Schools only pay Stream2School for software when they plan to use it. George Cole finds out how it works
Ian Skeels, managing director of Stream2School, a revolutionary software rental service, explains why schools should rent rather than purchase much of their education software.
Agent4Change.net: Can you give us a little background about Stream2School?
Ian Skeels: I’m an ex-RM employee and was the company’s Window Box manager in the 1990s. It occurred to me that schools wanted more flexibility in their ICT and that software distribution via CD-Rom was not working well. Schools had problems with installation; there were conflicts and ICT technicians were spending a lot of their time resolving them.
Stream2School was set-up in 2009 and we are a small company, based in Wallingford in Oxfordshire. Our website went live in September 2010, but our hard launch will be at BETT 2011.A4C: The most obvious question is: why would schools want to rent software?
Ian Skeels: Two words: simplicity and flexibility. We install the software for you. As far as the teacher is concerned, it’s just there, ready to be used. The flexibility comes from the fact that, if you know you only want to use a software package for say, one term, then you can simply rent it for that period.
'This flexibility also allows schools to try out new software'
This in turn can bring great savings to schools. For example, a standard site licence for Mission Maker [a title from Immersive Technology that allows students to create 3D worlds] costs just under £1,500, but you can rent it from us for just £167 a term. This flexibility also allows schools to try out new software, because the rental cost isn’t great. A school can see whether a software title is getting much use before investing in it. Once the Stream2School service is set-up, teachers can simply select the software they want and then have it streamed to their classroom computers.
A4C: Has the service been tested?
Ian Skeels: Yes. We’ve tried it in 10 schools across the UK, both primary and secondary. We’ve received some very positive feedback from the trials and learnt some important lessons. For example, some RBCs [Regional Broadband Consortia] and local authorities control internet access and close ports and that can sometimes create issues.
A4C: How does the Stream2School system work?
Ian Skeels: We use Application Jukebox, a technology created by Endeavors Technologies. This is downloaded on to a PC and then we stream the application software over the internet. It sits in a secure cache on the PC’s hard drive and, once stored, you can use the software as normal.
A4C: So if I’ve got 100 PCs in my school, Application Jukebox has to be put on to each one?
Ian Skeels: Yes. But it’s only done once, and at BETT, we are introducing a Stream2School Player which will make the installation process even simpler.
A4C: Is an internet connection required for using the software?
Ian Skeels: Yes, but once the software has been stored in the cache, the connection is only used to verify that the PC is entitled to use it. We do this by sending a token [a package of check data], so only a small amount of data is exchanged.
A4C: What platform is Stream2School designed for?
Ian Skeels: Windows XP and above. We have seen Stream2School being run on a Mac using virtualisation, and that’s something we are actively exploring.
A4C: Is Stream2School only available for desktop PCs and laptops? What about Tablet PCs and thin clients?
Ian Skeels: That will depend on their configuration. As you know, thin clients tend to have little hard disk space.
A4C: What type of licence do you offer?
Ian Skeels: It’s a full site licence, so you can use the software with as many students as you want.
A4C: Does it include home use?
Ian Skeels: No, although a teacher could unplug a laptop, take it home, reconnect to the internet and then use the software. Home licensing is something we might consider in the future.
A4C: What do you offer schools in terms of software?
Ian Skeels: We currently have five partners – Lightbox Education (part of RM), Crick Software, Immersive Education, Stripey Design and Cambridge-Hitachi. We have around 45 titles – such as Textease Studio, Kar2ouche: Romeo and Juliet, and Fuse Creator. We’ll probably double this number over time, but our aim is not to offer a massive software catalogue – we want to offer a good selection of good educational software. I’m keen to expand our Special Educational Needs catalogue.
A4C: How much does it cost?
Ian Skeels: Prices range from £11 per term for Tizzy’s First Tools to £334 for a secondary school licence for WriteOnline. We also add a 10 per cent service charge to all transactions, which pays for the streaming technology. It’s like the line rental charge you pay for a telephone service.
A4C: How do you make money?
Ian Skeels: Through the agreements with our software partners.
A4C: Do you only offer application software?
Ian Skeels: That’s all we sell, but we can also provide schools with a variety of free open source software, such as OpenOffice, Audacity and Gimp.
A4C:What happens at the end of the rental period?
Ian Skeels: The school can extend the rental period or the software will be automatically be deleted from the cache.
A4C: What happens to students’ work that is created with rental software?
Ian Skeels: In most cases, this can be exported to another file format, so their work isn’t lost at the end of the rental period. But if the software is an integral part of the work, then yes, it would be lost. However, if a school is using this type of functionality, then purchasing the software might be a better option.
A4C: What about support?
Ian Skeels: We provide technical support for the Application Jukebox, but software support is provided by the software publisher, as normal.
A4C: How does Stream2School work in practice?
Ian Skeels: A school registers with us and provides us with their IP address and establishment ID [a code used to identify all UK schools]. Once the account is set up and Application Jukebox is installed, you can start renting software. We don’t deal with credit cards; a school receives an invoice from us once a term. It’s that easy.
BETT 2011, January 12-15
Stream2School: stand P6
George Cole is a freelance journalist who writes about technology and learning. A former teacher, he is also the author of The Last Miles, a book about the jazz musician Miles Davis, and runs The Last Miles website.