Friday, September 7, 2012

Linux Terminal Server in the Classroom


I have been thinking about the problem of teaching technology when everything is locked down and the students don't get to do anything. In previous years we had used portable apps, bootable USB sticks and LiveCD's. All worked more or less but until USB 3.0 becomes widespread in our labs the stacks and apps are now just too big and slow over USB 2.0 speeds.  I have toyed with the idea of a portable server,  a la mac mini but they are too expensive.

My thinking now is towards building a portable server on a laptop. The hardware is now more powerful and cheap and wifi is fast enough. Having a portable class server to which students could connect over wireless from their laptops is an appealing prospect.

The main needs are:

  • a sql database server/web sserver/prog language, ie LAMP for development
  • linux apps
  • greenstone server
  • library system like Koha

For this project we are using a spare compaq 8510p laptop with 4 gig ram and 500 gig hd and wireless N. It has Ubuntu 12 on one parition and Edubuntu with Linux Terminal Server on another partition.

The idea is to bring a Linksys router with wifi to class. The laptop gets the wired connection and the student laptops would boot via to the network via their wireless nic. Not sure if this will all work but that is what projects are for. There are some questions to be answered:

  • does the laptop server need a static IP or can it dhcp from the linksys router?
  • can the client laptops boot wirelessly from the network?
  • how many clients can be on before performance goes in the tank?

The first go round of this is really a 'proof of concept'. It it works then the idea is to build a real portable server that can handle 20-25 students. Since the server and clients are isolated from the campus network this provides a good sandbox for actually doing and learning things.

We did something similar last term when we used the linksys with the same laptop running a Calibre e-Books server. Students were able to use their devices to browse the network and find the e-book server and download directly to their android or iOS device. We also tested putting it directly on the campus network thru a wired connection. This did work but the student devices could not discover the resource by browsing, they had to run a web browser and go to the IP address of the e-book server and use the html interface. They were still able to download books thru safari or other web browser to an ebook app like iBooks or Stanza.

1 comment:

Leo Walker said...

This is a cool screen idea ! It is very interesting indeed.Thank you for your info.i love to read all info.This article gives the light in which we can observe the reality.
corrupt pst