Students at the Tomsk Polytechnic University (TPU)’s Engineering School for IT and Robotics in Siberia have come up with a solution that could turn any laptop into a self-contained server to conduct teaching online. All one needs to do so is a standard flash drive or any other USB storage.
“Today all schools and universities begin to widely use webinars. However, there are very few free webinar platforms in Russia, while foreign ones, which now offer free access, have faced the problem of hacking and unauthorized access by users uncalled-for. Think of Zoom, for one. We in TPU encourage our professors to gradually move to alternative platforms which are more secure. For many high schools, however, which do not even have systems administrators on staff, this poses a serious problem. For them, the solution our guys have developed is a simple and effective way of streamlining webinar-based education,” said Alexander Fadeyev, the TPU Vice Rector for Digitization.
At the core of the new tech development is what the students refer to as image, or mirror, which makes it possible to save on USB everything that is required for webinar software to be started on a computer. It’s free distribution software based on the Linux operating system, with a special web server and the Big Blue Button webinar platform.
“A user does not have to install anything. All he needs to do is insert a flash drive in a laptop, reboot the computer, and the software starts all on its own. Some settings may have to be adjusted to match the parameters of a local network—that’s it, no extra work. And your laptop becomes a server,” explained Vladimir Stepanenko, a fourth-year student and one of the project developers.
An ordinary laptop is powerful enough for dozens of users to connect to a webinar.
“The system is self-contained and depends on no external services or platforms, and this is the key advantage of it. It does not adversely affect laptop operation, either; as soon as the flash drive is out, the computer returns to the as-usual mode,” added Viktor Kozlovsky, Mr. Stepanenko’s partner in this project.
The developers have uploaded an instruction on how to create one’s own Big Blue Button webinar server onto the web for everyone to be able to access it for free.