These popular free Internet based tools provide excellent functionality that you can access from many devices.
The buzz about “the cloud” just seems to keep growing, but the fact is the cloud has been around for years – if you're using an Internet based tool, you're using the cloud. Search Engines, YouTube, Facebook – these are all cloud services. One of the most powerful benefits of a fully realized cloud app is ubiquitous access – tools that can easily be used on multiple devices. To me, this is the kind of functionality that makes “the cloud” a truly meaningful concept.
Whenever possible, I want to be able to do what I need to do whether I'm using a desktop, a laptop, my iPad, or a smart phone (although not all apps make sense in that scaled down format). This holds especially true for some specific functions – accessing important files from any device, quickly maintaining To Do lists and notes, and easy access and viewing of favored web content or resources, for example. These are precisely the kinds of things I want to be able to do from any device, anywhere, any time (or as close as I can get to it).
You're probably already familiar with some of these tools, but not everyone has embraced their ability to work on multiple platforms, and plenty of readers may not even realize that some of these apps have this capability.
Dropbox is a web based file synching app that provides 2 GB of file storage for free (if you outgrow that, more storage is available at reasonable monthly rates). When you install the app on a device, it creates a folder there, and keeps the files in that folder in synch with any other Dropbox installations you have on other computing devices. So, if you put a file in Dropbox from your iPad, it will be in your Dropbox folder on your laptop or desktop. Want to keep that new assignment or those lecture notes you've been writing handy and make sure you can get to it from your home computer and your computer in the school? Drop it in Dropbox! Even if you can't install Dropbox on a device from some reason (blocks at school, for example) you can still log into it on the web and access your files that way if needed. It's that simple, and it is a tremendous time saver and … it also allows for sharing files by dropping them in a “public” folder and providing someone with a URL.
For years I wanted to be able to maintain a simple To Do list that I could quickly and easily open and edit from the different computing devices I use. A number of apps came close, but none let me do this with the ease and simplicity I sought until I found Evernote. I can open it on my desktop, laptop, iPad, or any web browser, and easily access and edit any of the note files I maintain there. Simple, fast, effective, and free. Do you want to make a quick note that you can't lose like a slip of paper, or maintain a list of things you don't want to forget about that upcoming presentation (or your weekend goals, like I do)? Evernote makes it easy.
Google Docs (docs.google.com)
So many educators have gravitated towards the use of Google Docs, often for the sake of leveraging it's collaborative abilities, or else just to share documents in an easily accessible way. The latest version of Google Docs lets users edit docs on the iPad as well from traditional desktops, so your documents, spread sheets, and presentations are easier than ever to maintain and share on multiple platforms thanks to “the cloud”!
The free personalized web link bookmarking app of your choosing
One of the most helpful, time saving tools I've ever used is a web based URL book marking utility. By storing my web links in one place on line, I can access the various tools I use frequently from any web browser. Once I had this ability, I stopped using Favorites in Explorer, and never looked book. I can access all my favorite web based apps and resources from all my devices by simply logging on to the web-based portal we use where I work (CampusCruiser, which I highly recommend). Cruiser is a licensed app, but the concept of having a personalized portal of your own, or other tools for easy, free storage of web links, is not new and there are many solutions available. My suggestion is iGoogle (www.google.com/ig) – the free personalized portal that comes with a free Google Account. The iGoogle portal provides a ton of other functionality as well, but there are also many other free tools for storing web site addresses, and many different approaches to the concept. [Ed Note – Shortly after this article was published, Google pulled the iGoogle tool – KW.]
Well, there you have it. Four of my favorite cloud applications that provide powerful functionality and wide ranging access for free. Of course, there are many other popular cloud based tools that many Internet surfers use on a near daily basis, like search engines, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and so on. By the way, did you know that you can easily tag and organize YouTube videos to make them available with a few clicks wherever you want to use them? I've seen plenty of people go to YouTube and try to find a video they wanted to show someone, but not be able to locate it, or take a long time to do so. It doesn't really take much effort to create a YouTube account and once you have one, you'll be able to easily create playlists and have more powerful access to the world's most popular video cloud service!
So, what are your favorite cloud apps that help you in your role as educator?
Related Posts (if the above topic is of interest, you might want to check these out):
Announcing the 2012 Free Education Technology Resources eBook
Free Productivity Resources for Educators
10 Internet Technologies Educators Should Be Informed About