Tasmania streamlines management of student devices, injects IT confidence

Turn the clock back and imagine teaching a classroom of children, some of whom are equipped with slates and pencils, some with pen and paper, some with nothing. It’s a nightmare for the teacher to wrangle.

The modern equivalent is a classroom of students armed with computers – only some of which have been updated with the latest software and content.

For the 196 public schools in Tasmania it was a real issue; while students had modern technology a legacy device management system had become unreliable – teachers would walk into a classroom and not know how many students had the right software and content on their devices.

To remedy the situation Microsoft Intune, part of Microsoft Endpoint Manager, has now been deployed and is streamlining device management ensuring everyone has access to what they need to optimise teaching and learning.

Tasmania’s Department of Education (DoE) manages around 50,000 devices or endpoints on its school and library network. That includes around 40,000 Windows devices and 10,000 iPads.

Myles Bingham, Manager End Device Services, says that while the DoE had a legacy mobile device management system it proved unable to manage the growing technology collection across the network. “It was meant to scale but it didn’t. It was slow, would fail, there would be time outs and then it would crash.”

It meant that when teachers asked for an app to be deployed on student iPads; “After a day 10 per cent would have it – then at two days it would be 40 per cent. Teachers couldn’t teach effectively because they couldn’t guarantee that all the iPads in the classroom would have the app or work in the same way,” says Bingham.

The IT team meanwhile was constantly having to tinker with the device management software – and might have had to wipe and restart an iPad three or four times before updates completed.

To ensure a better student experience and reduce the stress on teachers the DoE sought a replacement.

It analysed a range of mobile device management systems on the market and settled on Microsoft Intune for Education, recognising its ability to simplify and streamline endpoint device management and to scale. Since it integrated with all the other Microsoft systems in use across the DoE network, it also promised the centralisation, standardisation and ease of management that the Department favours.

Universal school support

Tasmania’s Kings Meadows High School has more than 600 students and is mid-way through a program to roll out iPads for all students in Years 7-10 which will be complete by 2022.

Assistant Principal Katie Wightman said that in the past the system did not keep up with the demand for updates and requests for access to apps, this impacted teaching and learning, and as a consequence teachers and students could not rely on the technology.

“In the past Teachers would request an app to be pushed out to all iPads and this could take minutes, hours or days to reach all student and staff devices.  The slow and random way the apps would update impacted teaching and learning.  Students were increasingly frustrated when their device was not updated.  We did not understand why some devices would update quickly and others took a very long time.” says Wightman.

Previously to try and ensure all students had access to an updated app, teachers felt they had to give the IT team as much as a week’s notice in order for all children to have the appropriate content or app on their device. All too often some students would have the updates or app while a classmate sitting next to them would not – and there seemed to be no reason as to why a device was updated first; it wasn’t just that children with a surname starting with A were updated ahead of those at the end of the alphabet – some would get updates immediately, some after a short wait – and some would be delayed for hours or days.

That lack of certainty that the app would be available led to delay and frustration for both teacher and students, and eroded confidence in the value of technology. Most worryingly says Wightman; “Not having equitable access created a disparity in learning.”

Adopting Microsoft Endpoint Manager had an immediate and obvious effect. According to Wightman;

“When we moved to Intune it was remarkable – the swift and prompt change. IT Jobs were logged and the apps were updated. It was immediate. It was exactly what we needed to ensure confidence from teachers and it meant we can concentrate on teaching and learning.”

 

Public schools, like Kings Meadows, across Tasmania select student computers from an approved pool of devices that the DoE recommends. This allows schools a degree of autonomy in terms of selecting devices that best support the way they teach students, and the demographics of the community, but ensures that the DoE is able to provide proper IT support.

Bingham says that it is critical that DoE IT is able to deliver each school the same level of technical support – regardless of the device they have selected.

Intune plays an important role in achieving that goal.

Before rolling out the system DoE worked with Microsoft on a proof of concept. This proved that the system was up to the task – and also provided an opportunity for DoE IT personnel to get to grips with the platform. 

According to Grant Mannix, senior IT consultant, the experience was invaluable; “The engagement covered off in five days would have taken me 12 months to learn on my own.”  

Armed with that understanding the DoE deployed Intune – first to manage the iPads across the network, which had represented one of the biggest pain points Bingham says. The Department is now also using Intune to manage its 75 Surface Hubs.

Bingham says that; “The next step is to enable Windows devices to be brought in and we are looking to deploy Autopilot in the next six months to allow management in an easier, more hands-off manner.”

Already, he says, Intune has helped restore schools’ and teachers’ confidence in DoE IT because updates and device management are assured. “When tech gets a request to push something out to 100 iPads it just works. The platform is just stable,” he says.

Desktop Analytics, part of Microsoft Endpoint Manager, also provides the IT team with much more transparency about how the network and devices are operating. According to Bingham; “The desktop analytics are pretty amazing. We are identifying issues with devices before there is an issue. It means we have got visibility ahead of doing upgrades of Windows devices.”

This means, says Bingham that; “The confidence in IT out in the field is higher – they can rely on this product.” Instead of teachers wondering if an upgrade or content load had gone to plan when they entered the classroom; “It just works.”