As part of an election promise made by the Rudd government back in 2007, every senior secondary school student in years 9 to 12 was going to be given a laptop, in a program that was worth AU$1 billion. This target was met in 2012 after 967,000 laptops were delivered across the country.
One school that took advantage of this was Lowanna College in Newborough, Victoria where it manages 1,000 laptops, each of which were installed with the Dell KACE K1000 management appliance software.
Lowanna College ICT manager Matt Robinson said the school made a conscious decision together with the support of the community, teachers, and students to take advantage of the government funding, a project that would not have been possible without it, to equip its students with their own devices.
"We made a conscious decision to make sure what we were doing at the school was going to obviously benefit the students and the staff, and not just put laptops in their hands, and then say 'there you go'," he said.
"We wanted to make sure we had community support, teacher support, student support, and make sure our infrastructure was going to work instead of dumping 400 or 500 laptops to see what happens."
The KACE software gave the school full systems, patch, and security management of the laptops. Robinson said the school is able to manage all the laptops in one place, including the 52 software applications that currently exist on the system.
"For IT guys to run around the network installing it individually was a nightmare for us. We've got better things to do than install software on every machine," he said, noting the IT team is only made up of three full-time staff.
"By utilising the KACE system with the software library, which we call software self-service, teachers would give us the software they want to use, we'll put it up into the system and students can download it onto their laptops within 5 or 10 minutes, and within 5 minutes the teacher would be able to start teaching."
Students and teachers also have the option to lodge IT jobs direct from their device through a help service desk via the KACE portal, which Robinson believes gives students the option to interact with the IT team. At the same time, it's also an opportunity for the IT team to track how much time they spend on a job.
The system has also prepared the school for managing BYOD. For the first time this year, the school offered BYOD as an option to students and for the last six months 81 students have opted to take it up, purchasing their devices either through the school or through a government supported vendor.
"About two years ago we knew that BYOD was coming, but what that looked like for schools we didn't know ... so the KACE software helped us out to start with. When we installed it all of sudden everything lit up like a tree and we knew who had what in the school," he said.
Robinson highlighted that it's a managed BYOD environment, which means the school puts its own software image onto its students' laptop, and removes admin rights to avoid students downloading unwanted applications, viruses, and playing games during class.
"We will not give them admin rights and it's the best thing we've ever done. Even for the staff, when kids go to class the software is are all there, and obviously with the KACE system, we get inventory of what hardware and software is on there, and they still have full access to the KACE system as well."
Going forward, Robinson admits the challenge will be keeping existing hardware updated as school budgets begin to shrink.
"What's happening now is schools are looking after the payments for the laptops. Obviously for the school to take that on it has been a huge challenge ... so what's happening is all the government vendors that we purchase off through the Department of Education are developing their own parent portal."
"So, we'll continue to give parents the choice to choose BYOD or they can jump onto the parent portal and choose their payment plan, and this will take the payment of the laptops off the school and giving it the third party," he said.
Robinson hopes to be able to extend BYOD to bring-your-own-technology to enable students to bring their multiple devices to school whether it's their laptops, smartphones, or tablets, but said "that would require a big infrastructure change" as the current existing network support is being supplied by the Department of Education.