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Simplify the kids' computer experience
July 5, 2012 12:13 PM   Subscribe

I want to make an elementary school computer lab just work, magically if possible. I am Windows deficient and could use guidance.

This fall, I start working with kids and teachers in an elementary school on technology. I'll be taking kids to the computer lab to work on projects, running class sessions, coaching teachers on using the lab, and so on.

Our computer lab is a pretty standard room full of Windows 7 workstations. There is no full-time administrator, but some helpful guys work on the servers and maintaining the software and so on.

As it stands, to get a room full of 7-year-olds going on a project on the computer is a tortuous process. They have to log in, fire up Chrome, type in a URL ... and there goes 10 minutes of teaching time.

This is my dream: A teacher walks over the administrators' computer, logs in with her name and declares her students are here to work on x. Then all the lab's machines wake up and load up a web page or fire up Word or whatever they're supposed to do. The students just find their own pictures or names on the workstation, click a button saying they're here, and away they go.

I have some hacking skills in Python and Django and the *nix command line and so on. I think I could fire off a query to the data model and receive, in return, JSON or other serialized text to send to each workstation.

The question is: What will get the machines to wake up and do what they're told? There are lots of (proprietary) tools to let the lab admin take over the computers via VPN. But I don't want the administrator to have to drive each computer. I want the admin's computer to message the workstations via some compact script, and the client workstations carry out the script.

I expect to present this idea to the IT guys, and I have to assume they'll say "we can't do that." (They're nice guys, really, but they're busy.) If I can outline the technologies involved and offer to do a lot of the backend, I may be able to persuade them. Or if it's fairly simple, I might be able to take it on on my own.

So: Is this doable?
posted by argybarg to Computers & Internet (4 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Faronics Insight sounds like what you want.
posted by odinsdream at 12:28 PM on July 5, 2012


Something to consider here is the idea of "learned helplessness"; if the kids never need to log-in or open Chrome or type in URLs they'll never learn how to do it. I taught seven year olds this year (second grade) and I was surprised at how quickly they became comfortable doing all that in the computer lab. It definitely takes time at first to teach them the computer lab routines but it's worth thinking about -- you want to make sure they actually learn how to use the computers themselves and aren't perplexed later when they actually need to open a program plus they love doing it.

Also, make sure that whatever interface you use is not too challenging for teachers, especially (not to stereotype) older ones. Some teachers are pretty solid with technology but there are plenty who are way behind their students in terms of what to do with a computer so don't assume that the teachers will be able to work comfortably with your system without a lot of guidance and instruction in things that may seem very, VERY basic to you.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 3:17 PM on July 5, 2012 [1 favorite]


A lot of this really depends on the backend setup. For example this stuff is reasonably easy to do via Group policies, assuming the computers are in active directory and you have admins who have the time to set it up.

Assuming all that isn't an option... What if you had an icon on the desktop that does what you want, and each child just has to double click on that to get it going? So what I would do is have either a .lnk file that is a shortcut to the website you want them to go to (assuming chrome is the default browser) or a batch file that runs "chrome.exe http://lesson1" for example.

You provide the .lnk file or batch file or whatever, the admins deploy it to all the machines (c:\programdata\desktop will put it on the desktop of all users) so its ready and waiting for when the students log in. They double click and away you go.

To get over "learned helplessness" you can find the computer savvy students who can help maintain this on an ongoing basis (create the .lnk files or batch files or vbs files or powershell files or whatever, and they can supply them to the admins who deploy them)?
posted by Admira at 8:26 PM on July 5, 2012


If you do want to use Group Policies you can set chrome as the shell which will autolaunch chrome after user logon, and then set the home page to what you want it to be.
posted by Admira at 8:37 PM on July 5, 2012


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