St. Mary's College prepares for Windows 8 rollout

OS upgrade follows rollout of notebook refresh for students and staff

St. Mary’s College will upgrade student and staff devices to Windows 8 next year, following a recent technology refresh that included a rollout of new notebooks to students and teachers.

The Adelaide college has 837 students and runs a program where all students in year 9 to 12 are issued their own notebooks. In a progressive rollout that starting at the end of 2013 and continued through 2014, St Mary’s has deployed Lenovo X220, X230 and X240 laptops to students. So far, 520 laptops have been issued.

In addition, the school has recently provided 80 Lenovo ThinkPad Yoga Ultrabook convertible laptops to teachers, and 150 Lenovo ThinkCentre M93p Tiny desktops and monitors for the college’s computer labs.

Most of the computers run Windows 7, but St. Mary’s has a trial group of staff working with Windows 8 and plans a full rollout of the operating system for students and staff during the first term of 2015, according to St. Mary’s College technology coordinator, Giovanna Iannicelli.

The trial group will provide feedback to the IT manager and the ICT executive committee on any issues they find using Windows 8 in a networked environment.

“The biggest challenge so far is upgrading drivers for various hardware to work with Windows 8,” she told Computerworld Australia. “An ongoing discussion is the app store – how will staff pay for curriculum apps that need to be purchased? “

The school plans to reimage all of its devices with Windows 8 towards the end of the first term, and St. Mary’s will provide mandatory training for staff on how to use the operating system, she said.

St. Mary’s College refreshes all desktops, staff and student devices every three years, and rolls out new devices to Year 9 students every year, said Iannicelli.

St. Mary’s has considered providing mobile devices other than laptops, and when the college began to roll out devices to students in 2010, it intentionally used the name Mobile Device Program, she said.

“We did not call it a laptop program as we wanted to ensure that whatever device that was rolled out to students would best suit the learning needs of our students,” she said.

“Many devices were investigated but the final decision was that a notebook was best suited for our students. Every year this investigation is carried out but up until now we still believe that a notebook is the best device.”

The school is again considering other mobile devices, she said. “Currently we are in the middle of writing our ICT Strategic plan where the discussion has taken us to the possible implementation of mobile devices from Year 7 onwards.”

While Google has lately been making a strong play in the education sector, Iannicelli said Chromebooks would not have met the school's needs.

“Whilst the Chromebook may be cheaper, [cost] should not be the primary concern,” she said.

“The Chromebooks are designed primarily to run Google software, limiting its use. This device does not meet the curriculum needs of the college. The inability to install software limits its functionality and having to use Google’s operating system. The college delivers curriculum based on industry-used software; the Chromebook is not functional in our environment.”

As of the school’s latest refresh, the entire end-user computing environment at St. Mary’s has been provided by Lenovo. In the past, the College purchased a mix of devices from HP, Dell and Acer. Iannicelli said the college didn’t seek out a particular brand, but Lenovo best met its requirements.

St. Mary’s looked for devices with batteries able to last a whole school day without being recharged, she said. Because student devices can fall from lockers or suffer other damage, St. Mary’s sought durable devices that came with accidental damage protection and extended onsite warranties, she said. The devices also needed to be small and light, since students travel from all around Adelaide to attend school, she said.

In addition, St. Mary’s has a limited budget and therefore looked for cost-effective devices, she said.

The mobile devices program at St. Mary’s has played a critical part of the college’s curriculum, she said.

“As a community we recognise and acknowledge that ICT is an integral part of education and the skills that students need for the future.”

Adam Bender covers telco and enterprise tech issues for Computerworld and is the author of dystopian sci-fi novels We, The Watched and Divided We Fall. Follow him on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU, or take part in the Computerworld conversation on LinkedIn: Computerworld Australia

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