The product set inside of Office 365 is continually evolving and today I was thrilled to see a new feature rolling out called File Requests. The official documentation is here, and it was launched in Q4 2019 according to the Microsoft 365 Road Map (that’s an incredible website – bookmark it and use the filters effectively to find out what’s coming and what has been released already).
I tweeted about this yesterday and it was well received by educators who had longed for this functionality:
Sooo I just found out about @onedrive "file request" feature – it's awesome: https://t.co/pylGB84dCi I used the similar feature from @Dropbox for a while now, but allowing anonymous uploads to @onedrive is great for school competitions with digital entries etc! FYI @WiljDekkers
— Sam McNeill (@samuelmcneill) February 18, 2020
What Is File Request?
With the file request feature in OneDrive, you can choose a folder where others can upload files using a link that you send them. The users that you request files from cannot see what’s in the folder – they can only upload files to it.
With a file request:
- Anyone can send you a file – they don’t need to have OneDrive.
- This is critical – reducing the barriers to collaborators sending you content by requiring no authentication and no existing account/subscription for a service means users can send the files you need with the least amount of hassle.
- All the files sent to you are saved in a single folder that you choose.
- See the scenarios below – the ability to collate all files inside your OneDrive is awesome.
People who respond to your request can only upload files. They do not have view or edit access to your OneDrive.
- Security, security, security – preventing people from seeing the submissions of other collaborators means you can use OneDrive File Request with confidence that anonymity is assured for the submitter.
Some other cloud storage providers offer this as well – notably DropBox – however there are many reasons why educational institutes would like to use OneDrive for this functionality.
Concerns Around Shadow IT
I’ve written previously about teachers using “Shadow IT” services in their schools, this post focused on compliance risks around unauthorised sharing of intellectual property, and this one summarised the views of the New Zealand Government’s Chief Digital Officer on the topic. In the second report, it was noted:
“Shadow cloud” is a name given to public cloud services that employees use without formal approval. Shadow cloud usage exists for many reasons. For example, agency employees who have used public cloud services in previous jobs or at home often see the opportunity to use them in their work.
Generally, the motivation of employees (in this case, teachers, faculty and administrative staff) is good: they simply want to be more effective and efficient in their role and use tools to that end. However, many third party apps will likely not meet regulatory or compliance requirements and also mean that content is being shared in ways that can not be controlled, monitored or searched should the need arise.
This is why File Requests inside of OneDrive is so critical – it negates the need for Shadow IT by providing very useful functionality (see below for scenarios where this could be leveraged in educational institutes), whilst still affording the school all the benefits of strong security and compliance of the files. If you’re unfamiliar with the tools inside of Office365 in this space, a good starting point would be:
How Does File Requests Work?
In your OneDrive, select the folder where you want the files to be uploaded, and then click Request files.
- Under What files are you requesting, enter a descriptive name for the files you are requesting from others. (They’ll see this description when they get the file request.)
- Click Next.
- You can click Copy link to copy the request link and send it to anyone you would like to request files from, or you can enter the email address or addresses of the people you want to request files from. You can also type a message that will be included in the email that OneDrive sends to them.
- Click Done.
You’ll receive a notification email whenever someone uploads files to your file request folder.
The great part of this service is that anyone with the link will be able to upload files to the request. However, they aren’t able to see or edit other contents in the folder or see who else is able to upload files. They also do not need to be OneDrive subscribers – they simply click the link and enter their name so their file uploads are identifiable.
When recipients click the link, they’ll see:
- If the recipient is not signed in, the recipient will be asked to add a first name and last name to help the requestor identify the different files uploaded. The provided first name and last name is not validated; it is purely for identification of the files (the name is prefixed to the uploaded file names)
- If the recipient is signed in and responds to the request, the identity is recorded as part of the upload.
- Click Select files, browse to the appropriate folder, and select the file being requested. If you need to add additional files, click Add more files.
- When you’ve selected all the requested files, click Upload.
- Recipients will get another notification once their files have been successfully uploaded.
Where Could This Be Used In Education?
There are a number of scenarios where this could be used in education and in fact, I used the DropBox equivalent in 2016 when I was running a Digital Scavenger Hunt for students in a school competition. I wrote about this extensively here, because at the time I had to crowdsource ideas on how to achieve this:
Initially, I was unsure of the best technology to get students to submit their photos and videos to a central location easily, and without needing a specific app or account. I tried to crowdsource some suggestions through my PLN (Professional Learning Network) on Twitter, with ideas of using Padlet, Cluster, Instagram and Google Drive all being suggested. I also thought about setting up an open course on our Moodle site that students could submit photos and videos for the competition through, however the reality is that it is still not super easy from a mobile phone to do this.
In the end the I opted for DropBox for the reasons I explained in the blog post, but now I’d definitely choose OneDrive File Requests. So what scenarios could this apply to?
- Digital upload competitions, like the Digital Scavenger example above.
- Assignment scenarios where large media files (videos, high resolution RAW photos etc) need to be submitted, but students can not see other files submitted by fellow students
- Most Learning Management Systems have a maximum file submission size (e.g. in Microsoft Teams For Education it is 50MB)
- Job Applications – asking potential employees to upload job applications to a single repository – with File Requests they’re secured in your OneDrive with things like Office365 Retention Policies and Version Controls protecting them, but none of the applicants being able to see them.
- Photo Collections from events – this is one of the more popular scenarios – imagine a school sports day or festival and students have taken photos on their smartphones. Having an easy method to collect these in one place without requiring authentication or a dedicated app. Simply distribute the link and photos will be uploaded quickly and easily – a great example of crowdsourcing!
- Articles for school newspapers / magazines that are written by many authors, sometimes staff members, students, external coaches and contractors – having a single point of collation makes for a super easy process of submission and subsequent organisation.
- File Request also has the ability to set a cut off date when submissions can no longer be made – a useful way to try and drive compliance to a due date!
- RFP responses from contractors – when a large school project is being outsourced, having respondents submit their proposals in an easy manner (that doesn’t require authentication or existing subscriptions to a service) is a very convenient method for both the school and the external parties.
Managing Shadow IT is an increasing concern for many ICT Directors and CIO – having the ability to offer staff the ease of use of File Requests coupled with the security and compliance of OneDrive and Office365 is something that many school leaders will be excited about.
It shows the continual evolution of the offerings inside the suite of Office365 and that is a great thing – perhaps the only challenge is keeping up with all the announcements! For that reason, do make sure you regularly check the Microsoft 365 Roadmap link I referenced earlier!
One thing that is worth noting is your Office 365 administrator must enable Anyone links in OneDrive for file requests to work. If you don’t, you’ll see this dialogue: