A Little Noise

August 31, 2017

Change Switched on Schoolhouse client host

Filed under: Kids — snoyes @ 11:16 am

Our homeschool curriculum choice has been Switched On Schoolhouse, by Alpha Omega Publications. AOP offers the same curriculum in an online format called “Monarch”; Switched On Schoolhouse is their disc-based version. We chose SOS instead of Monarch because it allows our students to do their work anywhere – in the car or a doctor’s waiting room – regardless of the available Internet connection.

SOS has two program interfaces, “student” and “teacher”, and two installation modes, which they call “full” and “client”. If you only have one computer, then you do a “full” install of both “student” and “teacher”, and both the student’s work and any grading are done all in the same place. However, that means that for me to do any grading, my students can’t be using their computers, and I also have to do be seated at their computer rather than using my own, which isn’t ideal for us.

AOP has attempted to resolve this inconvenience with their “client” offering. The intended layout is a “full” installation on some host computer (probably the teacher’s machine), and then a “client” installation of the student interface on each student’s machine. This setup allows the teacher to see all students in the school within a single interface, switching between them with a simple dropdown menu. However, it also requires that the host computer be available on a local network to the students at all times, which would be even worse for us than the online requirement of Monarch (we’d have to set up a local network in the car, and I’d have to bring my computer when I would not normally).

It’s possible to reverse the installation: do a full install on the student’s machine, and a client install on the teacher’s. This layout allows the students to work from anywhere, and when we are on the same local network, I can access their machine from mine and do grading, even while they are using their computer for something else. For a single student, it’s ideal, but there’s one snag: we have multiple students, each with their own computer. During client installation, you must specify which machine is running the full installation, and there is nothing in the interface that allows you to easily change it later. So I can set it up to connect to Iona’s computer, but then can’t switch to grade Eden’s work.

However, all is not lost. The client stores the name of the computer to which it connects in a configuration file. Edit the file, change the name of the computer, restart, and you’re now connected to the other student.

The configuration file is C:\Program Files (x86)\AOP\Switched-On Schoolhouse 2016 Home\SOSHApp.exe.config

(throughout this text, anywhere it says “2016”, adjust for the current year.)

As plain text, it can be edited with Notepad, Wordpad, vim, or any similar program. I usually avoid using Microsoft Word or similar word processors to edit config files, because they often try to modify the encoding, replace straight quotes with “pretty” quotes, and other similar things which make the program which is trying to read that file very unhappy. It’s a protected file, which means the editor must be running with elevated privileges (right click, “Run as administrator”).

About halfway down the file is a line that looks like this:

<add key="ConnectionString" value="Initial Catalog=SOSHOME2016;Data Source=IONA-LAPTOP\SOSHOME80;" />

Change IONA-LAPTOP to EDEN-LAPTOP, save the file, start up SOS, and now I can grade Eden’s work instead.

Editing a config file manually every time I want to switch students is tiresome, boring, and repetitive – exactly the kind of things computers do way better than humans. A script beckons.

Download SOS-Switcher.zip (you might be warned by your browser or anti-virus that this is dangerous program. They’re right; it has the potential to be dangerous. You should examine the contents and know what they do before blindly trusting them with your computer.)

Since Windows doesn’t haveat that time I didn’t yet know how to use Powershell to get a nice regular expression replace program like sed built in, we’ll need our own – that’s what replace.vbs does. Then we’ll need a batch file to call it with the correct parameters – that’s what switch.bat does.

Extract these two files and put them in the C:\Program Files (x86)\AOP\Switched-On Schoolhouse 2016 Home\ directory (which you’ll have to do as administrator).

Now, for each student, right-click on switch.bat and choose “Create Shortcut”. It will ask if it can create the shortcut on the desktop; that’s fine.

Right click, Create Shortcut

Right-click on the newly created shortcut, and choose Properties. On the Shortcut tab, there’s a Target box, which should say something like:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\AOP\Switched-On Schoolhouse 2016 Home\switch.bat"

Add the name of the student’s computer to that, outside the quotes:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\AOP\Switched-On Schoolhouse 2016 Home\switch.bat" IONA-LAPTOP

Click “Advanced” and check “Run as administrator”.

You may also choose “Change Icon” – it will tell you that switch.bat doesn’t contain any icons, and bring up a window with a bunch of standard Windows icons to choose from. To get the SOS icon, click on Browse…, navigate to C:\Program Files (x86)\AOP\Switched-On Schoolhouse 2016 Home, and open SOSHApp.exe.

On the General tab, you can change the shortcut name. It’s probably “switch.bat - Shortcut“; I changed it to “SOS Iona“.

Repeat the process for the other students – create a shortcut, modify properties, change the target:

"C:\Program Files (x86)\AOP\Switched-On Schoolhouse 2016 Home\switch.bat" EDEN-LAPTOP

Now, make sure that SOS is not running. Double click on one of the shortcuts. After a moment (and possibly a question if you want to let it change settings on your computer – choose Yes or OK), it should open SOS, and you’ll find that you have access to one student’s work. Close SOS, launch the other shortcut, and verify that you now have access to the other student’s work.

If there’s a very long pause, and then an error message saying it can’t connect, either you did not put the correct computer name in the shortcut target, or that computer is not running or has a firewall preventing access. The SOS installation disc 2 has some utilities to help you configure all that, and their FAQ and tech support can walk you through that bit.


  1. Hi! We’re considering SOS for our kids and I have the same concerns you posted here. I don’t want my kids to be confined to the home to do their school work. Do you think it would be possible to run the Server on a cloud instance, like Azure? Is this something you’ve looked in to before?

    Comment by AJ — July 2, 2019 @ 8:33 am

  2. AJ: I have not. But if you’re going to do that, why not just use Monarch? As far as I understand, it’s the same curriculum as SOS, just presented as a web page instead of a standalone application.

    Comment by snoyes — December 13, 2019 @ 11:00 am

  3. Hello,
    You seem to be very knowledgeable, so maybe you can help?
    I am trying to figure out if I can use a cloud based server for SOS, like Microsft Azure. Or, can I somehow store the database on OneDrive?
    Any hints you have would be great!

    Comment by Lara VanLoo — August 25, 2020 @ 2:38 pm

  4. Lara: I have not attempted to use SOS on the cloud. I imagine it would be tricky, since as far as I understand, Azure relies on non-persistent virtual machines which means that any third party software has to be reinstalled at every startup, which doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. I think I’ve heard of someone running it on their own private server so their kids could access it on their Chromebooks, but I don’t know the details.

    I imagine the database files could be moved wherever you like, although you’ll either have to set up a symlink so SQL Server still thinks they’re in the original location, or else get into the SQL Server instance and change the paths (and AOP won’t tell you the password to make a direct connection to the database, so you will have to be devious).

    However, if you are going down the road of having a curriculum that requires an active network connection, why not just use Monarch? The whole appeal of SOS is that you can use it on a local machine with no Internet connection, which means the kids can bring their computers along in the car even without a data service.

    Comment by snoyes — August 25, 2020 @ 4:16 pm

  5. Thank you so much for the idea of using a symlink. I will look into that.
    My reason for using SOS is that I have a 4th grader and already have curriculum through high school. He’s my straggler :)
    The first year I used SOS was 2003. We had to use the import/export tool each day.
    Now, I would love to be able to have the database accessible without having the full install computer always on.

    Comment by Lara VanLoo — August 25, 2020 @ 5:17 pm

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