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Month: October 2014

Ed Tech Tip: Portable Apps for Labs and the Mobile Teacher

I’ve talked before a little bit about the Portable Apps platform, but I want to talk a little bit more about it today. Specifically, I want to address its use for teachers who move from classroom to classroom, and for students in computer labs. For Mac environments, please check out OS X Portable Applications.

What is Portable Apps?

Portable Apps is a platform for launching Windows-based applications (programs, software) from a USB storage device (thumb drive, memory stick, etc). You choose which open source software suits your needs, install them on your USB drive, and then have access to them on any computer running the Windows operating system. You can use it for:

  • presentations
  • audio/video
  • radio
  • audio recording and editing
  • word processing
  • databases and database management
  • XAMPP
  • touch type training
  • ear training
  • space simulator
  • graphics and photo editing
  • CAD
  • web browsing
  • FTP
  • RSS and podcasts
  • antivirus
  • screen recording
  • timers
  • file syncing

and a host of other things, with more than 300 portable apps available.

Why use portable apps?

If you’re a teacher, you want to have your own files available to you, along with the software to use them, but may be limited in your ability to customize the computers you use.  For example, you may not have administrator rights to computers at your school, especially in the computer lab. Another situation is when you don’t have your own classroom and need to use different computers in different classes. In both situations, portable apps can help.

For the mobile teacher

If you move from class to class, having your files and applications on a single USB can make it possible for you to bring technology into your classroom without relying on the cloud. If your school’s internet service is slow or unreliable, it may be hard to rely on services like Google Drive. Portable Apps allows you to have your files in your pocket for presentation on any computer with a USB drive.

It’s more than presentations, however, as PowerPoint allows you to save files as a self-launching presentation that can be saved to your USB drive. One program I use frequently is the countdown timer. By projecting the image of the timer for the students, they can work on time management skills, know that I am going to move to the next activity when time is up, and it also keeps me on schedule.

Another go-to for me for a long time was having Google Chrome or Firefox on my thumb drive. The computers at school only had Internet Explorer and would reset at night, so any downloaded software wouldn’t be there next time you taught. Because IE was (is?) so awful at displaying websites, having another option was a necessity, and portable apps made it possible.

Take a look at the software available in portable versions. There may be something here that would help you in your classroom.

For the computer lab

If you teach in a lab where you or students are unable to install software, and getting permission or having it done for you is difficult, consider using Portable Apps. Each student can have their own thumb drive quite cheaply; in fact, they probably already do. The wide variety of software available gives you a decent chance of finding something useful for your classroom.

This also may help keep your system administrator a little happier, as you can now manage your own class’ software needs without needing to involve them.

The benefit of portability also means that when a student needs to take their USB drive home with them to complete some work, they have all the needed software in their pocket. Just remember to have students make a backup, such as emailing the file to themselves if they don’t have dropbox or another service.

The Takeaway

Portable Apps allow you to customize any computer in terms of its software for your own use in the classroom, or for your students’ needs. Nothing is installed on the computer itself, so you don’t need to involve your system administrator to get permission to install and run these programs. They also allow you and your students to have the same software at school and at home if you take your USB with you. USBs are cheap and easily replaced, so as long as your working files are backed up, if you lose your portable apps, it’s easy to set up a new drive with the same programs you had before.