No matter what program of study you choose, it’s likely you’ll have to access, save, and share a variety of digital documents for the courses you take. This means your success depends on the whims of technology (which can be fickle) in order to protect and access your most essential documents. A number of things could go wrong here.
You could accidentally delete or overwrite your latest draft of an essay or presentation. A virus could corrupt your files. Or a short fall to a hard surface could damage to your computer causing the screen to go dark. Suddenly, it’s like you’re standing outside of a locked house without a key, and everything you own is inside.
Data loss can be scary, depressing, and infuriating, and even if it hasn’t happened to you yet, it’s best to be prepared. Here are the most common ways data loss occurs, as well as a few strategies for preventing and responding to data loss.
How Data Loss Happens
It’s an essential step in setting up your computer to install adequate security programs like anti-virus software, a firewall, and malware detection programs. It’s equally important to make sure they are regularly updated in order to guard against new threats.
Even with these security measures in place, you’ll need to be careful about the sites you visit, what you download and install on your device, and which WiFi networks you choose to access. While hackers are probably not interested in your essay on ancient Roman history, their efforts to access your personal or financial information could easily result in the destruction or corruption of your files.
Sometimes it’s as simple as an overloaded processor or a lack of free memory that causes a program to suddenly freeze and shut down, possibly without saving the changes you’ve made. This is a good example of how regularly backing up your files can save you from the unexpected.
It happens to everyone. Your computer slides off a table. Or something in your backpack puts just enough pressure against your laptop to crack the screen. Or as your reach for a nearby book or your phone, you knock your drink over, spilling onto your computer and frying the electronics. None of these necessarily mean that your data can’t be retrieved. In these instances, be sure to check the warranty or insurance policy for your device before repairing or replacing any hardware.
A sudden loss of power can halt your efforts early without saving your work. Sudden power loss can also damage your hardware and corrupt files on your computer. This can be especially damaging to desktop computers since they don’t have battery power to rely on if the electricity goes out. Though even with battery powered laptops, it can be easy to lose track of time and how much battery life you have left.
College campuses are a technology thief’s paradise. When you’re typing away for hours in a coffee shop, you might be tempted to leave your laptop on the table as you get up for a refill or a bathroom break. This is when a thief will strike. Even in a crowded room where it seems there would be safety in numbers, it only takes a few seconds for someone to take advantage of a lapse in your attention. The best way to defend against theft is to never leave your bag or technology unattended.
It’s also a good policy to keep your dorm room or apartment locked when you’re away, and make sure your roommates are on board with this strategy.
Aside from outside influences, it’s entirely possible to become your own worst enemy when it comes to data loss. This could manifest itself in a variety of ways. In the final throes of revising an essay, you might attempt to cut and paste a paragraph to a different section. Yet before you find just the right place to paste this section, you notice another small error and another. By the time you remember to paste the section you cut, you may have already copied a different line of text, leaving your essential paragraph lost to the void.
You might also accidentally save a file under a different name or within a different folder than you remember. In this case, the file might be close by, but you just can’t it. Try to be intentional about file names and locations.
What to Do When It Happens
When the file you’re looking for is missing, or your device isn’t working, it can seem like the end of the world. It may be helpful to remind yourself that this is a problem people have been struggling with and solving for decades. While the underlying problem might be bigger, it’s very possible that you’ll be able to recover your most important files.
Assess the Situation
In solving data loss issues, try to identify the cause of the incident. Taking specific notes about the circumstances leading to the loss. This can help you to find a solution to your issue, and it will be useful information for IT professionals if you need to seek outside help. Depending on the symptoms your computer is showing, it may be a good idea to stop using your device and safely shut it down to prevent further damage.
Ask a Professional
Even if you’re tech-savvy, when dealing with data loss it can be helpful to reach out to others for help. If your college offers technical support for students, this can be a cheap or free way to solve your problem. You might also consider contacting a professional data recovery service in order to ensure you don’t make the problem worse by trying to fix it yourself.
If you lose your files near a deadline for a project and you haven’t yet found a solution, it’s a good idea to contact your instructor and alert them of the situation. Blaming late or incomplete work on technology issues is a common tactic for students who just want extra time to finish their assignments. As such, your instructor might have a policy that doesn’t excuse late work due to technology issues.
However, if you fear you won’t be able to meet your deadline, it couldn’t hurt to reach out with a clear, brief explanation of what happened and what you’re doing to recover your data or recreate the project. If you communicate before the deadline, some instructors may reward your proactiveness with an extension.
How to Prevent Data Loss
The Cloud is Your Friend
Desktop-based programs like Microsoft Office and iWork offer better formatting options than most in-browser applications for creating text documents and presentations. However, the advantage of using cloud-based programs, such as Google Docs, is that you can retrieve and edit your files from any computer with internet access.
G-suite programs also offer the advantage of constantly saving your work and, when necessary, restoring previous versions of a document. Some of these services also have offline capabilities allowing you to edit your work even if your internet connection is interrupted. The changes you make while offline will be applied to the file in the cloud once your connection is restored.
If you prefer desktop programs rather than web-based applications, programs like Dropbox can automatically backup and update files stored on your hard drive. As with Google Docs, Dropbox allows you to access your files from any computer with internet access.
You can also simply email files to yourself for future access or to keep a record of a current version before making major edits. Just make sure you send another email with the most up to date version. There’s nothing like printing out an essay and realizing you accessed an early draft.
USB drives and external hard drives can also be a safe place to store backup copies of your files. Though the security of your files will still depend on a physical device, having a copy on multiple hard drives can be a lifesaver should something go wrong with your computer. As your computer ages to a point that it no longer works well, this can also be useful in keeping up with your most important files in the long term.
There’s no way around it: technology will be a part of your education. Of course, this will lead to some interesting complications. Though data loss may seem inevitable, by avoiding the most common causes, understanding your options when it happens, and making preparations to safeguard your files, you’ll stand a better chance at having a successful college experience.