S.O.A.P.* on a Rope

*Students Own Applications Personally

One of my big concerns is the digital equity issue in our schools. Many of our students have computers at home, but most do not have a full suite of productivity applications on this computer. This precludes them from working on a presentation, a word processing document, or a spreadsheet at home. In addition, not all home computers and school computers have CD burners, and much of the work being saved at school or home results in file sizes that are too large to fit on a floppy disk.

Imagine a student carrying a word processing program, spreadsheet program, drawing program, presentation program, Internet browser, Internet e-mail client, data files, voice recordings, an FM radio, AND twenty of their favorite songs back and forth between school and home-all for under $90! Now there are hardware and no-cost and open source applications available for Windows-based machines to answer all of these needs. In addition, this software will right run from a USB flash drive (sometimes called a key drive or thumb drive). To gain access to their files, contacts, programs, and music, students simply plug the USB flash drive into any available USB port, navigate to the USB drive, and run the programs right off the drive. This works at school, at home, at a friend's house, and at the public library!

One device that meets the personal file portability needs of students and teachers, for use at home and for school, is the Creative® Nomad MuVo TX FM, an MP3 player that can double as a data drive. It comes in a 256MB version and works with all Microsoft Windows® operating systems from Windows 98SE onward. The Nomad MuVo TX FM device has a small USB flash drive that hooks into a plastic holder which contains the battery for powering the MP3 player. It acts as a USB data drive, MP3 player, FM radio, and voice recorder all in the same package! It conveniently includes a lanyard loop, belt clip, armband, earbuds, and the "cool" factor!

There are three pieces of free software available to utilize the Creative Nomad MuVo TX FM for running applications. The first is OpenOffice®, an open-source productivity tool suite which includes a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation program, and a drawing program. OpenOffice runs from the Nomad MuVo, and the files created in OpenOffice can easily be used in other office productivity packages. The other two pieces of software are created by Mozilla®, and include a Web browser, Firefox®, and an e-mail client, Thunderbird®, both of which will run from the Nomad MuVo.

Here's what you do:

  1. Purchase a Creative® Nomad MuVo TX FM with at least 256MB of storage. (Install the software on the computer if needed, although none is needed for most computers for the installation of the applications or for MP3 and file storage.) Plug the device into an open USB port.
  2. Go to Download Central and download OpenOffice® for Windows. Click on the .exe file and install the program to the Creative Nomad MuVo TX FM device. (I chose the minimal install, which takes 135MB.)To Install on a USB Key, first download two PDF files: “Installing OpenOffice.org on a USB Keyâ€, and “OpenOffice.org User Guideâ€.
  3. Download Portable Firefox (8.6MB installed) and Portable Thunderbird (9.7MB installed) from these links:Portable Firefox – USB Drive-FriendlyPortable Thunderbird 1.0 - USB Drive-FriendlyBe sure to follow the directions for installing and launching the apps

You now have used 166MB of the 256MB available on the Creative Nomad MuVo. Students have about 90MB left on the drive for data and music. I would suggest that students allocate 40MB for data, which then leaves them 50MB for music (about 20 songs in MP3 format).

There is a new standard called U3 which will standardize the way applications run on the flash drives. This should lead to even more available applications and the ability to run them for the Macintosh® platform, too. However, for the time being, the Creative Nomad MuVo TX FM solution works well so students can have their music, software, files, an FM radio, and a voice recorder all hanging around their neck on a lanyard, not unlike the old "soap on a rope."

© April 25, 2005. Kathy grants permission to re-post this info on blogs, put it in teachers' mailboxes, tack it up on the faculty room bulletin board, and use it to write grants to get every student in your district a device.

Note: Kathy does not have any relationship, either business or personal, with Creative, the maker of the Nomad MuVo TX FM. It just so happens, after trying lots of devices, to be the one that works well for this purpose.

Email: Kathy Schrock