Teachers need to record the grades of their students should use some type of gradebook software to help them save time and make grading students easier. When choosing gradebook software there is plenty of choice, and gradebook programs can be broadly divided into the stand-alone programs that work without Internet access and those that require Internet connectivity and typically run from a web browser.
A portable gradebook
With the increasing popularity of web-based services and applications, you may expect that gradebook software that does not connect to the Internet is no longer necessary. One of the advantages of a web based gradebook is that you can work on your student results from any computer – provided of course that it has a working Internet connection. In this article you will learn how to use a stand-alone gradebook from a removable USB Flash drive so you can have the same advantage of being able to work from any computer.
A significant advantage of running your gradebook software from a removable USB drive is that you do not need the Internet. There is no denying that the World Wide Web has dramatically changed the way we use computers, but one problem is that it does not always work. In a school or home environment it is probably fair to say that everyone has had times when their access to the Internet has been unreliable or non-existent. And there is the additional issue of what happens when there are problems with the servers running a web based gradebook.
At these times, you realize that it can be advantageous to have both your data and program running locally. Having the data and software on a USB memory stick or removable Flash drive means you can work without the Internet and anywhere you need to. You can expect all personal computers built since the start of this century to include a USB socket which opens up the possibility of doing your grades on any PC.
Once you have decided to run your gradebook software from a USB drive, you need to make sure that this is possible. Issues to be aware of that sometimes sometimes prevent software from running properly on a portable USB drive are:
- Dependency on other software files or libraries
- Use of the Windows registry
- The requirement of fixed folder names and paths
Here these problems are discussed with suggestions on resolving the issues.
Some software requires additional support from program libraries or files that are not necessarily installed on all PCs. What this can mean is that even after you install your gradebook onto a removable USB drive, some of the necessary files may only be installed onto your local C drive. What happens then is that when you remove the USB drive and plug it into another PC and try to run your program it may refuse to run, or give an error message because of a missing file (or files).
The potential of this sort of problem ocurring can depend on the particular development tool that the programmer has used to write the gradebook in. While not a complete list, software developed in Visual Basic, .NET or Java can be very dependent on having the correct version of the supporting libraries on the PC that you want to run the gradebook on. Usually you can resolve this issue by making sure the PC you are using is up-to date for those environments.
If you try to run your gradebook and you still get an error message about a missing file, and it does not appear to be related to the above environments, it could mean that there are other additional files that the program depends on. This may be related to database use. If this occurs you may have success solving the problem by using the Find or Search application on your Windows desktop to track down the missing file with the name shown in the error message. The file may be in the Windows folder or in one of the System folders below it. Beginning the search from C: Windows is a good place to start the search.
Assuming you can find the file that the error message is reporting, you can then copy it into the gradebook program folder on the USB drive. Then try to run the gradebook again. If you are lucky the gradebook will run, but it is likely that there will be another file now reported as missing. And so you can repeat the process of finding the file on your local C drive and copying it too onto the USB drive. Depending on how your gradebook has been put together this process may need to be repeated quite a few times before the program will run.
Programs that depend on the Windows registry can also lead to errors, but this time it is not a file that is missing, but instead missing data. What can happen is that when you install your gradebook software onto the removable USB drive, important values are written to the Windows registry that is on your local C drive. Then when you test the gradebook on the same PC it runs well because the registry settings are present. But then when you take the USB drive with the gradebook to a different PC those registry settings will not be present and again the program may refuse to run.
Even though the gradebook may complain of the missing registry values, in some cases it will continue to run by recreating the values it expects in the registry and setting them to default values. Assuming the program does run, this may only result in the inconvenience of some of your gradebook preferences being forgotten and having to be set again to the way you want them.
In other cases the Windows registry may have been used to store important licensing information that is required for the gradebook to run. And then any attempt to run it from a portable USB drive is more likely to result in the program behaving like it is unregistered and not licensed to run on other PCs. In this event the vendor of your gradebook software may be able to offer a solution to get around this problem. That is, if running the program in this way is allowed by the licensing agreement.
Fixed folder locations
With modern software the problem of fixed expectations of folder paths and locations should be unlikly. Developers are hopefully more aware of a user's need to install software at locations that can vary from the recommended default in the install program. While there may be technical reasons to prefer a specific location for a program, there should be ways of working around this, either in the program preferences or by editing a configuration file. Again you will need to contact the software vendor to see what's possible in this regard.
Once you get your gradebook running from a USB drive and experience the freedom it offers, you may want to investigate other software that can run in a portable way. The PortableApps.com website at http://www.portableapps.com has many applications that can be run from a USB drive and it is well worth a visit. It is sure to give you many ideas on using programs in a more convenient way. With the ever increasing capacity of USB Flash drives and the associated falling cost, it means even large applications can be run in this way.