Desktop Virtualization

Opening the door for student success on a shoestring budget.

GUEST COLUMN | by Scott Savage

CREDIT NComputing classroomLike most school districts around the country today, Pana Community School District #8 is consistently challenged to meet technology needs on a shoestring budget. As a Central Illinois public school district that’s comprised of four K-12 campuses, we are committed to giving our 1,400 students the best competitive advantage possible by providing the latest technology resources and tools for computer-based learning, online research, assessments, and collaboration.

Our technology support staff is a team of two, which consists of a curriculum integration specialist, and myself. Because of our commitment to providing quality technology in the classroom and our need to meet a limited IT budget, our team motto has always been “do more with less.”

Because of our commitment to providing quality technology in the classroom and our need to meet a limited IT budget, our team motto has always been ‘do more with less.’

So when it came time to replace the aging computers in our classrooms, we had to do it in a thoughtful manner. Our school district needed to move from our outdated Windows XP towers to a more modern, cost-effective system that would meet the requirements of teachers and students, both immediately and long-term.

After evaluating many different options, a virtualization-based solution quickly emerged as the best way to address our goals and meet our budget. The solution stood out because it would deliver a consistent experience to all teachers and students and eliminate the need for us to have to maintain individual desktops across our campuses.

We decided to replace our fleet of PCs with a desktop virtualization solution from NComputing. The system is made up of vSpace Server and L300 thin client devices. I led the initiative and It didn’t take us long to realize the true power of a virtualization solution.

We immediately realized several benefits, the first one being price. Our school district saved approximately one-third on hardware acquisition costs. Not only that, installing the thin client devices was effortless, and we’re now able to easily support multiple users. Our ongoing maintenance chores have been significantly reduced. If a teacher calls me up and happens to have an issue with their classroom thin clients, I can easily fix it at the server, whereas before, I had to push group policies or run scripts on 50 desktops then verify the changes had been successful. I’d estimate it takes me about one-fourth of the time to manage our desktop virtualization system versus our previous PCs.

We’ve also realized PC hardware repair benefits. Before, replacing CMOS batteries, power supplies, fans, hard drives and motherboards were common occurrences. Now, with our desktop virtualization solution, none of that is necessary. As an added bonus, we get to enjoy the reduced power and cooling requirements that thin clients offer. Before, PCs were causing circuit breakers to trip, resulting in classrooms being too hot or too cold because they were trying to accommodate the extra heat output of so many tower computers. Our new solution has completely eliminated these problems and has resulted in about a 90 percent power saving per workstation, not to mention a quieter, neater learning environment so our students can truly focus on the tasks at hand.

Finally, another benefit that we’ve realized from our new desktop virtualization technology is that it meets the technology requirements for our state mandated online testing. With our new thin client devices, students get a full Windows desktop experience without requiring their own PC or laptop. Beyond support for online testing, desktop virtualization has allowed our students to run a variety of programs related to reading, math and other topics.

Implementing a desktop virtualization solution within our classrooms and labs is without a doubt one of the best IT decisions Pana Community School District #8 has made. It has freed up time for teachers to be more productive and focus on teaching and has allowed our IT team to focus on enhancing our overall technology, rather than running around servicing systems. Most importantly, it has helped us support our students’ most vital educational needs – and that has made all the difference.

Scott Savage has been with central Illinois K-12 school district Pana Community School District #8 since 2008. As the district’s technology coordinator, Scott is responsible for maintaining its current infrastructure, which includes over 240 virtual desktop client devices from NComputing.

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Watch This | Teach to One

THAT’S A FACT. When a teacher teaches to the whole class, somebody gets left behind. Approaching instruction through multiple modalities, or ways of teaching (leveraging available technologies), all students get a chance to learn in a way that is engaging to them. 2:29 Source: New Classrooms

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Using ‘The Force’

When the tickets pile up, who will come to save the day? 

GUEST COLUMN | by Eric Schommer 

CREDIT Eric Schommer Saint Monica SchoolBudgets always play a role in choices schools make. Our school is not able to hire a full time tech support staff member but has the technology that needs full time support. We are a preK-8 school with 460 students, 40 staff members, 60 desktops, 120 netbooks, 200 iPads, and 40 laptops. Our classrooms all contain student response systems, Smart boards, Apple TV’s connected to HDMI projectors, Teacher iPads, Teacher Macbook Pro’s, and 7” Galaxy tabs for each teacher’s assistant. We run 9 different operating systems, house 8 servers with over 200 wired connections and a wireless controller that handles access points that permeate 90% of our building as well as 2 other buildings that we wirelessly bridge. Annual as well as monthly professional development assists our school in reducing the amount of training related help desk tickets.  The tickets pile up when pieces of equipment start acting out of the ordinary. That is where our Techie Task Force comes in to save the day.

The Techie Task Force builds confidence, ownership, safety, purpose — and lasting relationships.

Distributive leadership uses the belief that staff members will develop and achieve when given a role in leadership. We have experienced the ownership of leading compels them to achieve far above what they thought capable Those members within the group take pride in their group’s accomplishments. It does not warrant extra pay and in our experience, has not been an issue.

We apply this leadership style to our students in each grade level. We observe the classes and invite those students, who demonstrate the desire to “play with the toys”, to fill out the application. Once accepted, we train them on their grade level break/fix technology, provide a Techie Task Force shirt, and “administrative” level logins for their specific needs. These logins provide them access to the programs and keys necessary for installation as well as control over the antivirus, Java, & Adobe updates. We have a part time technology coordinator for actual network maintenance and repairs. That coordinator trains, supports, and supervises the students and staff on the Techie Task Force.

As a small Catholic school, our tech budget is minimal and our tech staffing is sparse. In order to support all of the new technology while still maintaining budget constraints mandates creativity. Conferences continue to have examples of this type of technology support yet they look different for each school application. Our team (pictured above), consisting of various grade level students and teachers, meets monthly to go over new issues, review recurring issues, and praise each other for jobs well done. We even have a Kindergarten student on the team!

Some classrooms are more in need of support than others. In this case, we supply support tech from other classes that do not need as much intervention. Each classroom has either a teacher or a student that has gone through the training and receives the monthly updates.

So what do the teachers on this team do? Some of them have network privileges that allow them to help with networked printer, Apple TV, and teacher laptop issues. Others have learned how to reset access points that stop responding. One teacher has been taught how to troubleshoot wiring issues and how to punch down or terminate lines if necessary. Several are in charge of iPad updates and configuration. They are all proud of our system and proud of their roles in our building. This team addresses most user error and many easy fix items such as resetting IP addresses, smart board and student response system connections, apple TV connections, and dual display issues. They also address drive issues and internet connectivity.

We provide shirts for all of our tech team participants that can be worn in lieu of their uniform whenever they desire. Certain days of the year are set aside so those participants can be recognized for their duties above and beyond what is expected. It is amazing to see how empowerment enhances ownership. They all want to make sure that our program is the best in the city. This has a lasting impact on the social-emotional development of some students that join.

Several students on the Techie Task Force are not a part of the athletics program or any of the clubs we offer at St. Monica. This opportunity provides them with friends that have the same interests as well as adults that have common goals.

A junior in high school that was a part of our team returned in December to let us know how much the team meant to him. He told us that he did not do anything at school other than school work until he joined our team. For three years, he did not feel like he fit in with students and had no way to engage with the teachers. After joining the team, he felt like he was an important part of the school. He told us that his grades improved and he even started to make friends outside of the group. This student has Asperger’s Syndrome and several peers as well as some adults did not think that he would be able to join groups or participate in activities with his peers. He started a similar club at his current high school last year. The tech director said it was a relief to finally have a team address the daily little things that others could do leaving the main infrastructure to him.

Our school believes strongly in service and support. The Techie Task Force is one demonstration of that belief. All students that want to join will be given the ability to serve. Our school has embraced the use of students and teachers as technical supports in the classroom. Every year they ask, with eagerness in their eyes, if it will continue. The team provides support for our technology in school, support for our peers, and support for the general health of the school’s culture. As we know from experience, the Techie Task Force builds confidence, ownership, safety, purpose — and lasting relationships.

Eric Schommer is St. Monica Catholic School Assistant Principal, Technology Director, and Support Services Director.

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Every Student Can Learn

Students aren’t defective, materials and resources are.

GUEST COLUMN | by Mark Gura

CREDIT Rose and MeyerThis past semester I taught a required course for Instructional Technology majors. Trust me, there’s nothing like swapping ideas with 30 early-career technology teachers to give you a good snapshot of the state of thinking in this field. This was a great learning experience for me as well as the students and chief among its many strong points, this was my first opportunity to use the Center for Applied Special Technology, or CAST’s, ‘Teaching Every Student in the Digital Age: Universal Design for Learning’ as the keystone text in a graduate level Education course. I, of course, had been familiar with this important work previously, but this was a great opportunity to look at it with fresh eyes — those of my students. And wow! It proved to be not just the good, informational text I had hoped for, but a truly transformational one.

I’ll paraphrase this book’s very wonderful, central idea:

Students who don’t succeed in learning through traditional instruction don’t do so because of some defect or deficit or learning disability on their part, but rather, because the materials and resources they are presented with are inflexible and unsuitable to meet their particular, personal needs as learners.

The book offers many ideas and practices to help teachers determine those specific needs and how to address them. What resonates about this so strongly for us Instructional Technologists is that the flexibility that’s needed to make instructional resources accessible and usable for so many students is brought about by increasingly common and available digital technologies.

The flexibility needed to make instructional resources accessible and usable for so many students is brought about by increasingly common and available digital technologies.

These truly are revolutionary ideas and it was inspiring to observe my students, none of whom were previously familiar with UDL (Universal Design for Learning), wrestle with this conceptual framework that runs throughout the book for the first time. What my students took away from their reading is nothing less than the realization, that truly, EVERY STUDENT CAN LEARN – and seeing examples of how this can be brought about through the focused, targeted use of technology, they walked away with the crucial “ah ha” that a vast improvement in teaching and learning looms on the horizon and is within our reach.

Quite reasonably, my students first saw the body of UDL ideas and practices as a way to serve Special Education students. And no doubt, such students have reaped a great deal of benefit from it through instruction provided by educators who also have seen this natural connection. But the truly transformational understanding my students came to next is that by applying the ideas underpinning UDL to mainstream students as well, all students can experience the curriculum in a much more satisfying way and consequently, can learn and achieve far better. Moved by the inspiring experience my students had, I’m making this way of looking at the potential of technology to re-make education for the benefit of learners worldwide a personal area of special interest. Of the broad range of instructional platforms and philosophies extant, I think this is one of the most promising by far.

No area of learning needs this more than Reading. Using traditional resources and instructional practices, a very substantial percentage of students fail to master their literacy skills (particularly Reading) sufficiently and early enough to succeed with a good deal of the curriculum that’s presented to them during their school career. Further, they fail to catch on to the satisfaction and inspiration that self-directed reading can provide and consequently miss out as well on the benefits it offers by making them lifelong, independent learners. Applying our very best understandings of learning and how to overcome barriers to it to this very important issue is crucial.

Fortunately, CAST is piloting a new resource named Udio that will do just that. Udio’s goals are “to foster a passionate interest and investment in reading for students who have traditionally been uninterested in, or disenfranchised by, traditional classroom literacy practices, and “to substantially improve the reading comprehension skills of middle school students who have experienced recurrent failure in the domain of reading.”

I’m excited to report that a representative from CAST will make a presentation about Udio at the upcoming annual meeting of ISTE’s LITERACY Professional Learning Network which will take place at the upcoming ISTE conference in Atlanta (June 28 – July 1). If you plan on attending the conference please join us at this session, no need to register or pay anything extra to attend this important session (time and date below).

Mark Gura, EdTech Digest Advisory Board member, is president
of the ISTE LITERACY Professional Learning Network (formerly, Literacy Special Interest Group). Mark taught at New York City public schools in East Harlem for two decades. An edtech pioneer, he spent five years as a curriculum developer for the central office and was eventually tapped to be the New York City Department of Education’s director of the Office of Instructional Technology, assisting over 1,700 schools serving 1.1 million students in America’s largest school system. ISTE Literacy Network annual learning, planning and visioning session
is on Monday, June 30, 5:15 pm–6:30 pm
Digital Age Teaching & Learning. For more information, see the ISTE LITERACY Professional Network: and Udio:

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Mobile Device Management

Teachers reduce classroom chaos and enhance student learning experiences.

GUEST COLUMN | By Dave Saltmarsh

CREDIT JAMF SoftwareIt’s no secret that the rapid evolution of technology has paved the way for extraordinary growth in education, from advancing the way teachers do their jobs to the way students learn. With a larger presence of digital devices in the classroom today than ever before, it is crucial that teachers have access to technology solutions that can save them time and reduce stress, while ensuring a positive learning environment for students.

Mobile device management tools put tasks that were previously handled by IT directly in the hands of teachers. 

Mobile device management tools put tasks that were previously handled by IT directly in the hands of teachers. Without these tools, teachers have to alert the IT department every time an issue – such as a student being locked out of their mobile device due to a forgotten passcode – arises. The elimination of the IT middleman significantly diminishes chaos in the classroom and allows teachers to spend less time waiting for IT to come save the day and more time on enriching students’ learning experiences by doing the actual task they have set out to do: teach.

Today, most mobile device management companies are focused on providing classroom management capabilities to the small percentage of early-adopter teachers who are implementing mobile device use in the classroom. In order for more teachers to embrace technology the way these early adopters have, companies need to make a deliberate shift to paying more attention to the larger percentage of non-tech savvy slow adopters. To better understand the needs of both technology veteran and novice educators, we first need to be aware of their three greatest challenges:

1. Chaos in the classroom

Today’s teachers will tell you that having a chaotic classroom environment is the single biggest challenge they face when trying to control student mobile devices in the classroom. Without the proper tools at their disposal allowing them to seamlessly manage transitions from one task to the next, attempting to seize the attention of students and provide brief instructions can take up a significant amount of time. For non-tech savvy teachers, who are already struggling with the everyday challenge of managing a classroom, transition time can become even more of a headache when one new “thing” is thrown in the mix.

With today’s mobile device management tools, teachers can easily command the attention of their classroom and control the apps that students are able to access on their devices, ensuring that they are actively engaged with the appropriate assignment. By giving teachers the power to unlock, restrict or enable devices in the classroom without involving IT, mobile device management solutions save time and reduce stress during transition periods. Technology should be a time saver, not a time sucker.

2. Providing mass customization and personalization of learning

The traditional technology model involves a structured annual schedule that mandates when mobile devices in the classroom are collected and new software is added. It is not easily customizable for each student’s unique needs in an age when teachers are being asked to mass customize and personalize student learning. With mobile device management tools, teachers can easily update and install apps and content to cater to each student’s individual learning needs. For example, if a student is passionate about a certain subject and shows a strong desire to learn more beyond what was discussed in the classroom, a teacher can provide them with access to a book on that subject on their mobile device. A student with a learning disability such as dyslexia can be granted quicker, easier access to visual learning software apps. Previously, schools had to purchase a separate software license for each student and assign it to each individual device. Now, teachers are able to not only customize devices up front, but also at a moment’s notice. Educators can decide when it is the right time to install and update apps, rather than relying on some old school IT schedule – creating a more meaningful experience for both the teacher and student.

3. Providing Secure Testing Scenarios

Juggling the desire to provide each student with customized content with the need for equity in the classroom can be a tricky balancing act. Educators often have doubts about changing their instructional practice from paper to digital because they want to preserve a secure, fair environment. Mobile device management tools enable teachers to create a comfortable and consistent environment that ensures fair testing. By locking student devices into a secure testing app, mobile device management tools ensure consistency in learning environments by providing simplified support for both daily quizzes and high-stakes, large scale exams.

Educators in today’s digital classroom need tools that allow them to do all the same things they did before the advent of the digital classroom, in a way that doesn’t require them to spend extra time learning how to use the technology. The job of technology in education is to create the conditions for success, for both the teacher and student. When mobile device management companies can offer solutions that save teachers time, reduce stress and provide students with unique, but fair learning experiences, everybody wins.

Dave Saltmarsh is a former classroom teacher and IT & library director, and current educational evangelist for JAMF Software, a leading Apple device management company based in Minneapolis.

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