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