As IT leaders, we need to stop and take a look at the technology horizon, both to see what is coming and to see where we are going. The way I see current trends, we need to expand our support for mobile computing, and mobile learning. Today, 2/3 of our students have smartphones. This will continue, fewer of our incoming freshmen will rely on something so archaic as a laptop in the same way that the students of today prefer a laptop instead of a clunky desktop. The question becomes "how can we support this increasing trend of mobile devices?"
We need to adopt new methods to support these students. Our wireless network upgrade is just one component of supporting mobile devices. Students want to have the network available to them wherever they go, whenever they need it. This always-on mobile computing mindset will extend to all facets of education. Our lab computing will be no exception. In the next 5 years, if not less, we need to embrace mobile devices in our computing labs.
An obvious and flexible way to bring lab computing to mobile users is by providing a "virtual lab". This means providing a "window" into a lab computer - so students can access our lab resources via a mobile device: iPad, smartphone, or other mobile/tablet device.
Here's a great example of a virtual lab: Windows 7 running via a Raspberry Pi. From the Raspberry Pi blog: "This video shows Citrix's XenDesktop remote desktop running a Windows 7 virtual desktop session. Run a bunch of instances of Windows on your server, push the displays out to many Raspberry Pis, and you've got a cheap way of getting Windows onto desks at work, without having to fork out for a full-cost PC. We're beginning to understand that there are ways to lower the cost of ownership using a Raspberry Pi even for businesses which aren't prepared to switch over entirely to open-source software - neat, isn't it?"
If you have been following my blog, you know that I am excited about the Raspberry Pi device - I think it will bring teachable computing technology to all students, which is only a good thing. The Raspberry Pi is built around an inexpensive computer board, using similar components to what you would find in your mobile phone. So if Raspberry Pi is capable of running a virtual lab terminal, it's a good proof of concept for running virtual labs in our future.