Learning Technologies

JISC RSC Scotland North & East

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.

If you’re looking for information on the benefits of using images in your learning and teaching materials and looking for sources of images, TASI in partnership with Intute have just released a virtual training suite called “Internet for Image Searching“. There’s also a useful section on copyright law and image rights.

Intute: VIrtual Training Suite (VTS) are a collection of free Internet tutorials for teaching Internet research skills for over 65 university & college subjects. The tutorials are authored and updated by a national network of subject experts from UK universities and colleges. If you’re not familiar with the Virtual Training Suite model they are broken down into four sections: Tour, Discover, Judge, Success stories. There are resources mentioned throughout and you can click on the “add to basket” icon for any resources of interest. A bit like adding items to the basket if you’ve used Amazon before.

And when you’ve finished you click on the the Links basket icon (1). You’re then presented with a list of links you’ve added to your basket (2). And you can then email the list of links (3) to yourself for later reference.

Intute also provide a range of support materials including handouts and worksheets for use in teaching and training. And concluding the images theme they have a VTS on Digital Photography.

Intute VTS || Digital Photography

There are a lot of great online photo editors out there. One main advantage is that there’s generally nothing to download, assuming you have a flash enabled web browser. Some don’t even require registration like picnik. Picknik’s great for quick adjustments like rotating and resizing – if you can live with the ads on the free account.

One particular application I’ve used recently is splashup (formerly fauxto). If you’re familiar with Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements you’ll feel right at home with this interface. It’s certainly more like Photoshop than Adobe’s Photoshop Express, their free online photo editor. You do get 2Gb of space to store and share your images with Express which is good to have.

Splashup’s got advanced features such as layers and layer effects. When you’re in fullscreen mode it feels almost like a full desktop application. Here’s a quick demo. I briefly show how to open an image, rotate it, add text including a drop shadow layer effect, resize it then save it.

Does your institution block YouTube? Many do but there are a lot of excellent educational videos on there. If you’ve got access elsewhere to view YouTube videos and want to show them in class one way to do it would be to download and convert it to a convenient video format for local playback. One way to do this (out of many) is to head over to www.mediaconverter.org,  a free online media converter.

Select Your File

1. Copy and paste the address of your chosen YouTube video and

2. Click on NEXT STEP

Choose Your File Type

1. Choose your file format. If you’re playing back the video on a PC or Windows Mobile Device a good choice is wmv, windows native video format. You can also embed wmv files into Microsoft PowerPoint. If want to play it on iPods, MP4 players or some mobile phones a good choice is mp4.

2. Give your file a name (no spaces allowed, underscores ok). If you leave the field blank your file will automatically be named using digits. Not very user-friendly!

3. Click NEXT STEP

Change Various Video Settings (optional)

For most purposes you don’t really need to change anything here. One useful setting that may be of use is the resolution. If you’ve got a high resolution file and you wanted to play it on a mobile phone then you could bump the resolution down. It would make it smaller and faster to load.

File Starts to Download

Download File

Step 1. Click on the DOWNLOAD NOW icon and save the file.

That’s it! It probably took longer to read this than to actually do it. One advantage of using an online media converter is that there is no software to install. Good if you don’t have admin rights to your PC. As well as converting YouTube videos you can also convert your own video files. Looking at the first screen there is an option to upload and convert your own videos, for example from your digital camera or mobile phone.

If you do have admin rights on your PC and can install software this site also offers a free standalone version of the software.