Innovative Software Connects Computer Labs at the University of Alabama
The Culverhouse College of Commerce and Business Administration (C&BA) at the University of Alabama takes the job of using technology to support its faculty and students to heart. With 250 Pentium PCs available, the Bashinsky Computer Center based in the Angelo Bruno Business Library boasts the largest computer lab on the campus.
Additional computing resources for the college include a main lab containing seventy Pentium PCs, a graduate lab with a dozen computers, two computer classrooms each of which contains forty PCs, and a new collaborative classroom with an additional twenty PCs. This vast 250-plus NetWare, Linux and NT network supports C&BA's faculty and more than 5,000 students.
The Purpose of the Software
To better manage the college's large computer network, C&BA recently selected three new software products from Altiris, Inc. One is RapiDeploy, a software-only imaging solution that lets network managers set up and deploy vast numbers of PCs in one go.
'We ask the faculty what applications and features they need to have installed in their classrooms and labs," says John Baker, member of C&BA's Technology Group. 'Once a semester we create an image of this installation, using all the requirements the faculty has given us, and then we use RapiDeploy to push the image out to all of the personal computers."
Then, network managers use LabExpert for re-configuring, re-partitioning and updating each computer center to prepare them for the beginning of every semester. Both of the products have Altiris' multicasting technology, which makes the changes and updates simultaneously to any number of computers.
To enhance teaching and to help facilitate classroom computer use, C&BA employs Altiris Vision 2.1. This software package lets instructors broadcast their own computer screen to one or more student PCs. At first, Altiris Vision was a flashy tool that faculty or network managers could use to view what was happening on the various PCs in the labs and classrooms. Yet soon after, the software quickly caught on as a practical teaching tool. Instructors who employ Altiris Vision may display their presentations in a full screen or in a window onto student PCs. The window scrolls to let students view the instructor's whole presentation without interfering with their own classroom work. The broadcast functions in reverse as well, allowing teachers to scan student computers collectively or individually to monitor their progress.
'It's the kind of situation where the instructors can take the students into a program like Excel and teach them how to actually do something. We allow the professors to take control of the students' computers and show them just what to do", says Baker.
When necessary, the instructors can lock student keyboards and mice or can blank out their screens. They can also choose to broadcast a student PC screen to the rest of the group. A marker tool lets instructors add highlights, circles, or spotlights as they discuss points of particular interest that appear on the screen.
Moreover, Altiris Vision 2.1 can help during classroom testing. As students work, the professor can remotely scroll through their screens to see how they are proceeding and to determine which problems are taking up the bulk of their time.
Teaching and Learning is More Convenient
On the agenda, C&BA will next implement Altiris Vision in the new Collaborative Classroom Facility. In this classroom, as many as four students can work together at semi-circle shaped tables with two computers to each table. Group projects such as a mock audit in Accounting may benefit using Altiris Vision because information can be shown to a select few or to all classmates.
'Basically, we're using Altiris Vision to let the faculty and students interact and collaborate without having to walk to each individual desk," says Phillip White, another key player of the Technology Group. Meanwhile, C&BA is also using Altiris Vision to provide remote assistance to professors using computer podiums.
'One of the uses we have for Altiris Vision is to quickly provide professors with the support they need," says White. 'With Altiris Vision, we can see what's happening and help them fix it quickly, without having to dispatch someone all the way out to the classroom."
This article originally appeared in the 09/01/1999 issue of THE Journal.