About this blog Subscribe to this blog

Edjourney-pulse

On the Road, Seeking Out Innovation

Author Grant Lichtman on why America’s best schools are adaptable and creative.
by Kim Greene

Grant Lichtman packed his bags, climbed into his 1997 Prius, and embarked on an epic cross-country road trip, at least by an educator’s standards. Over the course of three months in the fall of 2012, he visited 64 schools, from California to New York, public and private, suburban and urban. His goal: to learn what the word innovation means to schools, what obstacles educators encounter, and what successes they have found. His findings form the basis for his new book, #EdJourney: A Roadmap to the Future of Education. We caught up with Lichtman at his home in California to delve deeper into what the senior fellow with the Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence learned while on the road.

Q: Early on in the book, you say change in schools isn’t hard—it’s uncomfortable. How does an administrator create a school culture that embraces change necessary for innovation?

A: The biggest obstacles to innovation and change in all organizations are fear and inertia. These are very much present at schools. Leaders need to have the courage to take risks, primarily to overcome the fear and inertia. Schools have always had a unique and difficult relationship with the idea of risk both as learners and as adults. Yet we know that organizations are not capable of changing unless we do take risks. In a time of rapid change, we have to engage strategies where risk is not a bad word. It’s not dangerous. Actually, the risk to an organization of not changing frequently is greater than the risk of making some changes. The book is full of examples of how school leaders are changing their approach and mind-set to the idea of risk—how they are changing the management structure to create more distributive, creative processes and allowing those processes to happen within their organizations. The real hallmark of innovation is the ability to move quickly, which does not happen when we have rigid, highly vertical, hierologic reporting structures.

Leaders are recognizing they need to value employees with different strengths than they’ve had in the past, rather than just valuing teachers because they’re experts in a particular subject or because they’ve had longevity in the system or because they’ve demonstrated ability to manage a classroom. We place a high value on people who have a willingness and capacity to create something—to collaborate as members of a team—as much as we do knowledge of subject. Those are some of the similarities of schools that seem to be developing a capacity for change.

Q: You spend a chunk of the book outlining the characteristics of an innovative classroom. If we walked into one today, what words would you use to describe it: adaptable, creative, dynamic?

A: I think it starts with those words. Those words are ones that I synthesized from so many schools and so many interviews with so many educators. They tend to be messy, noisy, and slightly chaotic.

I use the word permeable a lot. This follows on the thinking of my colleague Bo Adams, whom I cite in the book. We have to break this boundary between the concept of school and the rest of the world. This means breaching the physical boundary by getting off campus more, even if it’s only a few steps, to use the world as a learning space.

Certainly, teachers are becoming much more nimble and adaptive. They’re changing their curriculum each year, allowing students to help negotiate and change that curriculum, doing that as co-learners rather than as a teacher and a student at opposite poles.

Q: You make the point that innovation and technology are not terms to be used synonymously. Why do some educators think that putting a tech device in the hands of students is instant innovation?

A: We have to look at the history of it. We don’t have to go back more than 15 years—or, for some schools, the last 10 years—to when computers really started percolating into the classroom and school space in a meaningful way. A number of people felt that placing this technology in the classroom would be disruptive innovation that would fundamentally change learning. This included Clayton Christensen, who built a lot of the disruptive innovation idea around the example of computers in the classroom. What we found is that it does in some cases and it dramatically doesn’t in other cases.

I wrote an article for ISTE a year ago (“Take Aim at Innovation,” Learning & Leading With Technology, September/October 2013,) and its punch line was, technology is the bows and arrows in our quiver. Our goal as educators is not about bows and arrows; it’s about training the archer. I think that we’ve seen in the last few years a shift, importantly in the minds of educational technologists. Eight or 10 years ago, they felt what they were bringing to the table was the innovation. Now when I meet with them, many of them understand the shift is in the pedagogy and the learning space, the practice of relationships between teachers and students and knowledge.

Q: It’s difficult to imagine the types of innovations you talk about happening in schools that have so many requirements and regulations. Private and charter schools have more flexibility and, as a result, seem riper for innovation. What changes are necessary to help foster innovation in traditional public schools?

A: You’re right. Charter and private schools are a legacy of the old laboratory schools of the progressive era. This is exactly what they were meant to do—try new things and hopefully some of those will percolate, and of course did percolate, into the public system.

Public school leaders have to recognize a few things. If public schools do not change to better prepare for the future rather than the past, they’re going to continue to lose students to other learning opportunities. The range of opportunities families have to choose from today is vastly greater than five, 10, and certainly 15 years ago. Because of that choice, families who understand that the traditional method of learning is not preparing students for the world they’re going to inherit will make other choices.

Also, we are trapped in this existential discourse between the role and importance of standards-based learning versus what we could call a more progressive learning style. I do not believe the Common Core de facto is an inhibitor of deeper learning. In fact, I think if people view Common Core as a foundation upon which to build, much of what it outlines allows for these sorts of innovative learning conditions. I think regions, states, and areas that view the Common Core or any set of standards as so vital and so important that they require teachers to take on an ever more rigid, test-focused set of activities in the classroom, are on the wrong side of history.

Finding Excellence

Lichtman says he’s frequently asked to name the most innovative schools he visited. On his list of exemplary schools are these two public institutions:

  • Science Leadership Academy (SLA), Philadelphia: SLA is a public magnet school that faces the same challenges as other schools in Philadelphia’s system, including poverty and funding. Yet the school, which follows a project-based philosophy, boasts that 90 percent of its graduates go on to four-year colleges.

Among the many assets that make SLA successful, Lichtman points to the agility and speed with which the school makes decisions. SLA founder and principal Chris Lehmann told Lichtman, “We iterate fast and we are not afraid of ideas. But we also ‘problematize’ well. We consider the worst and negative consequences of our best ideas, and we do all of this quickly.”

Lehmann does not rely solely on senior administrators to make decisions about innovation. “When we have someone new to the school, we often have to coach them up to this level of decisional empowerment so they will just go and make things happen,” he said.

  • Denver Green School (DGS): DGS is a choice school operated under Denver’s Board of Education.Lichtman says the school has “the most intentional system of distributed authority” of any school he visited. Seven partners (master teachers, of sorts) founded the school and act as the leadership team. They’ll continue to add partners as teachers become interested and committed. With a growing mass of partners, they hope these leaders can then start their own schools with this same management structure.

Lichtman says this innovative management style works because it alleviates the problem of placing a single individual at the top. If that one weak link fails, Lichtman notes, the whole organization is at risk. But with distributed authority, the school has a better shot at long-term success.

Photo Credit: Julie Lichtman

Games-pulse
Getting Serious About Games

How to ensure the games your students play pay off academically. 
By Dan Norton

Who doesn’t like a good game? From chess to bowling to flapping (possibly even angry) birds, games have permeated our culture. With social and mobile technology infusing every aspect of our life, even Grandma has been known to cultivate a virtual farm or crush some candy from time to time.

For people who love games, this is great news. But now that games are accepted as a mainstream medium, it’s time to see if they can be moved past the point of mere entertainment.

The field of learning games itself has been around for decades, with venerable titles such as Carmen Sandiego and The Oregon Trail blazing the path. But there is new research and products that seek to unleash the power of gaming in your district’s classrooms.

So while mixing games and education is no longer frowned upon, the rules for evaluating whether a game deserves to be part of your district’s classrooms are certainly different from those you use to judge a game you play for diversion. Here are five tips to help you determine whether what you use your classrooms will offer students quality learning as well as fun.

1. Games Are More Than Fun

Yes, games are fun, but that’s just a tiny piece of what they have to offer. When evaluating games for your classroom, look past the amusing story or the pretty graphics and think about what players are actually going to do in the game. The gold standard to ask is, “Does mastering this game mean students will have mastered the targeted learning objectives?”

Great learning games use the natural gameplay cycles of challenge and feedback to ensure players excel, and the progress connects to the learning objectives in an obvious and measurable way.

2. Games Create Context for Content

Games, of course, can hold educational content, but the unique power of quality games is that they create a context to surround the content. This context creates authentic ways of interacting with the content. The gameplay in each game is actually a set of “verbs.” That is, players interact with the content in a way that closely mirrors actual mastery of the objectives.
The context that games create is so powerful that you can use it in classroom activities and materials after the game is done. Drawing on the gameplay experience, classroom activities can also connect related learning objectives back into the game’s story. For example: ”Remember how we grew those plants in Reach for the Sun? How do you think the plants actually turn that sunlight into energy?”

3. Games Create Practice With Purpose

Games don’t just create verbs, they create identities that give purpose. Quality learning games make explicit why the objectives matter. Games make heroes out of writers, scientists, thinkers, and problem solvers. Students want to know why learning material matters—and games help paint that picture!

4. Games Explore Systems

Games are, at their heart, simply a set of rules that players inhabit. These rules create a system that players experiment with and try to understand in order to get better at the game. Think of these rules as a simulation, and players as “researchers” testing the boundaries of the simulation through play. This makes games well suited to express complicated, systems-driven concepts that are so often found in science and math.

5. Games Are an Opportunity

When evaluating games, think of them as an opportunity to connect, create context, and inspire your students, not just to entertain or distract. When you evaluate the games you want to put into your classrooms, think of them not as a temporary diversion, but as a powerful new tool you can use to enhance your entire curriculum.

Dan Norton is the chief creative officer and founder of Filament Games. He has designed games about a broad range of topics, ranging from marine turtle ecology to legal argumentation. His games have won numerous industry awards and have been played millions of times in classrooms across the country.

Twitter-pulseWhy Your Teachers Should Use Twitter

Powerful PD—one tweet at a time.
By Kim Greene

There comes a point when we have to acknowledge that one-size-fits-all professional development isn’t cutting it. Just as students need to be treated as individual learners, so do the teachers in your schools. And while your district may offer workshops and webinars, there’s another PD resource right at your teachers’ fingertips. It’s open 24-7, connects educators from around the globe, and covers countless topics across grade levels and subject areas.

It’s Twitter.

We know what you might be thinking. There aren’t enough hours in the day to check another social media site. Well, we have good news for you. You and your teachers can spend as much or as little time as you want exploring ideas—wherever and whenever you want. Twitter is a giant professional learning network (PLN) that helps educators step outside of their classrooms and schools. Together they problem-solve, share, and refine their craft.

We’ve assembled a guide for you to share with your teachers so they can make the most of Twitter as a PD tool.

To get the scoop on Twitter as PD, we spoke with two tweeting teachers, Lyssa Sahadevan (@lyssareads), a first-grade teacher at East Side Elementary in Marietta, Georgia, and Allison Hogan (@AllisonHoganEDU), a transitional kindergarten/first-grade teacher at the Episcopal School of Dallas.

For teachers who have never been on Twitter before and have just created an account, where should they start?
Allison: My first piece of advice is to take the time to create your profile. When someone follows me, I look at their profile to see if they’re a teacher, principal, etc. Also, follow people in your school community to see how they use it.
Lyssa: A friend of mine took an online Twitter how-to. She was so overwhelmed! I suggested she just go for it, and that route worked for her.

When it’s time to start tweeting, what’s your best advice?
Allison: Start with a chat in your comfort zone, like your grade level or content area. Move to larger groups once you get the format down.
Lyssa: I started simple with #1stchat (first-grade chat) and just sat on the sidelines!

How do you start to form a PLN out of a sea of strangers?
Lyssa: It all starts with hitting reply. If something speaks to you (and you might not always be in agreement), you reply. A conversation ensues. You retweet them, they retweet you, you ask questions and share resources. You might meet them in person one day at a conference. It’s awkward, but it’s also exciting! You already know you have something in common.

How do you maximize your Twitter time without it taking over life?
Allison:
I investigate topics and lean toward what I will need and what I have to offer. Think strengths and weaknesses.
Lyssa: I often miss my favorite chats because the times do not work, so I devote a little Saturday-morning coffee time to going through the archives. I pick and choose. If I’m working on an improving math workshop, I make time to attend the chat. If there is a conference going on, I try to check in on Twitter or make a note of the hashtag so I can follow.

In terms of social media, do you think Twitter has something unique to offer teachers that Facebook and other platforms don’t?
Allison:
Twitter is way better than Facebook just because of the access—meaning a hashtag can unite hundreds of educators at one time and for a purpose. I can also ask a question using the same hashtag, and it will reach those who follow the hashtag, so more ideas will flow.
Lyssa: The openness of Twitter is unbelievable. The year I co-taught, I posted a tweet asking for tips. At least 10 or 15 teachers reached out to me with advice, special education resources, and blog posts. It was so encouraging! These teachers were strangers who just wanted to help. I had expert advice immediately.
Allison: Once teachers see the effects of Twitter, it will be easy to transition to a class account to share their work and wonderings with the world. I feel Twitter and Skype have torn down the walls of my classroom.

#HASHTAGS

Hashtags are keywords that categorize what you’re tweeting about. For instance, you might use “#edtech” at the end of a tweet about how your students use tablets. You can also search Twitter for a hashtag that you’re interested in. This will bring up tweets from other users who have tweeted about that topic. Here’s a look at some (but definitely not all) of the most popular education hashtags.

General education: #teaching, #teachers, #learning, #k12, #PLN, #edreform, #commoncore, #ccss, #teacherproblems, #edcamp, #globaled

Educational technology: #edtech, #elearning, #edapp (or #edapps), #byod, #blendinglearning, #ipaded, #1to1

Content or grade-level specific:

Literacy: #kidlit, #literacy, #readaloud

Math: #math, #mathed

Science: #scied, #STEM, #NGSS, #scienceteacher

Social studies: #socialstudies, #historyteacher

Arts: #artsed, #musiced

Early childhood: #earlyed, #preschool, #ece

ESL: #esl, #ell (or #ells)

Special education: #sped, #specialneeds, #autism, #dyslexia

Physical education: #PEgeeks

Speech and language: #SLpeeps, #speech

Other hashtags to note:

#tlap: Inspired by Dave Burgess’s (@burgessdave) Teach Like a Pirate

#comments4kids: Denotes when teachers want others to comment on students’ blog posts.

#flipclass: The latest and greatest ideas about flipped learning

CHATS

Educators join up for Twitter chats every day of the week. Moderators pose questions to keep the discussion on topic. Everyone uses the same hashtag in his or her tweets so it’s easy to follow the conversation. (You’ll also find that people use these hashtags throughout the week.) You can search for the hashtag manually on the Twitter page or try programs like Hootsuite and TweetDeck to follow along. Ready to give it a try? Pop in on some of these popular chats.

WHO TO FOLLOW

Companies and Organizations:

@ScholasticTeach: Scholastic’s official account for teachers

@IRAToday: Literacy ideas for all educators

@NCTE: Teaching tips for English teachers

@NCTM: All things math education

@NSTA: Ideas and opportunities in science education

@ASCD: Professional development and educational leadership resources

@NAEYC: News and tweets about early childhood education

@educationweek and @EdWeekTeacher: The latest education news

@edutopia: Inspiration for K–12 educators

@TeachingChannel: Online community of K–12 teachers

@Edudemic: Education and technology

@MindShiftKQED: Trends in education

Educators:

@KleinErin: Erin Klein, teacher and ed-tech blogger

@cybraryman1: Jerry Blumengarten, co-moderator of #edchat

@MrSchuReads: John Schumacher, teacher-librarian and cohost of #SharpSchu monthly book club with Colby Sharp (@colbysharp)

@donalynbooks: Donalyn Miller, a.k.a. The Book Whisperer, and a facilitator of #nerdybookclub

@bradmcurrie: Brad Currie, school leader and #satchat cofounder

@pernilleripp: Pernille Ripp, middle school teacher and creator of Global Read Aloud

@kylepace: Kyle Pace, instructional technology specialist

@Larryferlazzo: Larry Ferlazzo, urban teacher and ELL specialist

@coolcatteacher: Vicki Davis, blogger, teacher, and IT director

@web20classroom: Steven W. Anderson, instructional technology expert and #edchat cocreator

@mssackstein: Starr Sackstein, teacher, blogger, and co-moderator of #sunchat

@pamallyn: Pam Allyn, literacy expert and founding director of LitWorld and LitLife

 

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong/theispot.com

 

Mooc_pulse
Learning by the Thousands

Can high school students learn in MOOCs?
By Wayne D’Orio

In less than four years, massive open online courses have been hailed as the next big thing to hit education—and disparaged as an empty promise where very few of the students complete the courses they sign up for.

You’re probably aware of the basics about MOOCs: After more than 150,000 students signed up for Stanford University’s first course in 2011, companies such as Coursera and Udacity, which pair with universities or other companies to offer content, seemed to sprout up overnight. MIT and Harvard, later joined by other universities, then created the nonprofit edX to offer classes for free. Today, more than nine million people take MOOCS, choosing from more than 1,200 courses.

Most K-12 administrators have been able to ponder the merit of MOOCs from the sidelines, as these classes have mostly involved college or post-secondary students. But with edX’s recent announcement that it will offer 27 courses next fall specifically for high school students, the question has landed right on administrators’ doorsteps. They have to wonder, will this work for my students, and if it does, how will it change how we educate our kids?  

Students are ready for it, says Anant Agarwal, edX’s CEO. The group surveyed high schoolers and found that 95 percent of them asked for advanced courses. Indeed, 150,000 of edX’s current 3 million students are in high school, he explains.

But that isn’t the only reason edX is expanding. Agarwal knows that many high school graduates aren’t ready for college, having to wade through remedial classes at university prices before they start earning credit. “We want to fix that,” and the courses offered should help, he says. edX will start by offering 15 AP classes among its 27 courses for high schoolers. It hopes to add 100 more high school courses in the next few years.

Another reason for the expansion is that a disproportionate number of edX students are teachers themselves. “It turns out that teachers want to know other ways of teaching a course,” Agarwal says. If a high school chemistry teacher can watch a Georgetown University professor teach chemistry, why wouldn’t they, he asks.  

The courses are all free, but for a varying fee, students can earn a certificate, Agarwal says. Of course, students in AP classes can sign up to take the AP test in the spring.

The certificate is also an answer of sorts to the conundrum posed at the start of this story. If course completion rates hover around 4 percent, as a study from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education showed, are MOOCs worth it? Yes, Agarwal argues, because when students are asked to pay between $25 and $100 for a verified certificate, the completion rate jumps to 60 percent. (edX’s general completion rates are 7 percent, Agarwal says.)

Students are using certificates to help them get accepted to college, while teachers use them to get continuing ed credits, he adds.

In the end, though, “you can’t judge a MOOC by the same metrics” as a regular college class, says Agarwal. “If you pay $50,000 to attend college, you’d better pass. MOOCs are free. A lot of people take classes just to learn something new.”

Image: Spanic/iStockphoto

Top Stories for Wednesday 10/1

US College Enrollment Down

Second year in a row, student enrollment is decreasing. EdNews

Apps Created for Ed. Data Mining

Apps being developed to explore electronic ed. data. HechReport

UMUC Wins Intl Cybersecurity Competition

The UMUC Cyber Padawans hack their way to a win. WashPost

“Deeper Learning” Schools Excel

A study shows students have better test scores and people skills. EdWeek

DOE Creating Level Playing Field for Students

New education guidelines work to end racial inequalities. NYT

Top Stories for Thursday 9/25

Students Coding for a Purpose

HFOSS project creates “software for humanity”. HechReport

Nashville Parents Fight School Closings

PAC pushes back on Dir. of Schools. EdNews

Teaching with Banned Books

Teachers demonstrate the value of banned books. HuffPost

Lessen Standardized Testing?

US Rep and supts. drive to reduce standardized testing. PBS

Clinton Voices Opinion on Charter Schools

Former Pres. Bill Clinton advises charter schools to step up. HuffPost

Top Stories for Wednesday 9/24

Denver Students Walkout to Protest Curriculum Changes
Resistance builds to reviewing AP History course. Chalkbeat

Hillary Backs Girls Ed Worldwide
New initiative will earmark $600M for 14M girls in next 5 years. Time

Did AYP Actually Improve Results?
Study attributes better scores to NCLB accountability. EdWeek

Beating Back Poverty
New book highlights Cristo Rey Network's success. Forbes

Wealthy Kids Smarter Web Surfers?
New report says so, but finds all students lack online literacy. NYTimes

Bus_large

 

Education On the Move

New bus connectivity can improve safety, communication, and student efficiency.

By Wayne D’Orio

Mobile is one of the biggest trends in education as more students and staff use portable devices to access information and do their work. While districts are quickly extending Wi-Fi to all corners of their schools, typically one mainstay of education is left out: the school bus.

AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent have a plan to fix that. The two companies have teamed up this fall to offer a “Connected Bus” that includes onboard Wi-Fi, real-time streaming video, and broadcast speakers. “Today’s education climate has increased pressures not only to keep students safe but also to meet their digital expectations,” says Neal Tilley, of Alcatel’s education division.

The Connected Bus package offers multiple benefits. On the security side, the connectivity allows for remote monitoring of students and the bus driver, as well as GPS and RFID scanners. Principals can talk directly to students who are on the bus, resolving a security issue while allowing the driver to concentrate on the road. One school district told Alcatel that 70 percent of its discipline issues occur on buses. In putting together the package, both companies spoke with superintendents, district IT members, bus drivers, teachers, and even school boards.

The device, which is roughly the size of a hardback book, can also help improve students’ work time and extend the learning day, according to Richard Marvin of AT&T’s education division. The connection is LTE where available from AT&T; when LTE isn’t available, the service drops down to 3G or 2G. The Connected Bus is “basically a classroom on wheels,” Tilley says.

One district told the companies that it would use the bus’s video feed to help prepare teams as they travel to competitions. “Some kids can be on buses for two or three hours a day, two or three times a week,” Tilley says.

 The setup isn’t inexpensive: The list price runs from $5,000 to $7,000, including installation and the necessary antenna. Video cameras, speakers, and other communication tools cost extra. Because the device runs on DC power, it can easily be moved from bus to bus.

Image: Courtesy of AT&T and Alcatel-Lucent

Education: National STEM Contest Offers $500,000 in Grants and Scholarships to Schools, Teachers, and Students

Scholastic and Lexus have partnered in 2014 to bring the Lexus Eco Challenge into middle and high schools nationwide for the eighth year.

The contest is intense, with teams competing to develop and implement the best innovative solutions to address environmental issues in their communities. (See past winners’ projects.)

 

Lexus8_Admin_Image_365x225[1]

 

The contest features $500,000 in grants and scholarships available to winners, so the time to talk to teachers about it is now.

We know teachers make a difference every day. We want to support them in their education efforts.

Please invite teachers to visit the Lexus Eco Challenge website: scholastic.com/lexus or email us directly at ecochallenge@scholastic.com.

NO PURCHASE NECESSARY to enter or win. A purchase will not increase your chances of winning. The Lexus Eco Challenge ("Contest") is open to students in grades 6–12 who are enrolled in a public or accredited private school or who are schooled at home in compliance with the laws of the students' primary state of residence and who are legal residents of the United States (one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia) by law. Only the winners from the Land & Water and Air & Climate Challenges will be eligible to participate in the Final Challenge. Click here for official rules.

XP

 

Windows XP: The End is Here
By Brian Nadel

April 8, 2014, was a bad day for schools—it marked the end of Microsoft’s official support for Windows XP. After all, at 13 years old, the software was older than many of the students it was being used to teach and had been superseded by the release of three major operating systems in the intervening years.

Despite its age, XP served education well, and based on an Avast survey of 1,800 schools last year, 96 percent of them still use the venerable OS. Most continue to put off upgrading to newer software because XP is simple, effective, and able to use a slew of software titles.

It’s time to put XP in the IT rearview mirror and not look back, but schools still using Windows XP face a crisis. Although they can continue to use the software, there’s no safety net—Microsoft will no longer provide support, bug fixes, new hardware drivers, or, most important, security updates. Schools are coping with the demise of XP in a variety of ways, from replacing computers wholesale to putting the software onto servers.

Here are three ways that schools are dealing with the situation.

Plan A deals with XP’s end by replacing it with new software. However, since most of the computers that currently use XP are too old to be converted to use Windows 7 or 8.1, upgrading them is a nonstarter. After including the setup and labor required for installation, the bill for a large district could hit seven or eight figures.

Plan B involves swapping XP-based PCs for inexpensive Android tablets, Chromebooks, or Linux-based computers. Their price tags can be half that of the typical PC notebook or desktop system, but on the downside, the assortment of available classroom titles is tiny compared with Windows.

Plan C lets schools continue to use their seemingly obsolete PCs by virtualizing the software on a server. The way that virtualization works requires rethinking how school computers interact. Forget about running software directly on the computer’s hard drive; think instead about using a server that sends the necessary graphic elements, commands, and data directly to each computer via a network connection.

Virtualization offers the best of both worlds: new software while continuing to use the old hardware. It allows schools to get several more years out of outdated computers because there is less computing stress placed on them. “Schools are using virtualization to move up to Windows 7. It’s a logical step away from XP,” says Dave Burton, vice president of marketing at NComputing.

With NComputing’s vSpace virtualization platform, every PC at school is turned into a thin client system, or the school can buy new thin client hardware. Regardless of whether a math teacher is showing how to add exponents, a student is researching an English paper at a library kiosk, or the assistant principal is collating the quarter’s grades, the systems look and act the same as always, right down to the ubiquitous Windows logo.

“It looks like Windows and acts like Windows,” explains Burton. “It runs all the software and is just as fast, but all the software is running on a server. They would be hard-pressed to tell the difference between native Windows and vSpace virtualizing it.”

Network-Centric Scheme

Virtualization software does put extra stress on the school’s network because more data is flowing back and forth between system and server. The software avoids bottlenecks by automatically compressing data, caching the most frequently used items, and balancing the load among clients. That way, if a class opens up the same worksheet or watches the same video via vSpace, the system doesn’t come to a grinding halt.

This streamlining of the client–server relationship is done in the background. “Unlike VMware’s VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure] system,” Burton says, “vSpace doesn’t require an army of IT staff.” In other words, VDI is more appropriate for a large corporation that has a dedicated IT staff to keep it running smoothly.

To make virtualization work, there’s a client app as well as a midrange server to house and distribute the software. Figure on setting up one vSpace server for every 100 clients versus less than half that for a VDI installation. It costs about $50 per seat when purchasing for hundreds of users, but NComputing counts concurrent users, and a school will likely never have every computer being used at the same time. According to Burton, a typical school with roughly 1,000 students and staff might need between 400 and 500 licenses.

Pana Community School District No. 8 in central Illinois replaced 400 XP-based computers for its 100 teachers and 1,400 students with vSpace running Windows 7 on a dozen servers. Rather than recycle its antediluvian PCs, the district went a step further and bought NComputing’s L300 thin clients and mated them with existing displays, keyboards, and mice. All told, the district had upfront costs that were between half and one-third what new PCs would have cost.

But, as most administrators know, purchase costs are only the start. Gartner analysts have estimated the total cost of ownership, which takes into account everything from initial outlays and maintenance to repairs and power costs. To nobody’s surprise, the typical PC setup is the most expensive at $2,290 in annual costs, with traditional VDI a close second at $1,982. The cost of setting up and running vSpace comes out on the low side at about $576 a year.

Schools can even save money by using vSpace to centrally manage their computers, which can lower support and maintenance costs dramatically. “Running a school network is never easy,” Burton says. “The software ensures that every computer has the most up-to-date drivers and software.”

Advertisement

Advertisement

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in edu Pulse are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.