There are still some major reasons for setting up a controlled mobile computer classroom. What do you need to think about and how would you set one up? I have done exactly this for over 15 years and managed teams to do the same.
When setting up a mobile classroom you will need to do the following:
- Justify Cost To Your Boss
- Purchase Laptops and Accessories
- Initial Computer Setup
- Image Laptop Hard Drives
- Install Virtual Machine Software
- Purchase Travel Cases
Below I will share with you my experience and include some tips that will save you a lot of time and effort when setting up your Mobile Computer Classroom.
Reasons for Making a Mobile Classroom
There are many reasons to supply computers for technical training and if you have run professional computer training. If you have ever run training when students Bring Their Own (BYO) computers you will know the exact pain I am talking about. You will spend a lot of time holding up the training fault finding issues on each students computer.
Here are some of the reasons to provide laptops or computers for training:
- A Control the Training Environment
- Each Student Gets The Same Training Experience
- Minimize Technical Issues
- Ability to Quickly Reset the Classroom
- Ability to Quickly Change to Another Class
- Allow for Quick Updating and Maintenance
Justifying the Purchase of Computers for Training to Your Boss
The justification for professional IT training is quite simple and the cost for a classroom of PC’s or laptops these days is quite cheap. Say your room full of laptops costs you $1,000 USD each laptop after company purchasing discount. That is a total for 10 laptops would be $10,000 USD. The company will amortize this cost over 3 to 4 years. This just means the accounting department of your company only charges your business unit a third or a quarter of the cost each year. So this makes it very affordable for your business unit.
You will also charge on your training quote to your customers between $500 to $1000 per week of training for the laptops. This goes on as a mandatory line item and means they will pay for themselves in 10 to 20 weeks training. Or pay the amortized cost after 5 to 10 weeks training. After that they are making you money and your boss will have another revenue stream.
Purchase Laptops and Accessories
Due to how long you will have the laptops it is important to make sure they will still be sufficient in 3 to 4 years time. They also have to be light weight for shipping which we will talk about in the “Purchase a Travel Case” section.
So what should you look for in a Laptop?
- i5 or i7 CPU or equivalent AMD
- 16 gig RAM (for Virtual Machines)
- 256 gig SSD or higher
- Wireless G or better / 1 gig networking
- Weigh less than 1.5 kg including power pack
What accessories will you need?
- Wired mice (They never run out of batteries)
- 2 x 6 plug Power Boards
- Wifi Router
- 2 x Extension Cables
- Packing Tape
- Micro or Mini Projector (Optional)
The accessories apart form the mouse are optional but in my experience it is better to pack them then be racing around at a customer site looking for things. The packing tape may seem unusual but if you choose to courier your laptop cases you need something to put the label on with. It also comes in handy for many other things as well.
TIP : Make sure you purchase the laptops from the same batch and not just model number. So they hardware is identical as this will mean a base image from one machine will work on any of them saving you time and effort later.
Initial Laptop Setup
When initially setting up your laptops you won’t want a corporate image and will want to reinstall Windows without all the extra vendor software. This has become quite simple with the new feature in Windows 10 and up machines “Reset this PC” in the Cortana search box.
Once you have reset the PC you will want to make a new partition on the hard disk to store your hard disk images and virtual machines. You can do this in the windows Disk Management tool. If you have a 256 gig SSD reduce the window partition to 100 gig and the remainder on the second partition.
Why are you making a second partition? This is because if anything goes wrong with windows you can restore a hard disk backup of the Windows partition from the second partition and you are back up and running. It also means you don’t need a USB drive to store your images and can restore a previously saved hard disk image with just the small usb stick containing the Hard Disk Imaging software.
Update Windows, Update Drivers and install all the core tools like Adobe Reader, Flash, Java, Microsoft Office etc. Also update the BIOS and turn on the Virtual Machine Settings while you are in there.
Hard Disk Images
Prior to the widespread use of Virtual Machines (VM) when resetting a local classroom for the next class or a travel pack of laptops we used to use Hard Disk Images. This is still a valid method and on physical machines I still take a back up of them after their initial clean install of Windows and then again after the base software install. It is still the most used method for new laptops for most medium to large sized organisations for new laptops and PC’s for staff.
With computers becoming faster the time for a full copy of the hard drive (a hard disk image) takes less than 10 minutes from a USB 3.0 drive or second partition. Network Administrators will often still do a hard disk backup across the network during business downtime as well for core servers and computers.
When a class is finished you can wipe the current hard disk with the earlier image or copy and you are ready for your next class.
Examples of tools you can use are:
TIP : Copy your hard disk images onto a USB drive in case of a whole hard disk failure.
Installing Virtual Machine Software
Whether you use Virtual Machines (VM) for teaching or not it is still important to take a base hard disk image of your laptops for disaster recovery reasons. Then you can use a separate VM for each class you teach and use Snapshots to reset before class or to preset class positions if students have issues.
With a Mobile Computer Classroom you will only ever use Stand Alone Virtual Machine software. The two you could use are:
VMWare Workstation allows you to create virtual machines and VMWare Player allows you to run Virtual Machines. While you may think VMWare Player is all you will need to install on your classroom laptops you would be wrong. The reason is that you can not make or use snapshots without Workstation. So this will mean you will need Workstation licenses for each classroom laptop.
Virtual Box only has one version and is free to use but not as feature rich as the paid version of VMWare. There is also no guaranteed support for Virtual Box. Although in my opinion there is not much support you need with either software package after some initial training.
Both virtual machine software packages store you virtual machine in a folder so once made you can keep them on your second partition for storage and you can run them from there for your classes as well. If you have many different classes you may want to think of a 500 gig SSD so you have enough room on the second partition for many pre made Virtual Machines.
TIP : When creating your Virtual Machines make sure you take a snapshot with just windows, office (power point), java, flash, adobe reader and any other third party tools. Before you load your own software. This means you can reuse the VM for other classes as a base image. It also makes it easier for updating.
TIP : We cover setting up Virtual Machines for training in another article but always make sure you optimize your VM’s before use to make them smaller in file size and so they run quicker.
Purchasing Travel Cases
When purchasing laptop travel cases you have two options. You can purchase something like a pelican case which is a pre-made case with customizable foam inside. Or alternately you can get a custom case made. The custom case is my preferred option even though it will cost you twice the price as they last longer and can be designed specifically for you brand of laptops.
Things to consider with your cases:
- Only have 5 laptops and a section for accessories in each case
- Put the accessories compartment near the handle at the top of the box
- Make the box size match the airline bag size limit
- Make the whole box weight under 32kg as this is the largest size for plane luggage
- Ensure they have an extendable handle and stur
As you might have guessed the restrictions above are good for sending by freight or more importantly every now and then you may need to bring them back on the plane. The lighter you make the cases the more your back will thank you. This is why the weight restriction on laptops in the earlier section.
TIP : Only use rolling code based locks on the cases and not keys as this will help if someone borrows the cases and needs access or if a customer on the site is setting up your classroom for you.