A week before school started, I smashed the connector off of my USB stick.  Although I had a recent backup, I’d had enough of forgetting it places, incapacitating my computer doing 8GB backups, forgetting it places, forgetting to do backups, forgetting it places, worrying about someone stealing it, etc.

The storage space my school allocates to me is properly backed up (not like my klugey USB stick system) but it’s too small to be useful.  I’ve used Dropbox before because our school email system also will not allow me to transfer files the size of scanned assignments in PDF form, photos, video, etc.  And anyway, email isn’t the right tool for the job.

I decided to go whole-hog with Dropbox, and it’s improved my workflow.  Because it automatically syncs to the cloud, I can save a file on my office desktop and have it magically appear on my laptop at home.  (Or at a coffee shop.  Or anywhere I have wi-fi.)  I can also walk into any classroom in the school, log in to the website, and have access to my entire repository of teaching-related stuff.  The sync is fast (less than 1 minute from login to finished, for my volume of document changes).

All of this depends on reliable network access, of course.  But since the files are physically copied to any computer on which I install Dropbox’s software, I can work on the local copy if I’m out of wi-fi range.  It also plays nice with many Android apps, including Camscanner — I no longer have to export my scanned file to EZ PDF, then save it, then transfer it to a USB stick.  Camscanner uploads to Dropbox directly.  I can create folders to share with students, if I want (think document revisions, assignments handed in, screencasts they make, photos of them working in the shop, etc.).  And for an extra $4/month, an infinite revision history.

Downside: it has some frustrating corollaries for working with SmartBoards(tm).  If I open the cloud copy of a document, it is not editable, and the SmartBoard(tm) will refuse to ink on it (even if I don’t save).  The solution is simply to save a local copy of the document (a dialog box prompts me which option I want).  The file ends up in the Downloads folder of the local computer, is local and therefore editable, and gets erased when the machine reboots. I’ve decided that this is actually a feature, since it prevents me from accidentally saving the ink layer on my original document.

The other downside is that I need more storage than Dropbox offers for free.  I’ve decided it’s worth it to me to pay the $10/month for 100GB, even though I only need about 10.  (Want to join Dropbox?  I’ll be happy to “invite” you so I can get credit toward my storage limit.  Or, just join — you get 2GB for joining.

In other back-to-school product endorsements, I love my Auspens  (thanks to Kelly for the tip). Refillable white-board markers mean getting that juicy new marker feeling every day.  Because the ink flows freely, I don’t mash on them, so the nibs stay sharper (which makes my handwriting less bad).  Plus, 6 colours.  Who can resist?