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May, 2012 - Education - Site Home - MSDN Blogs
The Australian Education Blog
Ray Fleming's take on what's interesting in Education IT in Australia

May, 2012

  • Education

    How the carbon tax will affect education


    I know there’s a political debate about the carbon tax, and I don’t want to go near that. But I did see the stories earlier this week (eg this one on Sky News) that the carbon tax is going to increase costs for NSW public sector organisations by nearly $50M, and figures quoted that the 2,177 public schools in NSW will each face an increased energy bill of $9,100 a year. And I guess similar figures will hit all schools, nationally.

    What will be the impact of carbon tax on education?

    The biggest impact is likely to be that senior managers will be looking at the energy bill going up, and start to ask more questions about where all that energy is going. From an ICT perspective, I think there are a couple of key areas to consider:

    • How to reduce the energy cost of your user devices
    • How to reduce the energy cost of your ICT infrastructure

    How to reduce the energy cost of your user devices

    With the rapid rise of ICT devices across education, there’s been a matching rise in energy use. For example, the DER student laptop scheme, with 850,000 new laptops, will have added a couple of megawatts of power demand each day.

    Some schools have wised up to this, and encourage their students to charge their laptops at home overnight, rather than in school.

    By switching to laptops from desktops, you’ll already be making a saving, as laptops use significantly less power than a desktop (which could save $100+ a year per device). There’s an interesting table here which gives you a quick snapshot of energy usage of different laptops and desktops used at the University of Pennsylvania.

    For some ideas of what you can do about your student and staff computers, take a look at this previous blog post about reducing IT energy usage.

    How to reduce the energy cost of your ICT infrastructure

    And then there’s the always-on devices, like servers, switches, routers and all kinds of gubbins connected to your network. Each of those devices with pretty flashing lights that you see once the lights are off are all gobbling power.

    There’s a bunch of case studies which look at different ways that education institutions have saved money on their infrastructure (for example, there are eight listed in this ‘Reducing IT costs in education’ article that cumulatively saved $4m across energy, hardware and running costs), and depending on your infrastructure size, you might find some other good advice here:


    Learn MoreRead more about Cost Saving in education

  • Education

    How to use twitter to recruit students


    The Genuis Recruiter (who sell social media services to universities recruiting international students) has a well-written blog with useful hints and data on recruiting international students in higher education. If it’s in your role to think about expanding your student base in a university or TAFE, or you’re curious about the intersection between technology and student recruitment, then I’d recommend adding their blog to your reading list.

    One of the really interesting posts from the last month is “How universities are using Twitter to recruit students”, which is important because of the rapid rate of growth of 12-17 year olds using it (the ideal demographic for your next generation of students). In total, there are over 100 million Twitter users, and so it would be wrong to think that Facebook is the only place where you can connect with your future students.

    In the use 84% of US universities have official Twitter presences, and they are using it for two key ways to connect to students for:

    • Communicating and interacting with future students
    • Advertising to students (with geotargeted ads based on students interests expressed through their own tweets)

    The Genius Recruiter article has links for further info, and also a handy infographic tip sheet with advice on how to get more clicks on your Twitter tweets.

    Learn MoreRead the original Genius Recruiter article "How universities are using Twitter to recruit students"

  • Education

    Lessons learned from DER Student Devices


    A few weeks ago, the Inter-American Development Bank released a report on the roll out of the One Laptop Per Child programme in Peru, where the government has put 850,000 laptops into the hands of school students. It created some controversy, especially as The Economist took a negative view on the outcomes (See “Great idea. Shame about the mediocre computer” from The Economist). When I mentioned it on my Posterous stream, I asked the question “Does anybody know if similar research is being undertaken for the Digital Education Revolution (DER) programmes in Australia?

    imageAnd so thanks are due to Derek Knox at Dell, who pointed me towards a new report “Student devices and the Digital Education Revolution: Lessons Learned” produced by IBRS (a research agency), with sponsorship from Intel and Dell.

    Lessons from the DER

    I recommend reading the report – it’s especially useful if your responsible for IT strategy in schools, and especially if you’re thinking about Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) in education – as it contains some really useful information on the implementation model for student devices (whether that’s student owned devices, or school devices)

    Here’s the highlights I pulled out of the report (in my own words, so blame me, not the report if I’ve mis-interpreted it)

    In the Introduction the report talks about the future for the Digital Education Revolution (page 4):


    The bar has been raised in terms of student and public perception for education. The public now expect that all year 9 to 12 students will have access to computing devices, and that not having a device will somehow put a student at a disadvantage.

    The additional infrastructure required to support the existing number of devices has seen “business as usual” IT costs grow by at least 30%, and, in some cases observed, by over 200%. Over the past three years, at least some of these additional IT costs have been covered by the Building Education Revolution funds. With the BER completed, these on-going costs are coming home to roost.

    Either the DER funding needs to become a permanent fixture of Australia, or we need to find new ways to get computing power into students hands, in a way that will not eventually cripple school budgets.



    Chapter 2 then looks through a series of ‘lessons learned’ under a range of options. This is where there are some really key points that are applicable to anybody who’s responsible for a device strategy in a school, TAFE, and possibly even a university.

    Lesson 1: Fit for purpose

    Much of the procurement decision making focused on either the lowest cost device or the need for a device that continued the differentiation between a technologically advanced school and others (ie fee-charging schools needing to look ahead of government schools). The point is that little of the decision making focused on intended educational use and outcomes. There’s a good chart in this table which shows, from a 2009 DEEWR report, what students are actually using classroom computers for.

    Lesson 2: Warranty and Maintenance

    The IT industry runs to a maximum 3 year lifecycle (eg availability of spare parts for devices), so having a four year lifecycle turns out to be difficult (and therefore expensive?) to deliver in terms of maintenance, warranty and support.

    Lesson 3: Downtime is unacceptable

    You only deliver a lesson once – so if your students laptop isn’t working at the time they need, you disrupt their education. So processes for effective management of this need to be in place – even down to flat batteries. If you don’t do this effectively, it can lead teachers to only exploiting the IT in homework assignments, rather than relying on them in real-time in the classroom

    Lesson 4: Management

    Many of the devices were deployed without effective and efficient device management – meaning students often had to return their devices to IT to have things sorted out. And it became difficult for schools to manage them effectively because of the high cost of the skilled staff needed to implement effective management (a quote: The skills required to run a well –managed fleet are unaffordable for most schools, and not just for purely financial reasons. A quality IT desktop manager has an annual salary around $90,000 to $120,000. A school principal has a salary of $80,000 to $130,000)

    Lesson 5: Professional Development

    Without an effective programme of professional development for teachers, there’s a danger of a wasted opportunity to support the change in teaching and learning that programmes like the DER provide. The recommendation of the report is to ensure that PD is part of the requirement, and the procurement, rather than assuming it will happen some other way.


    Chapter 3 – Digital Revolutionary Ideas

    The first section in this chapter makes a very powerful argument – that the idea of giving personal ownership of a device to students from Year 9 for 4 years is fatally flawed. This is because the student needs ramp up over those 4 years, and the critical year in which students will need the full power of their devices (ie Year 12, when they are producing their major works) is exactly the point at which their devices are becoming obsolete, will be unable the run the latest software, and will have the least reliability).

    The diagram below, from the report, summarises it really well: 

    DER student laptop lifecycle diagram



    Chapter Four: Bring Your Own Device

    I’m not going to summarise this chapter in detail, but instead recommend that you read the detail in the report.

    The story that is told within this section is that the DER model of 1:1 devices for Years 9-12 is unlikely to be sustainable in the future, for a variety of reasons, and that therefore other models need to be also explored. For example, the virtualisation of the desktop for students, so that they can log on to any device to work. This removes the need for every student to have a dedicated personal device, and means that they can have different devices for different tasks (eg in Year 12 they may be using advanced computers to handle complex graphics or video editing needs, and small and light laptops for writing projects in a flexible learning space). The report continues this theme through to the final fifth chapter, and suggests alternative implementation models which are designed to reduce cost, provide better support for learning scenarios, and make IT management easier for schools.

    If you’re responsible

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