Leading on from a question from a colleague of mine about storing files so that all the staff in the school could access and share them, I thought I’d look at a few options that are out there. Since the advent of cloud computing there are now several ways to do this so we’ll take a look at five popular options that other schools are using.
Dropbox was one of the first cloud-based storage systems that took off in schools. Users download the program and they get a new folder on the computer. This folder can be accessed online and offline and automatically syncs (synchronises) on all of the machines and devices that have the same Dropbox account. For example, I own a MacBook Air, an Android phone, a PC at work and a Microsoft tablet. If I want to access particular documents just for myself, I save them into my Dropbox folder. However, even better, I also have a “public” folder which everyone can have access to. While this may not be ideal for schools with sensitive data, it might be useful for sharing documents that you don’t mind others seeing. All you need to do is share the link and everyone can see.
Many schools have a school Dropbox account that all staff use. If a staff member doesn’t already have his/her own Dropbox account, then it’s a very useful option for a school. Dropbox is completely free up to a certain amount of space. After that, one has to pay for extra space. It’s not terribly expensive but as the amount of data grows, the more expensive it becomes.
2. Google Drive
Google Drive is another very popular tool for storing and sharing files in schools. Google Drive used to be called Google Docs and only allowed people to share documents created in Google’s office tools (Google Apps). Since changing to Google Drive, one can share all sorts of documents and other files. You can now download Google Drive in much the same way as Dropbox and you can choose files and folders to share in a more powerful way than Dropbox. There are some restrictions on the types of files allowed on Google Drive but these shouldn’t affect schools.
3. Microsoft OneDrive
Formerly known as SkyDrive, OneDrive is Microsoft’s offering to the field. The best thing about OneDrive compared to the others is that it has a really good online version of MS Office so you can edit Word, Excel and PowerPoint documents online, without needing to download the original documents. There are supposed to be constant improvements being made to OneDrive over the coming months as Microsoft try to gain the upper hand in this market.
Apple’s version of the above, it takes a different approach by syncing all your Apple device’s data on the cloud. It now has an online version of Apple’s Office tools, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Unless everyone has Apple devices, I’m not sure this is the best option for a school. However, if your school is fully Apple-enabled, this is your ideal tool.
A NAS is a network storage system and is a machine that you connect to your school network. All the information is stored on this machine rather than on the cloud and might be an ideal tool for those that don’t trust using 3rd party services such as Google, Apple or Microsoft. One reason that one mightn’t trust these tools is that you do not have full control over them. For example, terms and conditions could change. Prices could also change. In fact, the company might shut down! With a NAS, you have the control. Effectively, you need to set up your computers to use the network but once they do, it’s easy to save and share files. Some NAS machines even let users log in remotely from outside the school but these models are usually more expensive. A NAS box can cost anything from €300 upwards.
6. Shared Network Drive
Sometimes, it’s easier to grab an old computer than no one is using and stick a big hard drive into it so staff can share files on it. All you need is an old computer and you can share the hard drive across the network. One can then connect to this hard drive from anywhere on the network, The only thing is that it isn’t easy to access it remotely.
I hope these ideas are helpful. I use a combination of 1, 2, 3 and 5 for my personal and professional life. My current favourite tool is OneDrive but any of the above are worthy of selection. I am aware of a good number of other storage solutions such as Box.net so please feel free to add any others that you might know about and can recommend to teachers.