Hosting Course Content in the Cloud (or, There’s Got to Be a Better Way!!)

I cannot sing the praises of cloud storage loudly enough.  The cloud has revolutionized the way I deal with files and if it’s not changed your life yet, it’s only because you’ve not tried it or haven’t used it properly.   While I could go on about the collaboration tools and the ability to host forms and collect data and all that great stuff, I’m going to to restrain myself for now and talk about one big topic that’s dear to my heart (or at least that has a major impact on my day-to-day work).

If you’ve read this blog with any regularity (or just looked at the “About.Me” in on the right-hand side of the page), you’ll see that I’m the Senior Analyst and Blackboard Administrator for a community college in New Jersey.  Our institution does not have the infrastructure or finances required to host Blackboard on site, so we’ve opted to use Blackboard’s managed hosting services rather than buying the necessary hardware and hiring the additional staff required to maintain physical servers.  Managed Hosting has proven to be a fantastic solution for us, and I’d recommend it for any cash-strapped institutions who want to be competitive in the online course market.  But because we are managed hosting clients, we do have some restrictions, and space is one of them.  That space issue, dear readers, is the topic of today’s sermon.

One of the biggest issues I face as a Blackboard administrator is the constant need to evaluate the amount of space being used on our Blackboard servers.  We set limits for course sizes, but (of course), we get those calls from faculty who are desperate to add content to their courses after having met their quota for the course.  While I could be a jerk and say “You’ve met your quota…. figure it out.”  I don’t do that.  I try to accommodate the faculty requests and help as much as possible..  (We are on the same team, after all).  But there comes a point where I have to drop the tough love bomb and utter that oh-so-difficult two-letter word….. “no”, and direct them to post their materials in the cloud, then post links in Blackboard that will direct students to the files that are hosted on the cloud servers.

For the most part, I recommend that our faculty use Google Drive, for two big reasons.  First, most folks already have Google accounts, so the setup is very simple.  Second, and more importantly, in my mind, Google Slides presentations are mobile-friendly by default.  We have a responsibility to our students to meet them where they are, and most of them want to be able to access course materials via a mobile device.  So, when I meet with faculty to discuss moving materials to the cloud, here’s how I tackle it.  I talk about…….

Benefits of Cloud Storage

  • All documents for all courses in one easy-to-access location.
  • Updated documents are immediately available in online course shells.
  • No more uploading documents to multiple sections.  The single link to the document in the cloud can be used in all sections of a course.
  • Works great on mobile devices!
  • Saves space on Bb servers and keeps Rodney happy.

Usually, points 2 and 3 are the ones that get ’em hooked.  If you’ve ever taught an online course, you know what I’m talking about here. In the pre-cloud era, if you’ve misspelled a word or decided to add something to a presentation or document, you had to update the file on your computer, re-upload the updated file to the LMS and repeat the process for each class in which the presentation or document appeared.  That’s not a big deal for one or two items, but if you have to make substantial edits throughout the course of the semester, it can get really tedious and time-consuming.

But, if you’ve got everything in the cloud, you just open the document or presentation, make your edits, save your work, and you’re done.  The only thing you need to do to get started is to upload your materials to the cloud, share the presentations or documents or whatever, copy the link to the presentation or document, and add it to your online course.  That’s it!

Over the next few days/weeks, I’Il be posting a series of articles on how to use Google Drive to manage course content in the cloud and completely liberate yourself from the old-fashioned chore of edit, upload, repeat….

Til next time……