As different school districts and colleagues I work with begin deploying more iPads into the classrooms, another big challenge that I hear about is file sharing. Every school district and even sometimes each school within a district will deploy their iOS devices differently. Some sites allow teachers to have free rein with installing apps and using email accounts on the iPads, others let teachers and students download apps and have an email address for sharing files but are restricted from making changes to accounts or deleting downloaded apps. Some sites allow for free apps to be downloaded and the teacher or appointed person for the cart has an email address attached but email is turned off to students and items can only be shared via email when the teacher turns the email back on. Other sites do not allow teachers or students to download any apps as this is only done through an appointed tech person or Volume Purchasing Agent and email is turned off. In many districts, students sharing things out to social media sites is either prohibited, blocked or discouraged. The other headache can revolve around the wireless-only connection. What happens to sharing out items between students or the teacher when the network goes down or the wireless is unavailable? The iOS devices themselves do not have USB or other ports unless you count using the camera connection kit or syncing with a PC but that’s not a wonderful option to rely on when you have 20-30 students waiting on you as the bell is about to ring. Since many apps only provide sharing of “files” or created products through email, social media and wireless, what can be used to allow sharing of files between the devices of students and teachers when those options are not an option?
I’ve been playing around with different apps and solutions to these obstacles to sharing files between devices and desktops and here are my findings so far:
1. The first thing I would suggest would be Dropbox. I use multiple file-sharing apps together but Dropbox is one of the top apps on my list for this. This app is a wireless file sharing app with companion website for the PC or Mac and allows multiple devices, PCs or Macs with the same Dropbox account to share files very quickly. There is also an option to share out a folder in one Dropbox account with another account so you can have devices under different accounts sharing files (to also tackle the student work “borrowing” issues) and also allow a teacher that has a personal Dropbox account to pull out or put in work and items from another device or computer from anywhere without giving access to his or her personal account. To make this even more user-friendly, a Dropbox folder can be linked to a service called Dropitto.me that creates a link to upload files to a specific Dropbox folder in a specified account by just sharing a link and a password for that link. Nice for teachers that want to put something into a student Dropbox folder without having to open up or share their own account but I couldn’t find a way to download files using this and the FAQ page only mentions the uploading process so it appears to be for uploading files from a computer to a Dropbox folder only. You can also share a single file by viewing the file in Dropbox, tapping the link icon from the iPad’s toolbar and then choose “email link” or copy the link to the clipboard and paste or send in another app.
As I said, it requires an email address to set up but what if you don’t have student email addresses or wish to have create and maintain additional email addresses just to open an account for an app? I know some school districts have the network admin create a generic email account and assign it to a cart of laptops for a shared Dropbox account (ie. email@example.com) but this creates an additional headache of someone monitoring these generic email accounts. There is the option for a Net Admin to create an alias, or additional name, for an email that already exists on a network and attach the Dropbox account to an email account that is already used and monitored by district personnel but by a different name. Using both of these scenarios, all of the students using the iPads in the cart will have to use the same Dropbox account and the concern with this set up involves students “borrowing” or accidentally deleting each other’s files if they are all using the same Dropbox account. What if creating generic school network student accounts isn’t an option for your situation. Another possibility is to create some different class accounts in Dropbox using temporary teacher created email accounts with services such as Mailinator.com or Dodge.it. Here are two links of lists of different temporary email account services and their pros and cons:
Top 6 Disposable Email Address Services
Most of these “disposable” email accounts were created to prevent spam-bots/ spammers from harassing people after signing up for an online account for something that requires an email address to validate it. Many of these types of online accounts only need an email for the sign-up process just like creating a Dropbox or other account where you don’t really need the email again but do not wish to have to monitor an additional email account afterwards. I seem to use Mailinator the most because you don’t even have to set up a pseudo email address ahead of time and because it doesn’t disappear until you want it to. Just sign up for something like a class Dropbox account and create an email address that ends in @mailinator.com. Then visit the mailinator.com website and type in the address you created and a link will appear with any email waiting for you. Mailinator doesn’t require a password either but be aware that it is public. In Dropbox, a class or “cart” account can be made with the desired username using a temporary email address and the password to that account can be shared with the building tech person, librarian or other teachers as desired as someone will need to be responsible for the Dropbox account maintenance of files (I save my account info in a spreadsheet to manage them). One last thing about Dropbox is that it comes with a specific amount of free space. They do offer a referral program that I like because the person making the referral and the person receiving it both get the extra free space. (If you want to start your account with extra space, here is the link to my referral code http://db.tt/5xWOYEL.) Before someone in your school creates a new account, share out your own referral code and you both will receive more space as well.
2. The second option to avoid the email address headache is to use something like iFiles ($3.99), TIOD (free), or Airsharing (free or Pro $2.99) which almost turn the iPad into a PC-type of format with file folders that can be shared wirelessly usually using an IP or Bonjour address. These do not require an email address to set up but do depend on a wireless connection.
iFiles costs $3.99 allows for sharing files between iOS devices and the PC or Mac. This app has a lot of helpful features such as the ability to copy, paste, zip and move files between folders and share files using an IP address as well as playback music and video files. The site also mentions the ability to “create text files, voice recordings, import/take/record photos/movies” but I haven’t used those features yet. A feature that I did use was the Open In option. I’ve seen this in project creating apps that allow you to send projects by using an option called “Open In” and then opening them in a file sharing app like Dropbox, Evernote, Google Docs, or Doc Printer but this file sharing app allowed me to take a file sent to it and open it back into another app to make edits on it or share it out again in apps such as Sundry Notes or Good Reader or then share it out via bluetooth to nearby devices. Best of all, I didn’t have to set it up with an email address even though email sharing is an option through the standard email app which provides alternatives to sites where the email app is locked from student/teacher use.
TIOD Remote File Viewer is Free and can share files between multiple iOS devices and a PC by scanning IP addresses. The iOS devices require the TIOD app to be installed for detecting other iOS devices whether iPad, iPhone or iPod doesn’t seem to matter. You can then share files inside of folders but it only starts with access to the Camera Roll. To create folders with access to other files, you have to sync to a computer with iTunes which is a bit tedious but not too hard to set up. I just tend to shy away from anything that depends on a computer to set up if possible but that is just me. It works fairly well but I did have some instances of app crashes trying to share multiple files across devices quickly which could be frustrating with impatient students waiting on you. It does provide the option of playing videos and music from a remote PC which is a nice feature. A great step-by-step picture review on how to use this app can be found here.
Airsharing (free or Pro $2.99) is very similar to TIOD Remote. The option to jump on any other device or computer regardless of the airsharing app being installed and give viewable access to a file via an IP address in a browser such as Safari was nice. I was able to open up the IP address on an iPad and iPhone that did not have the airsharing app in Safari and save a picture and a PDF so that was helpful when I ran into working with a group of teachers in training that did not have access to download apps and did not have any type of file sharing apps currently installed likes the ones I have mentioned so far.
3. A third option tackles the “what if the wireless is unavailable?” issue. Some educators have stated that there is poor to little wireless access where they teach and that they have resorted to tethering student devices to their personal smartphones. I myself work in some locations where there is no access to wireless and have used my own personal MiFi but some locations are so remote that you can barely get a cell phone signal never mind a strong 3G or 4G signal so even m MiFi won’t solve the issue. I have found some ways to work around this using the Bluetooth option on the devices. As I mentioned with the iFiles app, there is also the option to share files via bluetooth. Many apps are popping up that make this possible just like iFiles. If you are only worried about sharing photos and contacts, Bluetooth PhotoShare (free) is a good choice. Works fairly easily device to device as long as the app is installed on both devices and active and transfers photos within albums on the iOS device or contacts. There is also a pro version that removes ads and promises some new features in the near future.
To transfer files as well as photos, there is BlueTooth Share (free and iPad HD version available for $1.99) and then there is Bluetooth Fileshare ($.99). Both of these apps seems to work very similarly in that the app needs to be installed and active on all devices (but it doesn’t seem to matter if you have the free version of one and the HD/Pro version on another device when transferring).They both require files to have been sent to the app from within other apps and this doesn’t always work. If a product can be saved as a photo then its much easier to access. I will say that I found both to behave a little “clunky” in ease of use but if you’re desperate to transfer files to and from your student devices without wireless, they will do the trick. I really like iFiles for this type of file transfer and especially since it offers other options such as PC upload and download via web browser. A last option in this category, that I only use as needed because of what has to be done to share files, is BUMP. Bump includes having to do exactly what the name suggests…… bump devices to share files. Some apps actually have Bump integrated into them for sharing between devices but I hesitate to have 30 students bumping these expensive devices for many reasons that I’m sure anyone reading this can already envision. I have used it on a few occasions with my older students mostly because the app they were working out of had an option to share via Bump and they did ok using this but that was in a small quiet group. There are quite a few apps that have Bump as an option, many of which are posted on their site so it is an option to keep in mind when wireless is not around. There is an option on their site called a “virtual bump” to allow you to share with a device that is not nearby to physically bump but it involves using email and an address book so I’m not sure if I could use this with my students but I intend to look into it.
4. If you’re in a district that has access to Google Docs or allows students to use their own Google Docs account, then you know that the file sharing will not be as much of an issue for you except when the wireless goes out. Many of the apps for the iOS and Android devices as well have options to export to or import from a Google Docs account. I use this a lot when available. Many times I’ve realized that I left the print out of an agenda or assignment that I created in Google Docs in another location and then quickly downloaded it through an app like GoodReader that interfaces with my Google Docs account to show or print-out from my iPad. (I use the EuroSmartz printing products if interested such as Print n Share or Doc Printer but that is a whole other post.) Google Docs and Google Apps as a whole are becoming more widely accepted in school districts. As it stands, students can only create an account if they are 13 or over but many have one created by a parent or have one through their school district. I have the Google app on my devices that accesses most Google Apps but usually an app I’m working in already integrates with Google Docs so I don’t have to click and go to the Google app unless I want to.
After reading this lengthy post, you may wonder which I suggest. Well, to be honest I suggest having multiple options for your devices as you will find some apps integrate to share out with certain file sharing apps and other apps will not. If you have a combination of at least three or more of the following; Dropbox, Google Apps, GoodReader, Doc Printer, iFiles, BlueTooth Share, or Evernote (found in an earlier post here.), you will do well working with a majority of the apps out there. There are more options popping up daily to improve sharing between devices and I’m not completely sold that the options I’ve written about are truly the best ones so I continue look for insight from others on other solutions. Of course, iOS5 is coming soon and this update may open up even more possibilities for these devices so I’m anxiously waiting to explore what that the next update may bring.