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Organizing Digital Files
Accessing the server
Organizing student files
Saving student files
Working in the computer lab
Organizing teacher files
Maintaining Digital Files
Preventing damaged and lost files
Archiving files
Managing collaborative digital work
Transferring files between school and home
Maintaining electronic records
Managing Computer Resources
Maintaining computers in the classroom
Using Macintoshes and PCs in the same classroom

I. Organizing Digital Files

Every time you and your students create and save a document using a computer -- whether a PowerPoint presentation or a Web page -- you are creating a digital file. It can be difficult and frustrating to locate digital files later if those files are not carefully organized and managed. Fortunately, computers are set up to make organizing and saving files a simple and painless process.

Although you and your students can save files to the hard drive of the computer in your classroom, it is best to save files onto the server, which is a hard drive on a separate computer that is specifically built for storing large volumes of files. The server is connected to every computer in the classroom and computer lab, so your students will be able to get those files from any school computer they use. If your students begin a project in the computer lab and need to finish the project using a computer in your classroom, they will be able to find and work on those files with no problems if the files are on the server.

1. Accessing the server

To save work on the server, your students will first need a login, which includes a User ID and password, to log on to the server. The easiest way to create student logins is to base the User IDs on their names. The User ID for Teresa Sanchez could be "tsanchez." Your school may have standards set up, so be sure to ask your technology department or computer technician. To create student logins, write a list of your students' names and a list of the User IDs to give to your school's technology department or computer technician.

Since younger users may find it difficult to remember individual User IDs and passwords, you will probably want to create one generic login. A generic login is just a User ID and password that a whole class can use to access the server. An easy-to-remember generic login for an entire first-grade class might be a username of "First Grade" and a password of "hello." You will need to work with your technology department or computer technician to create a generic login.

It is important to closely supervise your students' access to the files on the server if they use a generic login: Your students will be able to access each other's work, which means that they could accidentally or purposefully modify or delete each other's files.

2. Organizing student files

With all this saving to the server, files could potentially be lost and precious class time wasted looking through hundreds of documents just to find a specific file. That is why it is critical to establish a strong and clear file structure before work begins. You can organize digital files in digital folders, much like paper files are stored within folders in a filing cabinet.

All your folders will be created in a file structure, which is simply a system for organizing your files in a logical way. Unlike folders in a filing cabinet, which are usually organized alphabetically, you have a lot of flexibility in designing an electronic file structure. You can even create folders within folders, called subfolders, to make your file structure fit the specific needs of your classroom computer work.

For instance, let's say the file structure is organized so that each student has his or her own folder to store digital files. Your students are working on a history project about the gold rush and you have asked them to create a PowerPoint presentation displaying a timeline of important events and a bibliography of their sources in Microsoft Word. You can have your students create a subfolder called "Gold Rush" inside their own folder. They can store their PowerPoint presentation and Word document inside the "Gold Rush" folder, which makes those files easy to locate.

First, you will want to check with your technology department or computer technician to see how much freedom you have in designing the file structure on the server. If you can create your own file structure, the next step is to decide how to organize the folders according to the amount and type of computer work you and your students do. If your students mostly work on projects, then it probably makes the most sense to organize folders by project. If your students do computer work for each subject area, you might want to create a folder for each subject.

Take a look at our file management suggestions to see some different file management options. You can also use our creating a file structure guide if you need help creating folders and setting up your file structure.

3. Saving student files

When your students are working on their digital files, it is easy for them to accidentally save files in the wrong place or in a location that they will not be able to find easily again. That is why having a file structure on the server is so important. A file structure gives students an organized, consistent place to save their files.

Make sure to direct your students through the process of saving files so they understand how the folders are organized. You may find it necessary to demonstrate the process on a large screen that all students can see, then continue to guide your students through the process the first few times they save files until they are familiar with using the file structure.

As part of the saving process, have students save their work to the hard drive of the computer they are using while they are working. If the server goes down, students will still be able to access their work. They can simply transfer the files to the server at a later time. To manage these temporary files, create a folder called "Temporary Work" on the computer's desktop.

If your school requires that students save their files to a floppy disk, always make sure that your students have their floppy disks ready when they are working on the computer. Floppy disks are fragile and easily lost, so it is best to designate a special location in the classroom where students can store their disks.

It will also be useful to give your students guidelines for naming their files so they can find them again easily. Make sure your students use a specific, unique name. If a student uses a generic name, such as "My English Paper," it will be hard to determine later which student created the file and what information is in the file. Also, your students will accidentally replace one file with another file if they use the same filename. Using a specific, unique filename for each file will prevent that from happening.

4. Working in the computer lab

Your students may wind up doing some of their computer work in the computer lab. How do you make sure students can still find and use files created in the lab if they want to work on those files later in the classroom? As long as you have created a file structure on the server, your students can save all of their work on the server so that they can access those files from any computer in the classroom or lab. The process for creating and saving files in the lab will be the same as creating and saving files in the classroom, but just to be safe, it is best to show your students how to access the server from the computers in the lab.

If your students can only save their files on a floppy disk, make sure they have their disks in hand before they start using the computer. It is also important that students have a floppy disk case to protect the disks from getting damaged.

5. Organizing teacher files

A lot of emphasis has been placed on organizing your students' files to keep their digital work orderly and easy to find. But it is important not to forget your own digital files. Your computer files, which could include lesson plans, advisor letters, letters to parents, and school trip information, are bound to become jumbled and difficult to manage unless you create a file structure for yourself.

The file structure you build for your own files will probably be very similar to the file structure you create for your students. Our file structure suggestions provide a jumping off point for thinking about organizing your files.

II. Maintaining Digital Files

1. Preventing damaged and lost files

With so much work stored electronically, the prospect of losing some or all of that work can be worrisome. The best way to combat lost or damaged files is to prevent the problem in the first place using backups. Backups are copies of the files on the server. If the server crashes and files are lost, if a file on the server gets damaged or if a student accidentally deletes a file, you can retrieve and use the backup copy of that file.

The key to successful backups is backing up files on a regular basis. But how often should you back up your files? The frequency of your backups will depend on how often the files change. Although weekly backups are probably adequate, it is best to create daily backups for crucial files, such as grades. Your technology department or computer technician may already have developed standards for performing backups, so be sure to check.

If your school does not have a backup process in place, you can back up files in two ways:

  1. Using the drag-and-drop method
  2. Using backup software
With the drag-and-drop method, you just copy the files you want to back up from the server to your backup location, which could be an external hard drive, a Digital Audio Tape (DAT) or another server. Although the drag-and-drop method is the simplest way to back up files, you will have to remember to back up your files, and you will have to manually back up the files every time.

Because it is easy to forget your backups or miss a file using the drag-and-drop method, we recommend using backup software, such as VERITAS or Retrospect. This software will back up your files automatically, so you never need to remember to use it. When you install backup software, it will take some time to select the files you want to back up and to set up a backup schedule. But once you configure the backup software, you will never need to think about backups again.

2. Archiving files

Once you and your students have a body of digital work stored on the server, you will probably find that you and your students will want to have a portable copy of that work. Students might want to take their work home with them after a project is finished or they might need a copy of their work for college or job applications. Teachers often find it useful to keep copies of grades or to have a portfolio of the computer work their students have done. If you archive digital files, you and your students will be able to easily view, transport and copy all of your digital work.

Archiving creates a permanent, portable record for storing finalized files, usually on CD or DVD. Digital files are archived at the end of a course or project, after everything has been completed. To archive your files, first make sure you have the files organized and named exactly as you would like them to appear in the archive. At this point, it is best to archive on CD or DVD since these media will probably be around for some time. The choice between these two depends on the size of the files you want to archive -- a CD can hold up to 700MB and DVDs hold up to 4.7GB.

Archiving on CD or DVD requires special software. Although you should probably discuss archiving with your technology department or computer technician, we have provided some guidelines to get you started.

For the Mac: If your computer comes with a built-in CD/DVD super drive, the computer already has software to create CDs and DVDs. You can access the CD burning software from the "Special" menu. If your CD/DVD drive is external, you will have to use a software package, such as Toast, to archive files onto CD or DVD.
For the PC: If your computer comes with a built-in CD/DVD burner, the computer will usually come with software to create CDs and DVDs. If your CD/DVD drive is external, you will have to use a software package, such as Toast, to archive files onto CD or DVD.

If you do not have a CD or DVD burner, you can use floppy disks or ZIP disks to archive files. Bear in mind that standards for digital media are constantly changing. Archiving on floppy disks or ZIP disks, which are probably close to extinction, may cause some problems. It might be necessary to re-archive the files onto a different medium later.

3. Managing collaborative digital work

If your students are working together on a digital project, there are some special steps they will have to take to manage their files. One cardinal rule of file management is that students can never work on the same document at the same time -- the file will become damaged and unusable. To prevent this, have your students work on separate files when they are collaborating on a project. When it is time to combine the work, one student can work on the "final" file while the other students sit at the computer and direct where the content should go. If students need to continue their collaborative projects outside of the classroom, they should email each other with their changes.

To keep track of each student's contribution to the project, have each of them pick a different color to represent their work. One student can make comments in blue, another can make comments in green and yet another in red. The colors will help students and teachers sort out which students have produced each piece of work.

4. Transferring files between school and home

Since access to the computers in the classroom or the computer lab is often limited, students with a computer at home will probably want to work on some of their files and do homework using their home computer.

Teachers and students have several options for transferring files between school and home. First, ask your technology department or computer technician if students and teachers are able to access the school server from home. If you do have home access, there is no need to transfer files -- you can simply log on to the school server from your home computers and open the files you need.

The next option is to email files from school email accounts to home email accounts. Teachers and students can download files to home computers, work on them and then email the files back to school accounts when finished.

If it is not possible to email files between home and school, you can copy files onto a floppy disk or ZIP disk. Floppy disks and ZIP disks can get lost or damaged, so try to avoid this option, if possible. Make sure that students using floppy disks always carry the disks in a special case -- the data on floppy disks can get damaged very easily.

It is important to note that working on files at home can pose some problems:

  • Many files will only work in a specific software application. For instance, PowerPoint presentations can only be opened in PowerPoint. Some home computers may not have the necessary software to work on a file, so be sure that you and your students check your home computers first.
  • If a file is created on one operating system (such as a Macintosh), but you have a different OS at home (such as a PC), it may not be possible to work on certain files at home. Our saving for the Mac and the PC guide will help you transfer files between the Mac and the PC.
  • You may be increasing the risk for infecting school computers with a virus, which is a computer program that is specifically created to damage digital files or interfere with email. It is essential to make sure that the computers in your classroom have the latest virus software installed.

5. Maintaining electronic records

The computer work that teachers create may include electronic records that need to be carefully managed, such as grades and communications with parents. It is possible that most of the work has already been done for you -- many schools use a system to manage electronic records, so check with your technology department or computer technician first. If you school does not use a system to manage electronic records, you can design and build your own database or spreadsheet using a database application (such as Filemaker Pro) or a spreadsheet application (such as Excel). Unfortunately, these programs demand a lot of computer knowledge. We recommend using specialized grade management software, such as Gradekeeper, Grade Machine, Autograde, or Classbuilder.

When you are researching your options for managing electronic records, don't forget to confirm with your technology department or computer technician that all confidential documents, such as notes about students, are secure and inaccessible to students. Some schools will have separate academic and administrative servers for just this purpose.

If your school does not have security standards set up, you can save your confidential files onto a floppy or ZIP disk and place them in a locked drawer or file cabinet when you are not working on them. Another option is to use security software, such as Active Directory (Windows) or Mac Manager (Macintosh), to protect your files.

III. Managing Computer Resources

1. Maintaining computers in the classroom

With so many students and teachers working on computers and creating digital files, it is important to monitor the computers themselves. The first step is to keep your computers consistent -- make sure all your computers have the same software applications installed and that those applications are all the same version of the software. You can use our computer checklist as a guide for making the computers in your classroom as easy as possible to use.

You may find it necessary to work with your technology department to ensure that your computers are consistent and ready for use in your classroom. For a complete list of issues to address with your technology department, take a look at our questions to ask the technology department.

It is especially important to confirm that your computers have security software installed, such as Active Directory (Windows) or Mac Manager (Macintosh), to prevent your more adventurous students from making unwanted modifications to computers or other students' work.

Viruses can also cause unwanted changes to your computer. They can even erase information from the computer's hard drive or from the server, so be sure that your computer has the latest virus protection software, such as Norton Antivirus or McAfee Virus Alert.

2. Using Macintoshes and PCs in the same classroom

If you have Macs and PCs in your classroom, there are a number of problems your students might encounter when they transition between computers:

  1. The files created on one computer won't open in another computer.
  2. The files open, but the information is scrambled or unusable.
  3. The files look different or are missing some formatting.

To deal with these problems, take a look at our saving for the Mac and the PC guide, which has some tips to help you transfer files between the Mac and the PC.


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