Bringing Campus Software to Students Learning Remotely

With the sudden shift to remote learning in the spring due to COVID-19, Students and Educators were left scrambling to find ways to salvage the remainder of the school year. One of the biggest challenges was connecting students with the software tools installed on school computers — including specialized software that is often too expensive to distribute to students or too resource intensive to run on home computers.

Many schools quickly adopted expensive SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions that loaded some specialized software into cloud computing environments that Students and Teachers could access from home. Others cobbled together wonky RDP (Window Remote Desktop Protocol) solutions that required cumbersome VPN (Virtual Private Network) access and lots of upfront configurations. And when all else failed, campus software licenses were expanded where possible to allow Students and Teachers to install limited software on their personal or school-issued laptops at home.

IT departments learned lessons in the spring. While most may have been caught off guard with a sudden reliance on things like Zoom and Google Meet, few were well positioned to provide the same level of services to remote learners as they had been providing on campus for decades. But for some, COVID had become the catalyst needed to (finally) move forward initiatives to modernize Teaching and Learning.

Fast forward to the fall and the bar has been raised. Educators had all summer to put together plans to allow Students and Teachers to return to school safely in the fall. Classroom safety plans include wearing masks and social distancing. We’ve all seen pictures of classrooms with desks removed and may have even seen stories of Italian schools cutting bench seats to separate students. While desks and chairs can be moved easily enough, computer furniture is often fixed and immoveable — both due to the furniture as well as the wiring. To accommodate social distancing, we need to abandon every other computer :(

Most IT departments have been hard at work as well. With increasing expectations and shrinking budgets, IT Leaders needed to be not just innovative, but the type of crazy innovative that would either get them promoted or fired — sort of like SpaceX saying they were going to reuse rockets by landing them on a small platform at sea.

The answer? Guacamole!

Apache Guacamole is a clientless remote desktop gateway that delivers a Windows desktop to your web browser using HTML 5. Installing Guacamole on a server on campus paves the way for making campus computers available to remote users!

Unused computers in classrooms that were abandoned for social distancing have been given new life and added to the Guacamole pool of computers available for remote access. Students attending class remotely now have access to the same computers as those students sitting in the classroom — bridging the gap and providing parity between remote and on-campus learners.

When our doors open in the fall, some students may be on campus and some may be at home — but all students will have access to the same software!

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Jake Holmquist

Jake Holmquist

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