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Feature - 23 July 2008 (ARN)

Children of the revolution

Channel players that learn the right lessons frok the Federal Government's digital education revolution could score top marks.

Fleur Doidge (ARN)23 July, 2008 10:33

Many in the channel have been rubbing their hands with anticipation at news of what the Rudd Government has dubbed a Digital Education Revolution. Neat slogans aside, new funding of $1.2 billion over five years is being earmarked for technology in education to target a growing need and desire for IT coming from the institutions themselves as well as from the business and wider worlds.

Some of the ready on offer sounds rather tempting.

According to the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), a national secondary school computer fund (NSSCF) will grant up to $1 million per school for new ICT in Years 9-12 and up to $100 million for fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) broadband connections to schools in the Fibre Connections to Schools (FCS) plan.

There’s also $32.6 million up for grabs over two years to supply students and teachers with online resources that support the national curriculum, as well as conferencing facilities for certain subjects, and $10 million over three years to support NSSCF deployments. Teachers will also be guaranteed access to IT training.

The aim, according to DEEWR, is to make changes that will ensure students are as well prepared as possible for “living in a digital world”.

The big picture

Canberra-based Gartner research director, Steve Bittinger, works with various Federal Government agencies, some of which work on IT strategy and planning in education. He’s been getting feedback around the consumerisation of IT, which is happening in education as it has been in the corporate sector.

Students – and staff – are already bringing iPods, mobile phones, Web cams, digital cameras and the like to school and expecting them to work with the institution’s network, forcing IT managers to expand their thinking to support such technologies and grapple with resultant problems in keeping the school network safe, secure and functioning.

“What are [educational and technical] staff doing in order to be comfortable with what the students are doing?” Bittinger asked.

He said that you only need add all that to the trend in outsourcing of IT support and services to open a great many cans of rather wriggly worms.

“For example, Macquarie University and NSW Education have gone to Google and said ‘you handle our student email’. That’s a major shift in the balance of power, when outside interests are managing something like email at a university,” Bittinger said.

On top of the usual outsourcing challenges, universities and their service providers need to worry about compatibility, reliability and integration on top of the usual concerns about confidentiality and security.

Where will the servers actually be? If a datacentre handling student information is overseas, for example, foreign legislation about information security may come into play.

“Not only is it about whether you’re easy to work with, but is it easy to integrate your services in with those of other service providers?” Bittinger said. “And those issues around integrating the security elements are those that might include the identity management and issues around integrating the end-to-end delivery itself.”

IT providers and their customers struggle with integration and change management. So channel players with strengths and highly-skilled staff in those sorts of complex areas could be onto a hot revenue stream in the not-so-distant future, Bittinger suggested.

Getting deals will either be about the winner being a player with a very clearly defined contract that irons out all the curly bits or the parties will have decided instead to form a more strategic, longterm relationship that changes with the client’s needs, Bittinger predicted.

Contracts must be teased out, followed through in all layers to their natural conclusions, and finally, dealt with coherently.

“If the client can access the tool, can other service providers access the tool? And if they need access to each others’ tools that can be a problem,” Bittinger said. “And if you end the relationship, can the client take away the tool?”

School experiences

Schools’ IT managers confirmed the educational benefits of smart technological adoption.

At Ballarat and Clarendon College in Victoria, 800 of a total 1180 students have been participating in a 1:1 technology program since 2007. Pupils in Years 5-10 now bring their notebooks or tablet PCs to the two senior campuses of the school each day.

Victoria-based education specialist, Computelec, won the deal, which includes service and training to the college’s IT staff and ongoing support including maintenance and break-fix. At the start of each year, about 200 tablet PCs are distributed to new students, under the national solution provider’s watchful eye.

Basic training from Computelec offers pupils advice on how to look after their PCs, connect to the school network, and set them up ergonomically. According to the solution provider, 85 per cent of all repairs are done during the school day and 95 per cent within 24 hours.

Pupils can’t afford to be without their computers – and those who come back with the same mishaps again and again are taken aside for additional training. . .


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