The San Diego Unified School District faced the daunting, but rewarding, challenge of bringing technology to its classrooms as part of its 21st Century Classroom Initiative (i21). Amidst massive budget cuts, the school district needed to find a way to deliver computers to every student and teacher over five years cost-effectively and without increasing IT personnel resources. The school district implemented the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system as its foundation and scaled out its existing Windows Server 2008 R2 and Active Directory infrastructure to deliver netbooks to its nearly 132,000 students and tablet computers to more than 6,600 teachers. As a result, the school district dramatically improved system performance, increased the number of users it supports without increasing resources, enhanced IT security, and improved the classroom and learning experience.Situation
The San Diego Unified School District is the second largest school district in California and the eighth largest urban school district in the United States, serving nearly 132,000 students in preschool through the twelfth grade. It has more than 6,600 teachers in its 7,000 classrooms across 225 schools, and nearly 16,000 full-time employees.
The school district managed 6,000 computers running a mix of Apple Macintosh and the Windows XP operating systems, along with the Windows Internet Explorer 6 Internet browser and Firefox browser, used primarily by administrative staff. In addition, it had nearly 25,000 unmanaged computers in labs and classrooms across the district. It supports its IT environment with the Windows Server 2003 and Windows Server 2008 R2 operating systems, and it uses Active Directory to manage identities and relationships across its network. The school district also uses Microsoft Exchange Server 2007 messaging and collaboration system to facilitate communication between administrative personnel and staff.
||We’re delivering the hardware, the software, and other technologies, but the bottom line is that Windows 7 Enterprise allows us to deliver the whole package—and to do it well.
Educational Technology Director, San Diego Unified School District
With a strong IT infrastructure in place for its administrative staff, the San Diego Unified School District is embarking on a mission to transform the learning environment in its schools. Funded through a state proposition, the 21st Century Classroom Initiative (i21) is designed to bring modern technology to each of the classrooms across the district. During the five-year initiative, the district will roll out new hardware and software to teachers and students.
A primary goal of the initiative is to bring technology that students are already familiar with to the classroom. “Computer technology is prevalent in students’ personal lives and they want technology integrated into the classroom,” says Darryl LaGace, Chief Information and Technology Officer for the San Diego Unified School District. “With this initiative, we’re catching up with student needs.” By bringing technology to the classroom, the school district will be able to support multiple learning styles, including auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, as well as better support its diverse student population, which represents more than 60 languages and dialects.
The school district also wants to support the professional development of its teachers with the initiative. The professional development model is a sequential one, and it is designed to first help teachers learn the basics of new technology. When teachers have mastered the basics, they then learn how to use technology to enhance curriculum development and learn new pedagogical approaches to meet the needs of varied learning styles.
The San Diego Unified School District has several challenges to overcome in order to meet its mission. In particular, it needs a cost-effective solution. The school district is facing a reduction of nearly U.S.$100 million for the 2010 to 2011 school year, following three years of record reductions. As a result, the district has a limited budget that it must stretch in order to bring new hardware with a modern operating system to every student in the district. “There is no doubt that making a portable computer available to every student is incredibly expensive,” says LaGace. “We simply can’t afford to spend $1,000 for each student to have a laptop.”
In addition to what it spends on hardware and software, the school district must also keep a watchful eye on how much it spends on ongoing IT management once it extends its infrastructure to support the almost 140,000 computers it plans to add over the next five years. “Even though this is a large-scale project, we don’t have the large-scale budget to go along with it,” explains Bill Honaker, Head of Computer Operations and Software Systems for the San Diego Unified School District. “We need to be able to deploy, manage, and maintain our environment, no matter how much it will grow, with the same number of—if not fewer—resources.”
Finally, the school district needs a reliable operating system. “We need something that just works. If the technology doesn’t work, or is slow to perform, teachers won’t use it. There’s no point in making efforts to bring technology to the classroom if it’s unreliable or slow,” says LaGace. Specifically, the school district wanted to improve startup and logon times for computers. “On a good day, computers can take six minutes or more to start up—that’s unacceptable. With that kind of unreliability, teachers and students alike abandon the technology because they don’t have the time or the patience to wait or to call technical support for assistance in the middle of class,” continues LaGace.Solution
In order to meet its goals to bring twenty-first century technology to the classroom in a cost-effective, manageable way, the San Diego Unified School District decided to extend the infrastructure it currently uses to support administrative staff to support students and teachers. The school district subscribes to a Microsoft Services Premier Support agreement, so relied heavily on Microsoft Services to help with the design of the infrastructure.
||We have already increased the number of computers and users we support by 20 percent; this will reach an increase of 300 percent…. We can tackle this with our existing resources.
Chief Information and Technology Officer, San Diego Unified School District
First, the school district decided to implement the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system and the Windows Internet Explorer 8 Internet browser. Instead of a costly laptop option, the school district decided to deploy Lenovo IdeaPad S10 netbook computers to the student population—a lower specification and cost configuration that can easily run the modern operating system. It is also deploying Lenovo ThinkPad X200 tablet computers to teachers. The school district quickly completed its year-one rollout, deploying 33,000 netbooks and 1,800 tablet PCs in only four months. In addition to all of its computers running Windows 7, the school standardized its Internet browser by deploying the Windows Internet Explorer 8 Internet browser to all of its computers still running Windows XP.
For its initial Windows 7 Enterprise deployment, the San Diego Unified School District is using new hardware. The district has tested Windows 7 Enterprise on its existing hardware with positive performance results, and recognizes the opportunity to extend the life of its older computers. In the future, the school district will determine if it will deploy the operating system to older hardware that is scheduled for refresh or simply upgrade that hardware.
The school district developed a standard operating system image that includes Internet Explorer 8 as well as Microsoft Office Standard 2007 for students, and Microsoft Office Professional 2007 for teachers and administrators. The district delivered the image and a set of instructions to Microsoft Certified Partner Arey Jones, who imaged the computers and helped deploy them to the classrooms. In an effort to manage the computers remotely from a central location, including deploying software updates, the San Diego Unified School District is also implementing Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager 2007.
In addition to deploying netbooks and tablet computers to students and teachers, the district also wants to ensure that users have access to technology no matter which device they are using or where in the school they are located. Whereas previously students had local-access only to computers, now the school district extended its Active Directory infrastructure to students, which provides each student with a logon user name and password so that they can access the network from any computer. The school district is also extending at-home access, on a limited basis, to students and will continue to extend that privilege in the future.
To further increase students’ ability to access technology, the school district is using Remote Desktop Services in Windows Server 2008 to publish applications to student computers. “Deploying Active Directory to students and teachers, in addition to Remote Desktop Services, was key to this project because it offers students the flexibility to take technology with them. Whether they’re in the library or in the classroom, they can now access the same software and their own files,” explains Honaker.
Though i21 focuses on three grade levels each year, the San Diego Unified School District did not want to wait to extend technology to grade levels scheduled to receive computers later in the rollout. Therefore, the district also installed 11,000 thin clients in classrooms for kindergarten through second grade and fourth grade through fifth grade. The thin clients tap into the Terminal Services environment and deliver the same applications to classrooms that still have shared computing resources.
The district is already deep in the planning stages for its year-two rollout, for which it will double its efforts and roll out another 34,800 computers. Over the next three years, the school district plans to deploy Windows 7 Enterprise across the entire school district, representing a total of nearly 140,000 computers.Benefits
Having completed the first year of its rollout, the San Diego Unified School District is excited about its accomplishments and the benefits it is already seeing as a result of its Windows 7 Enterprise deployment and infrastructure enhancements. The school district has improved system performance and is significantly scaling up its infrastructure without adding additional personnel resources. It is also impressed with the security enhancements at the operating system level, which are helping to protect the new IT infrastructure while still improving the user experience. Even better, the district expects to see even more dramatic improvements as it progresses in its deployment.
Improved System Performance and Reliability
Since deploying Windows 7 Enterprise, the school district is enjoying significantly improved logon times. “The time it takes to start up and log on to the computers has dropped from more than six minutes to an average of 21 seconds—that’s just amazing,” says Honaker. “Even though we’re impressed with that dramatic improvement, we are still making incremental changes as we continue with the project that will further improve those logon times.”
||Security is inherent in Windows 7 Enterprise with things like a virtualized registry, and is dramatically changed from our previous environment.
Head of Computer Operations and Software Systems, San Diego Unified School District
Not only does the speedy system performance mean that students and teachers are not sitting idly during class time, but the school district also believes that improved performance directly ties to improved learning outcomes for students. “We are supporting learning outcomes by providing technology in the classroom,” explains LaGace. “When you insert technology into the classroom, it’s got to be simple, reliable, and fast. If it’s not, students and teachers are not going to waste precious instruction time waiting for computers to simply work—they’ll abandon it quickly and with it, the probability of an enhanced educational experience.”Simplified, Cost-Effective IT Management
Being able to maintain an IT environment amidst massive budget cuts was critical to the San Diego Unified School District. With Microsoft products and technologies, the school district scaled its existing infrastructure in order to deploy 34,800 computers in the first year of the five-year project that will eventually result in a total of 140,000 computers deployed—all without adding additional personnel resources. “We have already increased the number of computers and users we support by 20 percent; this will reach an increase of 300 percent by the end of the project,” explains LaGace. “However, because all of the Microsoft technology works so well together—from the Windows Server 2008 infrastructure and Active Directory to the Windows 7 Enterprise operating system—we can tackle this with our existing resources. The level of support required has not increased with the rate at which we’ve added additional computers and users to the network.”
By using Windows 7 Enterprise, the school district is enhancing security at the operating system level. Previously, computers were configured to have users log on with full administrator access to run standard applications, which opened up the opportunity for standard users to make changes to registry or program files—even inadvertently—that could result in network security issues. With Windows 7 Enterprise, all of the school district’s software applications run under the default user mode in Windows 7 Enterprise and the school district does not have to extend administrator rights to students and teachers. “Security is inherent in Windows 7 Enterprise with things like a virtualized registry, and is dramatically changed from our previous environment,” explains Honaker. “That’s a huge change that means a more secure and stable environment.”
Improved User Experience
With computers running Windows 7 Enterprise for every student, the San Diego Unified School District is enriching the learning experience for students. “Students want technology in the classroom, and while they may not be demanding a specific operating system, it is Windows 7 Enterprise that helps us bring modern technology, at a price we can afford, to the classroom,” says LaGace.
In addition to improving the students’ learning environment and classroom experience, the school district is also improving teacher development. “We are identifying new ways to use technology to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of students, whether it’s special education or gifted students,” explains Barbara Allen, Educational Technology Director for the San Diego Unified School District. “We’re delivering the hardware, the software, and other technologies, but the bottom line is that Windows 7 Enterprise allows us to deliver the whole package—and to do it well.”
Works the way you want: Windows 7 will help your organization use information technology to gain a competitive advantage in today’s new world of work. Your people will be able to be more productive anywhere. You will be able to support your mobile workforce with better access to shared data and collaboration tools. And your IT staff will have better tools and technologies for enhanced corporate IT security and data protection, and more efficient deployment and management.
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