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Affordable Technology Found for Students at Patrick Henry

The computer cost savings are called astronomical.

[From School Board Member Tamar Galatzan]

Thirteen years ago, Dana Dahl, Patrick Henry Middle School’s computer teacher and technology coordinator, created a five-year plan to replace the school’s technology equipment. The challenge: to build a strong, sustainable technology program with a small and ever-decreasing budget.

Hers is the same challenge being played out across the district at hundreds of schools.

With the help of the school’s technology committee and former administrator Michael Bennett, Dahl sat down and looked at the facts. She quickly realized it would be too costly to replace the teachers’ Mac Minis that were fast becoming outdated, or to continuously replace the batteries of all of the laptops every two years. At times it cost the school $5,000 to replace the laptop batteries in one computer cart—something they could ill afford. She also began to think laptops might not be the best investment for the school, because keys could fall off, and the laptops could get damaged because they were constantly moved from classroom to classroom in a single day.

Dahl started researching cost-effective alternatives. It was then that she stumbled upon tiny devices that have literally transformed the way technology is delivered at Patrick Henry Middle School – Ncomputing thin clients.

Essentially, so-called “thin clients” are square devices about the size of a CD case that are attached to the back of each computer monitor. These thin clients enable a single computer tower to run multiple monitors.  During the first year, Dahl connected 40 monitors to six computer towers.  It worked! By the second year, Dahl had found a way to hook up 10 monitors to each computer tower. This technology allows 10 students to log on to their computers, open up their web browsers, type their reports, and use software to work on different projects, even though their monitors are all hooked up to the same computer tower. 

The savings were astronomical.

As the district scrambles to get technology into every school in an effort to administer the Common Core Testing on-line by 2014, district staff are searching for fast and affordable ways to get computers into the hands of every student. Is NComputing one solution?

This fall, the district helped set up NComputing at Angeles Meza Elementary School in Hyde Park.

The district’s Information Technology Division is working closely with the school to evaluate the technology.  The division is also currently training computer technicians to support schools that already use thin clients to deliver their technology, according to Jairo Tzunun, the district’s Information Technology Business Efficiency Analyst.

At Patrick Henry, meanwhile, teachers and administrators continue to pioneer the use of the thin clients on their own.

Currently, there are between 100-150 thin clients school wide. By the end of the year that number will

increase by 50-80 more. All of these thin clients—and the monitors they are attached to—are linked to 17 computer towers.

Last year, Ryan Morten, a teaching assistant and aspiring technology coordinator, set up teachers’ computers to these thin clients.  By the end of this school year, Dahl and Morten expect to have one computer tower running all of the teachers’ computers in the entire school.  Dahl and Morten also plan to create video libraries for Patrick Henry’s teachers, so that teachers can view and share instructional videos, programs, and resources with each other.

Both emphasize the importance of having an on-site technology support person at the school to provide maintenance and support.

But no one can deny the thin clients save considerable time and maintenance costs.  With this technology, a support person can service a single computer tower instead of spending countless hours going into multiple classrooms to provide maintenance support. Additionally, Dahl said she can save the school thousands of dollars by investing in the thin clients for a full computer lab, rather than buying a classroom set of laptops, iPads, or Mac Minis.

“Our program is constantly evolving and we are struggling to keep afloat given the current funding situation,” said Dahl. “We have maximized our technology with these thin clients, but we still have expenses.”

Dahl and Morten are proud of what they have done to increase access to technology among students.  Technology gets kids excited to learn.

“The kids love technology and they love to talk about technology,” said Morten. “It’s very rewarding to see the things the students are doing with the technology I am supporting.”

Already word is spreading among nearby schools. The school welcomes visiting schools that are also looking to improve their technology program in a cost-effective way.

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