I have been using databases for years – I see so many people using spreadsheets for the wrong reasons and I feel bad for them! They really should not be tracking things like instruments, uniforms, music library and so many other projects inside of a spreadsheet! Spreadsheets are a great first step but after getting all that data into the spreadsheet there is no flexibility. It is so easy inside of a database to take a look at that data in so many different ways.
Let’s take a look at one free resource that I was introduced to the other day. This is a database called Teachers Companion and it is currently free. If you are using an iPad it is very easy to download the free FileMaker Go app from the app store and then load up this database.
Here is what you get inside of the database that is currently working, the database is still being worked on so some features are not quite there yet.
- A place to keep track of all your contacts
- A place to keep track of your courses
- Templates that you can develop and reuse
- Invoices to keep track of who owes you money and along with that a spot to keep track of products you are putting into those invoice
- A Purchases module to track what you have spent so far and who you have bought it from
There is also a Calendar and a Reports module that do not currently work.
So here are my thoughts on these…..
As for the contacts, you may wonder why not just simply use your Contacts app from Apple. The advantage to having your students all in a database like this is that their information can then be used in the other areas of the database – like pulling their names into your courses or automatically inserting the name/address/phone info onto an invoice. I have my own FileMaker database setup so that after creating a course with all the students in it I can run reports in all sorts of different ways – sorted by last name, sorted by what instrument they play, sorted by graduation year or maybe sorted by graduation year AND separated by boys vs girls. TeachersCompanion does not have that sort of capability set up though yet – That sort of capability would possibly end up in the Reports module.
The Courses module is pretty simple…. you can import students from your Contacts module, set days and times for the class and then you have a section for Lesson Plans. Now the Lesson Plans section is pretty straight forward – One box to input a description and then a Plan Date is connected to the plan as well. There is the capability to pull in Templates so you wouldn’t have to type the same thing over and over though.
The Invoices Module allows you to create an Invoice when someone needs to be charged for something. You create an invoice, select a person from your contacts and then start adding line items from your Products module. Then you are given the capability to print or email or save the invoice as a PDF. The beauty of this module is that it is very quick to create an invoice, print it and hand it to a kid to take home so that Mom knows he owes money for that reed and neck strap you just gave him. Later when the kid brings back the money you then simply mark that invoice as paid. The only problem here is that there is no capability to put in how the kids paid you (cash, check) or when he paid you or if for some reason if he has to make several payments.
Under the Purchases Module you create a PO, select a company from the Supplier Module and then start adding line items by selecting them from the Products Module. Using this module allows you to keep track of what you order in any given year – I am always looking at my database like this to see how many reeds I’ve used at the end of the school year so I know how many to order for the next year. The problem with TeacherCompanions implementation currently is that there is no way to print off a purchase like there is an Invoice. Of course in my case that’s not an issue because I have to enter my Purchase Orders in our schools system anyways and I wouldn’t ever really need to print from TeacherCompanion.
TO WRAP IT UP
There are some shortcomings of TeacherCompanion –
- First problem is already obviously being fixed – Currently the database is not really designed for iPad sized use. It works but feels very small, the controls and buttons need to be bigger. It also seems cluttered. That is a hard issue to fix because they are indeed trying to put a lot into this offering! If you visit their website it is listed on the front page that they are working on putting a better interface together.
- Not enough reports – I am looking forward to seeing what they put in this Module
- Not very useful Lessons section – I know my state is not going to be satisfied with the bare bones info from inside of TeacherCompanion. There is no way that I could replace PlanBook or DayBookPro with this simple database.
- Way better than a spreadsheet
- The possibility of keeping track of invoices and purchases could work in TeacherCompanion
- Love the fact that I do not have to keep typing things in time after time (addresses, templates)
I think that many people who have never used a database like this before would benefit from using TeacherCompanion and since it is free with the promise of better things to come…. why not try it out!?
THE REAL DEAL
Now if you want to really dig in and get serious about databases… Go purchase the desktop version of FileMaker and then you have ALL the flexibility you would EVER need. In fact I will soon be writing a few posts about the databases I am using and have been using for years! OF course the downside is that FileMaker is not cheap and TeacherCompanion is free! I am surprised there are not more offerings of databases like this for teachers to use with the absolutely free FileMakerGo app for iPad and iPhone. Of course, unless you have someone to develop a database for you using the desktop version of FileMaker the Go versions are not going to be much help.