After losing laptop funding, WA high school goes BYOD

Leeming Senior High School recommends three Windows 8 touch devices to students

Leeming Senior High School teaches years 8 to 12 in WA. Credit: Leeming

Leeming Senior High School teaches years 8 to 12 in WA. Credit: Leeming

After federal funding dried up for schools to buy laptops for students, educators have had to come up with new ways to deliver a 1:1 computer-to-student ratio.

Responding to that challenge, Leeming Senior High School in Western Australia has designed a bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategy in which parents pay for computers. While any device can be connected, the school has recommended a selection of Windows 8 laptops and tablets by Samsung.

Leeming, which has 750 students across years 8 through 12, had relied on funding from the federal Digital Education Revolution program to give computers to pupils. However, the program came to an end this past autumn.

“We realised the value of having the computers with the students,” said Gabby Raggio, Leeming Senior High School ICT co-ordinator. “It’s just that we can’t afford now to keep that model up.”

Raggio estimated that, without funding, the computer program would cost the school an additional $150,000 per year.

Because the school wanted students to continue using computers, Leeming has decided to transition to a parent-funded model, she said. The school has just held information sessions with parents about the new program, which will begin at the start of next year, she said.

Parents have been receptive to the program, Raggio said. “When you’re honest with them ... and you point out the cost of something is $150,000, I think they realise straight away that that is an unreasonable cost.”

Leeming had wanted to transition to the parent-funded model sooner, Raggio said. But the school was held back by a WA education policy that did not allow personal devices to be connected to education networks. However, the state government has recently removed that restriction so that schools like Leeming can move ahead with BYOD programs, she said.

Leeming spent about six months deciding which devices to recommend for students. In the end, the school chose the Samsung 7 ATIV Smart PC Pro, the Samsung 5 ATIV Smart PC Pro or the Samsung 14” ATIV Book 5 Ultrabook. The first two devices are hybrids that can be operated as a tablet or laptop. All have touchscreens and run Windows 8.

Leeming does not mind if students want to bring in a different device, Raggio said. “We just want a Windows 8 platform, and we’ve suggested that it would be lovely if it had a touchscreen and was pen-enabled.”

One reason the school has selected tablets is because they don’t add as much weight to student’s already heavy bags, she added. “It’s something we are very cautious and wary of.”

The school wants every student to use Windows 8 to provide a consistent learning experience, but Raggio left the door open to allowing other OSes in the future.

Parents can buy the Samsung devices through Leeming’s recommended supplier Computelec or from a retailer of their choosing. The devices range in price from about $800 to $1300 via Computelec, which is comparable or slightly less than the retail price. Payment plans are available for students who can’t afford to buy devices outright.

“The reason we’ve gone with a recommended supplier is their repair program,” Raggio said. For an additional fee, the supplier will repair devices on site within 24 hours, she said.

Leeming will recommend new devices as technology advances, she said. “We aim that a device will last [the student] three years,” she said. “A student coming in two years time probably would get a more up-to-date model … but that’s not to say that if they got a hand-me-down from an older brother or sister, they couldn’t use it.”

To reduce costs for parents, Leeming will only require apps that are available for free. Instead of Microsoft Office, the school will have students use the Kingsoft productivity suite. “A lot of [parents] will actually go and buy Office, but we’re not going to penalise students that don’t have it.”

At school, student devices will go through a proxy network, preventing students from visiting certain websites while connected at school. Students must also adhere to a responsible use policy while at school. However, at home it will be parents’ responsibility how the computers are used and what applications are installed, she said.

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