Are You Being Served? : Utilizing Your School's File Server
by James Frankel
Most school districts now have dedicated file servers in the building that allow teachers and students to store and access data including word processing files, websites, and any other type of file that can be saved.
In Franklin Lakes, we have a wonderful network in place that provides teachers and students with personal, password protected storage space for files that they are working on. Our server is available over the web for teachers only. This allows a teacher to work at home and save directly to the school server, avoiding the frustrating process of saving on to a disk and bringing it to school (hoping that it will work). It also allows teachers to read and grade work from students that has been saved to the teachers “hand in” folder, eliminating the need for the teacher to grade projects in the computer lab at school.
File Servers are simply computers that usually sit in closets without keyboards or monitors that are dedicated to storing data, usually quite a bit of it. Most often these servers are connected through a local area network (LAN) and usually have a TCP/IP address that makes them accessible from the web. Teachers and students can log into the server through AppleShare (in the Mac world) and store files. This is great for backing up data, but many teachers I know are unaware of the limitless possibilities that servers can offer. Before going any further, I would ask your building technology person if there is a file server, if it is on the LAN, and whether or not it is accessible via the web.
One of the main reasons teachers sometimes shy away from using technology in the classroom, aside from not knowing how to use it properly, is the amount of prep time and class time required to use it effectively. When used, File Servers can serve as an invaluable tool in cutting down wasted time. The following are real world scenarios and applications for File Servers.
The most powerful aspect of a File Server is its use as a classroom management tool. The perfect story to illustrate this happened to me this year. My district recently purchased a 10-station MIDI lab for my classroom. In addition, I have an AirPort base station in the classroom, as well as a mounted projector for my teaching station. In the beginning of the year, I set up folders for all of my classes as well as all of the different projects in each class folder. This eliminates confusion when it comes to saving. The students see a folder that says “Period 4/Marking Period 1”. In that folder there is a folder for each of the assignments for the marking period as well as a folder that has copies of all of the handouts that I distribute throughout the course. This way, whenever a student loses the guidelines for an assignment, they know they can always log in to my hand in folder and get whatever they need. In 8th grade, I teach a music history survey course that incorporates technology in to each period of music history. When studying the Baroque Period, I have the students create their own Two-Part Inventions using Sibelius, after studying the work of J.S. Bach. In order to achieve this, I stand in front of the class, and show them how to use the software, as well as how to create a two-part invention. I show the students the right hand part of Invention No. 11. I then save my example to the server using the AirPort into a marked folder that the students can easily find. This eliminates the need to go around to every computer and load my example. The students simply log in to my hand in folder, open the example, save it under a new name, and begin working on the assignment. It is important to note that the students must save it immediately under a new name or they will write over the original example (I have learned this from experience).
By now, you may have had your students try a PowerPoint Project in the general music setting. If you have, you may recognize the following statement from a teary-eyed student: “I can’t find my file. I know I did the project. I just don’t know where I saved it.” A File Server is a perfect tool in this situation. Where students save their work is often a problem. If you are bringing the students to the computer lab once a week, they might save their work into a Documents folder, which is accessible to all who use that computer. It is very easy for another student to delete the file, rename the file, save over the file, or even place the file in another folder. The following week, when the student returns to the same computer, it is often a crapshoot whether their file will still be there. Using a file server, the teacher would instruct the students to save all of their work in to their own personal folder. Because this folder is password protected, it will be there when the student wants to work on it. (Just make sure they save the file there every time.) This also allows students the opportunity to work on the project during a lunch period, or before or after school. When the deadline approaches for the project, teachers can remind the students that the exact time the file is last saved is recorded by the server. A further extension of the beauty of a File Server in this situation is that a teacher can then access and grade the student work from home via the web using the TCP/IP address.
Network Versions of Software
Perhaps you have seen Software titles available in “network versions”. What this means is that rather than buying multiple copies of the software and installing it on multiple machines, you can purchase the network version (at higher cost) and install it on one machine, the File Server. Students and teachers can then access the software via the network. I highly recommend this way of software installation. It saves time when troubleshooting software problems. Rather than 20 machines running different copies, you have one machine running it all.
In my classes we use the network version of Alfred’s Essentials of Music Theory. The students log on to the server, complete the assignments and have their work saved in my hand in folder on the server. It works seamlessly and eliminates the need for me to travel around to each computer to see how the students have fared on the individual exercise.
It should be obvious at this point that the students can save any written assignment directly to the File Server, ending the need to print it out, and ruling out the old “my printer broke” excuse. I have my students write critiques of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring by hand, and then, after the edit the critique, they write the finished product using Microsoft Word. The students save their work in to the folder marked “Stravinsky Critiques” in my hand in folder. This allows me to read the critiques at my convenience, whether in school or at home, and ensures that I never lose the papers.
I hope that you find some use in this article and if you are not already, use your school’s File Server as much as you can. I no longer have stacks of papers on my desk waiting to be graded. I no longer have to carry my work and student work to and from home. Students no longer have the opportunity to give me excuses about where their work is, I already know. Ask your technology person if you have such a system in your school. Ask them about making it web accessible. While there are certainly some issues in doing so, there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. In my district, the students cannot access the File Server at home. This ensures that our district acceptable use policy remains in tact. Only teachers can access the server outside of school, and I find that it has made my organizational skills much better, and my teaching much more liberating. If you have any questions, please feel free to email me at my new email address: firstname.lastname@example.org. Until next time, make sure that you are being properly served in your school!