Teaching Paperless Pancake.io – Websites with Dropbox and Markdown

This is the first of perhaps a series of posts on teaching paperless. Here I explain a new approach I am taking to course websites.

I think of each new year of teaching as an opportunity to try out new things and refine things I have done in the past. This is my 10th year of university teaching, and my first year in a new position at Quest University Canada. Teaching a whole new set of courses in a different setting provides lots of opportunity for trying new things, which I am looking forward to.

Aside from new pedagogical ideas, I also like to try out new technologies to support what goes on in the classroom. This year I am trying out a new setup for course web sites. I have taught online and mix mode courses in the past, and that led to my general annoyance with moodle and other ‘made for university’ course pages. These tools are usually quite good for forums and other things that need to reside behind a password, but are overly clunky for the more simple tasks I usually use (posting the syllabus, course notes, links, etc.). Last year I used part of my wordpress site as a course site, which worked quite well. This year I think I have found something even easier: pankcake.io Over the past year or so I have moved all my writing to plain text files in the very simple syntax of markdown. Recently I came across a lifehacker page that pointed me to pancake.io. Feel free to check out my current course site done in pancake.io

Here’s how pancake.io works

  • Sign up for an account and then sign into dropbox. A folder is created in your dropbox called ‘pancake.io’
  • Place plaintext files (in markdown or not) into the folder and they show up on the website without needing to press ‘publish’. Pancake sees the changes in the dropbox folder and updates the files.
  • Most files you add to the folder in other formats are also viewable

Why I like it

  • The websites look perfectly fine
  • I can update files really easily on any computer or device (I most often use Byword on ios and mac and I am currently trying out Editorial for ios)
  • Adding a file is as easy as placing a file in a folder
  • With a bit of setup, it makes it really easy to append something to the webpage. On ipad/ipod/iphone I have set up a dropbox action in the app Drafts. This action appends any comments, ideas, or links that I think might be helpful for the students to the main course page. Once set up, it makes it very quick to add something to the page. In the past, I would make myself a note to update the web page and then update the page later. Now the note and update are one and the same. If anyone is interested I can share this action.

3 thoughts on “Teaching Paperless Pancake.io – Websites with Dropbox and Markdown

  1. We have recently been working on a similar service. Sitebox.io also lets you create pages on your Dropbox in Markdown, which are then automatically converted to html and published on you website. The service also provides a nice template with an automatic menu, preview functionality and liquid tags for creating columns, images, google maps, etc. If you are looking for a way to create a site from your Dropbox, I encourage you to check us out!

    – Stefan Kroes
    (founder of Sitebox.io)

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