California State University

University of California Channel Island
UC Channel Island

Students at California State University Channel Islands are committed to solving the planet’s most pressing environmental problems from both a human and scientific perspective. Every program includes intensive academic, field-based research and data analysis. Studying coastal erosion is a hands-on, data-intensive, and lab-oriented field requiring an almost unimaginable number of images and data points collected from drones. CSUCI partnered with Propeller to move data analysis from a fixed campus lab serving 24 students to a virtual lab.




Undergraduates Students


Graduate Students

The challenge

The sheer amount of data and images students are working with to learn more about coastal erosion can be overwhelming, especially for students coming to campus with devices like a Chromebook or iPad. As a part of Dr. Patsch’s class gigabytes of drone data and images are collected and downloaded weekly. In the traditional computer lab model, this would volume of data would required 48-72 hours of processing time. The traditional lab experience resulted in:

  • Limited computer lab accessibility
  • Scheduling constraints as class was required to meet in the lab on Friday afternoons to allow for weekend processing
  • Class capacity was limited by lab capacity
  • Processing failures resulted in delays in in learning and analysis causing set-backs in student work and forcing instructors to serve as technical support. 

Our solution

Propeller started by focusing first on the student experience and desired learning outcomes. Once this critical components were understood, the technical work began – how data was being processed and how student used the GIS and drone software. From there, Propeller leveraged AWS and worked wiCSUCI to define the technical requirements. Propeller’s collaboration and academic involvement was so learning centered that department faculty didn’t realize that the Propeller project manager was not a CSU employee.


Propeller leveraged its deep expertise of applying technical know how to educational challenges to design a cloud-based virtual lab that has transformed coastal erosion studies for CSUCI students and faculty.


  • Processing or “compute” time decreased from an average of 60 hours to 8-12 hours
  • Course enrollment expanded beyond 24 students
  • Dramatic increase in student collaboration
  • More time spent learning using the data than processing the data
  • Homework could finally be done at home, or anywhere
  • Students can access the tools they need from virtually any device
  • Diverse student population is better supported
  • Class labs and student work was able to continue despite recent campus closures.

Frequent questions

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Think of this as a “laptop in the cloud.” Propeller’s Virtual Desktop is a high-powered, fully managed workspace that can handle resource-intensive applications on any device.


The Virtual Desktop gives students an environment for completing assignments and lab work outside of the classroom. Students can access their desktop through most browsers on any device, saving the costs of software and hardware upgrades.

The main difference is whether the user gets the same virtual machine every time they log in to the environment.


A persistent machine can be assigned to a student, faculty or staff for any duration you specify at your school — a semester, program or ongoing.


With non-persistent machines, users get a new virtual machine every time. This ensures that every student and every log-in provides the same end user experience. Students can still save their work using your school’s cloud storage solution, such as Google Drive or OneDrive.

Learning Lab is a persistent environment created to run labs and simulations exactly as your faculty envisions. Since each student has an individual lab, they gain hands-on experience without straining campus faculty or IT departments — if something goes wrong, the student can just restart and everything resets. 

Learning Labs are secure, isolated, and scalable, making them great for:

  • Demanding, resource-intensive labs
  • Networking simulations
  • Cybersecurity Courses
  • Programming
  • Digital forensics
  • And much more

We’d be thrilled to have you join the Propeller family! We can quickly move you from the Proof of Concept to a full campus deployment, with minimal effort on your end. Your client success manager works with you to meet your timeline and plan your rollout.

Think of this as the “easy button” to get started with virtual desktop in less than four weeks!


During this time, the Propeller team works with you to gather the requirements, build, test, and put your new environment into production. At the end of the Jump Start, your school’s team will have the knowledge, skills and confidence to take over and continue managing your virtual environment.

Time to make a difference

Let’s make education better and help students achieve their full potential