The subject I want to tackle here is online storage. For the tech savvy, online storage, cloud storage or whatever we call it is common knowledge, but for many casual users this is still a nebulous service, and even some do not know it is a thing. The premise is simple: an online storage is a place (in the cloud not to say servers) where you save your important files and are then backed up automatically so if you spill coffee on your laptop or if your computer takes on fire, you will not lose your precious files. However, the power of cloud storage does not solely resolves around safely storing and backing up important files. This is the ultimate collaboration tool, thus a no brainer for pedagogical integration. You can create documents and share them publicly with a shared folder; you can even collaborate on the same file at the same time with multiple users, your files are always with you no matter where you are and what devices you have access to (no more USB keys), and pretty much every company who provide these kind of services offer all of this for free.
A plethora of companies provide this useful resource, but I will stick to the three cloud services that offer the best overall value and functionalities: Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive.
* Due to legal concerns, the name SkyDrive will be phased out, and soon become OneDrive so I will refer to the later as the article continues. *
All of the three offer a desktop application that allows you to sync your files without having to open your web browser and upload your files via their website. Adding to that, the big three also created a mobile application so if you happen to possess a smartphone, a superphone or a tablet, you can access all of your backed up files from the tip of your fingers.
Dropbox is one of the oldest cloud storage companies, and it shows when you use it. I use the three services on a daily basis, and Dropbox always wins when it comes to seamless document syncing. Dropbox synchronizes your files faster than any other services (even if it is from its website or from its desktop and mobile application), you can share folders with many collaborators, you can even share a folder or a file with a URL link that you copy and paste, which is pretty cool, and you can upload any file of any size (I will get to that later). All in all, Dropbox is a robust tool that is reliable, and best in class for seamless file syncing and file sharing, and these aspects alone define what will make-or-break the user experience, and consequently, if someone decide to use the product or not.
However, unlike the competition, Dropbox offers just that; you do not get access to any other tools or services. With OneDrive and Google Drive, you get an email address with a trusted email client, and chances are that you already have a Hotmail, Outlook or Gmail account. Google and Microsoft allows you to edit your documents, spreadsheets, or presentations with their respective web apps, but Dropbox only lets you take a look at your files with a basic document viewer. Adding to that, a free Dropbox account only gives 2 gigabytes (gb) of storage when OneDrive and Google Drive give 7 gb, and 15 gb for free respectively. Yes it is true that through referrals (users that join the service through your invitation) you can reach up to 16 gb of additional storage, but it is a long process despite being a great idea.
OneDrive and Google Drive have an edge when it comes to collaboration because they offer free document creating tools integrated to their cloud storage services. OneDrive however, does not support files bigger than 2 gb. Mona Akmal said last July that the OneDrive team was looking to increase the file size limit, but to this day, nothing has been updated. For its part, Google Drive supports a 10 gb file size, which is still put to shame by the unlimited file size limit that Dropbox allows, but is currently more than enough since not a lot of files outside of video games exceed this number.
OneDrive has the upper hand with its upgrade plan since it is the cheapest, but other than that, Microsoft cloud storage is the least reliable service in terms of file synchronization, photo rendering, and flexibility. On one hand, the big appeal of OneDrive is its Windows and Microsoft Office integration, but unfortunately for Microsoft not everybody uses Windows centric devices. It is important to keep in mind in pedagogy that you need to reach the widest possible audience when integrating online tools.
Google Drive on the other hand, works wonderfully no matter what device you use. It is easiest way to share work and it does a good job at syncing all of your files without conflicting with older versions, but is still not up to par with Dropbox. With its web apps, you can work on the same lesson plan at the same time with one or many students or colleagues from anywhere and give ongoing feedback. You can even share schedules with other users and overlay their shared calendars with yours. There are a lot of possibilities like creating spreadsheets to track student homework and share with parents. All in all, Google Drive is the ultimate tool to become more productive and efficient and it is possible to do all of this for free. It is the one I will use, and I greatly recommend it.
Here is a breakdown of the main features off all three online platforms:
- Free space: 2GB (plus up to 16GB for referrals)
- Premium space: US$99 per year for 100GB
- File size limit: Unlimited (via desktop app)
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android, BlackBerry
- Best for: Seamless document syncing
- Try Dropbox
- Free space: 7GB
- Premium space: US$50 per year for 100GB
- File size limit: 2GB
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone
- Best for: Windows/MS Office integration
- Try Microsoft SkyDrive
- Free space: 15GB
- Premium space: $59.88 per year for 100GB
- File size limit: 10GB
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
- Best for: Storage space and web apps
- Try Google Drive
Somewhere down the line, schools and ministries could decide to get rid of local servers and instead subscribe to business storage plans to offer a certain amount of space to every teachers and students, and the possibilities would become infinite. Cloud storage is the future of online interaction.