If you want to see smart technology solutions making an impact, you need look no further than the education industry. From K-12 schools to institutions of higher learning, technology can fundamentally transform the way education is delivered and dramatically improve student outcomes.
Envision is fortunate to work with a number of schools, universities, and institutions that are leading the way in transformative technology deployments.
Writing the Book on Education Technology
The phrase, “They wrote the book on (insert topic here)” may seem like a cliché, but in the case of Village Green Virtual Public Charter School, they really did write the book! Inventing School was written by Dr. John Butler, who serves as the school’s Director of Academic Planning and Logistics. The book details the creation of Rhode Island’s first competency-based, personalized blended learning school. An important part of that story is the technology decisions that were made during the design of the school and how that technology was deployed to serve the student and teacher population.
Village Green’s “blended learning” model of on-line curriculum and in-classroom teaching has students spending about 40% of their time working with teachers and the other 60% in on-line and advisory activities. To power an entire student population on-line for this much of the school day, with a large portion of the day spent accessing video lessons and other rich content, the school’s IT infrastructure needed to be robust. However, like most schools, Village Green was also working with a limited budget. This meant that as robust as the technology needed to be, it also had to have a low cost of ownership and a low operational expense. In summary, the school needed the holy grail of IT solutions – powerful, cost effective, and easy to manage in the long-term.
Working alongside the experts from Envision, Village Green was able to deploy a fully virtualized solution that gave the students the flexibility and mobility they needed to maximize their learning experience. After some testing and modifications, the quality of that experience was exactly where it needed to be to allow the entire school to access rich, online content all at once without any noticeable degradation in performance or quality.
The school, and the technology behind it, was an incredible success from the very start. That success caught the attention of Richard Culatta, the U.S. Department of Education’s Director for the Office of Technology. Visiting the school during its first year of operation, he commented that Village Green was a model for the future, stating:
“This is how education should be delivered.”
Some outcomes from that Village Green saw after their first years in operation include:
- The school’s Principal, Dr. Robert Pilkington, reported that there was not one single teachable day lost as the result of weather, travel, or technology issues. For a school as reliant on tech as Village Green, this was an incredibly impressive metric to realize.
- For the first year of operation, the school spent only $22k maintaining their environment, and they were able to do so without needing to have even one IT person on staff.
- After the first year, the school saw a rise in student population of 40 percent. To scale to accommodate this growth, all that was needed was two additional blades, a new pool of virtual desktops, and some zero client devices added to desks. This entire deployment took only a weekend, allowing the school to grow without the need to invest heavily in IT infrastructure to support that growth. This was possible because Village Green and Envision planned for growth from the very start of the design of this deployment.
- Students at Village Green, many of whom were struggling at traditional schools, actually began outperforming their counterparts at those other schools. Some of these students are even on track to graduate early, all thanks to the innovative new model that Village Green has deployed and the technology solutions that power it.
For a more in-depth look at the technology behind Village Green and Envision’s role in the design and development of the school, see the Customer Spotlight on this project.
A Smarter Way to Leverage Lab Resources
The availability of computer lab space is something that many schools struggle with. From K-12 to colleges and universities, the challenge is the same – there is only so much physical space in the school for labs, and only so many devices to accommodate the student population.
While the seemingly obvious answer to this challenge would be to build more lab space, this is an expensive approach. Not only must you consider designing computer labs that leverage the latest technologies that students are expecting, but you also need to factor in the cost of maintaining these labs over time. Both Northeastern University’s College of Engineering and Warwick Rhode Island’s Public Schools knew that they had to come up with a smarter way to address their lab space issues. In both cases, the solution to this challenge was high-performance VDI.
On paper, virtual desktops expand lab availability without having to build additional physical labs. However, VDI can be a challenging solution to deploy effectively. This is especially true for large-scale organizations, where performance and availability are paramount. Both Northeastern and Warwick Schools wanted to use VDI for students accessing very intensive applications, such as CAD software. CAD programs are notoriously difficult to deliver virtually, so both organizations knew they needed to work with VDI experts if they hoped to achieve their promise of an advanced technological environment for their students.
In the case of Warwick Public Schools, the final solution allowed for outstanding speed, ultimately doubling frame performance. This new deployment gave students the ability to finally access the CAD software from home, working remotely with the programs without any lag or performance compromises.
Northeastern and Warwick Schools each approached a common problem (lack of lab space and resources) and used a smartly deployed technology (virtual desktops) to fully meet the needs of their student populations. While these projects began with specific groups of students, both organizations are now looking at wider pools of students to see how expanded deployments could elevate the level of access for a larger group.
Serving Remote Students Across All 50 States
Advances in technology have created new opportunities for students and organizations alike. With remote access to rich, online content, the need for a physical school location has become less and less of a requirement. This case is clearly illustrated by National Elevator Industry Educational Program (NEIEP).
Founded in in 1967, NEIEP offers craft training for all employees covered by the agreement between Signatory Contractors and the IUEC (International Union of Elevator Constructors). To be eligible to work on elevators, a technician must be trained by an organization like NEIEP, which currently offers training to students in all 50 U.S. states.
In the past, NEIEP students used books and manuals as part of their education, but printed materials have clear limitations when it comes to delivering certain types of content. Thankfully, with the rise of 3D programs, students are now able to interface with digitally recreated content. This is truly a transformative change, moving from two-dimensional diagrams on paper to 3-dimensional, interactive environments that are digitally delivered. Upon witnessing the advantageous impact of these new technologies, NEIEP began the development of a rich e-learning program for their curriculum, setting out to deploy devices across their entire student population. This new e-learning program was an ambitious goal for the organization, made even more challenging by the fact that they had a team of only two internal IT resources to work with.
Looking at the challenge before them, NEIEP quickly realized that the best use of their time was in the development of the learning tools, not in the management or deployment of the devices. After contacting Dell, Envision was brought in to consult. Through Envision’s Concierge Configuration Services offering, a crucial conversation surrounding image requirements, deployment timelines, and post-deployment support took place.
In the end, Envision’s CCS team imaged and delivered nearly 3,500 systems in just six weeks. These devices shipped to students in all 50 states with 100% accuracy in all aspects of logistics and reporting. In Q1 2017, NEIEP and Envision partnered again to deliver the second batch of student devices. They were able to roll out another 1,052 systems in just over four weeks, once again with 100% accuracy.
While imaging and shipping devices is certainly a challenge, post-deployment support can be even more difficult than the initial roll out. Envision’s Ground Control Managed Services team was able to take all post-deployment calls for students. These calls, which included helping students with day-to-day issues they were experiencing on their devices, would have been incredibly time-consuming for NEIEP’s internal team to field. Thus, having a plan in place for post-deployment technical support ensured that students had access to the help they needed with their new devices while taking the technical support burden off NEIEP.
When NEIEP realized there was a new piece of software needed on all the systems Envision had already deployed, the Ground Control team was there to solve the issue and continue to provide unwavering support. To ensure that all the systems were updated accordingly, NEIEP used Envison’s Managed Services tools to connect with the devices as they reported into a central portal for access to the learning tools. The software on the devices could determine which users currently possessed the software. For those that were missing it, a process was developed to deploy the new tools remotely with minimal interruption to students. Envision also leveraged a data analytics platform to correlate data about the systems that were shipped, and which serial numbers had “checked in” to get the update. By using these tools, the vast majority of devices were updated with zero disruptions to the students using them. The few outlier devices that did not receive the update were immediately identified so that their users could be contacted for additional support. In the end, all the devices were updated as needed without any of them having to be shipped back to NEIEP’s IT department to handle the changes.
Today, a few years out from the initial deployments of NEIEP student devices, the organization has fully embraced the advantages of their e-learning tools and the use of student devices. What could easily have been a nightmare of a process in trying to deploy and manage thousands of devices across a vast geography became a master lesson in how to image, deploy, and support a device roll out program for a large and diverse student population.
Education and innovation go hand in hand. Advances in content delivery, improved access for all students, and designing new education models are just a few examples of the work that Envision has done with schools and other education partners. We’d love to learn more about your school’s IT initiatives and the innovations that you’d like to deploy for your student and teacher populations. Contact us today and let’s talk about what we can learn from each other.