Updates and Centralized Access
Dropbox also synchronizes your data between all of your linked computers, the Dropbox website portal, and other mobile devices. So, for example, when you update a Word document on your home computer, it is updated on your work PC automatically.
The software also frees you from being tied to your PC to have access to your files. Being able to access the internet is the only requirement for downloading and opening any of your "dropboxed" files. Only exception is having the correct software for the file-type on all computers. You can simply go to www.dropbox.com and login -- once there, you will see all of your current files.
Collaborative in natureOne feature that many users are not very aware of is the ability to share folders or individual files with users. If you are working with an individual or group of people regularly - it will be easier to use the shared folder option, as it will keep everyone updated when any files change in the folder. This sharing method allows people to delete, update, edit, and add files to the folder -- so share wisely. To share several documents or files with people - use the Link function. The link function gives you a web-link that will share only the selected file or folder (with the included files) to any website, email, or twitter post you can imagine. Users can preview the file in their browser or download the file to their computer (but not change the document on your computer or Dropbox folder). Dropbox is not needed by the people accessing the shared link.
|Dropbox.com Sharing Option|
In today's world, 2GB (Gigabytes = ~1000MB) is not a huge number, but for storing documents and other small files -- it is more than you will probably need. If you need more, there are options to purchase more storage, as well as earn more by way of referrals. Dropbox also recently came out with a Teams option, which costs ~ $800/year and gives 5 users ~1TB (1000GB) of storage. I cannot think of any school counselors who would need that much space, but wanted to let you know it is available.
|Example of the Dropbox website interface.|
Ideas and uses for Dropbox
I have touched a bit about some uses, but I will let you know a few things that I have used Dropbox for in the past and some ideas I have for my future use of Dropbox. When I was doing my counseling fieldwork, I would work at my school site and at home - being able to access my documents from both locations or pull up an article or file I created at my home PC, without having to navigate the finicky email program the district used, was a huge blessing. I also was able to share some of my folders with my supervisors and they were able to keep track of the work I was creating and look over logs of group attendance and other data.
I also proposed a solution to the other counselor at the site who was spending a lot of time doing homework club contracts and processing all the signed parent letters that went out after all grading periods. I told her about Dropbox and how she could let the homeroom teachers do much of the processing and leg work through creating spreadsheets for each class in their own folders. All teachers would have to do is open the spreadsheet, check off whether the student had received the letter, returned it signed, and has been attending homework club. The counselor can open the spreadsheets and update or verify the info on demand. This gives the counselor time to do other, more important matters than paperwork and data organization/tracking. Sadly, she went on maternity leave soon after and I had finished my fieldwork a short time later, so I did not have the chance to implement my idea at that school.
Other ideas include sharing PowerPoint slideshows (you can also use Google Docs or websites like Slideshare), providing access to counseling program documents, and collaborative data collection in the counseling department.
One thing I do want to cover is that I would not recommend storing case notes on Dropbox (unless you want to get more in depth and create an encrypted folder in your Dropbox folder or an encrypted drive that updates your folder). While the security of Dropbox is good, it is not fireproof and your students' confidentiality is priority. Keep that in mind.
Shameless Plug: Should you decide you want to download Dropbox, I have used my referral link in all the mentions of Dropbox thus far. It just gifts me 500MB of storage for sharing the service with new users. The following link will take you directly to the Dropbox website without any referral should you wish to download it that way. I appreciate anyone who uses my link.
There are lots of other sites to help you if you don't get exactly what you are looking for in this post and Dropbox provides very user-friendly how-to support pages.
If you have ways you use Dropbox that you think are innovative or exciting, please share them with me in the comments, Twitter, or Google+. Until next time...