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Learning solutions

Australian schools want to be IT savvy; they want students to have the IT knowledge to help them progress with academic development and go on to be productive members of their respective communities. In addition to stimulating the next generation of Australians, they also want to streamline the mundane side of school life - the administration of curriculums, attendance logs, reporting and record keeping.

Likewise, Australian parents know their kids need to have a solid education in IT if they are to have a chance at securing the future of their choice. And parents also want to be able to use IT to keep up-to-date with what their children are doing rather than relying solely on old-fashioned parent-teacher meetings.

What neither groups of interested parties want is an IT reseller to simply dump boxes and leave the school in one great IT lurch that doesn't help the kids, frustrates the parents and makes life unnecessarily difficult for teachers.

Avoiding this latter scenario while aiming to achieve the former was the prime reason one school in Victoria brought in education-focused reseller Computelec, a 20-year-old company that works with independent and Catholic schools across Australia, to help with their IT needs.

Before the bell

Kardinia International College, near Geelong in Victoria, is an independent school with around 1000 students that all expect a top-level IT experience in their education.

"They've always been a fairly progressive organisation when it comes to IT," Computelec national sales manager, Darren Elsby, said. "They run a one-to-one student notebook program as well as some other systems for student access. I think one of the problems they have had is resellers that aren't focused on education coming in, dropping boxes and then moving on."

The service and support needed in the education sector at schools like Kardinia International College is demanding, according to Elsby, and IT providers must be able to react quickly; something that wasn't happening at Kardinia.

"An example of that would be in the student notebook program, the machines need to be fixed and repaired for the students within 24 hours," he said.

At Kardinia, Elsby claimed other resellers often neglected to follow up with adequate support and, as a result, the school was looking for a continuous and reliable service provider that brought parents, teachers and students together.

Class time

The solution Computelec implemented was a Web-based portal called Scholaris Learning Gateway which is also integrated with a Microsoft-based system.

"We're really trying to leverage the best out of the Microsoft stack that the schools have and provide an integrated portal service for the admin staff, for teaching staff, for students and parents," Elsby explained.

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Parents can see how their kids are performing by logging onto the Scholaris system and viewing the curriculum, current projects and homework, attendance logs and so forth. This can be done remotely, for example by a working parent at the office. Additionally both parents and teachers can have regular contact through email as the system is integrated with Microsoft Exchange.

"It allows the parents to work a little bit closer with the teacher," Elsby said. The main challenge in implementing the solution was ensuring a clear and extensive understanding of the administrative and educational elements at play in the school.

"I think the key to it is working with and understanding the core businesses of the school," Elsby said.

"When you are trying to bring a solution like that and put it into place, you have to understand what the school is trying to achieve."

Computelec had also been supporting the school for three years with the notebook program and as part of this they migrated all of the machines to Toshiba M400 and M405 Tablet PCs.

Previously the school did not attempt to standardise the kind of notebooks the kids used. Elsby claimed they were able to provide better support and service by migrating to the Toshiba range, which are education specific.

"It's vitally important that these machines are in the kids hands all the time," he said. "One of the other things we continue to work on with them very closely is their student management and portal system."

After school activities

The solution has now been in place for roughly nine months and Computelec has a support agreement with the school to provide ongoing service.

"That allows us to work and I suppose develop the Scholaris product for the school but also for maintenance and health checking on the foundation pieces of Scholaris, Exchange, Windows Server, Active Directory, all of those underlying pieces," Elsby said.

Computelec also consults with the school in terms of their licensing requirements, networking support and other general IT requirements.

"One of the things the school has done is be very wary of not having a solution dropped in and left for the school to pick up, develop and run with," Elsby said.