Case Study: Box

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.

Project needs:
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.

Favorite features:
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.

Tools: Box

What it is

Box is a cloud-based file storage, synchronization, and collaboration service.  It can be used by groups for storing, creating, editing, and sharing data files, documents, and other digital objects.


A personal account offers 5 GB of storage and a 100 MB file size limit for free; you can pay for more storage and larger file limits.  Business and enterprise accounts are also available for a fee.  UW-Madison affiliates can participate in the Box pilot, which includes 50 GB of storage.

Sharing and collaboration

Users can share folders with other users, share files with individuals without Box accounts, and embed files in websites.  In addition to sharing and editing files, users can post comments and discussions and assign tasks.  You can also lock files while you are editing them.  Email notifications keep you updated about edits, comments, tasks, and uploads.  In addition to the web interface, there are desktop clients for Windows and Mac as well as Windows, Android, and Apple phones and tablets.

If you are the owner of a Box account used for collaboration, keep any private files you also store there separate from the files the group sees. One way to do this is to set up separate folders for shared and private at the top level of your folder structure and ensure that files always go in the appropriate area.


You can’t readily make links between documents in Box like you can on a wiki or website; putting related documents together in folders is the most straightforward way to associate them in Box. Before your group starts adding documents to Box, collaborators should agree on a folder hierarchy structure so that all parties know where everything goes and related files/docs can be tied together by their folder location.


To export files in bulk from Box, download the folders that contain them. It will be more convenient to do this if you have a well-organized hierarchy of nested folders rather than multiple folders at the top of your hierarchy. If you have installed Box Synch on your computer, you can also duplicate the files in your Box Documents folder and save them in another location on your computer.

Box does not give you options for exporting your documents in new formats. If you need to convert a file to a different format, you will need to do this in an application that can open and read the file.

If you have important information about what was done to create different versions of files that you need to preserve, there are currently only a couple of options for getting this information out of Box:

  • Take screenshots of screens in Box that display the comments, version information, discussions, etc.
  • Copy and paste the text from these items into a “read me” file.

Be sure to give the files you create using either of these methods meaningful names so you know which files they are describing. Save them alongside those files in the same folders.


It is always a good idea to keep multiple copies of your data in several secure places and in formats that will be usable over a long period. You can download folders in Box and save them in other locations. But, will this preserve everything you need?

Backups and Versioning

Box keeps a record of file versions, and users can restore a previous version.


Box is a member of the Cloud Security Alliance, and has provided safeguards to help ensure  HIPAA compliance.



Tools: Transana


Description: “Transana is software for professional researchers who want to analyze digital video or audio data. Transana lets you analyze and manage your data in very sophisticated ways. Transcribe it, identify analytically interesting clips, assign keywords to clips, arrange and rearrange clips, create complex collections of interrelated clips, explore relationships between applied keywords, and share your analysis with colleagues. The result is a new way to focus on your data, and a new way to manage large collections of video and audio files and clips.”

Cost/legal restrictions: Transana is licensed under the GNU/GPL license; purchase and licensing details are at the Transana is Open Source page. Source code is available from the Sourceforge Transana project page.

Notes: Developed at the Wisconsin Center for Educational Research, University of Wisconsin-Madison. Part of the Digital Insight project.