San Diego State University’s College of Engineering has seen a huge increase in enrolment, and with the added students and extra classes, computer lab access has been severely restricted. The solution? Use your iPad (or iPhone, or Android). You can now access the central server and use the programs you need remotely. The iPad functions as a terminal to the main computer, and so the processing power of the device is not a factor.
The system was initially designed to deliver access to the server applications to student laptops and other computers not in the lab, but iPads can serve as client devices just as well. The pilot program supports 350 students in six classes, offering access to Microsoft Office, Matlab, ArcGIS, ProEngineer, Solid Works, AutoCad 2010, Cadence, Xilinx and SureTrak. Eventually they hope to expand to include all of their engineering design and simulation software.
The move has greatly relieved the constraints of dwindling computer lab time. Now students can work remotely, and in some cases receive instructor’s help more readily. The ability to display work wherever you are makes it easier to discuss and resolve any issues. “I had two students ask me homework questions regarding a problem they were having with ArcGIS and their data,” said Ed Beighley, who teaches civil engineering. “Within 10 seconds, I could see the problem and fix their project via their smart phone.”
“It opens up the entire educational package,” said Randall German, associate dean of the College of Engineering. “It makes education more accessible and more flexible. Now students who have childcare issues or have to be at a job, can do their work on their own time, rather than waiting in line for a computer in the lab. It really opens up opportunities for a new kind of student.”
The ability to access high end programs on a central server via a modestly performing remote terminal is not a new concept. Extending that metaphor to the iPad, however, is brilliant, because it eradicates the need for storage or heavy duty processing. All of the heavy lifting is done on the server side, leaving the students with a computer lab they can bring and use anywhere, anytime.