22 September 2016
Behind the largest technology network in the State
Virtual classrooms are not on the distant horizon, they are in public schools in Western Australia now.
While the rapid change in technology has brought this about, a critical factor has been how this technology – the wires, the speed, the devices, the connectivity, the training – has been shaped over the years across the Department of Education to deliver for schools.
On the eve of his retirement after 28 years of service, Chief Information Officer Bevan Doyle remembers when the norm for bandwidth in a school only 15 years ago was 64 kilobytes. Now, he says, it will soon be a minimum of 10 megabytes – that’s a 15,600 percent increase – for all but a small number of schools, and for large schools 100 megabytes.
“All our stats and figures have lots of zeros: 800 sites, 45 000 staff, 300 000 students, 210 000 devices of which 178 000 are for student use, 1440 terabytes downloaded from the internet each year, 220 000 000 – yes million – incoming emails a year and 180 000 service requests a year,” Mr Doyle says.
“We have the largest technology network in this State. It’s been fun, challenging and enormously gratifying working on this – and the growth and development of the network over the years has been enormous.
“Our aim has always been very clear – not to put a ceiling over our schools but to build a firm flooring that allows for technology to expand to support teaching and learning.”
With the use of technology in schools across the globe growing rapidly, Mr Doyle says the adoption of consumer technology is blurring the boundaries between home and school environments. He acknowledges that this has challenged the technology landscape of the traditional school, as students and staff bring their own devices into classrooms and expect to be able to use seamless school services.
“Technology in classrooms has changed the way students learn. It provides opportunities for students and teachers to collaborate across the world, allows teachers to personalise learning to suit individual students, and gives students the ability to extend their learning through rich digital resources away from the classroom,” he says.
Over the past two years, the Department has invested nearly $30 million in its Standard Operating Environment (SOE). This, says Mr Doyle, will see 99% of schools operating on a compatible environment by the end of this year.
“What’s so good about the SOE is that schools can choose the devices and teaching and learning applications best suited to their students. And students and teachers can use them across schools – the concept of the virtual classrooms is a reality,” he says. “There is far more support for school staff along with centralised data backup and disaster recovery, and high levels of internet security.
“This year we have also invested $20 million in devices for primary school students. More than 570 schools bought new tablets, laptops, software and accessories so they can increase, replenish and better manage devices.”
The device program also supports work being done across Australia for the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) which is being introduced online from 2017, with all students undertaking NAPLAN online by 2019.
“Moving to online and computer-based assessment is a natural outcome of the increasing use of technology in classrooms right across Australia and internationally,” Mr Doyle says.
“We have an obligation to prepare children for the world that is here now and the world that is coming – and that’s a world with technology at its core.”
Director General Sharyn O’Neill says Mr Doyle should be proud of what he has achieved in the Department: “He has always been a passionate technology advocate, change agent and leader. His professional opinion on a range of information and technology matters was valued highly and, under his leadership, we received national and international recognition for several significant achievements.”
But the last word goes to Mr Doyle about his team: “It’s fun working with enthusiastic young people who bring their energy to work every day and always have their heads in technology. Ultimately, it’s all about supporting schools to provide an even better education for their students.”