An assessment of the implementation of an open-source 1:1 computing model Table of Contents
Whitfield School is an independent, coeducational college preparatory day school, grades 6-12, located in west St. Louis County. In 2005-2006, Whitfield decided to implement a 1:1 Laptop Computing Programs initiative, leveraging Linux, an open-source technology. IBM was contracted by Whitfield to conduct a multiphase 360 degree assessment on Whitfield School’s 1:1 Computing Program. IBM performed a year-long assessment to measure how the program was leveraged by both faculty and students. The assessment included a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis, and a multi-phase assessment of students, faculty and parents utilizing student surveys, focus groups, parent interviews and 1:1 faculty interviews. Phase I of the assessment was conducted at the beginning of the school year to measure expectations, and Phase II of the assessment was conducted at the end of the school year to measure the outcomes of the 1:1 computing experience and the total cost of ownership.
Whitfield provided laptops to each of their 11th and 12th grade students. Unlike many other 1:1 computing programs, Whitfield leveraged Novell Linux Desktop (SUSE), an open-source operating system. The Linux/Citrix environment allowed students and faculty to operate in either the Linux environment, or a Windows-based environment through Citrix. Whitfield used this open-source system and other open-source software in hopes of reducing the overall Total Cost of Ownership, while achieving comparable impacts on student pedagogy.
IBM’s assessment identified many similar phenomena that are similar to those reported in other 1:1 implementation studies. There was a high general satisfaction with the program among students, faculty, and parents. Students reported increased satisfaction with the 1:1 program throughout the year, while many faculty members remarked that they would not be able to go back to teaching without the laptops. Most of the parents also perceived the program to have been a success, stating that computers are vital to the educational process. Much like the studies of the windows-based laptop programs, the high initial expectations were met, and sometimes exceeded, by the Whitfield model. The implementation also gave teachers, with a few notable exceptions, resources and tools comparable to that of Windows-based software. This allowed for enhanced student learning, increased individualized instruction and increased collaboration amongst students and faculty. The assessment results also indicate that student program adoption with the open-source software was strong, further suggesting that open-source provides viable software solutions.
The assessment also revealed findings that were somewhat unique to the open-source approach. Often in 1:1 computing implementations, students act as their own teachers by effectively leveraging the resources provided by the laptop to take more ownership of lessons and projects. With the open-source aspect of the Whitfield implementation model, students also appeared to take the lead in learning and exploiting the capabilities of the Linux operating system, and of the various open source applications resident under Linux. Technical issues associated with Linux appeared to be more easily resolved by the students themselves, by a peer, or secondarily by a teacher, whereas software issues in the Windows environment were more likely to be resolved by the Technology Department. Similarly, the increased student comfort with the Linux command line over the course of the year further suggests that students were receptive to learning new skills in open-source operating environments and software.
The results of the TCO analysis indicated that significant savings were realized from adoption of the Linux/Citrix model of 1:1 computing, including approximately $85 in reduced server and network costs, $100 in software licensing, and over $150 in direct labor costs on a per-client computer basis. On the other hand, the hardware cost of each client computer increased by approximately $136, reflecting the higher costs associated with replacing desktop machines with their laptop equivalents, and replacing an older asset base whose costs were already partially amortized. Overall, the incremental cost of introducing laptops in Grades 11 and 12 during the 2005-6 school year was a relatively economical $974 per computer. This substantially addressed management’s expectations for cost efficiency in implementing the new model. Over the long run, as all grade levels are transitioned to the 1:1 computing model, Whitfield’s IT management team envisions the realization of additional economies and projects an annual cost savings of nearly $200,000 per year in comparison to implementation of a traditional Windows-based 1:1 model.
The following report includes a description of the Whitfield experience, a summary of some of the lessons learned from this open source implementation, and a discussion of possible future research directions.
The Whitfield Experience
Whitfield School is an independent, coeducational college preparatory day school, grades 6-12, located on a 25-acre campus in west St. Louis County. In 2005-2006, the annual tuition was $17,725. Whitfield’s student body includes approximately 475 students, of which about 14% are minorities. The student to teacher ratio is 8:1 with average class sizes of 12 students. The faculty is comprised of 62 instructors with full-time equivalent degrees and 34 with advanced degrees. Whitfield’s academic philosophy includes curriculum designed to encourage students to work both independently and collaboratively. Two of the school’s key values are mutual respect and personal responsibility.
For the 2005-2006 academic year, Whitfield decided to provide each of its 11th and 12th grade students a laptop to use for communications and academic purposes. Initiatives like this one are typically referred to as 1:1 Computing Programs (i.e., one computer per one student/faculty member). According to Whitfield’s President, Mark Anderson, providing each student a laptop was a natural fit with its mission, which emphasizes the students as workers. Specifically, the school feels that students should actively create knowledge and be engaged in the learning process. Therefore, Whitfield believed a personal laptop program had the potential to equip its students with a powerful educational tool and take this mission to the next-level.
One-to-one Computing Programs are not new. According to an April 2006 paper published by San Diego Unified School District’s Education Technology Department, “in their efforts to prepare young people to meet the increasing skill requirements of the 21st century (see Greenspan, 2004; U.S. Department of Education, 2004; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2002), a number of states and school districts have implemented pilot one-to-one computing initiatives that provide laptop computers to students for in-school and after school use.”
However, the implementation approach adopted by Whitfield is somewhat unique. Whereas many previous programs have used a traditional Windows operating system, Whitfield leveraged Novell Linux Desktop (SUSE), an open-source technology. To ease the transition into this new operating system, the school also provided Citrix. Citrix allowed students and faculty access to a Windows-based environment, but one that resides on central server facilities. It was anticipated that an open-source methodology had the potential to achieve comparable 1:1 Computing Program outcomes, while doing so at a reduced total cost.
Our evaluation of the Whitfield School 1:1 Computing Program consists of two components. The first is a program evaluation that incorporates results of faculty work sessions, parent interview and student surveys both at the beginning and conclusion of the 2005-6 school year. The second component is a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) evaluation that is based in part on the model developed by the Gartner Group under the sponsorship of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). The following two sections explain, in order, the methodologies employed for each of these two evaluation components.
Program Evaluation Methodology
To assess the other dimensions of program effectiveness, we employed a comprehensive two-phase approach. We obtained 360-degree feedback from representatives of all parties involved with this program, including administrators, faculty, families, and students. We first spoke with each constituency group very early in the academic year (termed Phase I or Baseline) to understand expectations and initial perceptions of the program. Then, at the end of the academic year (known as Phase II or Follow-up), we followed up with these groups to learn about their actual experiences with the program. In this way, we were able to assess to what extent the program met (or exceeded) expectations, while also examining experiences with an open-source 1:1 Computing Program.
To obtain feedback from each group, we employed the following data collection and analytic techniques:
Families. During Phase I, we conducted in-depth telephone interviews with 11 family members of students involved in the program. During Phase II, we conducted in-depth telephone interviews with 4 of the family members (randomly selected) we had spoken with previously, along with 8 new family members. This approach balanced consistency and comparability with diversity of opinions and view points. The interviews lasted approximately 30 minutes each, and were conducted by experienced consultants and interviewers. The interviews followed a structured format, while remaining flexible enough to explore and probe where needed. Extensive notes were taken on each interview, and were qualitatively analysed and categorized.
Faculty. During Phase I, we conducted three telephonic focus groups with faculty members involved with the 1:1 Computing Program. During Phase II, we conducted three in-person focus groups with many of the same instructors. The focus group format fostered stronger group dynamics, whereby teachers could play off of each others’ comments. Each session was conducted by a trained focus group moderator and consultant who followed a structured but flexible guide. Each lasted approximately 2 hours with the discussions recorded, summarized, and qualitatively analysed.
Administrators. During Phase II only, we conducted one-on-one, in-person interviews with the President, Principal, Dean of Faculty, and Technology Director of Whitfield. These dynamic conversations were facilitated by an experienced consultant and interviewer. Again, extensive notes were taken, and from those notes, the feedback was reviewed and summarized.
Students. During Phase I and II, feedback from students was collected via a web-based survey. There were 42 questions in the Phase I survey and 46 questions in the Phase II survey, each of which covered a similar range of themes and topics. The administration encouraged participation in the study, and as such, the surveys achieved high response rates of 92% and 88%, respectively. The responses were quantitatively analysed, including frequency of mention, cross-tabulations, and t-test significance testing.
Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) Evaluation Methodology
One fundamental hypothesis of the Whitfield School 1:1 Computing Program was that utilization of a combined Linux/Citrix approach would help to control overall ownership costs while providing flexible end-user functionality without adversely impacting the existing high level of service and support. Whitfield anticipated that the centrally-managed Citrix environment would allow users to access standard Windows-based applications with reduced software licensing costs to the school as a whole as well as decreased performance issues at the laptop level. On the other side of the equation, providing the Linux operating environment allowed the user community to access and utilize a vast, inexpensive and ever-evolving array of open source applications, with only a minimal additional software investment required on the school’s side. As part of the process of evaluating the validity of this hypothesis, Whitfield was interested in conducting a total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis to compare and evaluate the costs of this new 1:1 computing model with its traditional approach that had provided Windows-based applications on each workstation.
We employed the TCO methodology provided through the partnership of the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), Gartner, the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NCRTEC), and the U.S. Department of Education. This consortium supports an online TCO calculation and analysis tool that is the most widely-accepted and comprehensive tool of its type for K-12 education, and is open for access and use by any private or public school or district in that nation. 1 This tool accepts the following input from the participating school into four major sections as follows:
School Profile – Information regarding the school/district name, location, and contact information; number of schools, students, classrooms, teachers and staff of various types; average teacher/staff salaries; and scope of analysis (time period and grade levels);
Technology layer information, including number and deployment of client devices by type (e.g., desktop, laptop, handheld), number and cost of servers, network ports and equipment costs, number and costs of printers (including supplies), software application costs, and costs for external application providers (ASPs);
Direct labor costs related to provision of direct technology-related services on either a part-time or full-time basis as part of a formal job assignment or expectation. This includes technology staff (operations, financial, professional development, and content/curriculum development), classroom staff (both teachers and aides), non-classroom staff, student/volunteers, and outsourced services; and
Indirect labor costs, which captures the estimated time that end users (student, teachers, aides and classroom staff) spend on technology-related activities that are not considered part of their formally-assigned responsibilities. This can include maintenance of their own systems, troubleshooting their own or others’ computer problems, interfacing with support staff, and providing ad hoc advice or training to other users.
The model itself is accompanied by specific definitions of each field to be input, and includes guidelines on how to allocate costs of capital items in the technology layer (such as client devices, servers, network equipment, printers and software) across multiple years. If these definitions and guidelines are adhered to by participants, this improves the comparability over time of the data entered and maintained by the various school and district users of this model. Based on this input, the model performs a variety of calculations regarding asset and staffing metrics, and direct and indirect cost analyses. The model also provides a comparison of each participant’s actual cost results versus the low and high-range case study results that have been generated by other users of the CoSN/Gartner model. The developers of the model are careful to point out that any “benchmark” comparisons based on TCO results alone must be interpreted carefully, due to the fact that different organizations have widely differing IT organizational models and service objectives, and will understandably make different technology investment decisions and commitments from one another.
The accuracy and completeness of the data input by the participating school is a significant factor in the reliability of the results calculated using the model. Whitfield maintains centralized and relatively detailed records regarding its technology-related expenditures, including both capital and operating items. It also maintains labor records that allow specific identification of staff allocations toward particular technology service and support functions. Not surprisingly, indirect cost information is harder to obtain. However, both the Phase I and Phase II evaluation surveys include some questions that provide useful information regarding faculty and student time allocations in using technology, and additional relevant information was collected directly from teachers during the Phase II focus group sessions. Therefore, the indirect cost estimates entered into the model are based on time estimates, and supporting qualitative information, that were obtained directly from the teachers and students themselves.
We developed five different TCO evaluation cases using the model, as follows:
2005-6 school year/entire school (Grades 6 – 12, 461 students);
2005-6 school year/Grades 11-12 (1:1 computing program, 145 students);
2004-5 school year/entire school (Grades 6 – 12, 475 students); and
2004-5 school year/Grades 11-12 (traditional computing program, 140 students).
Using the results from these five cases, we were able to analyze the 1:1 computing program for grades 11-12 and compare it against the traditional program still being maintained for Grades 6-10 during 2005-6. We also were able to longitudinally compare the 2004-5 and 2005-6 cost metrics, both for the targeted Grade 11-12 student cadre and for Whitfield School as a whole.
We also reviewed the published case studies that are based on the CoSN/Gartner model for comparable participant experiences. However, the case studies that use actual data primarily are not 1:1 computing models and frequently also are significantly different either in size or IT support characteristics from Whitfield. While some of the more recent participants are now moving to a 1:1 approach, their published information currently provides only budgeted or projected figures, not actual results. In the future, we anticipate that other participants will generate actual results data so that useful comparisons can begin to be developed.