Anyone know how to survive as a teacher without a laptop or access to network files at home?
August 27, 2009 10:02 PM   Subscribe

Anyone know how to survive as a teacher without a laptop or access to network files at home?

In the past I have been able to bring in my own laptop and connect to the wireless internet where I've taught. I have heard of others being able to access their network files from home or on school-issued laptops.

At my new job, which seems to be wonderful in every other way, I don't have any of these options. Even Dropbox, which I love and highly recommend, won't work because it's a blocked website.

I can't help but think that I'm going to be pulling my hair out trying to bring files back and forth on a USB drive or emailing things to myself. I do need to try GoogleDocs, but I feel like that will probably be clunky too.

Any ideas? I don't want this one bummer aspect of my new job to drive me crazy! I use a million files because we don't work out of a textbook and I need readings and worksheets for every day.

Oh, and I use a MacBook at home but have a horribly slow PC running XP at school.
posted by NHlove to Technology (22 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you talked to your management and get (at least parts of) this changed. It's one thing to block Facebook, but things that prevent you from doing your job is stupid.
posted by bottlebrushtree at 10:13 PM on August 27, 2009

I'd try FTP first, followed by just a web server you've got access to serving whatever files you want access to with an open directory listing (add a password or robots.txt at least though.)
posted by floam at 10:14 PM on August 27, 2009

are you needing to transfer over 16gigs back and forth? if not - why not just use a thumb drive? small, portable, easy to use and copy to. you can even encrypt the whole thing if you're worried about losing it and the students finding it.
posted by nadawi at 11:43 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Teachers did manage to perform their jobs even before the Internet. What are the specific tasks and files you need access to? Is it for lesson planning time or foor actual teaching? How do other teachers do it?

If it's for lesson planning and other non-teaching time, maybe you can arrange an hour or two per day at home, where you can work unfettered.
posted by rokusan at 12:17 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

And yes, keychain drives (mine is 32Gb, nadawi. Therefore, I rock.) are super-convenient. Definitely get one that attaches firmly to your keys, though, or it's going to go walkies very quickly. And encrypt it.
posted by rokusan at 12:18 AM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Seconding the 'teachers managed before the internet' theme. Work access can and should be approached - unless some portion of your class REQUIRES Facebook access (somewhat doubtful), only mention what you can directly justify for your job.
posted by chrisinseoul at 12:46 AM on August 28, 2009

Use Syncback on your home PC to make sure your 'teaching' directory is synched with your 16GB USB stick.

Whenever you make a new document at home, it's on your stick. Whenever you update a file on your stick, it's copied to your home.
posted by Jairus at 2:04 AM on August 28, 2009

I'm a school network admin and I try to be as liberal as possible; it's all about facilitating work in a safe manner. But things are blocked for a reason, one of these being protecting from viruses and services like Dropbox are definitely a vector for such infections.

That said, occasionally I need to get around the restrictions myself. For example, I need to see if a web service is working properly for visitors from outside the campus network, so I do some shenanigans with proxying (via a protocol called SSH) to my home server so, in effect, the connection from my browser is coming "from home".

Simplest thing, as already suggested, is to get a thumb drive. Slightly more "heavyweight" is to get a Western Digital drive like this, which has huge capacity, but doesn't need an external power supply. Also, you can set an iPod, if you have one, to "Disk Mode" (it's an option in iTunes when you're synching) so you can copy actual files to it, in addition to your music. The iPod becomes in effect an external drive like a thumb-drive. Good for "stealth mode" file transfers ;)

More complex, if you have some tech smarts is to look at, install it on your thumb-drive or iPod (I use my iPod) and use the following apps:

- Tor portable, which (when run) uses the Tor proxy network to facilitate your web access.
- Firefox Portable, giving you an alternative web browser on your thumb-drive. I keep one of these handy for all those times I'm stuck with plain old Explorer on someone else's computer.
- Run Portable Firefox, go to and install Tor Button.

So now you can run Tor and Firefox from your thumb drive, and click on the Tor Button icon in Firefox, which will tell it to use the Tor network for web access. (You might need to configure your toolbar in Firefox so it has the Tor button available, and Tor can take a few minutes to settle down when you start it, ie before it will actually connect you to the Internet.) You can get to blocked websites including Dropbox, and the activity should be invisible to your network admins.

Of course, this kind of thing might be against your school's policies or whatever, so you might decide it's too complex and sneaky to be worth the trouble, but it's included for completeness ;) The only time this stuff hasn't worked for me is when I was on a secure .mil network, and they'd locked down absolutely everything.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 2:42 AM on August 28, 2009 [2 favorites]

I had the same issue at my school (middle school teacher) and a combination of GoogleDocs and a keychain thumbdrive both got me through.

Last year, most of us got laptops (although I still need GoogleDocs).
posted by dzaz at 3:21 AM on August 28, 2009

Have you tried Hamachi ? It gets thru even the toughest filtering.
posted by bigmusic at 3:38 AM on August 28, 2009

Seconding the 'teachers managed before the internet' theme.

We also used to make fire with just stones and sticks and such, but really, isn't a lighter better? We already cripple educational innovation enough in this country.

NHlove, have you considered a wireless card for your laptop?
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 3:57 AM on August 28, 2009 [3 favorites]

I often don't feel like carrying my (personal) laptop into school, where we don't have wireless in most of the building anyway (including my classroom -- and I only have one [working] ethernet jack!), so I frequently email files to myself. It works fine, but then I generally do know what I need access to in advance (or I can get the file the next day). It only takes a couple of seconds when gathering things up at the end of the day for me. My home printer doesn't work well, so for things I definitely need to print at school the next day that are crucial (exams, etc.), I generally email *and* USB key in to have some 'just in case' redundancy. The emailed document is usually quicker to access for me than the one on the USB key. The biggest timewaste for me in the process is actually converting from a Pages file on my laptop to pdf (if I've finished the document) or .doc (if I'm still working on it), since I have an iBook at home and a PC (UGH) at school, but I figure that since it was my decision to buy iWork instead of Office, I've got to live with needing to do that. I generally would not expect off-site access to a school's system (although we do finally have complete access from anywhere via internet to our electronic gradebooks, which is pretty exciting). But yeah, in short, I email what I need to myself and, honestly, keep as little on the school PC (which I hate) as possible. If I need the Internet in my classroom on my laptop when I've brought it in, I use the wired connection in my room.
posted by lysimache at 5:35 AM on August 28, 2009

You might consider getting into the habit of hauling your macbook into work every day as then you would never be without your files. This assumes that you would not have to worry about it being stolen. Another possibility is putting up a website on which you store all of your documents. Most ISPs give you some storage for free and it isn't that expensive to upgrade if the free space fails to suffice. You could divide it into a public section where students and parents can view the current assignments and teaching documents and a hidden or password protected area where you would store stuff not yet current, answers, etc.
posted by caddis at 5:38 AM on August 28, 2009

Yes, teachers were able to work differently before computers, but I can tell you that now the use of computers and the internet is mandatory and not the decision of the teacher.

Teachers and students in my district have technology goals and teachers need to be able to access what we use on school servers at home.

My students do most of their research, writing and presentations on computers because it's the district policy.

Federal grants are tied in to many factors; one of them being the use of technology.

Therefore, I need to be able to see this stuff at home so as I work until 11pm nightly, I'm at least at home.
posted by dzaz at 6:25 AM on August 28, 2009

You could also simply using a large portable drive instead of a thumb drive -- plug it in at home, plug it in at school, have all of your files with you all of the time.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:27 AM on August 28, 2009

Have you tried Hamachi ? It gets thru even the toughest filtering

Doesn't work at my school. A firewall upstream from me blocks all access to the servers that broker Hamachi's initial peer-to-peer firewall piercing.
posted by flabdablet at 6:28 AM on August 28, 2009

I would go the stupidest easiest route possible and email everything to a gmail account [7GB of storage or something like that] that is not your main gmail account, if you have one. You can pretty easily sort stuff, you can use tags and some useful text in the subject lines to help you figure out where and what stuff is and it will work with google docs. I have a similar situation and I usually use a large-ish thumb drive to move files back and forth, but gmail works in a pinch. I'd also talk to your supervisor and ask for suggestions solving this problem.
posted by jessamyn at 7:29 AM on August 28, 2009

Thinking about jessamyn's most excellent suggestion, you could combine that with this nifty Firefox addon which converts a Gmail account into an online file storage area.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 8:19 AM on August 28, 2009

You could try setting up WebDAV. That's easy to set up with some web hosts. Connecting to it via OS X is easy. You could also hit it via a web browser and you should be able to map it as a drive under Windows.

I'd probably go with Google Docs and/or some sort of portable drive. Google Docs can import the Microsoft Office format for Word, PowerPoint, and Excel. And it can also import PDFs. So, if you create your stuff with iWork, you can just print to PDF and upload those to Google Docs.
posted by wheat at 11:10 AM on August 28, 2009

At every school I have ever worked at, it was against the rules to bring your personal electronics such as laptops or printers into the building, mainly for the security of the item itself and for network security. So that option might not be available to the OP.
posted by tamitang at 1:23 AM on August 29, 2009

Thanks for all the suggestions! I have started to investigate all these different options and will check at school on Monday to see if the firewall blocks all these other websites as well.

I have gotten in touch with them about un-blocking Dropbox, but I'm not sure they'll do it.

The GSpace add-on seems like it might work really well, but there is a big scary disclaimer on it saying that if GMail changes the way it runs it might not work properly.

If none of those websites seem to work, I think I might just go with a large USB drive like BrokenEnglish suggested.

Does anyone know how expensive wireless laptop cards are?
posted by NHlove at 6:44 AM on August 29, 2009

You shouldn't have to pay much for a wireless card; you can get PCMCIA or USB variants. In the UK, I would not pay more than UKP30 so I guess that's less than $50 if you're in the US. The setting up can be a bit awkward if you've never done it before, e.g. entering the encryption type and the pass-phrase. Macs make this much easier than PCs ;)
posted by BrokenEnglish at 3:23 PM on August 29, 2009

« Older How should I go about unlocking a Canadian phone...   |   re-potty train a dog? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.