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The Intel Educational Appliance: the coolest tool you might never buy

Sold largely in developing markets, the Intel Education Appliance has incredible potential and utility for potential markets as well.
Written by Christopher Dawson, Contributor on

A box arrived on my doorstep last week that made me grin and my wife cringe. The day before, a beast of a server arrived for long-term review and testing efforts and now another computer had come to the Dawson house. This one, however, was one I'd been anticipating for quite some time. It was the Intel Educational Appliance, built and marketed by Critical Links (makers of the popular EdgeBox) and, I hoped, was just the sort of turnkey school solution for which I'd been looking.

The idea behind the Educational Appliance is simple: create a single device that, when tossed in line with a school network, can support a wide variety of ICT tools with very little hardware or software expertise required by school staff. Out of the box, the appliance has learning management system software, student information systems, a web server, wiki and forum support, backup and image management software, IP telephony, interactive whiteboard management software...you name it. This one box can literally do it all and is managed through a simple web interface.

Obviously, in schools that already have significant ICT infrastructure, this sort of all-in-one capability isn't necessary. However, there are countless schools with very limited support services, outdated or expensive information systems, and little ability to provide modern learning environments, even here in the States, where an easy-to-learn solution could revolutionize classrooms.

The appliances have been widely deployed in Portugal and allow areas with limited access to broadband (think rural Midwest) to give students access to wikis, blogs, and Moodle on premise without need to connect to the Internet. Connected schools can leverage the built-in firewall and content filter.

At first blush, it sounds like a great solution for a wide cross-section of schools and its open source, industry-standard web tools for school, student, and learning management make it an interesting choice even for relatively well-connected schools. However, I'll be putting this box through its paces, imaging large sets of Classmates (one of the primary functions in the reference design from Intel), pushing on its web server, and testing the usability of its management interface. I have it on long-term loan and we'll see if an appliance like this can achieve the holy grail status I think it can.

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