Memory sticks, flash drives, usb drives, pen drives, thumb drives. All different names for the same technology - a usb storage device - a small portable device for storing data.

Back in 2005 JISC produced a booklet called “Innovative Practice with eLearning“. One of the case studies looked at the use of memory sticks with students. The challenge, at the University of Sussex was to “encourage greater ownership of digital learning materials”. Students were issued with a memory stick with course materials preloaded and encouraged to save their own work and “found” resources. Finding and sharing resources also formed part of the course assessment.

The Learning and Teaching potential was noted below

1. Can encourage student ownership of digital course materials
2. Can support collaborative activities
3. Enables continuity of work across different locations

As well as saving files on a memory stick you can actually run portable applications without the need to install anything on your computer. This is also great for students working across many different computers. They can set up the applications with their preferences without having to change them all the time.

For general portable applications a good place to start is portableapps.com. This site contains portable applications of many of the leading opensource and freeware applications including FireFox (Web Browser), Open Office (Alternative to MS Office) and Audacity (Audio Editor - great for podcasting).

Another excellent resource is AccessApps, an initiative developed by the Scottish JISC Regional Support Centres in cooperation with JISC TechDis. It consists of over 50 open source and freeware assistive technology applications which can be entirely used from a USB stick on a Windows computer. There are a range of e-learning solutions to support writing, reading and planning as well as visual and mobility difficulties.

Some things to consider when using a memory stick

1. If you plan to use memory sticks with students make sure they can access the usb ports on shared computers. I’ve only seen usb ports blocked in two institutions I’ve visited but it’s worth checking with your IT department as there could be potential network security risks when running portable applications.

2. What would happen if you lost your memory stick. Does it contain sensitive information (See 3). Have you backed up your stick? PortableApps contains an integrated backup tool. There are also sites like Mozy which do automatic remote backups. They have a free 2Gb account. An alternative to automatic backup solutions is to do it manually. Just remember to do it every so often! There a number of free sites like ADrive which offer a whopping 50 Gb of free online storage space for your data. Just checked out the ADrive website again and it looks like they now offer a remote backup solution on their free accounts too.

The advantage of having your data online is that you can access it anywhere that has an Internet connection. The downside is what if the company folds? Personally I use a belts and braces approach. I have my data stored locally and online.

Another tip is to put a plain text file on the top level (first window you see when you open it) of your memory stick called “If found” with your contact details. So if someone finds it, it can (potentially!) be returned to you.

3. There have been many stories in the news recently about memory sticks containing huge amounts of personal data ranging from dates of birth to bank details going missing. If you’re concerned about the data stored on your memory stick you could install something like TrueCrypt a free opensource encryption tool to protect your data.

So that’s a snapshot of some of the uses for memory sticks. I’ll cover more uses in future posts.