jamesh
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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 1:01 pm

Interesting point, but my opinion is that OpenOffice/LibreOffice is so similar to MS Office that the skills are mostly transferable, especially the skills set taught at schools which are relatively low level.

After all, a spreadsheet is a spreadsheet, a presentation is a presentation, a word processor is a word processor. All the concepts are the same.

At the OS/desktop level things are a bit different, but, with the yoof of today proficient on iPhones, Androids, Blackberries etc, I think the OS/desktop is almost irrelevant. Just, agian, the concepts  are required.

As a programmer myself, I use MS product at work and Libreoffice at home. I don't need to use advanced features so for me there is little difference, oh, except Libreoffice outputs PDF's much better then MS Office.

I don't deny that children need to be taught office style apps, but the Raspi is for teaching programming on top of that.
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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:16 pm

riFFraFF said:


...Don't think that any of this is being done in a vacuum. Don't think that when that first shot is fired that MS will merely flinch. You need only look at how they've reacted to the Android ascension, and that in market of portable devices in which they do not, nor have they ever had a substantial interest in.

The irritant of Android is not that it is competition to their newest Windows Phone, but that they see it as a massively successful validation of Linux and the open source concept.  They, and Apple, are working tirelessly with phony "patent infringement" nuisance suits to force tribute from Android manufacturers which will place a pricetag on their core software and force prices up to where they are, hopefully,  no longer a competitive threat.

Now, what do you suppose will happen when the Foundations efforts meet with some degree of success and MS begins to perceive this Pi as a threat?



Luckily, in the UK (and EU), sod all. We don't have the same warped and draconian patent system that you suffer from in the US. With certain (limited) exceptions, you cannot patent software... and you certainly cannot patent gestures. So what a lot of the MS & Apple patent infringements are based on are simply not valid here. In fact, the only one that really succeeded was the physical appearance of the Galaxy Tab (and that only applied to Germany, and seems likely to go away with the case redesign).

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 2:27 pm

@davidgoodenough

@JamesH

I'm glad that you have suggested as such.  We have been debating this at work and the split was exactly as you say; do you teach product or principal.

Whilst I agree that skills taught through an application (a spreadsheet, a database system, a presentation package) should be transferable it is quite different when it comes to the OS.  That said, I'd like to think that a child that has grasped how Linux works would very easily adapt to a Microsoft-based operating system.  I guess we specialise in later life so your points are very valid.

I would love to see a move towards a more open environment within schools, both from an academic perspective and also because so much money is wasted on licensing costs.  However, my concern was that in the short-term children might lack the necessary skills to prepare them for the workplace.  Those previous comments have made me reconsider that position and I guess this could see a paradigm shirt towards more affordable (and interesting!) computing.

Against that backdrop, maybe there is an enormous cost saving to be had here!

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 3:19 pm

It costs you £400? per pc? Wow.

We build our own here for about £250 and most of that is the ssd drive.

I don't see raspberry pis replacing normal day to day pcs but I do see some use for them in our boarding houses or as a bookable resource.
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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 3:25 pm

zag said:


It costs you £400? per pc? Wow.

We build our own here for about £250 and most of that is the ssd drive.

I don't see raspberry pis replacing normal day to day pcs but I do see some use for them in our boarding houses or as a bookable resource.


Does that £250 include the time of the person spent making them and installing the OS? Or a maintenance contract? Most schools neither have the people to make PC's or maintain them, hence you need to add those figures in. Since your school has a boarding house, it's probably not in the same category as most state schools.
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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 4:11 pm

@ Walney

I'll confess my ignorance of UK patent law... and express my relief that it doesn't suffer from the same ignorance as ours does.

Please, no one misconstrue my intentions. I certainly don't hate Microsoft, as anyone can look at my Xbox avatar icon and see, I just don't like them when they're behaving badly.

Right now, they're in rabid wolverine mode.

Regarding use of MS design tools, of course that is a precursor to many jobs, they are the accepted standard in the business world, but they are only a part of a much larger cosmos, one with greater future needs - needs that I hope early programming education will succeed in addressing.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 04, 2012 11:56 pm

I found myself wondering if the much vaunted "Ribbon" interface on some productivity packages was designed to confuse the issue of training/education - after all, their interface now looks so different that it is not an intuitive leap between Libre/Open Office and the "market leader". ( On the rare occasions I use it I spend more time looking up how to do things than actually being  productive - I am supposed to *guess* that the "save" option is underneath the logo ?  Recognition rather than recall ? What's that ?)

I am led to believe that in certain parts of the world, especially in some developing nations, there is a willingness to pay significant amounts for "cracked" versions of commercial software, rather than use a free/open source package.  After all, if it is really so expensive that you cannot buy a full licence, it must be better than something that is free. I suspect that marketing is is in play here.

I assume that space is hard to find in schools, so my original response to the OP of setting up another lab with RPi hardware is probably not a starter.

Marketing the idea is something that can be done with the schools, are there any plans to something like the "Academies" that some of the vendors have ? One way of getting the word out would be "Raspberry Pi Academy" Plaques nailed up on the wall.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 05, 2012 12:07 pm

As I"ve been reading this thread, people have often said how they are going off topic but I don"t agree, all of the issues raised are relevant to the original query; is it financially and educationally viable to replace desktops with RasPis? The problem is that quite simply at the moment, nobody knows. As a science teacher, my philosophy is simple; let the students experiment and work it out! Though I avoid the responsibility of handling budgets, surely most schools will be able to get at least a class set of RasPis with power supplies and cables to attach to existing keyboards and monitors. From there, let the students decide. With the supervision and help of suitable adults, why couldn"t the students try to work out the issues in setting up a network. Admittedly this is assuming that a school can find a group of enthusiastic students but I expect there will be a few takers. Some of these "homebrew" networks will fail and be unreliable and will have to go back to square one, but the students will learn. So for the time being I say to continue to maintain and replace whatever your current school"s network is and hopefully in the future it can be replaced by a cheaper alternative that the students are in charge of.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 05, 2012 3:39 pm

Wow, I don't know what kind of school you teach in, but there is no way you'd be able to rely on the students to set up a network in my school!

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 05, 2012 6:44 pm

I think the most likely way that raspberry pi can replace desktops in schools (and cybercaffes, business, etc) is as a cheap dumb terminal device. The already sugested LTSP, or virtualized solutions like Spice where it could run Windows, Linux, and any other OSes, etc.

The biggest problem for dumb-terminals nowadays is multimedia, especially with the rise of youtube, that is useful even in schools. But if you can identify those tasks and execute localy, it would work well. Spice project is researching on emulating a hardware video acceleration interfacean to the guest OS, and then pipe the compressed stream for decoding in the client side, if supported, instead of the current MJPEG reencoding of all videos.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:47 am

Tom Cole said:


Wow, I don"t know what kind of school you teach in, but there is no way you"d be able to rely on the students to set up a network in my school!



Too right! The first five referrals I got for programming gigs were from my college instructor. Everyone of them involved recoding nightmare apps created by teams of college level CS students as a class project. I can't imagine what you'd get if you let a group of grade schoolers loose with routers and cables and such.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:36 am

ErriFFraFF said:


Tom Cole said:


Wow, I don"t know what kind of school you teach in, but there is no way you"d be able to rely on the students to set up a network in my school!


Too right! The first five referrals I got for programming gigs were from my college instructor. Everyone of them involved recoding nightmare apps created by teams of college level CS students as a class project. I can't imagine what you'd get if you let a group of grade schoolers loose with routers and cables and such.


Erm, me and top tier maths set from year 5 spent a significant number of lunchtimes cabling and installing our schools first networked computer rooms. 100 PC's 26 9-10 year old's, a forward thinking maths teacher and the schools brand new IT technician.

I think if you sell it the right way the kids will love it. (granted that was somewhat more plug and play but the sentiment stands.)

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Sat Jan 07, 2012 4:11 pm

WHAT! You actually suggest that it was a good idea to learn something by doing it in the real world? NO, NO, NO!!!
Teaching must be academic if it is to be of any real value and respect (with a proper 2 hour exam at the end), look at those "vocational" qualifications only good for producing skilled labour and who needs those types?

If students are producing stuff that needs rewriting that"s poor teaching at fault (probably only partially true, most likely bad specs from a company unwilling to invest money or time), coding to a basic level that works appropriatly for a company is not rocket science (... unless it"s NASA when it might)

I"m being a bit hypercritical as I did a degree mainly because it has value associated with it in the workplace. Without a degree I wouldn"t have got my current position (without a lot more hard work and time anyway) but equally I know beyond the fact a it shows someone can learn (theoretically in self directed study), it has little value in real life other than getting a first job interview (maybe life skills for some). I had fun and encourage my staff to go do them (supported another doing their masters) but they are overvallued in society.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Sun Jan 08, 2012 9:06 pm

From Geek Times: http://www.eetimes.com/electro.....classrooms


Marvell's Smile Plug creates micro cloud for classrooms

In the case of the Smile Plug, Marvell has collaborated with Stanford University to create the ultra-small server which allows for up to 60 students to connect their laptops, smartphones and tablets up to a secure, teacher controlled micro cloud.


This might be useful for a classroom full of RasPis.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Sun Jan 08, 2012 9:55 pm

Easy enough lots of lightweight servers that can run a php cgi together with any groupware you want whats the news. Looks like on of the most obvious uses.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 11, 2012 11:50 am

@nichobb

No the problem comes from the attitude of "What? We're students!! You didn't actually expect us to get this right, did you?".

Seriously, you know how those programming projects go:

Somebody hastily draws up specifications without having the time available to study the end-user's business.

A group of students is assigned the task.

There's either one competent programmer in the group who ends up being chosen "leader" (though he/she either has no leadership qualities or social skills whatsoever) OR worse,  the chosen"leader" is a gregarious "people person" but couldn't write an online take-out menu in HTML.

A total of 72 man hours is devoted to the project, 69 of which are contributed by the "competent programmer".

One test run is executed without a fatal error and the project is declared a success.

Some poor sucker in the group who stood on the sidelines forgets to change his/her telephone number after graduation and gets the call when the whole thing goes south.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Wed Jan 11, 2012 12:03 pm

@ scep / tufty

Had a laugh listening to the news on the way to work, "Roll on cross-curricular delivery" – indeed.

http://www.digitaljournal.com/.....cle/317534

Oh, the joys of teaching in the ATL. Reminds me of the time I was called on the carpet in the Director's office to answer a student's complaint regarding my previous night's lesson on jumpering IDE drives.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 12, 2012 8:07 am

Tom Cole said:


Wow, I don"t know what kind of school you teach in, but there is no way you"d be able to rely on the students to set up a network in my school!


riFFraFF said:

Too right! The first five referrals I got for programming gigs were from my college instructor. Everyone of them involved recoding nightmare apps created by teams of college level CS students as a class project. I can"t imagine what you"d get if you let a group of grade schoolers loose with routers and cables and such.

At the moment I actually work as a supply teacher and so work in a variety of schools and I reckon I could find a group of students that were interested in each school. Whether they succeed in creating a working network would depend heavily on the support they receive. However, in terms of "I can"t imagine what you"d get…" what"s the worst that can happen?! Maybe they"ll manage to fry something on a board or two; not too expensive to replace. Otherwise you"re left with exactly what you started with for another group to try… unless you"re fearing some malicious network that can take down the Internet, in which case, kudos to the students!

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:14 am

wittzi said:

To be effective in the workplace (not necessarily IT), you need to be proficient with Microsoft products.
mightygoose said:

 I actually learnt more at primary school, playing with LOGO and helping the teachers assemble the schools first network circa 97-98 with the other kids from top set maths. Does anyone actually ever use access for databases?
In the time-frame that you were doing that work, yes we did use Access in our product. Work started on it in 1995 and it was reaching maturity in 97-98.

It had a ten-year life and is now history.

The product that replaced it was begun in 2002, and it uses XML for the same purposes that Access was used previously. SQL Server is used on the optional file-server, but it's XML on the workstation. There is some cross-over in skills between Access and SQL Server, but they are conceptual rather than knowing where the menus are. (Are children taught how to normalise a database?) There is no cross-over between Access and XML.

The OP noted that his PCs were all running Windows XP. I'm running Windows XP here as I write this, but it is obsolete now and will be long gone before any of the pupils that use the OP's computer lab reach the workforce. By that time an old computer will be running Windows 8, with it's Metro-style desktop -- totally different from anything the pupil learned in 2012.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 12, 2012 12:04 pm

rurwin said:


wittzi said:


To be effective in the workplace (not necessarily IT), you need to be proficient with Microsoft products.


mightygoose said:


I actually learnt more at primary school, playing with LOGO and helping the teachers assemble the schools first network circa 97-98 with the other kids from top set maths. Does anyone actually ever use access for databases?


In the time-frame that you were doing that work, yes we did use Access in our product. Work started on it in 1995 and it was reaching maturity in 97-98.

It had a ten-year life and is now history.

The product that replaced it was begun in 2002, and it uses XML for the same purposes that Access was used previously. SQL Server is used on the optional file-server, but it's XML on the workstation. There is some cross-over in skills between Access and SQL Server, but they are conceptual rather than knowing where the menus are. (Are children taught how to normalise a database?) There is no cross-over between Access and XML.

The OP noted that his PCs were all running Windows XP. I'm running Windows XP here as I write this, but it is obsolete now and will be long gone before any of the pupils that use the OP's computer lab reach the workforce. By that time an old computer will be running Windows 8, with it's Metro-style desktop -- totally different from anything the pupil learned in 2012.



Oh i would like to point out while you say access was obsolete... i did Access as part of my GCSE IT in 04-05. All i can remember of it is drop down tables, mail merge, external references and basic form building. Up until this very moment, i had assumed SQL and XML were actual programming languages not unlike C+, Perl and others.

Currently at home I use XP, i can't afford to buy a computer that would be a real terms performance improvement over it for what i use it for running windows 7. although when i do bite the bullet and get a new machine, my old one will most certainly get transferred over to linux, as an experiment.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Thu Jan 12, 2012 11:32 pm

mightygoose said:

i had assumed SQL and XML were actual programming languages not unlike C+, Perl and others.
SQL is, albeit one limited to talking about operations on relational databases, which means you need to embed it in another language.

XML is a file format, is sort-of human-readable, and implements an object-oriented database. Properly used, it should only be a transfer format; we don't use it properly.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Fri Jan 13, 2012 2:07 am

I haven't had the opportunity to work with teens and preteens in a classroom environment, I worked with young adults, but Access was always a favorite topic of mine since I cut my teeth writing BASIC, dBase and Clipper database solutions. It doesn't take too long to get them to grasp the rudiments of normalization, or to teach them the ugly art of when to flatfile a table for expedience.

The course we were supposed to teach was a ridiculous two-week waste of effort, requiring them to memorize keystroke combinations and be proficient only in creating a table, entering data into it and producing one stock entry form with simple buttons and one stock report.

I made sure we'd adequately covered that in the first few days so we could cover other topics like normalization, using ODBC ,SQL, how to write capture events and code for them, and how to write a little initialization code for their projects.

I was pleasantly surprised to hear several of my students actually started working with it on their first jobs.  Once they're swimming, you just need to show them how to visualize their objective and how to use the documentation to get there. But still, it's not really programming... not in the sense of the Foundation's objectives. You're just manipulating an end-user product and however skillfully you do it, your creativity will always be hampered by the limitations of the package.

There's nothing quite like Access. Sorry. It's one of the best development tools ever presented to the moderately proficient end-user. You can do a lot of "good enough" stuff with it, but nothing you do will ever shine. Trust me. I've pushed it far past it's limits. I would very much like to see something in the Linux environment. I've tried other environments, like Visual Dataflex, but nothing's quite as streamlined and intuitive as Access.

I wouldn't worry too much about what version, or even brand of OS and Office suite you teach. It's not like the bad-ol' days. With Office suites, there are accepted industry standards that have existed for many, many years. If you teach them the basics and how to find and read documentation, there is virtually no learning curve between versions or even products. That argument is completely ridiculous and baseless.

With OS's it's a little different, but Linux distros have evolved to the point where there's little differentiation, at least from the end-user's perspective, from Windows.  There are actually a lot of things Linux distros like Ubuntu handle far better (such as updates).

Regarding SQL as a language... 'fraid not, it's an extension, or a component. But you must, must, must needs cover using SQLite EXTENSIVELY in any Python course - and as early in that course as practically possible.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Sat Jan 14, 2012 12:27 am

Whilst Windows remains the dominant OS by a huge margin, I think it makes sense that schools would use it.  Chances are, when they leave school and get to work, they will be issued a Windows PC...

Unless Raspberry Pi gets SO big, that it becomes a serious threat to Microsoft and Apple.  It's certainly going to be a boost for Linux and Open Source.

Potentially, the Raspberry Pi could turn the current situation on it's head -  If someone can package it, and market it right.

The low price is going to be a very strong incentive for a lot of people.

I work in the Consulting Engineering industry.  We simply have no choice but to run Windows on the desktops, because Autodesk don't support anything else, plus most of the other engineering software is Windows based.

I remember in the 90's, everybody used Wordstar and then Word Perfect as the industry standard word processor.  Then MS Word just took over and you had no choice but to make the switch because thats what every other business was doing.  I wouldn't be surprised if something like that happens again soon.  You just have to get enough people to jump ship.

Negative point for the R'Pi is the performance... But.. if you've got all the apps you need and it all works well and is stable..  Who knows?

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Sat Jan 14, 2012 6:34 am

Most skills are very transferable between windows and Linux, especially at the end-user level. Even dev skills and admin skills are somewhat cross-platform, though to a lesser extent.

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Re: RasPi as a basic school desktop replacement

Sat Feb 11, 2012 12:26 pm

I'm not a leader but have worked in ICT departments in UK schools for over 10 years so will give my 2p worth.

I think its a great idea and will save money but the idea would work best if you used the PIs as thin clients that connect to a Windows 2008 Terminal Server, Debian has Rdesktop so getting a script koncked up that loads that after startup or reboot will not be a big issue. There may be slight issues with needing a startup script to set the time on Debian before starting Rdesktop but once more, not a big thing.

I'm guessing your school uses Sims as its MIS system, this means all Sims users need MS Office, as registers are now done on in Sims, all form/tutor rooms need atleast one computer with this on. So your stuck with MSOffice unless you want to only license it for those machines but once retraining staff, changing lesson plans etc are taken into account its probably easier to stick with MS Office, you would also avoid any backlash from staff.

You also have to accept that thin clients are not really suitable for media work so only suitable for classrooms that are not booked by media departments, check with your time table manager.

So if you accept that the best way to proceed without a staff backlash and keeping software issues to a minimium is to use the PIs as thin clients that connect to a Windows 2008 server then you need servers that will serve your project well. Any servers you buy must have lots of ram but ram is expensive especially if you go for the larger size sticks such 2x8gb instead of 4x4gb. Don't worry too much about storage space as these are just for your terminal servers but some form of raid is required as if one TS server goes down even if you have others the clients can connect too its still puts the others servers under more strain.

I would say you need a minimium of 3 16GB ram servers, all with 3-5 year onsite warranty, so you need to add that to your shopping list. Your network infrastructure will need to be not super expensive but atleast new and under warranty and not bottlenecked, each classroom should have its own switch, either a smart or managed switch to avoid one loopback taking down all the clients, ideally with a uplink of 1GB to the core switch that the servers connect to.

You now need to install Windows 2008 server on your new servers, use server manager to ensure its configured as a terminal services server, then install all your curriculum software onto it. To keep it simple for now don't bother with load balacing as you just want to test the system out, connect using rdp to one of the TS servers using a xp machine, once logged on test all software.

You now need to configure the Pis to bootup and connect to the TS server, as the PI is designed to use Debian, its probably easier to stick with that to avoid hardware issues, configure it to autologin with a basic account and then launch rdesktop.

Opinions on what specs you need will vary but its a great idea that will save money, I would love to see schools using open source in the Uk more but getting the science, DT software such as birchfield etc to run on Linux is a pain but I don't want to mention that as it will send your thread off topic again.

I hope you go for it but expect some issues but all of them are easily resolved if you remain positive.

Your IT staff should be able to do this, IT support people support and install the systems you choose and have selected, even if it means learning something new, I say this as a IT support person, there is nothing in your plan that will not work, you could even save more money by buying second hand TFT monitors and fixing the PIs to the base, how far do you want to go with this.



TrevorB said:


I totally get the idea about invigorating the teaching of proper computing in schools and I am right behind that, but as a UK school leader, I have an even more pressing problem.

I have three IT rooms in a secondary school with 90 computers running MS Windows/Office which are all so slow they are unusable and with very old and failing monitors as well. I also have virtually no money to replace them thanks to bad financial planning by a previous regime.

What would it cost to replace them?
90 PCs x £400 inc licences & monitors = £36,000
The cost of 3 year"s electricity with a PC power supply of 0.3kW and a monitor of 0.15kW on for 8 hours per day for 200 days per year @ 10p per unit
= 90 * 0.45 * 8 * 200 * 3 * 10p = £19,440

That"s a three year cost of over £55,000 (I"m assuming a three year replacement cycle here). We don"t have the money. I could lease, yada yada yada, but we"re on our uppers. Really.

If I could get RasPis instead, it would be a lot cheaper
90 RasPis * £22 = £1,980
90 new hard glass monitors @ £85 = £7,650
90 microUSB power supplies @ £5 = £450
90 HDMI to DVI-D converters @ £5 = £450
90 miniHDMI to HDMI cables @£5 = £450
and at a power rating of 0.005kW for the RasPi and 0.05kW for the monitor, three years electricity is
= 90 * 0.055 * 8 * 200 * 3 * 10p = £2,376 (Big reduction!)
Total cost is £13,356
I can afford that much.

My only problem is that our desktop is Windows and all our tech expertise is Windows. We could move our storage to the cloud but we would need to authenticate logins against a Windows Server active directory.

The financial case seems very strong to me.
It wouldn"t be nice for teachers who all have their fave educational program that only runs on Windows, but these labs are almost exclusively used for web browsing, word processing, powerpoint making and occasional spreadsheets. Any other school leaders seduced by the idea?


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