I recently sat down with Breanne Litts, a doctoral candidate in Digital Media, Curriculum & Instruction, who has been using Box for file storage and collaboration for her research on learning in makerspaces.
The research project, Learning in the Making: Studying and Designing Makerspaces, is funded by the National Science Foundation. Breanne and her advisor are collaborating with co-investigators from George Mason University and the Children’s Museum Pittsburgh. Box appealed to them as a tool for file storage, sharing, and collaboration because it was free and supported cross-institutional collaboration.
The group is conducting ethnographic research at makerspaces in Madison, Detroit, and along the east coast, with the goal of designing activities for the Makeshop in Pittsburgh. They are conducting interviews and generating video and large audio files, as well as meeting notes, and other documentation related to the research. They also do brainstorming and initial analysis in Box. There are eight individuals working on this project, including undergraduate students, so another requirement for their data management tool was the ability to grant differential access privileges. They organize files using Box’s folder system and have a main folder, a public folder, a private folder in which their sensitive data is stored, and each research site has its own folder.
Storage and sharing – The group creates Word documents and Google Docs right in Box and appreciates the ability to lock open files to prevent conflicting copies. This feature is also available on the mobile app. The previews for documents, audio, and photos are “fantastic”, and the folder system for organization, tagging capability, and search feature are helpful. Breanne expressed the opinion that the 50 GB of free storage that UW affiliates have access to will be a huge draw for graduate students.
Security – Box makes it easy to comply with IRB requirements regarding access to sensitive information. In fact, the biggest attraction of Box was that it meets NSF and IRB standards for secure data management. The ability to create, open, edit, and save directly to Box and not on your machine adds to this security.
Permissions – It’s simple to manage permissions of each individual file, unlike other project management tools the group looked into, which required users to go through an administrator.
Collaboration – Comments, tasks, and discussion features facilitate cross-institution, cross-country collaboration, making it easy to communicate while minimizing the need to email. The group also found it easy to control email notifications to avoid being overwhelmed, compared to other project management tools. The ability to link directly to files and folders is very convenient, as is the ability to track changes and revert to previous versions.
Overall, Breanne felt that it was easy to get started with Box. There’s a low barrier to entry: one can use it without exploiting its total functionality and start getting things done without being overwhelmed. In contrast, other tools the group considered require too many decisions to set up, as well as requiring meetings with an administrator. Box offers collaborative teams autonomy, flexibility, and adaptability.
She’s found it to be a great tool for project and data management and collaboration and described it as “Facebook, Dropbox, and a project management tool in one!” She feels that it does data management, as well as day-to-day project management, better than other tools.