TAFE NSW has announced significant investments into cutting-edge technology to bridge educational gaps at 130 campuses, from Sydney to remote areas like Cobar and Nyngan.
Whether they are on-site or remote, TAFE NSW teachers and students will now have high performance devices on which they can run high data latency apps and provide the best-in-class teaching and learning methods, without worrying about security.
“At TAFE NSW, we’re always adapting the courses we teach, as well as introducing new ones, to suit the changing needs of both our diverse student body and the industries they will be entering,” Shivil Mathew, TAFE NSW’s Programme Manager, IT Asset Refresh told The Educator.
Mathew pointed to Australia’s growing gaming industry and the excitement among students for courses that ready them for careers in that industry as an example.
“We needed systems powerful enough for intense workloads like games development and virtual world-building, which is why, as part of this technology refresh, we installed 1,730 super advanced Dell Precision Tower 3660’s for our gaming and design courses, as well as 110 further Dell Precision Tower 3660’s to specifically cater for our gaming courses held in St Leonards, Grafton, and Port Macquarie,” Mathew said.
“As well as the changing nature of learning and the steady evolution of the courses we teach, there have also been changes to the overall education sector after the disruption of the past few years.”
A shared vision
Katrina Lawrence, Vice President, AU Public Sector at Dell Technologies said the organisation shares TAFE NSW’s vision to democratise education, allowing anyone in NSW, from school leavers to career changers and everyone in between, the opportunity to gain the qualifications they need to thrive in today’s economy.
“By partnering with TAFE NSW, Dell Technologies can help TAFE NSW meet its teaching goals of offering high education standards regardless of where a student lives through the provision of future-proofed, cutting-edge technology,” Lawrence told The Educator.
“Our vision for the democratisation of education doesn’t end with TAFE NSW. We are helping students of all ages to gain the skills they need. For example, in secondary schools we are offering the Dell Student Tech Crew program which is designed to promote future career skills and hands-on learning.”
Lawrence said students participating in the program can gain technical knowledge, customer service experience and even Dell-certified qualifications, with eight schools across Australia currently taking part.
“At Dell Technologies, we are proud of our commitment to the democratisation of education and the provision of opportunity to everyone, regardless of where they live or what their background is.”
Bridging the digital divide
Mathew said remote learning has played a role in tertiary education for some time, but this role has been accelerated by the pandemic.
“We realised we were desktop heavy, and we needed a greater mix of laptops. We also needed a flexible IT strategy catering to the needs of learners, whether they’re on campus or off, as well as teachers, who may also be working remotely,” he said.
“Our IT strategy needed to be based around openness, flexibility, and meeting industry standards and so, with our recent technology refresh, we turned to Dell Technologies. We wanted open, industry-standard systems, from the desktop all the way through to servers and security, to ensure we are flexible and ‘future-proofed’ moving forward.”
Mathew said part of this futureproofing can be seen in the systems that TAFE NSW chose for its technology refresh.
“While cost is important, we realised that by spending a little more, the devices would be more durable and deliver the computing power we need over the coming years,” he said.
“We settled on Dell Technologies’ Precision laptops, which have the computing horsepower we need today and will need into the future, as well as having the option to add discrete graphics cards if increased graphics power is needed by students or teachers.”
Mathew said TAFE NSW is also focused on sustainability and “being good stewards of our planet”.
“Dell’s product design, incorporating sustainable materials into the chassis and bodies of some products, as well as its recycled and fully recyclable packaging, aligns with our values and adds to our partnership,” he said.
“We also love the fact that when a device comes to the end of its useful life, we know Dell will recycle it appropriately.”
Futureproofing entire campuses
Mathew said students in NSW trust TAFE NSW to deliver relevant courses designed to help them land jobs in today’s rapidly changing economy.
“Every year we welcome more than 430,000 learners in 130 locations spread right across the state, and we deliver a learning experience to students living in rural and regional areas to the same standard they’d get if they lived in a city that was the focus of our technology refresh,” he said.
“Students in design, a course taught at various locations throughout the state, for example, now have access to one of the 1,620 Dell Precision Tower 3660s tailored to their learning.”
Mathew said these Precision Towers are state-of-the-art, incorporating high-end Intel CPUs, NVIDIA graphics, up to 32 gigabytes of RAM and internal SSD storage of up to one terabyte.
“Their specs mean they’re able to handle today’s demanding workloads, as well as whatever we ask them to do in the future,” he said.
“To hit this goal of democratised learning, we settled on open, industry-standard hardware, software and services backed up by gold-standard support. By going with open standards, we’re confident the learning experience is identical for every student, regardless of where they live.”
Mathew said these open standards also mean TAFE NSW is able to deliver education meeting the highest standards in Australia.
“TAFE NSW may not be a sandstone institution, but our education meets or even exceeds those levels,” he said.
“For us, technology is the deciding factor in helping us hit our goals for each and every student, and as part of this mission, we rolled out 7,480 devices between February and June of this year, adding to the 4,336 machines deployed in the six months beforehand.”
What this essentially means, says Mathew, is that TAFE NSW has overhauled its entire technology fleet, installing a total of 11,800 new devices in the last year alone.
Looking over the horizon
Mathew said rapidly changing technology requirements have long been impacting IT planning, from both the teaching and student perspective, but investments in the right technology can help schools and tertiary campuses overcome this challenge.
“One thing is certain about technology: it’s always changing and improving. Many of our courses, including game and virtual world design, simply wouldn’t meet student expectations without cutting edge, future-proof hardware, and software,” he said.
“When we began planning our technology refresh, it wasn’t enough to plan for today and ignore tomorrow. We needed technology able to adapt and remain powerful throughout its planned 4–5-year life and it needed to be flexible enough to enable uses we haven’t even begun to think about.”
To address this, TAFE NSW ensured that its planning “looked over the horizon”, Mathew explained.
“We looked at what we would need in two, three, or four-years’ time to give our students the education they need to thrive. And we designed our capabilities around those future needs – even if it’s not yet clear what those needs will be,” he said.
“When we planned our technology refresh, we wanted to get ‘bang for our buck,’ but we also realised it’s not as simple as choosing the cheapest technology available.”
Mathew said that by utilising Precision laptops and towers, TAFE NSW is getting machines that will be fit-for-purpose for many years to come – not just for the next 12 or 18 months.
“By investing in technology that’s fit for purpose, we’re both saving money in the long term, as well as giving our students the tools they need for effective learning.”
‘The future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed’
Mathew referred to a quote by science fiction author William Gibson, who once said, “the future is here, it’s just not evenly distributed”.
“At TAFE NSW, with our goals of democratising education and delivering that education to the same standard regardless of where a student lives, we need to make sure the future is evenly distributed,” he said.
“This means providing the same courses, using the same technology, at locations right across the state.”
Mathew said TAFE NSW’s broad offerings, and the state-of-the-art technology its refresh has provided means students are no longer disadvantaged just because they don’t live in a city.
“Students living in Broken Hill now have the same opportunities as those in Sydney, evening out the skills gap and creating opportunities for everyone.”