WA schools to get next-gen education

Parents, teachers, students get Web 2.0 crash course.

Parents and teachers across Western Australia will need to get tech savvy under a massive Web 2.0 facelift of the state's 768 public schools.

The humble blackboard will superseded as teachers conduct lessons from 16,000 government-issued laptops, while parents will be able to keep a watchful eye on student reports through an online portal.

The changes are part of continued development of the WA Department of Education and Training (DET) Schools Online project and a series of internal department initiatives which aim to improve IT service delivery across the state.

Parents, students and teachers will soon be able to communicate via the customisable Schools Online portal, while a training package will get the less tech-savvy on board using YouTube videos, Instant Messaging, DET blogs and its improved helpdesk service line.

The department consumes a whopping $3 billion budget and serves some 40,000 staff and 250,000 students.

Service delivery and support manager Tim Yorke said demand on the DET IT shop was bubbling over and could not be handled by its patchwork of systems created by a 2003 merger of the then Department of Education and Department of Training.

"Teachers were calling up for help and had to repeat themselves over and over and sometimes didn't ever get a return call," Yorke said.

The DET handles some 240,000 helpdesk calls a year, clears 125 million e-mails, and watches over 18TB of downloads, mostly from school students. It has more than 100,000 desktops and notebooks across 1000 sites, and over 3000 servers linked into the state's largest Wide Area Network (WAN).

Most schools have permanent 10Mbit connections, some with 2Mbit, which provides Internet access for up to 700 devices in a single school.

The department merger brought a knot of IT complexity including uncontrolled procurement across schools which bought "every type of kit imaginable".

The old helpdesk did not have self service and was not governed by Service Level Agreements (SLAs). Available services were not listed for DET customers and less than 20 percent of calls were resolved in the first instance.

Internal benchmarking, now enforced, was previously impossible because the department did not have the tools in place to collecte service metrics.

To clean up the mess, Yorke brought in IT Service Management (ITSM) based on the IT Infrastructure Library version 2 (ITIL2). He has cherry-picked components including incident, change and service level management and nominated three 'officers' to support the implementation.

"The merger was seen as big fish eating little fish, and some staff were groaning about having to change the way they do things. But after a while everyone settles in and IT runs a whole lot better - I've got the scar tissue to prove it," Yorke said.

Operating systems and procurement processes have been standardised across WA schools, and the DET back office now has a single vendor for the purchase of laptops, servers, switches and other data centre technology.

Remaining ITIL2 processes will be deployed as the renovation progresses, including release management, which is in the last stages of finalisation, service catalogue, and change management.

"About 80 percent of [helpdesk] calls are resolved the first time. We're putting in a more egalitarian service for users and are helping them to become more self sufficient," Yorke said.

Redundant support services are being gradually retired as part of weekly comprehensive reviews and benchmarking reports.

The fleet of laptops and edge devices now have a standard suite of software, removing a spate of previous problems with dodgy installations, which can be re-imaged remotely by IT staff.

Yorke said complexity still lingers in a bunch of legacy systems, its massive storage requirements, network traffic and spam load, but is not perturbed as much of the hard groundwork is done.

Yorke spoke at the 2008 ITSM and Help Desk Summit

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Darren Pauli

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