US school rolls out one-device-per-pupil as a move to cloud reduces strain on IT management
In simple metrics, Crawford Central School District looks like this: 10 buildings, 3,700 students, 500 staff. But for Rebecca Gentile, who is the Director of Technology, there was just one figure that counted when surveying the educational experience of kids — extending digital learning:
“Our student-to-device ratio was one-to-ten. With kids able to access information through their devices in their home lives, we knew we had to extend this access to the school environment. Learning isn’t restricted to the classroom, and it’s not something that only takes place between 7.30am and 2.30pm.”
The broader IT strategy, she continues, was for technology to facilitate education, with teaching becoming more dynamic and students driving the learning experience: “We wanted to break down the four walls, and put students in charge.”
For that to happen, the district needed a network infrastructure capable of supporting education-based technology. And, it needed to be high-performing, yet flexible. It also needed to be easy to manage and scale.
“Being able to virtualize applications was key,” explains Gentile. “Teachers and students need things to be easy. We wanted to be able to deliver applications to the device in a way that was simple, and easy to access.”
Enabling a move to the cloud
As part of a separate, wider initiative to reduce IT management and maintenance, the district wanted to move as much of its infrastructure as possible to the cloud. “Every device, every server, and every piece of infrastructure on-site needs managing,” says Gentile. “By migrating to the cloud, we can drastically reduce that management effort.”
What's more, the District had virtualized servers on-site with VMware, but decided to make a move. Gentile discussed the decision, here:
“We were a VMware customer. The biggest gap for us was that they did not have a Cloud solution. The fact that Citrix was launching its cloud solution, and it ran on Microsoft Azure made the difference for us. Plus, there was a significant cost saving.”
The cloud solution Crawford County Schools deployed was the Citrix Workspace solution, comprised of Citrix ADC VPX (formerly NetScaler ADC VPX), Citrix Content Collaboration (formerly ShareFile), and Citrix Virtual Apps and Desktops (formerly XenApp and XenDesktop). Gentile goes on to say that, “It’s a complete platform, it provides everything we need today — and covers what we may need in the future. It means we’re not having to invest in hardware continuously for a non-permanent solution. This is us being as financially intelligent as possible.”
Ubiquitous technology, high-performing applications
The new infrastructre supports a range of important applications for the district, including computer-aided design and drafting (CAD), Microsoft Office, Peachtree, Adobe Photoshop, and Visual Studio.
“We’ve had some of the CAD teachers tell us the applications are running better today than they ever did locally,” says Gentile. “We’re providing hardware and an application experience that we previously could never deliver.”
The result is clear; the Citrix solution means the district can maximize the value of device investment. “We have staff working from Dell convertibles with an I5 processor and 8GB of memory, but they’re running advanced applications like Adobe Premiere as if they have high-powered devices on their desks.”
The district now provides one device per student from grades 7 to 12, and with a one-to-two ratio for younger students, on a mix of Windows and Apple devices . They believe that cultivating familiarity with multiple platforms is a valuable experience for their students.
“We want to remain open. I know a lot of districts are going all Chromebook, but we don’t want to lock ourselves in with one vendor,” says Gentile. “We believe our students are better served by being able to navigate multiple platforms.”
Empowering students and teachers
The infrastructure is now more secure, more consistent, and easier to manage. “Despite adding all these extra devices, and all these high-performance applications, we’ve only added one support technician,” says Gentile. She adds, “Content Collaboration has been a huge bonus. It makes it easier to find files. Encrypted mail has made a big difference in terms of data security and regulatory compliance.”
In addition, the move to the cloud has allowed the district to close down unused servers during the 12-week summer break, resulting in cost saving.
But the ultimate win has been the student and teacher experience. “The effect has been amazing. Citrix Workspace means students have a single portal where they can access all their virtual applications.”
“We have a class of 25 [students] logged on and learning in the time it takes for teachers to call attendance. They’re spending less time managing devices and more time engaged with students.”