Backing up your Data

Whenever I think of losing electronic data, I’m always reminded of this story about a graduate student who had her purse – containing a thumb drive with the only copy of her thesis data – stolen. The miraculous part of this story is that the determined and desperate grad student retraces the thief’s steps based on charges made to her credit cards, goes dumpster diving, and finds the purse with the thumb drive still in it. 

I love a cosmic good luck story. Luck and dumpster diving are, however, horrible data back-up strategies. At this point in the semester, the work you’ve done (lectures, handouts, simulation directions, exam questions, essay prompts etc.) is starting to accumulate. Equally important, your students are starting to accumulate grades. It’s never too early to back all this up. I’m also of the school that there are never too many different secure places to have your data backed up. If you are TCU faculty and have your gradebook in LearningStudio, here is some documentation from the Koehler Center on exporting your LearningStudio gradebook. This is a wise thing to do before making any changes to your gradebook or to assignments that are linked to the gradebook, after entering grades, and at set intervals throughout the semester.

Where would you put your back-ups? For TCU student data, such as grades, keeping things within the TCU network is the safest option. You can use local space on your personal TCU computer and TCU network file space (the M: drive).

Items related to your own teaching and research are, of course, welcome on the M: drive as well. Note that network space there is limited – although you can request a quota increase if needed. We’ve also written about various data back-up solutions before, including Dropbox (note that this a stand-alone product, not to be confused with the electronic assignment submission tool of the same name that is found within LearningStudio course shells). This is a nice, short piece about Dropbox in educational contexts, and here are five specific ways you can use Dropbox.

I wanted to draw your attention to Dropbox in the context of this post on data back-up because Dropbox is currently giving away an extra 3GB of free storage for two years to anyone with a .edu address. There’s also a school-based incentive program in which the more people from your school that sign up and review the Get Started Guide, the more space all Dropbox users at your school earn. Here are the specific terms of that deal. Whether or not you’re interested in those incentives, the 3GB is there for the taking, even for existing Dropbox users. Here is the sign-up page.

Dropbox Cheat Sheet

Do you use Dropbox to back-up your files? (Because you are backing them up somewhere other than on your local machine, right?)

TCU folks can use their M: drive for free storage. However, some users may have had a set-up with Dropbox prior to their arrival at TCU, or may prefer the user interface of Dropbox or the ability to store larger files (Dropbox has tiered pricing, but offers some storage for free).

If you are using Dropbox, this is a pretty convenient Dropbox tips and tricks reference sheet.

Also, the same site also has tip sheets for Google Docs, Skype, Gmail, Twitter, Google Reader, the Windows CMD prompt, etc. If you find yourself frequently searching for shortcuts in your favorite programs, it might be worth a look to see if there’s sheet that meets your needs.

Google Drive

I have to admit, the name totally reminds me of the Google Street View Car (you know, the car that drives around recording the images for the awesome street view maps. Following the link above, I learned that, apparently, they have Google Street View trikes and snowmobiles, too – who knew?).

So, Google Drive is not about a car – but I still think the name (and the product) is pretty genius. Google drive is a cloud-based synching data storage solution, much like Dropbox and SpiderOak (there’s a great comparison chart of various storage options at the bottom of this page).

With Google Drive, you are provided with secure storage space and the drag-and-drop ability to keep files straight between multiple computers. You also have all the sharing and collaboration features that you’ve come to expect from Google Docs.

How is it different from Google Docs? Well, there’s a pricing structure: you get 5GB free, and the price increases from there (at rates that are quite competitive with other cloud-based data storage sites). Google Drive viewer supports an impressive list of file types, and has  a 10GB upload limit on files or folders. Google Drive comes with Google Image Search, allowing you to search images in your Google Drive based on key words.

Google Drive is linked to Google Docs, and once you add Google Drive to your Google account, it will replace Google Docs. Your Google Docs will appear in your Drive account with icons. If you are connected to the internet, clicking on a Google Doc icon will open a web browser so you can view the document. However, if you’re not connected to the internet, all you’ll have is an icon in your Google Drive folder on your computer’s hard drive.

Right now, the Google Drive mobile options are pretty limited; there’s only an Android app, but an iOS one is reportedly on the way. Additionally, the cautious among us might want to read this article on Google Drive’s terms of service.

Here’s the video intro to Google Drive:

Life in the Cloud

We’ve already written about Google Docs and DropBox several times, and while these may be the most familiar examples of cloud-based computing, there are many other cloud-based educational technologies out there. Here’s a nice list from John Kuglin of the University of Montana.

  • SlideRocket allows educators and students to build and deliver presentations online, offline, and via mobile devices.
  • SideVibe lets teachers build interactive lectures directly on top of existing web pages. Students can engage in online discussion, while teachers can collect and assess student work instantaneously.
  • Screencast-O-Matic allows users to record video directly from their browser and embed it into a lecture or presentation. They simply draw a box around what they want to capture and click “start recording.” Because it’s cloud-based, there is no software installation necessary.
  • With JetJaw, educators can perform real-time formative assessments: Students text a code from their mobile phones and can immediately participate in a survey or quiz. The results are instantaneously recorded and can even be displayed on-screen as they come in.
  • iCyte is used to capture web pages and pdfs and save them directly to the cloud. The tool archives pages just as they looked when they were saved, even if the site itself is updated or removed.

To this list I might add SpiderOak, a free cloud-based back-up service similar to DropBox. Storage is free up to 2 GB, with an option to purchase more space. Here’s a little tutorial to familiarize you with SpiderOak.

Are you using any of these cloud tools? Or other cloud-based solutions? What you like / dislike about life in the cloud?

Tech Tip Round-up

Here’s a quick list of some cool apps / programs / tricks that I’ve run across recently. The goal here is to help you use technology more efficiently so that you can focus on teaching and research.

1. Backing up Google Docs. Insync is “free software that creates a folder on your hard drive and automatically syncs the documents in your Google Docs to it. Insync works in both directions—new documents added online are downloaded to your hard drive, and documents added to the synced folder are uploaded to Google Docs.”

2. iPhone Apps for Productivity. A nice little list of apps that “all do one thing and one thing only, and they place a premium on doing those things as quickly as possible, so you can spend less time on your phone, and more time doing other things.” If you want an app to remind you about tasks, upload digital copies of your receipts in your Dropbox folders, reduce the amount of paper junk mail you receive, or to help you stay on top of daily journal writing, then this is the list for you. The apps reviewed aren’t all free, but the ones that do cost money aren’t especially expensive.

3. OnLive Desktop. This is an app for iPads that turns your iPad into a functional Windows 7 machine. As David Pogue writes, “The full, latest versions of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Internet Explorer and Adobe Reader are set up and ready to use — no installation, no serial numbers, no pop-up balloons nagging you to update this or that . . . The PC that’s driving your iPad Windows experience is, in fact, a ‘farm’ of computers at one of three data centers thousands of miles away. Every time you tap the screen, scroll a list or type on the on-screen keyboard, you’re sending signals to those distant computers. The screen image is blasted back to your iPad with astonishingly little lag.” Now that is cool. The free version of OnLive Desktop gives you access to the full suite of Microsoft Office programs (not the stripped down app versions that so often abound). The catch is that “the only way to get files onto and off OnLive Desktop is using a Documents folder on the desktop. To access it, you have to visit OnLive’s website on your actual PC. ”

There’s also a $5 per month version (called OnLive Desktop Plus) that “adds Adobe Reader, Internet Explorer and a 1-gigabit-a-second internet connection. [This is] the fastest connection you’ve ever used in your life — on your iPad. It means speeds 500 or 1,000 times as fast as what you probably get at home. It means downloading a 20-megabyte file before your finger lifts from the glass. You get the same speed in both directions. You can upload a 30-megabyte file in one second.” Your iPad has just become the best Flash player ever. And, thanks to the addition of the internet browser in the paid version, you now no longer need to use the OnLive website as a portal for your files.
(If this interests you, you’ll also want to check out the follow-up Pogue wrote about the service.)

As always, let us know if you’re looking for solution to a problem, have found a great way to solve a problem that’s vexed you, or if you have comments about any of the above tips!


David Pogue, over at the New York Times, has written all about how using dropbox helped him and his staff with his latest manuscript. Note that, in this context, we are not talking about the LearningStudio tool, but the free stand-alone program/website that syncs your files via a folder on each computer you (or your collaborators) use. You can also sync with iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, and Android. Imagine taking the most current version of your work with you, wherever you go!

Pogue also points out that dropbox makes a pretty decent file back-up system, absent any other collaborators in the picture. Of course, I’ve never been one to have nightmares about lost data, but, you know, if I were that sort of person, this would probably be something useful. And Macworld has written about 62(!) different things you can do with dropbox. It seems like you just might be able to bend time and space to make your life easier.

For our friends in the sciences, check out this story on a new NSF program aimed at making ” it easier and faster to access and share large and complex data sets”. Nothing usable yet, but a research consortium is looking into the issue.

Also, if you would like to try out being part of larger project, need a little break from your own work, or have ever dreamed of being an astronaut, here’s your opportunity to help NASA astronauts train underwater.