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How to prepare campus labs for a 'virtual' fall

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The current health crisis makes it a real challenge for IT to prepare for future semesters. With uncertainty around when students will return on-campus, how can you prepare managed devices and IT resources ready for the potential of a 'virtual' fall?

Higher Ed IT across the globe has reacted brilliantly in the fall-out of COVID-19. In an enviornment where campus-based computing was the norm - and BYOD access to managed resources was often a luxurious optional extra - universities and colleges have done their best to implement emergency solutions to help facilitate online learning, almost overnight.

Preparing for a virtual fall: watch the webinar recording >

A mixture of technical approaches has helped IT to provide key resources to students and staff off-campus, on their own device (whatever that might be!). Higher Ed IT has adapted to the current situation, and has focused on the students themselves and their experience; exactly what any awesome IT department should do!

Invariably, many of these interim solutions are exatly that: short-term fixes and approaches that provide continuity of education during this emergency. What is now becoming increasingly important is that Higher Ed needs to look at finding more long-term or strategic ways of enabling 'online learning' goals and off-campus access, because nobody really knows what the near future looks like...

Prepare labs for a 'virtual' fall

The challenges that all of this presents to IT include:

  • Technical approaches to accomodate off-campus access in the long-term
  • Uncertainty around where students will be in the fall semester and beyond
  • Increased student expecations from online learning as time goes on

On top of that, a recent poll by UniversityBusiness suggested that more than half of all students aren't totally happy with online learning as a replacement for their traditional campus-based learning models. It's important for university leadership and IT decision makers to come together to find ways to remedy this, especially where students are paying the same tuition fees for online learning as if they were physically on-campus.


What does the fall semester look like?

But with uncertainty around when students will be able to return to campus, for how long, and how many of them (e.g. social distancing measures?), it's difficult for IT to cater for the many different possibilities that might happen come the fall semester.

Whether it's an entirely 'virtual' fall, students fully back on-campus, or a hybrid approach; how does IT prepare for each and every one of these options, in a way that focuses on student outcomes and providing the best possible service and value for money to the students.



Solutions such as VDI and RDP have been able to succesfully bridge that short-term gap between on-campus learning and online learning. But come the long-term, and fall semester, students will begin to expect their universities to have planned and put in place more technology and approaches to accomodate online learning:

What was sufficient to get through the crisis of the spring is unlikely to be seen as adequate in the fall, given that colleges will have had more time to prepare. The expectations will be higher, and colleges that don't deliver will risk angering students and parents and, importantly, potentially failing their most-vulnerable students.

From Inside Higher Ed

It's important for IT to spend the coming months wisely, and plan for as many of the future possibilities as is possible. Virtualization technologies can help to do this, by taking some of those managed IT resources away from the physical endpoints, and making them both centrally controllable by IT and accessible by students. Virtualization can do this in a way that can be used for campus-based lab devices and BYO devices, so your preparation and time won't be going to waste depending on what happens.

Preparing for the unknown

Readying campuses and labs for the students' return in fall typically requires most university and college IT departments to spend their summers 'imaging' managed and lab devices. This is a process in which IT can get all the new and updated software that students and staff might need. But if students aren't going to return to campus, this isn't the best use of IT's time during the summer months.

Delivering higher-quality online or virtual instruction by the fall will take a huge amount of planning and work -- and it should start soon, if not now.

As I mentioned earlier, virtualization is one such solution that alleviates the need for IT to 'image' campus devices, while still providing those key IT resources - such as software applications - to students and staff on any device. By employing virtualization technologies and approaches like these, you can make resources available 'on-demand', anywhere and anytime. That could include:

  • delivering software to any campus/managed device on-demand (for if the students come back on-campus)
  • delivering those same software titles to BYO devices in the event of a 'virtual' or 'hybrid' fall

The beauty of doing this is that IT's efforts and work put into readying this kind of platform can be used regardless of what happens in the fall. Unlike imaging or RDP technologies, you can properly prepare for the long-term as well, implementing a solution that enables strategic IT objectives (such as BYOD) and improves student outcomes, providing them with the experience they will expect.

Watch the recording of this 30-minute webinar, plus time for Q&A, in which Software2 CEO/Co-Founder Nick Johnson takes a look how to prepare campus labs and deliver academic resources to students on any device, regardless of what happens when it comes to the fall semester.


Nick Johnson, Software2 CEO and Co-Founder

About the speaker

Nick Johnson: As CEO and Co-Founder of Software2, Nick knows everything there is to know about the best ways to deliver software at universities and community colleges. Nick has visited hundreds of Higher Ed insitutions, and has learned that they all face the same challenges when it comes to delivering software. Nick founded Software2 with the simple goal: to give students the best possible learning experience with EdTech!


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'Virtual' fall webinar transcription

All right, we're gonna get started. So hello everyone, good day, and welcome. Thank you so much for joining today. My name is Phil Spitze, and I'm the account management director for North America here at Software2. We do hope that everyone is staying safe and keeping well during these challenging times. Before we get started, I would like to note that this webinar is being recorded, and a sharing link will be distributed after the processing is complete. Feel free to share that around the office with any coworkers who are unable to attend. We will be answering a few questions at the end, so you can submit those using the questions panel, and go to webinar, and then finally, we're going to ask a couple of poll questions, and would appreciate you taking a quick moment to respond when those appear on the screen.

For today's webinar, I am pleased to welcome Nick Johnson, he's one of the Software2 co founders, and current CEO, and he's going to discuss with us the uncertainty of an on campus fall term, and how to plan for multiple learning scenarios. Before we jump into that, just a couple of quick notes about Software2, we were founded over 10 years ago now, and we specialize, and have focused on specializing in improving the student experience in higher education. Since higher ed is one of the most complex environments to work in around software delivery, we've made it our mission to do the best that we can and help our customers exceed their goals with that. So without any further delay, Nick, I'm gonna send it over to you.

Wonderful. Okay, let me just try and take my slide on. There we go, okay, so again, thank you everybody for joining us today wherever you are in the world. I'm in our head office here in the UK. I should add that I am the only person in the office today. I've come in just to make sure I've got a consistent internet connection, which I may not have had at home, so we don't drop out during today's webinar. Obviously it's very difficult times for everyone. We know you're very busy, so again, we appreciate your time.

The intention for us today is to give you a bit of a background on us, what we see as the challenges within the higher ed market, the current times, and then delve a little bit into what we talk about, what we see as a virtual fall, look at some of the strategies that you can adopt to help with that, and then finally, how we believe we can help to get campuses ready for that time.

So I guess, just to start with to set the scene, because of COVID19, we've seen higher institutions all over the world shut their campuses. And our customers are all over the world. So we're seeing the effect of it. And I guess, the rolling time of things moving into different countries. Naturally, everyone wants to keep on learning, and it's the continuity of education which is important. What does this mean for IT, specifically? What we see is that it is necessary to find ways to make campus resources available remotely, that we have to provide all these resources, whether they're software desktops that the students need off campus, and we need to help facilitate the move to off campus access to software, and an ID with an access anywhere, anytime to license, or perhaps even managed IT resources.

The big question unfortunately, is not one we can answer, is what's gonna happen, and how are things gonna continue. And this is just a snapshot of some of the information that we have seen, everyday we see that the media reporting new things, I know I've just seen on the news again, it's suggested in the U.S. that the second wave could be even worse, so we don't know what's gonna happen.

And I guess that the challenge there is, that we don't know if students are gonna return in the fall 2020, whether it would start up next year, and I suspect it could be different, even on a state by state basis. Would that then be a hybrid model? Would there be some students on campus, some at home? Would there be necessary to have social distancing on campus, stacker days of the week, some courses are 100% off campus. I guess there's just so many unknowns, and therefore it's just really difficult to know what to plan for. The other bit that we see in there is around, I guess we talk about the quality of learning, and that could historically be spoken about people having a consistent experience, regardless of what device they're on.

But I guess what we also see in the current climate is also around international students. And wherever you are in the world, recognizing that international students normally pay a higher tuition fee, and therefore, that revenue is very important to the institution. And if they can't travel to return to university, how can we help continue their education, and I guess when we say quality, that they get the same experiences as domestic students. And again, the other part of this, and I think it's interesting is, what we see as within our own personal lives, the changes that might have taken place.

I know again, we've spoken here in the Software2 office, about how we appreciate the time with our family more, probably home cooking a little bit more, and perhaps enjoying walks with our family. And the longer we keep doing things, the more they will become part of our lives. And again, the question that we keep asking is, if students all of a sudden are, it's necessary for them to get access off campus to software, is there an expectation? All those expectations increase. And actually, we'll have become a bit more of the norm. Why do I need to go to university on a Saturday perhaps, to access SolidWorks, or whatever it might be, why can't I access it at home, because they've been getting it in the current time and expectations could change.

So, as I said, that big question about what's gonna happen. So I guess we see these as some of the challenges. And the main challenge is that the traditional way of learning is based around the campus. Everything is focused on campus. And that approach isn't gonna be probably, the way to do things in the current world. So we need to find new tools, and new ways of doing things, new strategies to meet the student expectations, and deliver the same levels of service. Software2 is an organization, in the last two or three years, we've always spoken about BYOD, because it was students bringing their own devices to campus to access university, college owned software. But actually, now we're talking about, it's still the same delivery, it's still the same technology, but we're talking about off campus access instead of BYOD.

So preparing for that virtual fall, which we think is important, so I touched on already, what is a virtual fall, could be 100% virtual, could be 50%, could be different days of the week. The other question we've been considering is, it might not be virtual, but we might only know perhaps, one or two weeks before the start of term. And actually therefore, how do we manage for that? Because we can't spend the entire summer planning for a virtual fall, and then two weeks beforehand, know that the campus is gonna reopen. And the questions we're seeing being asked is, well what do we do about reimaging machines on campus?

Do we even reimage them, do we just leave them the same as last year, and what do we do about all the vendors that maybe send us new versions in the summer, or an academic that's just reprepared their lecture notes for a new version that isn't on the machine. So how do we handle these things? And again, even if we do open, how do we handle social distancing on campus? We think it's important not to lose sight of the student experience and outcomes, and if the fall semester is to be virtual, then let's look at the best ways that we can to support students, as part of our research for this webinar today, we pulled out this one from "University Business", which is very interesting.

It suggests that less than 50% of students are happy with online learning, so how can higher ed find ways to optimize and improve that? We've even seen that some student groups are expecting a reduction in tuition fees for online learning, so therefore, it goes without saying that the better we can make that experience, then the less likely that that's going to be part of things.

As Phil touched upon at the start, we only work in higher ed, and I guess we, and when we're meeting with institutions, we try to give people a pat on the back to say look, with believe that delivering software into a university college environment is the most challenging environment there is. Primarily because it's not a one to one relationship.

We talk about it within a corporate world, generally one device, one person, whereas we take a machine in say, one of your libraries, recognizing that you could have several hundred pieces of software, which you can't typically just stuff everything onto. And then that machine in say, a library, needs to cater for students covering all kinds of subjects. It's already very, very complex. As I say, throw in BYOD, throw in a third of your users could be new every year, or a portion leave every year. It's very difficult to deal with.

Throw into that that we need to prepare for the fact that students could be on campus, they could be off campus, it's very difficult to know how to do things, how do we deliver all that academic software to multiple device types anywhere, anytime, and also at the same point in time, understanding what software vendors are letting us do or not do. And our opinion is that many vendors don't understand higher ed, and how differently you want to use software, compared to a corporate. We are encouraged to see that some vendors have started being more flexible in the current times, specifically IBM with SPSS and Adobe, are being perhaps, kinder than they would be historically, around giving access to students off campus, which is obviously good, and again, coming back to a quality of access and learning resources, someone might not have the right device type. They might not have a beefy laptop that let's them run SolidWorks at home, whereas someone else might have a Chromebook. It's about making sure we can cater for everybody, whatever device type they're on, and wherever they are.

Ultimately, we want to help you prepare for all of these options, putting in place solutions that can accommodate things, whatever happens. So we think it's important to focus on what the students want, and ultimately, the students want to get continued access to campus resources at home, access to licensed software that they need, and they want software just to work. They don't want to work through complicated install processes, be directed to different places for different pieces of software, they want everything just to be in one place, click a launch button and it goes. So we talk about sub delivering software on demand.

Simplicity, ease of access. They just want applications, software, to work. What we see in the traditional tools is normally tools like SCCM, pushing out an image, maybe tongue in cheek, we refer to that as old school, because pushing out one large image, is you need to build the image, you then get that vendor that gives you an update two weeks before the start of term that's not particularly helpful. We know you send that email out to academics in the summer to say can you please tell us what software you use, which they may not respond to. We see the start of term whereby, again, an academic has prepared their notes for the wrong version. The big image world is inflexible. And we think it doesn't help with the scale.

You probably see pockets of VDI type technology, be it Citrix, VMware, Windows Virtual Desktop, so those have obviously grown in popularity, and also tools like ParallelsRAS. And yes, you could go big bang, it'd probably solve the problem. But it would be very, very expensive. Our view is if the end device is capable of running the application, that's a much more efficient and better user experience, better way to work. However, whilst campuses are shut down, there are probably staff where security is important to maybe someone that works in HR, and they want to deliver that software in a secure way.

Or it could be users that have a non Windows device, where they want to deliver a Windows piece of software. So we think those are good use cases for their pockets of users, rather than a blanket approach. And then we also see maybe some pockets of application, virtualization, and maybe people have used tools like AppV and ThinApp, which we think's a good way to do things, but with those tools there's an issue around what percentage of software you can actually package. So we think that's an important tool to use. And I guess historically, on campus we see the struggles around room spaces and labs, I think from our travels, and I've probably met about 350 universities face to face, the worst we've seen is lessons scheduled at 10:30 at night because they can't get students in the labs.

Saw 350, 400 gig images, which is just ridiculous. And I talked about some of those problems around the different scenarios around reimaging machines. I guess what we see as the dream desktop is decoupling applications from the OS, and delivering software on demand, not just in case. Maybe another scenario people are looking at is a remote desktop, whereby the software's installed on a desktop on campus, and it is possible to utilize that resource, that machine, to run the application on and deliver it back, stream it back to a user. Which yes, it's a good emergency solution, and it might work in the short term.

But we wouldn't see that as a longterm solution, because what happens if the campus is then only partly opened, it's not a long term model. It might be a way to solve something quickly. But we don't see that as being a longterm model. So I think it's important to actually, if we're gonna make some changes, look at thing from a longer term perspective. I touched upon that what we see is I guess, our dream approach, it's, if we're talking about Windows devices, it's the Windows 10 image office, antivirus, maybe a PDF reader, perhaps a commonly used application. But then using AppsAnywhere, we can deliver applications on demand where and when they're needed. And we think that's the smarter way to do things. We then improve the student experience, whether they're on or off campus, we're helping labs be a lot more flexible.

Again, it could be a limited amount of spaces opened on campus, so we're not wanting, again, to restrict students studying certain courses to not have their software in say, the library. So that flexible use of space. We also see that actually, you don't wanna be canceling lessons, the timetabling issues, maybe there's 40 students turning up to a 30 lab classroom. Or the other one, which we think is very interesting, is social distancing within labs. And maybe it's specifically where you have a piece of software, but maybe perhaps, you only have 10 licenses. Historically they've always been installed on the first 10 machines in a lab. And actually, in a world where social distance is necessary, you want to be able to determine which machines in that room you can run the software in. And actually, you want that flexibility.

So we think that's important, but I guess the point we're trying to get to, we believe in our world it's kind of a double attack, it helps off campus access, and it helps prepare labs, should you be going back on last minute. I think we are presuming that the campuses will reopen, I don't know whether it's September or January. And we'll run some polls at the end. And one of the questions is to ask the audience today what you think will occur, and there's a lot of people on this webinar today, so we're interested to see what the results are. But yeah, we've seen people talk for a long time about the digital campus, certainly in the current times we've seen that software delivery has moved up the priority order of university CIOs.

And then I guess in a world that we see campus shutdown again, we want that consistency. We want that way to reduce disruption and deliver a consistent student experience. So a way where actually students do go back on campus, if you then have to shut suddenly, they can have a similar experience at home. I guess our vision in a bit more detail, and what we try to help deliver is any app to any device, anywhere, anytime, and we do this through our solution which is AppsAnywhere. Single launch button, regardless again, of the device you're on. We integrate with the delivery tools that you already have. And we also have some clever bits around the edge ourselves, but if something's working, we're not gonna say go and get rid of it straightaway.

If it fulfills a need, it's cost effective, don't necessarily need to rip it out on day one. So because we're integrating with the tools you already have, and layering some of our own ones in, it'll be much quicker to get going for the fall as well. But I guess what we then see is, this helps you focus on the students, and the use of their technology, and not the technology itself, our view is that forward thinking IT departments, and successful IT leaders design services that focus on the students and their use of the technology, and not the technology itself. They'll see technology as a vehicle to improve the student experience.

And it's all about moving from just providing technology to providing a service, with the students being the customers, we think that's important. So we give students one point of access for all software, wherever they are, on or off campus. And we think that's the right way to do things. I'll just pause for a second and highlight that in Phil's introduction, he said to use the question tab on the right hand side, so I can see there's a few questions in there already. But feel free to ask any questions as we're going along. I'm afraid I can't see as I'm talking. But Phil will be collating those and asking as many of those as we can at the end. Just to give a quick demo of our solution, Phil, apologies you're probably on mute. But I just wanna check that you can see my screen.

Perfect Phil, thank you. So, just quickly, I don't wanna do too much on a product demo, but just giving you an oversight. Again, if people want to follow up in more detail, I'm more than happy to do this. I guess this is an example of me as a student at home logging in to the solution. So I'm in a browser, I just need to sign in.

When I'm logging in, you'll see the blue bar at the top there, just validating who I am. It's checking who I am, connecting with the university ID structure, so am I staff, student, year two engineer, whatever it might be. If I just scroll to the bottom, you can see, as was mentioned at the start, I'm on a laptop, and I'm in the UK, and I'm on Windows 10. I can then see a list of software I'm allowed to access. I've got my favorites, which is merely the star in the corner, I have some that's unavailable. And we just have a cheesy joke to show Creo, that I can't access it because I'm not in Jamaica. The example here being that maybe some software won't be allowed to be used by international students outside the country, so we can put restrictions in. We can also look at whether a user's on and off campus.

And even when they're off domain, recognizing that there's lots of different types of rules for those users. I'm obviously on a Windows machine, so therefore I can see these are the applications I'm allowed to access, and everything is simply a launch button, whether it's a virtualized application connecting to a virtual desktop, I've got digital downloads in here. We connect with something like, round about 20 different delivery tools. Locally installed is a key one actually. I've got the app on my device. Why would I want to run it in another way? So we check for that as well.

So as a user, it's simply click on a launch button. I don't need to worry about where do I go to get it, it's very straightforward, it's just click and go. So even, we think open source applications, whether it's an installation process, I'm gonna avoid that now, so with Google Earth, I just click launch, what's happening in the background here is then AppsAnywhere, the client on my device, which I should just add that if I hadn't had this installed already on first launch, it would prompt me to to install it.

On your campus machines, you'd simply push out a group policy, it goes and gets a small chunk, in this scenario here, it's using the virtualization technology, it's going and getting about five, 10, maybe 15% of the application and bringing it down to my device, just enough to get going. And that's the clever part, we're not needing to do a full installation, so even something like AutoCAD in my demo here would be running in less than a minute. So as a user, this is now running as if locally installed. I don't know it's all here, it's caching the software on a virtual file structure on my device. So I'm running on a laptop, so it's utilizing the processing power of my device, a good user experience, and an awful lot cheaper than having VDI type technologies in place for an application than I can run locally.

I could show you apps running all day, but it's not particularly exciting. Again, if I was on a non Windows device, we'd probably recommend connecting into a RDS type technology, virtual desktop, whatever it might be, this is just an example using ParallelsRAS, which I'm connected to. So this is just Notepad++ running on a server somewhere. So this isn't actually running on my device here. It's pixel streaming it down to my device to run. And to just pick out a couple of things in the back end, if you're adding new applications, then this is where we come and do things. So I'll just go to that Google Earth I've just shown you.

You can basically see when you're at the detail, and these are my different delivery methods, probably should have local installed at the top as number one, but these are different delivery methods. And it works down the list in the priority order. So if I don't make the criteria, the type of device, the location, on or off domain, geography, it keeps dropping down the list. So if I was on a non Windows device, it might integrate with a, it might use the Jamf tool, which the institution should already have, if you have Jamf, to do a physical install version.

If it was an Android device, it might take me to a specific place within the Google Android store, same with the iTunes. And I guess working down the list, the last option is probably taking you to the vendor's website, with the rationale being that AppsAnywhere becomes the trusted place for staff and students to get their software, wherever they are, whatever device type they're on. We're handling license management very strongly, whether it be concurrency of numbers of users, and these are the rules down here we're defining. If I don't meet any of these rules, then it will move it down the priority to the next order.

We're also, and I'm not gonna show too much on this, we're also tracking software utilization, the Cloudpaging, which is the virtualization piece we're tracking out on a per device per second level, which is very useful, for all other delivery tools we're tracking what's been launched through what. So we've got some reports in here. It's just going a tiny bit slow, my internet connection.

It will appear in a second, some useful reports to see around license information. I guess I'd probably go as far as saying that most institutions usually work with, when they go site wide, they can make some efficiencies around license savings, probably swap it back into other spending in different ways, maybe moving some into moving into a site license et cetera, or concurrency, but how do we normally see that actually you could be a bit smart around what's being used, where and when. Phil, I'll just pause for a second, and should we run one of the polls?

Thanks Phil, and just to add, everybody, I've just put some contact details up on the screen, which is my personal email address, and also if you want to try things, it's software2.com/try, and there's lots and lots of resources on our website. I was gonna say hundreds, but it's not quite that many. But an awful lot of case studies, videos from people of different regions, different size institutions, but we're always happy to talk to people, so if we can help them, please do reach out to us. And again, we appreciate everyone's very busy, especially at the current time. So thank you for joining us today, and please do come back to us so we can help you in any way whatsoever.

[Phil] Perfect, again thanks everybody. And just, stay well, and do the best you can to enjoy your time at home.

Thank you.