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[school-discuss] New wrinkle on using FOSS and thin client architecture to transition to 1:1 student to PC ratio
Folks, a while back I built a rolling laptop cart for old laptops we had
at the school that were pretty useless trying to run Windows, but work
wonderfully as thin clients. With 12 laptop stations adding to the
existing 5-9 thin clients in each classroom, we can provide a class with
an instant 1:1 ratio for activities like creative writing, research,
etc. Unlike most laptop carts, this one has removable shelves to put
the laptops on so kids need only pull up a chair and start working.
Since the laptops are thin clients, they stay on all the time, so
transition from one group to another merely requires logging off one
account and logging on another. It used to take 10-15 minutes to roll
the cart into a room, distribute the laptops to students, boot them, and
get connected to the wireless network, now when a class signs up for
access to the cart for an hour, the students are on the cart working for
at least 58 minutes of that hour. The laptops are all hard wired to a
K12LTSP server on the cart with UPS battery backup, and there is a
printer on the cart.
The cart has been a huge success. It's now placed in a wide section of
a hallway with ample room for it, and classes on that floor share the
cart; the principal reports that kids are on the cart every time she's
looked at it.
Based on that success, we're building two more carts for similar floors,
and what has dawned on us is that this is a fantastic way to transition
cost effectively to a 1:1 ratio in the school. With 5-9 clients and a
12 station laptop cart outside in the hallway nearby, shared by only a
handful of classes (as opposed to the entire school), the teachers get a
1:1 ratio available to them every day.
I'm posting this info not only because I want to share our experiences,
but because it's a new (or return to an old) paradigm: the distributed
computer clusters model. By distributing clusters of servers and thin
clients, we move quickly to a daily 1:1 ratio for the entire school.
Has anyone seen anything like this at other schools? We hear every day
about the two extremes (computer lab and handful of PCs in each class
vs. 1:1 ratio in entire grades or entire school). Our model is in
between these two cases, and is much more cost and space effective than
trying to put a 1:1 ratio in each class overnight, and faster than
merely gradually increasing the number of PCs in each class. Until we
move to all LCD monitors and diskless mini ITX thin clients, we simply
could not put all those PCs in a classroom, nor would we have sufficient
electrical power for that many CRTs and conventional PCs.
On another related note, we have found that the difference between
having 1-2 working PCs per class and at least 5 PCs per class is huge:
having 1-2 working PCs per class is almost like having none, the
teachers didn't regularly incorporate the technology into their
instruction. But with at least 5, the teachers are now all creating
'centers' based on the PCs, where at least a third of their students get
to work on the PCs for up to two hours every day without having to go
to the computer lab. It's been a seachange in how our teachers are
using technology, and some teachers are already reporting performance
and motivational benefits of K12LTSP and more PCs. The youngest grade
teachers are raving about GCompris and Child's Play.
I got interested in this whole 1:1 ratio thing over the weekend, and
found the following links for those also interested, first is a
Massachusetts school that put laptops in front of every higher grade
What did we learn from exploring ?
• Technology Used More Frequently in 1:1 settings
• Higher motivation and engagement in 1:1 settings
• Computers became students’ primary writing tool in 1:1 settings
• Differences in classroom structure
• Differences in home computer use for 1:1 students
We've seen all of these effects at Brandon except that we haven't
explored how home PC use may be changing, and have also seen improved
student performance directly linked to more PCs.
Also, here's a consortium on 1:1 evaluations:
Good templates for surveys, evaluations, etc. on impact of technology on