Virtual Computer Labs

Eliminating the computer-learning gap between the developed and developing nations

“Virtual Computer Labs” are perhaps the most visible and geographically-wide program that is offered by STEM Synergy.  As of this writing, we’ve successfully established 75 of these novel computer-learning laboratories, mostly in Ethiopia, as well as South Sudan and Burundi.  Moreover, we’ve trained the trainers to roll-out even more of these labs.  As a result, we’re confident that we can someday reach every student in Ethiopia’s ~2000 public high schools.  Moreover, we have realistic dreams to reach every student in the nation’s ten thousand public primary schools.

Our solution is not a laptop computer for every student, nor is our solution a computer for every seat in a classroom!  Such expensive unrealistic fads come and go.  In our experience, we’ve sadly observed high failure rates with laptops, such that after about four years nearly all of the laptops are inoperable.  We’ve equally sadly observed desktop computers permanently disabled by viruses, hardware failures, obsolute operating systems, inconsistent software, and failing power conditioners and batteries.  That is the reality.

The STEM Synergy solution is the “Virtual Computer Lab”.  Within this innovative form of computer-learning, a single computer easily runs a classroom array of 20 to 30 student workstations.  Each workstation is the usual configuration of a display monitor, a keyboard, and a mouse, but missing is the workstation’s computer!  Instead of connecting to a computer, the student’s monitor/keyboard/mouse is connected to a “thin client” device.  (In the photos, you can see the “thin client” device that’s affixed to the back of each student display monitor.)  Every “thin client” is connected (by wireless or cable) to the teacher’s computer, a high-capacity computer that has been configured to run multiple virtual copies of a personal computer. 

Benefits of virtual computing:  Electrical power requirements are minimized by 85%.  Because there’s only one computer for a whole lab, only one electric power conditioner is needed, not 30.  Minimal power requirement reduces problems with electrical infrastructure.  The classroom is not overheated by power-hungry computers.  A computer virus cannot cross into the virtual software.  Beyond all the environmental and technical benefits, the teacher-student computer-learning is better, because the lab instructor centrally monitors the progress of all of her computer lab students.

Negatives of virtual computing:  We haven’t seen many negatives, especially as newer versions of the “thin client” seem to always improve upon any past negative experience, e.g., some high-speed USB-connected engineering devices attached to the “thin client”.

 We’ve successfully established 75 virtual computer labs serving many students in learning diverse situations in far-flung locations.  But how do we scale up to 2000 high school Virtual Computer Labs, or even 10,000 primary school Virtual Computer Labs?  

This noble program has a sizable sustainable component, which is our method of “training the trainers”.  We have proven that we can indeed implement Virtual Computer labs across a vast cascading array of sites.

NOTE:  Eyoel Hailu discovered and implemented the early Virtual Computer labs.  The funding for all of the Virtual Computers labs was provided by STEM Synergy’s founder or by the GFCT (STEM Synergy’s predecessor).