Maine Township High School District 207 educates 6.500 culturally diverse students from neighborhoods near Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport. Recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as being among the nation’s best, the district is committed to using technology to support educational programs and practices. Maine Township deployed Google Apps for Education, allowing students at its four high schools to access hosted productivity tools using lightweight Google Chromebook devices. “Our goal is to create a fast, reliable and secure information technology experience that can transform learning, collaboration and teacher innovation,” says Henry Thiele, assistant superintendent of technology and learning for Maine Township.
The district quickly realized that a cloud-based technology infrastructure was essential to its vision of deploying tools that could be accessed from any browser, device or location—while delivering a consistent user experience. “Students enjoyed that they never had to worry about which computer they used or whether their files were saved in the right place,” says Thiele. “We wanted to extend this ubiquitous access to our 700 faculty members.” The IT staff planned to provide teachers with the same Chromebook devices that students use. In addition to Google Apps, the teachers also needed access to Windows-based productivity applications.
After an extensive proof-of-concept exercise, Maine Township deployed Citrix XenDesktop and Citrix NetScaler to support remote access and deliver Windows applications as services. The district also deployed Citrix Receiver for Chrome client software. The Citrix team collaborated extensively with Google experts to ensure that integration between the two solution sets was seamless and that the school district’s requirements were met. In less than three months, the Citrix team helped the school district deploy and configure the solutions, test them with a group of 100 pilot users, and extend capabilities to meet the requests of faculty and staff. For example, Citrix and Google developed a plug-in that allows teachers to access Google Drive files within Citrix-published virtual applications (such as Windows) from their Chromebook devices. All of the solutions were deployed on time and within the expected budget.
Now teachers boot up their Chromebook devices in less than a minute—a huge improvement over the slow, unresponsive desktops they used before. Remote access to Google Apps and Windows applications is already available to all teachers from their homes and mobile devices. The district will provide intensive training to help faculty members transition to their Chromebook devices, but the feedback is already positive. Says Thiele: “The most common response to the new solutions is, ‘Wow, that was easy!’ That’s what we wanted.” And for a school district, improving the return on investment for technology expenditures comes from helping people make better use of their time. “A cloud environment leveraging Citrix, where devices never go down, data is protected and every staff member has a consistent experience, is one way to achieve this goal,” says Thiele.
“The new Citrix-enabled environment provides teachers with easy access to a consistent interface, solutions that are always up to date and a consistent, supportive user experience.” says Jonathan Urbanski, network manager for Maine Township. Because all faculty members see the same applications and encounter the same interface no matter which device or browser they use, training and support are also simplified and streamlined.
The district foresees a potential reduction in device and system downtime as a result of the more reliable technology infrastructure. Software updates can be applied to all devices simultaneously, without requiring any hands-on intervention or disrupting users. Fewer problems will yield more system uptime and reduce downtime due to machine failure or data loss. “Teachers need to be able to expect classroom technology to work just as easily as a chalkboard does,” says Thiele. “By making the technology environment more reliable, we free up people to create and innovate.”
Using the budget allocated for an update of the faculty’s existing laptops, Maine Township’s IT department was able to purchase new Chromebook devices, as well as all of the Citrix infrastructure tools and software needed to virtualize the Windows application environment. New applications can be deployed easily, in hours instead of days, in a process that is transparent to users. “Instead of spending 85 percent of their time repairing desktop machines, the IT team can now focus on helping users improve their skills and achieve their classroom goals,” says Urbanski. The district also saved money by deploying Citrix XenServer, which is free for Citrix XenDesktop customers, instead of purchasing VMware hypervisor licenses.
In the future, Maine Township plans to continue investing in technology resources that allow students and staff to access applications on any device at any time. Students will soon be able to access the Windows productivity tools, and the district plans to make curricular software available on the network. The Citrix environment will also enable the district to measure the usage of every application across the IT landscape, make more strategic software purchases and reduce the budget for applications. “Citrix technology helps us meet our vision for the future and has been a smart purchase for our school district,” says Thiele.
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