In 2012, when many colleges were raising tuition, Roger Williams University (RWU) was launching its Affordable Excellence initiative and announcing a tuition freeze. RWU was committed to providing the best possible education for less. Part of this mission was to give students the resources they needed to prepare for entering the workforce including exposing them to technology they would use in their future careers.
“The university looked at what it could do for the highest end users at the university. The architecture students, with the highest graphic computing needs, and the most diverse and dispersed group, the continuing studies students,” says Stephen White, dean and professor of architecture at RWU. Administrators wanted to see if they could provide a higher quality learning environment for the same amount of money (or less) than it cost to maintain the school’s computer lab set up. They began to explore a cloud-computing environment.
RWU rolled out a pilot for its architecture students. The school had 27-inch Samsung LCD displays installed at students’ desks and used a VMware virtual desktop solution, but ultimately switched to a Citrix solution that better handled the graphics and high end computing required for architecture classes. RWU paired the Citrix infrastructure with Dell servers. The pilot was successful and the initiative was expanded. Prior to installing the cloud solution, architecture students relied on traditional computer labs.
“The way the rooms were set up there wasn’t any space to collaborate. It was just single stations. We were really at the limit of how many computers we could have and we were about a nine students to one computer ratio, which was killing us in terms of quality and aspirations,” says White.
With the new technology, students connect their own devices to the monitors and access applications they need via the upgraded cloud server. The added benefit of the virtual desktop solution is that students no longer need expensive, professional-grade laptops.
“Given that the computing resources are on a server, students can choose their own device at a much more affordable level than what we expected them to do before,” says White.
Previously, the school estimated students needed to spend between $1,500-$2,000 on a device in order to ensure it would meet the demands of such a high computing environment.
“In terms of software, we estimated for our students that they needed to spend $800 a year on specialized software. Now all of that specialized software is on the server and so the student cost for software has gone from $800 a year to $0 a year after they get their Microsoft Office,” says White.
RWU also does not incur an added cost when the number of students accessing the software increases.
The combination of the LCD displays and cloud infrastructure has allowed architecture