On March 7, 2011, I finally did something I have wanted to do for a long time: I made available for download all the materials I developed, adapted, and otherwise used for all the courses I taught over the span of my eight-year career teaching high school English.
Why I Did It
First, why I DIDN’T do it: I DIDN’T do it because I feel I’d be depriving the world of some educational holy grail if I didn’t. In fact, most of what’s in there was developed prior to the major change in thinking I had toward my practice in 2006-2007. What is in there, however, I think are good jumping off points for development. I may have had stale writing assigments from my first few years, but I think the core questions and ideas they address are still good – my challenge to you is, can you take those good ideas and come up with a better way to have kids address them than I did?
I did this in the spirit of open education and sharing. I was fortunate enough to work in an English department with teachers who were only too happy to share their wealth of materials with me as I was starting out; I’d like to think that in some way, this move honors their generosity of time and resources (especially since some of their stuff is probably in these files, in one form or another).
I also think back to one of the reasons I liked having students post their research online: what good does all that hard work do if it’s just sitting on your hard drive somewhere collecting proverbial dust? While my students may have had a few weeks of research to share, I have eight years worth of research, thinking, missteps, and refinement that I hope will benefit some pre-service or early career teacher sitting in his living room, staring at a copy of Hamlet, and thinking not so much, “What the hell am I supposed to do with this?”, but rather, “Where the hell am I supposed to start with this?” Sometimes the seeming enormity of the task overwhelms; that’s where (hopefully) my stuff can help focus and provide ideas.
How I Did It
I’ve toyed with the idea of doing this ever since I stopped teaching at the end of the 2007-2008 school year, but could never find the right combination of price (for file hosting) and convenience to make it a worthwhile project to pursue. The closest I came was using DivShare to upload my stuff because they had a drag & drop uploader, but folders still had to be individually created via the website, documents re-arranged manually (again, via the website), and let’s face it – we’re talking about 3.5 gigs of files, mostly text documents. That was just too much.
The service I ended up using for this project was one I’ve used and loved for years now – Dropbox. Dropbox is a service that provides 2GB of free online storage and file syncing between computers (if you use the link above to sign up for the service and install it on your computer, you and I both get an additional 250MB of space on top of the 2GB; further space can be obtained through their referral program). The watershed moment came a few months ago when Dropbox announced that their next software upgrade would include a folder sharing function (previously, only individual files could be shared publicly). Here’s how you do it:
- Right-click on the folder you want to share.
- Select “Dropbox” > “Get shareable link”.
- You’ll be re-directed to Dropbox’s website, where you’ll get a short link you can tweet, share on Facebook, or embed in a webpage, wiki, blog, etc.
- Anyone who can access the link can now access the contents of that folder.
- That’s it.
- No, really; that’s all there is to it.
Since I kept all my stuff in Dropbox anyway, this meant that all I needed to do was activate the shareable link for each course’s folder, put the link on my website along with a brief description of each course, and remove any pictures or videos of students (all of whom have long since graduated from high school and are adults, but it’s the right thing to do). Once that was done, I did another cursory sweep of the files just to tighten up organization a bit, and that was that. Unlike other services, I could do this all from my desktop, and any changes made there were instantaneously reflected on the Dropbox servers – far less time consuming than doing it all manually through a web app.
If you’d like to have a look, head over to my portfolio website and feel free to have a poke around. Also, if you know an English teacher or department who may want to dig around, please feel free to distribute the link far and wide. Much like my blog, my lessons and materials are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License (of course, this license does not abridge your Fair Use rights as an educator).
Finally, I’d like to toss this out there – if setting up the file sharing was as simple as dragging some folders into Dropbox, getting the shareable link, then posting the link on a website (or wiki, or blog, or whatever you like)…
…would you share your work too?