The following is an article I co-wrote with Dr. Pat Burr. It originally appeared as a page we authored together via a wiki. I’ve made a minor update to it, since Dropload is now Drop.io.

Sure, you might have a new high-speed laptop, or a new whizbang classroom computer shared with others, or even access to storage space on your institution’s network, but do you have all of the space support that you need to manage your content? And can you always count on storing and accessing all of your valuable classroom teaching material on demand? Maybe not.

First, that new laptop with seemingly endless storage capacity must either travel with you in order for you to access content on demand, and any special-purpose software needed for accessing the files must also go with you. Whether this involves travel across the hall, across the country or across the ocean, carrying a laptop is not always the easiest content management option.

Second, let’s examine the virtues of that new whizbang shared classroom computer that is accessed during the day by an endless parade of users who have different needs, who utilize some of the storage space, and who delete your files on a surprisingly consistent basis while trying to access their own files.

If you are limited by space allocation or by policy guidelines in the kinds or size of content files you may store in a classroom computer, then alternative content management options can make a difference in the effectiveness of how you teach your classes and the speed with which you can access your files for classroom use. This assumes that your files are even still there when you attempt to retrieve them since some classroom computers have no password-accessed, uniquely allocated storage space assigned to individuals. And without password-protected access, you can lose the precious content you have created or the quick access to high-impact online sites that you had planned to use for inclass demonstrations and discussion.

If all of the content files managed by everyone in the classroom are stored to, say, DESKTOP, then you are at the mercy of whoever used the computer before you. Even more seriously, if your institutional technology protocol includes software that erases all newly stored files each time the computer is turned off, there go your files! Hope you brought a backup flash memory key that holds the original data with you to class.

Third, let’s consider allocated space on the institution’s network. The maximum space allocated per individual user might be quite limited or the type of content files allowed for storage might be restricted.

The three scenarios do suggest some classroom content management support, yet not usually enough, so let’s explore free support options available to you and how they might be used.

These sites discussed below offer you off-site, mobile storage and/or access options that are not restricted to a laptop, a classroom or an institutional network. They offer flexibility, remote access, freedom from carrying a laptop, and on demand access from anyplace where you have access to the Internet.

Content Management From Various Locations

I (Pat) teach International Business and use numerous short video demonstrations that I have accumulated and saved from copyright-free sites. I have also edited longer videos so that I have the very short segment that perfectly tells the story that we need to discuss in class about a specific concept.

I download the uncut videos with the use of Real Player 11 that allows me to mouse over almost any video I am watching online, click on the “download this file” window that pops up, and save a particular video in my Real Player Library that I have created on my hard drive.

The pro of this approach is that I have the entire video file content saved for later use and can also back it up to my Iomega external hard drive for peace of mind. The con is that in order to use it in the classroom, I must save it to a portable storage device such as a flash memory key, and then load in onto the classroom computer in order to play it. And, if that computer has Deepfreeze or similar software loaded and the computer shuts down accidentally, then I must reload that video file yet again.

Also, (as a repetitive access-creation step in addition to, not instead of saving the file) I use my space created at http://www.del.icio.us for listing each URL of a useful video file that remains online (rather than being downloaded) and that I can access (so long as the file remains available online in the future) to play from any location or in any classroom where I can access the site via the Internet.

Just to be safe, I save the URL at del.icio.us and also save the content to my hard drive since del.icio.us does not save the content but instead saves only the URL address of the content. Also, if I decide that it is a file that I can use more than once because relying only on del.icio.us means that I take for granted that the file out on the Internet will always be on the Internet and always be at the same URL.

Wikifying Your Inbox

I (Miguel) use a wiki option for saving files that involve collaboration. Over the last few months, I’ve been experimenting with wikis at work. As a district administrator, I have fun keeping track of hundreds of documents that find their way into my email inbox, that get “locked up” on my hard drive. Often, these documents are not confidential, and really should be looked at by lots of people. Yet, since email is the “killer app” that we’ve all grown dependent upon, we find ourselves with more in our inbox than we can delete.

If you find that characterization to be true of your own inbox, then you might find this next one to be even more apt. Documents that are attached to your emails eventually take over your email backups. You start to wonder, where can I put that valuable document? You realize that your email program becomes the primary way you interact with information. After all, it’s easier to keep documents in your email than save them to folders on your hard drive. You put a document on your hard drive, and then you may spend some time looking for it. Even though there are hard drive utilities to find stuff, only the techies know how to install them.

A few months ago, I decided to change that. I began to put non-confidential documents into a wiki. The power of the wiki is that I can continue to move content around, reorganize it easily, and better yet, leverage my secretary’s organizational skills. Once my secretary–an excellent organizer–learned how to use the wiki, I began to point those emails with documents to her, asking her to please post them on the wiki in the appropriate place.

Now, I’m beginning to find that the wiki is THE heart of my document management. And, I’ve started keeping my meeting notes there, as well as works in progress. I’m meeting now, for example, with the technical crew on campus about district server options. My job in the group is to craft the executive summary that we’ll submit for approval. Planning it all out there in the collaborative wiki makes the work transparent.

Transparency. Yes, that’s what I’m really striving for. And footprints in my document management process. I never know what might happen to me on my way home from work. Now, I know that should something happen, my team, those whom I work with, and my supervisors can find out exactly what I’m working on, the documents relevant to that, and more.

Other Content Management Options

“Warehousing”–the storing and filing of important content (video, audio, text) suggests a static concept, while “distribution management” of content suggest a dynamic concept in which the content is available on demand via various access options.

Consider these other free user-friendly content distribution management options.

Openomy–http://openomy.com/
Openomy provides one gigabyte of storage space, is free, and allows you to have open space access as well as closed (private) space. Unlike past similar services, it organizes information using tags (short single word descriptors) rather than folders. This allows you to find or refer to the file using a variety of words or tags.

Drop.io–http://drop.io/
At this site, your files can be “dropped off” for someone else to pick up (students, for example). You upload the file then specify who is to be the person(s) to pick up the file. The person–think “the student”–can receive an email with the instructions on how to access the content you have made available for him/her. The files–up to 100 megabypes each–are kept online for seven days and then deleted. The file size allowed at Drop.io is larger than can be sent through many email systems, so a new content management tool is added to your capacity with this site.

yousendit–http://www.yousendit.com/
This service is similar to Drop.io, also free, and provides you with up to one gigabype of content space and features data encryption.

SendThisFile–https://www.sendthisfile.com/
Even the free version of SendThisFile claims a no file size limit and no limit on the number of files sent. Beware that you don’t accidentally sign up for a paid account at this site if what you need is a free account!

Summary

Taking the time to manage content well is critical for all of us who have especially rich content that we plan to use again and again. There are many free sites that we can all use to ensure that our content is captured well, saved, backed-up, portable, and available on demand. The enormous flexibility that we gain along with the redundant management tools are pricesless!

About the Authors

*Dr. Pat LeMay Burr, Distinguished Chair in International Business, UIW – burr@uiwtx.edu
*Miguel Guhlin, Director of Instructional Technology Services, San Antonio ISDmguhlin@gmail.com


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