The Language Lab that Never Closes (live-blogging from IALLT 2007)

This afternoon’s presentation is (drum roll please) The Language Lab That Never Closes: Accessing Specialized Lab Software Virtually (Harold Hendricks, BYU).

The problem: students want 24-hour access to specialized language software so they can, for example, write their Chinese papers whenever they want. Is there a way to do that without hiring more employees and staying open later hours?

How about machine virtualization? Xen? Use remote access with authentication, have anytime / anywhere access to all Windows applications as if you were in the center itself. (This doesn’t work for Macs, though. They have another workaround [which I will have to ask him about later].)

At first, students logged in through Remote Desktop Connection. The concept was great but login was complicated, applications ran too slowly for audio / video, some apps didn’t run, and only one user could access this at a time. So they converted six machine to dual-virtual machines so they could be used by a user in front of the terminal and one accessing it remotely at the same time. It worked for a semester; even the powerful machines chugged when it came to a/v, though, and the database would occasionally kick users off.

So! They got a blade server. It gave better a/v support (occasional glitches in video but audio is great), allowed tracking and reporting of connections. But still a few programs wouldn’t work over remote connections. And a surprise: “wherever” usage was larger than “whenever” usage. It wasn’t really about what time the students wanted to work, it was about where they wanted to work.

Here is the front page for the Virtual Humanities Lab. You can actually have your own drives available on the virtual machine (so, you can use a program on a lab machine to edit a file that’s on your computer). [I’m wondering what kinds of software is available in his lab, and what gets most used?] Mostly word processing, obviously, but also the expensive software like Photoshop and InDesign (which work great, Harold says). The video materials, students still come into the lab to use (maybe because it’s better quality if they come to the lab)? [How does this work with software licensing?] Adobe, for example, only counts the host machine (so, as long as it’s installed on only one computer, as many virtual copies can be open as the server can handle). But, some programs do need to be metered / limited using things like Keyserver [which our campus hasn’t been able to get working with Photoshop CS, I believe].

[Fielding questions about location and relative quality] Audio’s great wherever, video is spotty even on-campus. They haven’t tried using the programs to stream a/v up the network, though, so students still need to come into the lab to record a/v assignments. [Note to self: check out VMWare.]

[Other questions about how this works with copyright.] It’s the same as for a lab, but check the license. Some count physical machines, others count virtual machines. [Are there programs that don’t work, referencing the above problem with Photoshop?] Some small proprietary language-specific software doesn’t work … otherwise, they haven’t had any problems. [Won’t this replace the lab altogether?] Well, language resource centers aren’t just about technology, they’re also about pedagogy and collaboration. They still come for the other things, especially the social interaction.

Ryan has been proudly maintaining and contributing to Language Lab Unleashed since 2005, and is the current President of SWALLT. Since the summer of 2013 he's been causing trouble with his all-star colleagues in the UMW DTLT; when not wrangling websites Ryan can be found doing strange things with heavy objects.

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