Friday, November 16, 2007

Teacher Workstation 2.0

Mark Ahlness is happy to be free of his clunky "teacher workstation," whose CRT took up a big chunk of his desk.

I'm not going to argue with Mark's personal case -- I'd be glad to be rid of the old CRT, too -- but I think there is still a place for the "teacher workstation" in, um, "Classroom 2.0."

Basically, if you want to argue that you, as a teacher, should have some freedom to innovate and do crazy things like install software on your computer, you have to also take into account that a big part of the reason you can't do that now is that the IT staff's Job #1 is making sure you can take attendance and do other essential administrative stuff every period. You have to have a reliable terminal to do that. Now, "Teacher Workstation 1.0" tends to be a full featured PC, probably pretty clunky, probably with the bulky CRT. Expensive, and if it isn't replaced at least every five years, it is going to break or just crap out.

"Teacher Workstation 2.0" is a thin client, it has no moving parts, completely silent, low power consumption, an LCD screen with a the paperback book sized thin client hardware velcroed to the back (a trailer park iMac, more or less). It's connected to a server running a ridiculously stripped down, secure, enterprise Linux distro with the least possible software installed to let you do your job. It is entirely boring, fast and reliable. The hardware on your desktop is expected to last 10 years; all upgrades are done to the server. It is really, really cheap, and it doesn't break.

With your boring teacher workstation taking care of all that boring stuff, you're given permission to experiment a little more freely with your laptop. Yay!


Bud Hunt said...

We've got thin clients in our district - and they're great for administrative tasks - but not necessarily for instructional ones. How would you argue for those instructional machines in light of the fact that teachers "already have a computer on their desks?"

It makes sense to have both. Right?

Tom Hoffman said...

Oh, yes. I'm talking about having both. The argument makes a little more sense when we also have low cost laptops that are designed to be modified by users -- ideally XO's. Then you're getting two machines tailored for separate goals for probably about the same as you'd spend for one desktop PC trying to do both.