Online resources like Google Drive or Dropbox can reduce how much is stored locally, but all have different interfaces to master and separate log ins, but SkyDesktop can turn it into a more cohesive and streamlined experience. With software for connecting with 66 popular online services and a variety of cloud platforms, SkyDesktop is a free service that can make the cloud a little more personal and local. Just log in once and it’s all there on your desktop.
Tired of licensing Office from Microsoft for every computer on the campus? There’s a different way to keep everyone on the same page, and it’s free. The Microsoft Office 365 cloud suite of programs can be used by schools for free. It’s all online so there’s no software to load and update and it includes everything from Word, Excel and PowerPoint to Lync and SharePoint online. The best part is that it includes Exchange Online and all the emails will be stored securely on Microsoft’s network. Several school districts use Office 365 and save tens of thousands of dollars a year.
By relying on the cloud and Google’s rapidly expanding family of Chrome software, Samsung’s Chromebook 5 and Chromebox 3 are two of a kind for schools looking to cut down on the cost of getting and operating computers on campus. Because they are by their nature minimalist, they cost less than comparable desktops and notebooks to purchase, plus everything from programs to student data is stored on a server, so they’re easier to administer and keep running smoothly.
Which you choose depends as much on how mobile you want your teachers and student body to be.
The Series 5 Chromebook 550 picks up where the last Chromebook left off. It has a 12.1-inch screen that can show 1,280 by 800 resolution and weighs just 3.3-pounds. Inside is an Intel Celeron 867 dual-core processor that runs at 1.3GHz and has 2MB of on-bard cache. The system has all the ports you’re likely to need for either doing homework or teaching a class, including the ability to send high resolution images to a projector or monitor via Displayport, HDMI or DVI. The system has an SD card reader and a HD Web cam. It comes with 4GB of RAM and 16GB of solid state storage and costs $450 with WiFi and $100 more with a 3G data card built-in.
By contrast, the Chromebox 3 is meant to stay put in a computer lab, library or office. It’s a micro desktop unit that weighs just 2.5 pounds and is smaller than most classroom box. It can be screwed into a table or attached to the back of a monitor, creating the equivalent of an all-in-one computer. The Chromebox can drive up to two displays via a pair of Displayport connections and can be mated with either an optional wired or wireless keyboard. It’s powered by a 1.9GHz Celeron processor that has 2MB of on-chip cache and comes with 4GB of RAM as well as 16GB of solid state storage. It’s got WiFi and wired Ethernet and 6 USB ports.
Since it sold off its PC division in 2005, IBM has been quiet when it comes to mobility and schools. Until now, with an offer that third world schools may not be able to refuse. At $190, the Simmbook from Simmtronics undercuts the price of most notebooks. Like other netbooks, the system has an Atom processor, 1GB of memory and a 10-inch screen that weighs in at about 2 pounds.
But this set up is different from your everyday netbook. Software is its strength with Ubuntu Linux, theIBM Lotus Symphony suite of programs and a slew of collaborative software that can bring the classroom together. The Simmbook will have a 160GB hard drive, but its advantage lies in its connection to IBM’s Cloud Computing system. According to IBM, it can cut the costs per system by half compared to Windows netbooks. It will first be available in South Africa, but availability will spread throughout the developing world.
I keep hearing that the future of classroom computing lies in virtualizing PCs so that apps and data live at a datacenter and are downloaded the thin clients as needed. Not only can this cut costs but it makes maintaining and upgrading systems much easier. That said, there really aren’t that many choices as far as equipment and software go for creating a school in the cloud.
Citrix and Scale Computing hope to change that with a joint project that can make one-to-one classroom computing much cheaper. The key is to shift much of the processing, graphics and data storage away from desktop PCs and on to centralized servers that exist in the cloud. This is exactly what the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation of Indiana did. The non-profit education group, which sponsors charter schools, replaced standard computers and networks with Citrix’s XenServer and matching lightweight XenDesktop clients.
But, that’s only half the problem because the applications and data needs to live somewhere. That’s where Scale Computing's Intelligent Clustered Storage (ICS) comes in. Capable of housing between 3 terabytes and 2.2 pentabytes, ICS can be expanded a terabyte at a time. All told, Geo cut its costs by $60,000 a month. Not bad.
If you’re at FETC, go see the gear in action at booth 564.
The future of the PC on school desktops is as certain as the contents of mystery meat served in the cafeteria on Wednesdays, but according to Brian Becker, HP’s director of Education, it doesn’t have to be that way. Today, HP is introducing three new school products that offer more bang for the buck than the traditional PC while retaining the familiar look and feel of Windows software. While HP’s Multiseat shares a PC among up to ten screens and TeachNow can outfit an entire classroom with connected screens, the company’s SchoolCloud virtualizes the learning experience with a client server environment at the school.
I recently got a chance to ask him about his vision for the digital school.
Tech Tools: What are the pros and cons of full PCs in schools?
Brian Becker: Whether it’s a PC or a thin client, the goal is to provide pervasive technology access to students giving them the tools they need to be successful in the future – at college or in the workforce collaborating with peers and colleagues. Both PCs and thin clients provide students with a familiar Microsoft Windows computing environment, similar to what they use at home.
The key to making technology available to more students is making it affordable for schools to deploy more PCs to students without increasing their technology budget.
TT: Are many teachers overwhelmed by the technology?
BB: One of the biggest obstacles to using technology in schools is teacher adoption. We see a couple solutions to this problem – one, making technology easier to teach with, and two, providing professional development to enhance teacher’s skills to effectively teach with technology.
We understand that many teachers aren’t technology experts and they shouldn’t have to be to use technology in the classroom. That’s why HP created TeachNow, to help make teaching with technology easier. The software provides a simple user interface for non-technical teachers allowing them to easily build and distribute lesson plans and manage the classroom. With the click of a mouse, teachers can fix many computer problems they may encounter during a lesson, without losing focus or time on the task at hand.
After speaking to a number of our education customers, we’ve learned there’s a huge effort to get teachers to use the digital content they already have. Providing teachers instructor-led, onsite professional development is an effective way to overcome the technology adoption hurdle in the classroom. HP partners with a company called Knowledge Network Solutions, KNS, and includes different levels of professional development in a number of its education products. Professional development is helping educators make the shift from a teacher-centric model to a student-centric one where students are empowered with technology and learn at their own pace.
TT: What are the client-server alternatives and what are the savings?
BB: Alternatively, schools are looking to thin clients and cloud computing as a way to stretch budgets. HP recently announced three computing solutions for education intended to meet the budget needs of a variety of schools at different levels of their technology implementation.
HP MultiSeat is designed to help turn schools with limited student access to technology into a technology-rich PC experience for every student in a classroom, lab or library. Up to 10 students can connect to a host computer, sharing its computing power. Each student has their own independent and familiar Windows 7 computing experience, using their personal monitor, keyboard and mouse connected to the host computer via MultiSeat.
By deploying MultiSeat schools really can purchase double the amount of computer seats without increasing its technology budget. And, the client device consumes just 2.5 watts of power, reducing energy costs by up to 80 percent.
The second product, HP TeachNow, includes a classroom or computer lab of technology where the server does all the work, and students use thin clients to access school curriculum. Schools don’t need a data center and TeachNow is as easy to set up as a typical PC. The built-in software gives non-technical teachers a simple way to build and distribute lesson plans, and also provides some classroom management tools.
Lastly, HP SchoolCloud gives students and teachers 24/7 access to their applications and data through a virtual desktop. Students and teachers simply log-in to access their personalized SchoolCloud page at school, home or anywhere they have internet access. Through real-time reports teachers and administrators know which software and computers are being used. This data can then be combined with student grades and attendance to correlate technology usage and learning outcomes.
The biggest savings for all three solutions is maintenance time, resources and the reduced cost of deploying more PCs throughout a school or district.
TT: Can you give an example of schools using thin clients and micro clients? What were the savings and the effect on instruction?
BB: We have several education customers deploying thin clients. One that comes to mind is Hudson Falls Central School District in New York. Over the past four years, Hudson Falls has deployed 1,400 HP thin clients in classrooms and computer labs throughout the district’s five schools.
They also use software from ClassLink Technologies that allows the IT staff to build separate computer images for students so they can access the applications they need for their specific grade levels. This is a huge benefit for the students as well since ClassLink allows them to log in from their home computers to access school applications and files. Another benefit Hudson Falls is seeing with thin clients is that students can no longer change computer settings or accidentally throw things away in the trash.
Greg Partch, director of educational technology at the district says over the long run, schools will see a significant savings – as much as 40 percent from reduced help-desk support and maintenance costs. His IT staff alone went from managing 1,400 PCs to just 10 servers
TT: Where is this leading? Will computers in schools become a service delivered by the cloud?
BB: With current budgetary constraints in education, schools are starting to look beyond the initial cost of technology deployment to total cost of ownership including maintenance costs and needed resources. This shift in paradigm is leading more schools to evaluate cloud computing and realize the numerous benefits to students, administrators and IT. From cost savings to simpler IT management to environmental impact, moving to the clouds makes fiscal sense and we believe this trend will continue in education.
TT: What's missing right now from educational cloud computing and when might this happen?
BB: The key things that have been preventing the educational cloud computing from being adopted are
1. Cloud solutions designed specifically for the unique needs of education
2. Affordable cloud access devices to connect students to the cloud
HP has addressed these barriers with HP SchoolCloud and HP Multiseat. Schools have begun adopting educational cloud computing. We expect this trend to accelerate.