Julie Gerding, English teacher at West High, was looking for a way to update the content she’s posted on her website (primarily documents, presentations, and handouts) without downloading, revising, and then uploading a new version. Isn’t there an easier way? In fact, there are a couple, using Dropbox or Box.com.
Julie’s question was simple, and is a common one for teachers who update material on the web:
“Do you know if there is a way to use Dropbox or something similar so that any files I want students to see on my web site will be updated and available whenever I make a change to the file? Uploading and creating a link for each individually has been a huge stumbling block in allowing me to keep things up to date.”
Of the many online document hosting services available, two that came to my mind seemed a good fit for this problem: DropBox and Box.com (formerly Box.net). I’ve written about DropBox before, but Box.com, one of its competitors, offers a few features that seemed helpful for Julie’s particular need. We talked about the benefits and limitations of each in this particular scenario. Our list is below.
Drop Box – the Public Folder
- 2 GB of space
- User Experience: DropBox’s user experience is so intuitive, it’s almost invisible. Backup is accomplished whenever a document is created or saved with no extra clicks or buttons to select.
- Automatic URLs: Files created in the “Public” folder of one’s DropBox create unique URLs automatically. Whenever those files are updated and saved, the online version is updated too. Automatic Updating: The DropBox link for that file always points to the most recent version.
- Automatic Backup: Data is automatically backed up to the cloud as well as to any computer where Dropbox has been installed.
- Additional Features: Files and folders can be easily shared with other DropBox users, and students can “turn in” work to a teacher’s DropBox through the DropItToMe ( http://www.dropitto.me/ ) website.
- Duplicating File Structure: In order to generate the unique URL, DropBox requires you to place the item into a special “Public” folder. Using the “Public” folder to store files forces you to copy or move files from your typical folder structure into this new area. In my mind, this could make it easy to misplace files, or forget where to put what files when. At the very least, it means that some unit materials can be found in two places.
Box – the Visual Solution
- 5 GB of space
- Update through Office: Box’s Plugin for Microsoft Office allows easy backup and save to the online service.
- View Documents Without Downloading: Box’s Online Viewer allows ad-free embedding of documents (example here).
- Embed Folders of Documents: Box widgets allow users a view of all documents in a folder (example here).
- No Change to File Structure: Since the solution is online only, there is no change to the folder structure you’ve set up.
- Upload Rather than “Save”: Box doesn’t integrate into your documents structure (like Dropbox does). Instead, you must upload documents to the Box.com website or choose “Save” from the Box-Office plugin.
Julie chose to go with Box.com for her purposes. Check out what Box.com has done for her Film and Lit class web page.
The Good News:
If you’re already a proficient DropBox user, but you’d like to use this Box.com solution, there’s good news. If you use DropBox to currently store your files, you can still install the Box plugin for Office and “Save” those documents to their service. The bonus will be duplication of your data in the cloud.