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Hiccups for Tassie schools' ICT merger

Tasmania's plan to combine its year 11 and 12 colleges with its TAFEs to form a new statewide system with shared ICT services has run into teething issues.
Written by Suzanne Tindal, Contributor

Tasmania's plan to combine its year 11 and 12 colleges with its TAFEs to form a new statewide system with shared ICT services has run into teething issues.

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David Bartlett
(Credit: Tasmanian Government)

Due to low retention rates, the state government decided in 2007 to do something about its system for students after year 10. It proposed a three-tiered system: a Polytechnic, Skills Institute and Academy catering for students who favoured practical learning, employment skills development and academic learning respectively. The program kicked off in January across 14 campuses, with another four or five to be added later.

ICT services were being standardised with shared ICT support, including centralised help desk, single or consistent sign on for all corporate applications, a single backup solution for files, and access for all student and staff to shared labs across campuses.

In budget estimate hearings two weeks ago (23 June), independent member for Rosevears Kerry Finch pointed out that since the new system had begun, there had been IT problems.

"I am informed that since secondary colleges will become part of polytechnic campuses their computer services have entered a disaster zone — that's how it has been described to me. There are long waits and lack of access. Is there a response to that?"

"I think 'disaster zone' is a bit harsh, to be honest," Premier David Bartlett said. "I know from my own background that bringing together nine campuses in a short period of time to operate on disparate systems, two different enrolment systems, a whole range of things, is an extremely complex task and I think the shared services unit in the Polytechnic and the IT area did a very good job in doing that."

He admitted that not all the services which teachers had previously had access to were not online for day one, but he said that he had been told there had been significant improvements. "Partly it is about finding something that is wrong and partly it is about trying to bring old systems together with new systems and the normal migration issues."

Finch said that the feedback he had heard was that students had been unable to configure their laptops into the polytechnic area network service which meant they had to go home to access their email and other services.

Bringing together nine campuses in a short period of time to operate on disparate systems, two different enrolment systems, a whole range of things, is an extremely complex task

David Bartlett

General manager of the shared services unit Tony Luttrell responded to that, saying he understood those issues had now been resolved. "But in talking about that, it's worthwhile understanding that we've inherited about 3500 computers ranging in ages from current 2009 models to ones which are seven years old, so some of the computers in the labs have limitations... So there is a real mixture of capabilities across the 19-odd campuses and this will take some time, as the premier said, to all be on the same age or fleet of current technology," he said.

Aside from fixing migration issues, Bartlett also believed that the IT systems in the newly formed institutions needed upgrading, since despite the new schooling model, students and staff would still be using their old systems which had the same problems they'd always had.

"I have a clear view that we need to invest much more in both student systems or support systems like HR and finance, but much more in teaching and learning systems in IT as well and we will be doing that ... but that will take months and years to invest in; things don't change overnight," he said.

Although the students might have access to new systems in the future, whether they'll be able to use Facebook on the network is still in question.

"There is an educational debate around social networking and it is one that is not resolved," Mike Brakey, CEO of the new Tasmanian Academy said. "With things like Facebook, the question that educators would raise is where is the inherent educational value in social networking?"

He said that having students chatting to their friends on social networks might not be the best use of resources.

"So I think in a sense we've hung back from some of that technology until we can get out heads around that debate because we want to be able to use things like Facebook for those educational purposes; in other words, to facilitate better learning communication on campuses rather than just social networking."

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