Foldr is your school’s own locally hosted Dropbox that makes accessing and saving student work on iPads really simple.
How do you save student work from your iPads to a central location, and how do you access work already created on your desktop computer on your iPad? If you're using iPads in school you've likely come across this problem. In fact, this is one of the most searched for topics on ClassThink. How do you easily get work on and off your iPad?
Many school's I've spoken to simply keep all their documents and photos on the iPad and never back it up anywhere. But in too many cases this has resulted in work being lost and causes data protection concerns that need to be addressed.
There are services available to connect your iPad to a Windows home folder, but setting up complex internal systems like RDP, Work Folders, and WebDav is out of reach of many school's. Cloud storage is an option, but you then have to consider data protection, the consiquences of storing your data with a third-party, and it still doesn't help you get access to the files stored on your school's server. Why can't you simply access your current work on your mobile device or from home?
You've likely invested a lot of money in a Windows server set up which contains all of your documents, but as any one who works as a school tech knows, iPads don't work well with Windows. Solutions are many — cloud services, WebDav — but none of them provide the four things most schools want:
- The ability to open and save work quickly and simply from a Windows server.
- Use your current infrastructure without investing more time and money buying in and managing external services.
- Access your work wherever you are.
- Store work locally within your current server infrastructure so you don't have to worry about the data protection implications of cloud storage.
- Give access to student data on BYOD devices while keeping them separate from your network.
Foldr solves all of these problems by making it really easy to access school work stored on your school's servers from anywhere. And it doesn't just work with iPad, Foldr gives you access to your Windows files on any device with a web browser.
Getting Foldr Up And Running
I've been testing it as a VM and the server is essentially plug and play. You import the virtual appliance provided, boot it up, and away you go.
Foldr isn't processor intensive, so you can get away with a minimally spec'd machine. I'm running it with 2GB RAM, 1 processor, and 40GB HDD space and it runs very well.
Booting the VM up you enter a few basic configuration details, IP, default gateway, proxy etc. and you are all set. It literally took me 20 minutes from downloading the appliance to accessing a Windows file share on my iPad.
The service is a neat, lightweight and, unlike WebDav, it sits separate from your internal systems and runs in the background.
Like Google Apps and Office 365, Foldr ties in with your Active Directory or other LDAP service and allows users to login without the need to set up and manage another set of user accounts. It even automatically detects your user's home folder further minimising any additional set up.
Using Foldr in a Browser
To access Foldr on a desktop you simply point your browser to the address of the Foldr server and login with your school user name and password. Because Foldr is essentially just a web page, you can easily make it accessible outside of your school. This guarantees that when a student or teacher moves between school and home they get the same experience in both locations. You don't need to teach your users any additional stuff, they just login with their school user name and password and away they go.
Once you're logged in you are presented with a screen that simply shows the shared folders you have access to. Users can't add their own file shares — all that is managed by the administrator — but it means that your users only get access to the data you allow them to.
Everything about Foldr is clean and minimal. The developers have taken the core features that users want and paired down the entire interface to remove any unnecessary complication.
Browsing your files in Foldr is also very simple. You navigate your folder structure just as you would with a mapped drive in Windows. All your documents are immediately available to download, and you can also upload, move files, or create new folders within the browser.
The difference between Foldr and Google Drive or Office 365 is that Foldr is purely a service to access and save your documents. There's no built in word processor or spreadsheet application, so you are completely reliant on locally installed applications. If you want to download and edit an Excel file, for example, you need to have Excel installed on the device you're using.
Unlike Dropbox, Foldr does not synchronise your files. This means that it's possible for two people to download and edit the same file upload it and the last person to upload overwrites the changes of the first. Chris, Foldr's lead programmer, assures me that this is something they are looking into addressing very shortly, but for most this won't be an issue.
Making Your Windows Shares Available Through Foldr
Making your Windows file shares available through Foldr is really simple. You give the share a name, enter the share path, and choose an icon — that's it. Foldr respects your Windows file and share permissions, so if a share is inaccessible or read-only to students in Windows, the same will be true in Foldr. This means there are no additional permissions to configure — if your share permissions are already correctly configured in Windows then you don't have to do anything else in Foldr.
You also have the option of preventing users writing to a share that they would have normally have write access to on their Windows machine. If there is a share you want students to be able to write to in school but not at home you can enable the “Allow users to write to this share” option.
Sharing Files With Foldr
Foldr allows you to share files by creating an “fLink”, which is a URL which you can share with others to access a particular file.
fLinks can be disabled on each file share, limited to users within your domain, or made publicly accessible. This gives you full control over which documents are allowed to be shared or not. You can also set a time limit after which the link is disabled.
All fLinks can be viewed and deleted in the administrator control panel.
Foldr for iPad, iPhone, and iPod Touch
A free Foldr app is available on the iOS app store — an Android version is in the works. The app allows the same access you get through the browser but with a clean tablet interface.
The iPad app is a great demonstration of the amount of thought that has gone into developing Foldr for schools. iPads are designed to be single user devices, but this doesn't fit well with schools using tablets as a shared resource — this is where Foldr really excels on the iPad.
The Foldr app gives you two options when you first install it — shared or personal mode. Personal mode works like a standard, single user app, you enter your server settings, login, and away you go.
In shared mode, however, you can enter your Foldr server details, but the when the app is closed or the user logs out the server details are stored but the user data is removed. This means that the next student to pick up the iPad won't have access to the previous student's home folder, a big issue with other services such as WebDav and Google Drive. It's not perfect, but it's the best solution I've seen to this problem on iPad.
Foldr For BYOD
Because Foldr works within a browser the service is platform agnostic. This means whether you're using Windows, Mac, Chromebook, or Linux, as long as you have a modern web browser installed Foldr will just work. Also, because Foldr is publicly accessible, students never have to touch your internal network to access their work. For BYOD this means increased security for your network.
Foldr and Data Protection
There are certain files I just don't want my users storing in their Google Drive. Written into our Acceptable Use Policy is that documents which could affect the running of the school, for example, information that may be requested by Ofsted, or data that we have to be able to prove has been deleted, should only be stored on school owned servers. This policy reduces our exposure to risk but also limits access to teachers. Foldr allows us to provide an internally hosted cloud service from which teachers can access their documents but without the risks associated with third-party cloud services.
Tracking Activity in Foldr
One of the concerns administrators have with cloud services like Google Apps, is that it's very difficult to monitor the activity of students. With Foldr all activity is logged, so if you do have a disciplinary or data protection issue, you can go back through the logs and see exactly what happened, who viewed which files, or uploaded which document. You can also track system activity such as fLinks created, and administrator activity. This is great for data protection issues as you are able to review which files have been accessed by who and from which IP address.
The whole system is very minimal, so there isn't that much to customise, but Foldr does allow you to add your schools logo to brand the system. While the feature is purely aesthetic we've found it can give some reassurance to users and creates a sense of the service being part of the school.
Managing Foldr Updates
Server updates are all managed within the appliance itself. There are no complicated installs or backups, you just click update, and Foldr does all the work for you. In fact, if you had an issue where something went wrong with your Foldr install, it would probably be quicker just to re-install the appliance that it would to resolve the issue. Foldr is that quick to get up and running.
There's a huge amount of thought gone in to how Foldr will be used in schools — something which we don't often see very from app developers. The developers, MinnowIT, are very communicative, and in the meeting I had with them they took feedback and have already started to implement several new requested features.
Is this an alternative to clouds services like Office 365 and Google Apps? Foldr can be used instead of these services, but I also think there is place for Foldr to compliment cloud services. The collaboration and built in apps Google provide are very powerful, but there are also times when using a cloud service is not appropriate, and this is where Foldr fits in. It's the service schools have been clamouring for while Google and Microsoft have been pushing their own services.
Where the Foldr iPad app workflow feels clumsy it's as a result of limitations imposed by Apple on developers. The workflow required to save a document from Pages, Numbers, or QuickOffice, is the best there is on iPad, but it's still limited by Apple. But if you've chosen iPad as your tablet of choice you'll already have come to terms with this issue.
Foldr is a lightweight system that meets the requirements of most schools without bloating out the software with rarely used features.Where things get a little more complicated, for example creating certificates, detailed instructions are provided. From my week or so of testing Foldr provides the perfect balance between the accessibility that teachers and students demand with the security of knowing your data is safe and secure. If you're using iPads Foldr has the benefit of having an extremely well considered app to allow your users to access their work in a way that will keep Network Administrators happy as well.
Thanks to Chris from MinnowIT, and James from Fluentblu for getting us set up with a trial of Foldr. If you'd like to find out more about Foldr get in touch with Fluentblu direct for further information and sales details.