Mac Lab Report

Using iDisk Effectively in the Classroom

- 2003.10.16

If you have iDisk access in your classroom and a .mac account, you can begin to get some tremendous benefits from your account if you do more than just store files on the Web-based server. Here are some things I have tried, most of which I am currently doing.

1. Post individual, static Web pages. This goes without saying, but I included it for completeness.

2. Provide an email address for students to contact you. Occasionally they like to do it outside the school's email system.

3. Public uploading drop-box type services can be accessed through the Mac operating system (OS 9 and higher) - or even through Windows. I've written about this before and tried it experimentally. I may implement it permanently this year. This could mean no more floppies.

4. Instant posting of class documents. This is what I did recently. I made a handout. I printed it out. A student asked when it would be on the website for downloading. I printed it again and selected "Save as PDF" (Mac OS X - or you can also print to PDF in OS 9 if you have Acrobat installed). When the save dialog box opened, I directed it to save to my Public Folder on my iDisk. You may need to connect first if you're using OS 9.

Some time ago I set up file sharing through my .mac account so users had read-only access to files in my Public Folder, and my Web pages link directly to the File Sharing template that .mac's Homepage creates when you enable File Sharing.

Thus, posting a document on the Web is a matter of saving it in the proper location, which I have made a favorite in my save dialog box. One step - boom - and the handout is online, so it is practically posted as soon as I make it. No more forgetting your homework in your locker.

5. I also use a mimio, a dry erase capture program, so when I export JPEGs of the board to the Public Folder, my notes are posted online before the end of the class in which I write them. Since this is all dynamically handled by Homepage, I don't have to do anything but save files.

I used to be worried about all the space the notes might take up on my iDisk, but after I had a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious, I realized that I could simply delete the oldest notes as I posted new ones and not try to archive an entire year at a time. If they've had the test over the material, then the notes don't need to be there any longer. Even better, I can print out the notes for my binder and have them as a reference next year. Write once, use thrice, that's nice.

6. I recently started using iBlog for posting daily lesson plans and interesting links, which again keeps me from having to manually update every single page. Entries are organized and sortable by topic and date, so I can even write them out in advance. The iBlog folks are looking into adding "future postings" so you can see what the entry is going to be in a few days. That would make the program nearly perfect for teacher use.

7. I've managed to make the transition from Claris Home Page to Dreamweaver. Dreamweaver was the first Mac program I had used in a long time that I benefited from taking a class to learn. Even though the learning curve is steep, the site management templates allow me to be more consistent in the development of sites as opposed to publishing collections of pages.

I plan to replace all of my AstronomyTeacher.com pages with a new, better organized collection with a consistent look and feel. Now they'll all have common navigation bars, which I can edit throughout the documents simultaneously without using frames.

Even better, our school just bought a site license for Dreamweaver, so now my students can start to build sites. And I can do things like prohibit Dreamweaver from uploading draft files from the Web page master folder on my hard drive or deleting XML files created by (Apple's online) Homepage on the server.

One problem is that Dreamweaver's WebDAV access does not work properly with iDisk, so you have to mount the iDisk first and treat it as a save to a local volume when setting up the site. That's a real bug. And occasionally Dreamweaver MX crashes on me when I start opening a new file after not actively using the program for a while. It has never crashed while working on a document, just on the transition. It will be some time, maybe never, before I will feel I have mastered everything the program has to offer.

As you can see, for a modest investment of $100 per year - less if you can get some folks to sign up with you using the educational discount - you can get a lot of easy-to-use functionality that puts you on the cutting edge of educational technology without suffering the bleeding that comes with doing it all manually.

When people ask me if .mac is worth the expense, I say "definitely!" I could never do half of this stuff with a free or cheaper generic service - at least, not this easily.

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is a longtime Mac user. He was using digital sensors on Apple II computers in the 1980's and has networked computers in his classroom since before the internet existed. In 2006 he was selected at the California Computer Using Educator's teacher of the year. His students have used NASA space probes and regularly participate in piloting new materials for NASA. He is the author of two books and numerous articles and scientific papers. He currently teaches astronomy and physics in California, where he lives with his twin sons, Jony and Ben.< And there's still a Mac G3 in his classroom which finds occasional use.

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