March 10, 2014 by Al
If you do a Google search for cloud computing in an attempt to find out how it is being used, you often get hits that really don’t tell you much. You are told how wonderful cloud computing is and how it saves money, time, hardware, energy, etc. You are told that you can use applications without having to download them, how you can have access to your data anytime, anywhere. It is all quite wonderful.
But what if you want to actually use it and you are not part of some company that is using SAAS or PAAS or some other iteration of cloud computing? What if you just want to get your feet wet?
I found that a good way to ease into this morass is to start simple. Start with securing some “cloud” storage space. If you have an Apple IPhone, IPod, or IPad you have at least five gigabytes of storage space “in the cloud” at your disposal. You probably don’t realize it, but you use that space whenever you back-up your device. You may not even realize that you back up your device. But you probably do. It is probably done for you. So you may be using the cloud without realizing it.
Yes, it is that easy.
But let’s turn to a simple example of how a teacher/professor might use this storage space to help improve the efficiency of his or her class. Assume the prof gets an account with one of the many providers of free storage space (besides Apple). I like to use Dropbox.com. So I go to Dropbox.com and create an account by following the instructions on the page — takes about a minute or two. Then I create a folder on my new account, and I call the folder “CommClass” (I call it that because I teach courses in communication). Then I get a list of my students’ email addresses and I “invite” each one of them to “join” my CommClass folder. It may take a day or two for all of them to join but they all do. Of course, each student has to create an account on Dropbox.com as well in order to join my folder. They all do.
Now, I have a “shared” folder (CommClass) that is being shared with all my students. Anything I put into that folder will also show up on their accounts because my shared folder acts like any folder the student might have created. I can put up assignments, handouts, exercises, notes, and so on — anything I want them to access — and they can get to them anytime, anywhere they have an internet connection. Pretty cool.
But that is not all. I have the students create another folder on their accounts, say CommClassStuff, and have then send me — and me only — an invitation to join. I join everyone’s CommClassStuff folder. Anything the student puts into that folder I can access. So a student completes an assignment and puts it into the folder so I can retrieve it, read it, mark it up, and save it in the same folder so that the student can see my comments. That is also pretty cool, but it gets even better.
If I download a small piece of code from Dropbox.com onto my computer (platform does not matter) when the student saves something into the CommClassStuff folder I get a notifiation that a new item has been placed into the folder, so I can retrieve it on my computer and look at it. I can load the file into whatever application I would like on my computer, mark it up, makes comments, and so on, and then save it back to the student’s folder simply by saving it on my computer. The downloaded code then uploads the file to the student’s CommClassStuff folder.
So I have a complete record of what each student has done and what I said about what each has done, and I have an automatic backup of it as well — one copy on my computer and one copy on the Dropbox.com server. I never have to collect or return papers during class. I never have to hand out handouts during class. I have a permanent record of each student’s work. I can easily share whatever I need to with whichever student needs it. It makes class time much more efficient, especially now that most students bring some sort of device to class with them anyway. Dropbox will work on cellphones, tables, laptops, and desktops. The technology is simple but very productive and anyone can start using it immediately. Each student gets a couple of gigs of storage space free and so far that has been enough for my classes — but if you need more there are ways you can get even more free space.
And Dropbox is not the only service. Like I said, Apple provides free space, as does Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and many others. Just do a Google search for the latest players in the online storage game.
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