Cloud based tools: What are they and why should I use them?

21 Jan

Quick overview: This article addresses the benefits and limitations of popular “cloud based” tools.

What is the cloud? The easiest way to understand “the cloud” is to think about how you access your webmail, such as Gmail, Hotmail, or Yahoo. What all of these services have in common is that they store all your e-mail and attachments on-line, instead of on your home computer. The benefit is that you can access your data from any computer or mobile device – in a nutshell, that’s the cloud! There are also other cloud based services to store files, pictures, passwords, and notes. The one thing to remember is that not one company owns the cloud. The “cloud” is actually a generic term for any service where your information is stored on-line instead of a local device, such as a home computer.

What are the benefits? A cloud based service allows you to pull up a file, photo, document, or note on any device. Since all your data is stored on-line, there’s the added bonus of having all your important data backed up too. Many of the popular cloud based tools are free but you’ll pay more if you want more space or extra features. If you start using cloud based tools, you’ll often find there’s no need to carry USB drives or e-mail files back and forth to school.

What are the limitations? With some cloud based tools, you may not be able to access your files unless you have Internet access. There’s also an ever growing concern about security and privacy issues since your information is stored on-line and often in other countries. Lastly, it’s possible that you could lose all your information if the service is suddenly shut down or something unexpected happens. From my experience, that’s quite rare (especially with big reputable companies) and I haven’t lost a single file yet. If you’re at all concerned, it’s a good idea to keep a local backup of your data on a hard drive at home. As for security breaches, you may want to avoid placing sensitive documents in “the cloud” too.

What are some popular cloud tools? Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Skydrive are my three favorite cloud based storage tools for files. They are somewhat similar to each other, but each has their pros and cons. Evernote is a great tool for storing notes in the cloud which I’ve addressed in a previous blog post. There’s also Apple’s iCloud which is a service popular with used with Apple devices to store and share photos and files between Apple devices.

How can I use these tools as a teacher? First off, cloud based storage tools (i.e. – Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft Skydrive) allow you to make files or entire folders publicly available to your students. For example, if you have a large video file that you can’t send by e-mail, you can simply place it in your account and share it with your students by means of a special link. Students can also “drop” completed assignments back inside your account by uploading to a special folder. What’s important to remember is that your students won’t have access to the other files in your cloud account, just the files and folders you want to share publicly. Google Drive (formely Google Docs) and Microsoft Skydrive also allow for on-line document editing, as seen in this example. That being said, if you’re only interested in temporary sharing large files you may want to check out Jumpshare which is a simplified cloud-based file sharing service. Some teachers like using “note based” cloud tools, such as Evernote in order to have access to their notes on any device they own. Last but not least, Apple’s iCloud is pretty useful when you’re using Apple devices and Apple specific software.. Here’s a link that describes what’s possible. What cloud based tools do you use as a teacher or school administrator? Leave a comment below!

Google Drive:
Microsoft Skydrive: