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Reflecting on BETT: Developments in Desktop Virtualisation Unleash New Classroom Teaching Patterns

Last week’s BETT education trade show in London provided a good barometer for virtualisation technologies in UK schools and colleges.  It reinforced the views I have consistently seen from teachers and ICT technicians on PCs in the classroom.  Teachers just want ICT to work, and work first time.  In a 40 minute lesson there is no time to resolve rogue PCs.

But why are PCs more of a problem in schools?  The demands of the applications are certainly part of the challenge. By the time you get to university the application set is pretty close to that needed in business, but in schools, applications become more challenging the younger the student is.  Old applications written before the concept of PC virtualisation, and sometimes even before Windows are still used alongside the very latest multimedia applications.  A suitably powerful PC provides the flexibility to run everything, but PCs struggle with doing both flexible and reliable.  Lock it down for reliability and you lose the flexibility, and vice versa.

The classroom environment is also getting more attention now.  Few schools want the neatly arranged rows of computers you can see in the picture above.  Whole class teaching is limited, with much more emphasis on groups, and the need to set each group a different task.  With some students using computers and others not, taking the class to a dedicated ICT suite doesn’t really work. ICT has to be integrated into the classroom without taking over the room.

Heat and noise matter too.  An efficient PC, powerful enough for classroom applications is probably using a minimum of 40-50 watts and generating virtually the same in heat – which is equivalent to the heat from a small child.  And older, more typical classroom PCs are using 80-100 watts which is equivalent to a teenager or adult.  So a classroom with 20 computers has a minimum of 41 ‘people’ in the room (don’t forget the teacher).  Students and teachers also need to talk over the noise from fans and disks.  So the classroom ends up hot and noisy – not exactly ideal for a learning environment.

This picture (below) shows a typical, current thin client installation.  Small, silent, thin devices with no moving parts enable computers to be placed around the walls leaving the central desks free for non-computer work, or additional laptop thin clients.

However, recent developments in desktop virtualisation haven’t made it any easier for school staff with ICT responsibilities to understand the alternatives to the PC.

There are a minimum of 5 different technology approaches that can be used; so where do you start?  My presentations at BETT were addressing exactly this question.   You can see my presentation here, and my next post will drill into the different approaches in more detail.

Author: David Angwin blogs on cloud computing and desktop virtualisation technology at A View from the Cloud

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