Easily back up and share course materials with students using Dropbox

I recently conducted a workshop in the English Language Institute on using Dropbox to back up course materials and share them with students effortlessly. See the original workshop here:

Dropbox is a free website and computer program which enables you to easily back up files to the Internet and access them from any computer. You can also use Dropbox to help you publish files to the Internet for your students to access. This document provides instructions and tips for setting up and using a Dropbox account for these purposes.

  1. Creating a Dropbox Account
      1. Go to http://db.tt/3kTdKFpk to join Dropbox with a bonus: you receive an extra 0.5 GB of space for being referred by an existing user. Dropbox also occasionally runs promotions for education users, so use your .edu email address when signing up.


  2. Downloading and installing Dropbox to your private computer
      1. NB: The instructions below are intended for use on your own private computer. Unfortunately, if you do not have administrator access to your computer (e.g., if you use a shared work computer or an institutional laptop), you might be limited to using the website only, not the program. If so, skip to section 4, “Using Dropbox like a USB flash drive to add to or access your files from any computer,” below.
      2. First, follow the steps above to sign up for a Dropbox account on the Dropbox website.
      3. Go to https://www.dropbox.com/install.
      4. Click on the button on the website to download Dropbox. Once the file has downloaded, double-click on it to run the installer.
      5. The installer will ask you if you already have an account. Say yes, and then type in your Dropbox account information.
      6. You do not need to specially configure anything else in the installer; just accept the default configurations and continue clicking through the installer until Dropbox is installed.


  3. Adding Files to a Dropbox Account
      1. There are two ways to add files to a Dropbox account: (1) from your private computer with the Dropbox program installed or (2) on the Dropbox website. This section talks about adding files from your private computer with the Dropbox program installed. (See the next section if you want to use the website.)
      2. Find your Dropbox folder. On Macs, it should be in your “Places”. On PCs, the Dropbox folder is located at “C:\Users\(your name)\Dropbox”.
      3. 3. Once you have opened your Dropbox folder, simply drag and drop in any files you wish to add! It behaves exactly like a normal folder on your computer, but the Dropbox program automatically copies all of the files to the Internet so that they will be accessible anywhere.


  4. Using Dropbox like a USB flash drive to add to or access your files from any computer
    1. Go to www.dropbox.com on any computer. Log in using your Dropbox account information. You should see a page like this one:
    2. To add new files or folders:
      1. The buttons to create new folders or upload new files are near the top-right of the screen:
      2. Uploading a file is simple and works a lot like attaching a file to an email. You just click the “Upload” icon (step 2a), click the “Choose Files” button, and then select the file or files you want.
    3. To access existing files
        1. Simply treat the Dropbox website like a folder on your computer. Click on folders to open them, or click on files to download them.


  5. Publishing a folder to the Internet so that your students can access it
      1. Go to www.dropbox.com on any computer. Log in using your Dropbox account information.
      2. Find the folder you want to share. Click on the folder so that you are inside of it. In this case, we want to share the folder called “Powerpoints”:
      3. Click on the “Link” icon near the top-right of the page:
      4. On this page, click on the “Copy link to this page” button:
      5. Now, the link to this page is in your clipboard. That means that you can paste it (Ctrl + V for PC, Cmd + V for Mac) anywhere. For example, you can write an email to your students and paste the link into that email. The link will look something like this: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/mdtreuy8wlbf472/ouRQQzZCjE
      6. Now, any student who goes to your link from any computer can see all the files inside of that folder. Students DO NOT need any kind of special account to view and download the files. In addition, any new files you upload to the folder will automatically be accessible to students.


  6. Some general ideas and tips for using Dropbox in your teaching:
    1. Make a new folder within your Dropbox for every class you teach. This will help you to stay organized and avoid mixing different courses’ materials together.
    2. Put all of your course’s curricular materials into your Dropbox folder for your own reference. That way, even if you are off campus, you can see the curricular materials.
    3. Publish a folder for your students to access. These materials could be PowerPoints you make; they could be the digital versions of handouts from class; they could be digital versions of general reference items, like the course description or core vocabulary list; or they could even be supplemental review exercises students can complete at home. This is an excellent resource for absent students as well as students who want to review materials at home.
    4. (Advanced tip) Use a Shared Folder to share materials with other teachers who use Dropbox. Any file added to a shared folder will be visible in each person’s own Dropbox, and any changes one person makes will immediately be visible to everyone else, making collaboration on- and revision of- materials easy. See this FAQ for instructions: https://www.dropbox.com/help/19/en
    5. (Advanced tip) Use your smartphone to collect homework or to “project” a student’s work in the classroom. You can use your smartphone (iOS or Android) to take a picture in class and have the photo immediately upload to your Dropbox account into a Camera Uploads folder. You can use this feature to collect student homework by simply taking a picture of it (you can look at the photo on your computer later), or you can “project” a student’s work by taking a photo of it, letting it upload to Dropbox, and then opening the photo on the classroom laptop. The process takes about one minute. NB: if you use this feature, every photo you take with your phone—whether inside or outside of class—will go to the Camera Uploads folder on Dropbox, so keep that in mind.
    6. (Advanced tip) Use Dropbox to send your PowerPoint presentations to a tablet or smartphone to show in class. Dropbox is one of the very easiest ways to send files to your smartphone or tablet. If you install an app on your tablet or smartphone which lets you open and view PowerPoint files, and if you have the cables or adapters necessary to connect your device to your projector, monitor, or media console, you can use Dropbox to move the PowerPoint file from a computer to your device.

Have you (or a colleague) used Dropbox for a class before? If so, how did it go? What features of Dropbox did you find useful? Sound off in the comments!

February 28, 2013Permalink 3 Comments

3 thoughts on “Easily back up and share course materials with students using Dropbox

  1. Great tutorial for Dropbox, Bill. Sometimes I have trouble explaining to people what Dropbox does — now I know where to send them!

    I used Dropbox with a colleague when we both taught the same class. We put our course documents in there to share with each other, including lesson plans and activities, so we could get inspiration from each other as well as make a similar class experience for the two classes. We also used it in a research collaboration in a similar way.

    Have you used the new Box account that we have at our institution? I’d love to hear your thoughts on that!

    • I’ve just begun to explore Box. I installed Box Sync on our ELI teachers’ office computers and typed up illustrated instructions for how people can activate it on their user account on each computer, but I haven’t really *used* it yet!

  2. Pingback: The Five Most Powerful Ways Teachers Aren’t Using Google Drive (Yet)

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