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Education Commons at OISE
 

A Creative Remote Access Solution: APHD Students Using the MPlus Software in Their Lab

 

Working remotely was presenting a particular problem for APHD students needing access to the MPlus statistical modeling software to perform data analysis for their theses. This powerful tool is installed on six machines in the APHD students' stats lab, but students cannot come into the lab during the COVID-19 lockdown. A remote access solution, circumventing several obstacles, was called for.

 

Hurdles

In addition to the logistical barrier of the lab's being closed, the lab machines' Microsoft Windows licences strictly forbid allowing more than one user to connect to any machine at one time, meaning no more than six simultaneous remote connections would be permissible. As for the expensive MPlus licences, APHD possesses only six of those, too few to meet the needs of the affected students by handing them out for individual use.

 

Addressing the Requirements

The task at hand was, therefore, to give many people access to these six computers, while preventing any one student from connecting to more than one machine, given their scarcity relative to the need.

Screenshot of Remote Desktop Login

Education Commons' Vince To, our senior endpoint information architect, contemplated a solution. In his favour, he knew that the login system in the stats lab works well with the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP), Microsoft's user-friendly method of connecting to another computer over a network. So, he developed six RDP connection profiles, one per lab machine. He then drafted documentation for the students' use, explaining how to downoad one of these connection profiles and make use of it on their personal computers; the method is different on Windows and Mac.

 

 

portrait of Vince To

Directing Traffic

With a technical solution figured out, Vince strategized a means for controlling the traffic to these six machines, so that the connections could be made available with fairness for all involved. You might be surprised to learn that, in this case, there is not a simple technical means of preventing one student from logging into multiple machines, so a non-technical technique was invented.

Vince advised APHD that they should divide the students into six groups, and let each group know the means of logging into only one of the lab computers. If students find that the computer they want to log into is unavailable because another student is using it, they can reach out to the members of their group to arrange a satisfactory schedule for everyone.

 

Looking Forward

Vince reports that this project led him to think about ways that Education Commons might better provide remote access to groups with special requirements, considering things like

  • what technical solutions might be available now and in the near future
  • what is affordable within a given budget
  • what will be the advantages and obstacles associated with doing something like this in the cloud rather than with physical machines

As always, we learn the most when we are presented with a new challenge.