After a stint in the corporate world I’ve ended up back in IT where I began all the way back in 2006 – the Education Industry, and boy oh boy has it changed in the short time of 4 years since I was last here. I actually re-entered this industry almost this time last year, but I haven’t written any technical how-tos for a while and have kind of been biding my time and gathering my thoughts over the last several months.
When Kevin07 became the “thing” and 2008 rolled around, Kevin Rudd started handing out his buckets of Rudd money. It was exciting times, and this was in my opinion the beginning of the big shift in education IT. Suddenly, we had laptops for every student, more desktop PCs than we could poke a stick at, infrastructure upgrades to bring us into the 21st century and more, but more importantly things became, for lack of a better word, “better”.
Now, 10 years later, it’s amazing to see the change in the IT Industry in education. Public Cloud came along, and all of a sudden running that on premise Exchange server seems like a really dumb idea unless you have some obscure requirements, so everyone went in to Office 365.
On top of that, on-premise services like SCCM becomes InTune or MDM, File Servers become One Drive, SharePoint becomes SharePoint Online and Citrix becomes AWS Workspaces, and these are all the things you want to get rid of (who would have thought we’d ever get sick of the 3-yearly rack-and-stack Christmas project?). Suddenly, AWS or “the cloud” is where you run your stuff and it’s glorious!
During this time, we also saw our fair share of vendors trying to capitalise on this investment by schools and saw many fads come and go (Smartboard anyone?). And there were mistakes we made too (like Laptop Trolleys).
However the biggest change over the last few years has been the advent of Bring Your Own Device, or, as us IT guys like to abbreviate – BYOD (or for some schools, Choose Your Own Device aka CYOD).
But, with BYOD/CYOD comes risks and problems to solve, such as:
- How do you provide safe and secure access for students?
- How do you provide the resources teachers need to teach students who have a multitude of devices?
- What impact does this have on IT Departments across the Education industry?
The first one is easy enough to solve with the niceties of 802.11x. Dump all the students into their own VLAN, separated in some logical sense (such as Year Level), firewall off what they don’t need access to, provide a clean Internet feed and let them loose. Sometimes I even question the purpose of the Internet filter (except for filtering out the obvious things), because all it really does is keep the good kids honest as anyone who wants to do something untoward will just tether off of their iPhone anyway.
The second one is also easy enough but can be determined by the, shall we say, age of your teaching staff. Some teachers have been teaching since what feels like the beginning of time when a stone block and chisel was the go-to tool, and getting the idea into them that the assessment is a presentation (for example Prezi) and not a PowerPoint can be difficult, but it is achievable.
Which brings to me to my last point – and the focus of this article – what impact does this have on IT Departments across the Education Industry?
Well, it isn’t minimal. It’s quite a huge impact as we move further and further away from our traditional roots of desktop support, A/V support and more. Gone are the days of swapping hardware pieces around, racking servers, spending time building complex systems and solutions and being the decider of things and keeper of the gates.
Times, technology and demands of IT staff have all changed as a result of this revolution. Things need to be simpler, not more complicated, and we have to be proactive and not reactive. We don’t want to have this huge kingdom of servers doing all of these things and spend all of our time maintaining them, we want to help teachers and students make the most of their education and the resources we can provide. We don’t want to be the deciders on what they can’t do, we want to be the enablers (within reason).
As a result of simplifying things, we have seen a huge reduction in break/fix work. This will only reduce further as time goes on and more and more students start bringing their own devices (ever notice how they look after their own devices better than School Owned?). We’re in a great position where instead of spending our time fighting fires and infrastructure breakdowns, we’ve started to ask teachers, students and administrative staff “What can we do for you to make your lives easier?”.
From a staffing perspective, there’s a huge impact as well. The skillsets required change and whilst you still need technical competence, we move away from needing people who know how to create a VM in VMWare to people who know how to operate cloud services such as Office 365, Azure, AWS and more. We go away from people who next through a wizard to people who can script (or code) to automate common tasks, and they become saviours because automating is the way to do it.
And amongst the advances in technology for the greater good, the best part of that entire technological skillset shift is the ability to mentor and train your existing staff in these new technologies, because good staff love to stay relevant and adapt to changes in the industry, and part of being a good manager is growing your team skills and providing the ability for them to learn new things and find their new favourite “thing” to do. And when that happens, things change – people are interested in learning, they show off what they have learnt and we take those new found skills and abilities and use it to make the lives of our teachers and students easier.
At the end of the day, no one wants a complicated system to use, and no one in IT wants to support a complicated system. As time goes on technologies and the required skillsets to operate them change, and it’s imperative that we as leaders in IT take steps in ensuring that we stay relevant to the industry and don’t get left behind, so that our teachers can teach and more importantly the students can learn.