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.