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Installing desktop virtualization software changes how students learn

Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp will allow Texas A&M engineering students to learn—and professors to teach—from anywhere
University Business, December 2016
Mark Henry, senior information technology professional in charge of innovative learning technologies, Industrial Engineering, Texas A&M University
Mark Henry, senior information technology professional in charge of innovative learning technologies, Industrial Engineering, Texas A&M University

Five years ago, Texas A&M Industrial and Systems Engineering students at the main campus in College Station, Texas, had one option for accessing course-required software to do their homework—a university computer lab. In the near future, thanks to Citrix XenDesktop and XenApp and the university’s BYOD initiative, engineering majors on the main campus, home to over 60,000 students, can access that software from any device.

In 2010 the department’s chair asked if it was possible for students to use software like AutoCAD or MATLAB virtually, says Mark Henry, senior information technology professional in charge of innovative learning technologies.

“I began looking around for a solution,” says Henry. “Citrix was the only one that would work across multiple devices and multiple browsers.”

The team at Citrix helped Henry fast-track the implementation so that by fall 2011 students were testing XenApp. By summer 2012, XenDesktop was available in classrooms.

XenDesktop, which students can log in to and bring up on their computer, laptop or tablet, provides a full desktop experience. XenApp allows access to specific programs. Chauma Smith-Guss, senior information technology professional, describes XenDesktop as being like a fully loaded kitchen, “with all the bells and whistles,” she says, “and XenApp is like your appliances—oven, fridge or microwave.” “If a class is meeting and they just need to use MATLAB,” says Henry, “XenApp delivers it all by itself.”

Benefits on the back end
Whereas Henry used to have to individually load and update software on computers in classrooms or the computer lab, “These days if we’re required to push out a certain version of Microsoft Excel that a particular teacher needs,” Henry explains, “I publish this new application, and it’s just there for everybody immediately. It makes life so simple in so many ways.”

Because of the combination of BYOD and Citrix, the college has been able to remove hundreds of computers from classrooms, saving space, money and time spent managing devices.

Transformational at the campus level
Then there is the accessibility for both students and teachers. “Because of the virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI), we can set it up to work with our Galveston campus so a professor could be teaching to a class here,” Henry says.

The converse is true as well. “That same software is serving our satellite branches,” Henry adds. “Students can hitch up to a particular web address and can be anywhere in the world.”

According to Henry, when M. Katherine Banks started as dean of the Texas A&M College of Engineering in 2012, she was impressed with Citrix’s versatility—so much so that she asked to have it available for all departments across the college of engineering.

By spring 2017 that will happen. And when the college’s new 525,000-square-foot building, which it calls the Zachry Engineering Education Complex, opens in 2018, it will utilize VDI solutions in class, with Citrix as the cornerstone of those solutions. “Citrix provided us a great means of innovation that we wouldn’t have had otherwise,” says Henry.

This piece was produced for Citrix by University Business. Go to www.citrix.com/education for more information on Citrix solutions for education.

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