Brisbane schools offer BYOD lessons


Kids given admin rights.

The trend towards enterprise embracing bring your own device (BYOD) can leave IT managers and sysadmins flummoxed. After all, there are security issues to think about, and minimum productivity levels for staff needing to use software with, at the bare minimum, similar capabilities.

However, according to Simon Mackey, manager, operations and network services at Brisbane Catholic Education, there may be a middle ground.

This middle ground will still allow staff to generally choose a device they’re happy with and give them administrative power over that device, but the enterprise will still have minimum standards allowing everyone to get on and do their job.

Mackey’s insights come from the Australian government’s National Secondary School Computer Fund rollout. Essentially this saw secondary students across the nation receive a laptop computer funded by the government. The choice of laptop was up to the schools

Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE), said Mackey, had the responsibility to roll out laptops to around 20,000 students in 130 schools. “The program got underway in 2009,” he told iTnews. “It was really important for us to find a rapid way to roll out the machines, but also to do it in the least disruptive manner possible.”

Then there was a kicker: the government supplied the money for the machines, but basically there was no money for technical support. “We had to be creative, and choose devices and systems that did not overly burden us with technical support,” he said.

Which is where the modified model of BYOD came into it. Instead of deciding a single model from a single vendor, with a software image requiring the kids to log into a portal was the way to go, Mackey went the opposite direction. BCE chose a panel of suppliers, including HP, Dell and Apple. Students (or their parents) could choose the machine they wanted.

“This took the guesswork out of the purchasing decision, but people could still generally get a machine that suited them,” he said.

BCE also made the decision the devices would not be locked down, nor would there be a single software image.

In essence, the kids got administrator rights, a decision prompted, Mackey said, by the fact the computers are used outside the school. “You don’t want them taking home a machine that’s basically a brick outside the school,” he said.

BCE also rolled out wireless networks into all its schools, and it deployed SolarWinds Orion to monitor and report on the network health.

“Orion can alert us in the NOC and send [an] email to the school tech saying that a switch has gone offline, and can they investigate,” he said. “This significantly reduced downtime.”

Mackey said the decisions BCE made are a mode of bring your own device, but with a twist. Users can still manage their own device, but all the devices are licensed with the necessary software to get learning done. Much learning is also done online, and through online packages, he added.

“The difference is we provide the choice, pick from these flavours,” he said. “There are advantages in some form of standardisations.”

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Brisbane schools offer BYOD lessons
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