GRAND ERIE DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD

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1 D-2-c GRAND ERIE DISTRICT SCHOOL BOARD TO: FROM: RE: John Forbeck, Director of Education & Secretary David Abbey, Assistant Superintendent of Education Information Technology Services Annual Report DATE: April 14, 2014 Recommended Action: Moved by Seconded by THAT the Grand Erie District School Board receive the Information Technology Services Annual Report as information. Background The mandate of Information Technology Services (ITS) is to provide and maintain a state of the art, reliable and cost-effective technology environment in order to support learning in the classroom, optimize the administrative functions of the Board and, ultimately, improve student achievement at Grand Erie District School Board, in alignment with the Board s Multi-Year Plan. Additional Information At this time ITS is providing a report on major initiatives and accomplishments of the current school year, as well as ongoing challenges, and future plans for ITS strives to develop and deliver new technology solutions, as well as streamline and enhance the delivery of support for that technology, in all areas of the Grand Erie District School Board. Recent and ongoing initiatives continue to have a positive effect on many areas within the Board including classroom learning, communications, data analysis and ministry reporting, staffing, health and safety, forecasting and planning, and transportation. ITS Milestones /Office 365 During the Summer of 2013, after a year-long pilot with Administrators and Management, Teachers and System Staff were switched from First Class to Office 365 for their communication needs. Over 2500 users were converted in a span of several weeks during the summer. This new platform has dramatically reduced spending in this area and improved communication, particularly with external contacts who also use the industry-standard of Microsoft Exchange . Users have the option of using both web-based through a simple browser connection, or the full-featured Outlook client. Integration with virtually all makes and models of smartphones provides flexible and convenient mobile connectivity. Feedback from users

2 D-2-c Information Technology Services Annual Report Page 2 has been overwhelmingly positive, with many requests for training on the use of advanced features. Wireless Network (WiFi) Ongoing expansion and enhancements of wireless network access for computers continues as areas with weak signal and interference issues are investigated and resolved. Deployment in nonacademic areas of each building (Phase 2) is nearing completion, putting GEDSB at the forefront of school boards in Ontario offering 100% WiFi access throughout all locations. In addition to efforts to expand coverage and improved signal strength, operating system updates to computers (Windows XP to Windows 7) are resulting in dramatically improved wireless networking performance. Portal Update/Office 365 The GEDSB web portal (http://geportal.granderie.ca) was launched in November 2012, bringing with it a new platform for information storage, sharing of resources, and online communications, both internally and publically. Resources and functionality continued to be added to the portal throughout , including public web sites for Schools and the Board in general, internal staff access to announcements, electronic pay stubs, applications, calendars, etc. Phase 2 is now well underway which will see the portal upgraded and merged into Grand Erie s cloud environment, Office 365, in Summer This merge will result in simplified access for staff, greatly enhanced functionality and improved website, reduced maintenance, lower operating costs, higher reliability and expansion of the user base to include all staff AND students in both administrative and classroom settings. Classroom pilots of the new Office 365 environment are now in progress and full O365 functionality for classroom use is planned for September Hardware/Software deployment and maintenance Phase 2 In November of 2012, ITS launched Microsoft System Center which allows the deployment, configuration and maintenance of Board computers remotely with little onsite interaction. Phase 2 of the System Centre project is nearly complete, and gives ITS the ability to remotely manage hardware and software assets very effectively. Perhaps more impactful, however, is the empowerment of users, including students, to manage software on Board devices via a self-serve software catalogue. Users can now install applications on the computer they are using, subject to licensing and hardware limitations, with no assistance from ITS. This not only improves service levels to users, but it also allows ITS to deploy a much smaller base suite of applications to machine versus installing every software title that might be required. This in turn has proven to dramatically improve the performance of computers by avoiding unnecessary software demands on the hardware, particularly those computers with less powerful processors like netbooks. In addition deploying thinner software images to computers, upgrades from Windows XP to Windows 7 are in progress. Substantial performance improvements are being seen, particularly on low-powered devices like netbooks, after being upgraded to Windows 7. Now that System Center is fully operational, these upgrades are being performed on a very aggressive schedule and are planned for completion by Sept Education Technology Project Year 4 Year 4 deployment was successful with a total of 1700 devices deployed to over 300 classrooms. Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) Part 3 In 2010, Grand Erie DSB was a provincial leader in the area of BYOD, allowing staff and students to bring their own devices to schools and connect to the wireless network safely. In November 2012, ITS updated the BYOD strategy and over the course of spring and summer 2013, deployed a

3 D-2-c Information Technology Services Annual Report Page 3 new publically accessible WiFi network, providing coffee shop style internet access throughout every Grand Erie building. In September 2013, new network firewall technology was deployed that eliminated the need for users to perform tedious configuration changes to their device in order to access the internet from this public network. Today, the only thing users need to do before accessing the internet is acknowledge the Board s Acceptable Use Policy and provide their Grand Erie username and password upon connecting. No changes to users devices are required making the public WiFi network very easy to use. Internet Bandwidth upgrades Over the past 12 months, internet bandwidth capacity at Grand Erie has increased by 400% as demands for access to online resources by both staff and students grow exponentially. While this has resulted in increased budgetary pressure, market demands for higher speeds have resulted in lower costs from Tier 1 providers, allowing Grand Erie to more closely keep pace with demand. Although it is difficult to meet all of the bandwidth demands from various user groups at Grand Erie, performance is dramatically improved versus one year ago and capacity is expected to be expanded by a further 25-50% before September Phone system Work continues in an effort to optimize the Board s investments in VoIP technology through the use of high capacity digital links to the public telephone network in strategic locations and leveraging the Board s data network for voice communications. A further 80 traditional phone lines are being cancelled in April 2014 resulting in substantial cost savings. Data Network Improvements In Summer 2013 several major upgrades to the backbone of Grand Erie s data network were completed, upgrading the speed of links between strategic centres within the Board by a factor of 10 and providing redundancy within the network. This has provided an increased ability to back up data from remote locations, store copies of backup data at a secondary site for disaster recovery purposes, and allow network traffic to be rerouted through different paths in the event of an outage at key location. This has eliminated the potential for system-wide network outages and allows for continued operations, including internet access, while the outage is addressed. Introduction of tablet technology With the release of Windows 8 and several new hardware offerings, ITS now has the ability to offer tablet technology to staff and students while still providing full integration into the existing computer infrastructure and laptop functionality. Early feedback from those using the new devices has been extremely positive. ITS Initiatives for New Data Network Improving network access and speed for all sites has, and continues to be, a top priority. With a dramatic increase in the number of devices connected to the network over the last 4 years, the demands being placed on the data network are increasingly challenging to meet, particularly in rural areas where access to fibre optics and other advanced telecomm infrastructure is scarce compared to metropolitan areas. The province has been slow to react to requests from public sector organizations to invest in provincial high speed networks. Reliable connectivity is key to the

4 D-2-c Information Technology Services Annual Report Page 4 practical use of virtually all technology today, and constant improvement in this area is critical to the Board s success. It is an ever-increasing challenge to provide reliable network performance to 76 sites across an area that is predominantly rural, and do so in a way that is easy to maintain with predictable costs. To that end, ITS had engaged with Bell Canada to build an entirely new data network that is fully managed and uses the same technology that corporations rely on to run call centres in other parts of the world. This technology, called MPLS (Multi-Protocol Label Switching), provides for very low network latency across large distances, as well as the ability to control and prioritize different types of network traffic, helping to avoid congestion. This will allow Grand Erie to get the best performance possible from slower links in areas where fibre optics do not exist, and also provide the ability to prioritize traffic based on a number of criteria such as traffic type (streaming video/voice traffic vs downloading movies), source (Board computers on the private network vs personal devices on the public wifi), destination (educational websites vs random surfing), and more. The network will be fully managed by Bell, allowing ITS Network Technicians to concentrate on improving local area network performance inside Schools and Support buildings while Bell Canada monitors and manages external connectivity. Seventeen schools with connectivity challenges have been selected as the pilot. Once those initial installations have been completed and optimized, the performance will be evaluated in comparison to existing connectivity. Assuming the gains in reliability and performance meet expectations, the network will continue to be deployed to the remaining sites as quickly as possible with a goal of completing construction by Jan This will be an exciting improvement to the infrastructure that supports the aggressive deployment of classroom technology at Grand Erie DSB. Learning Management System for GEDSB Staff As professional development, mandatory training, and certification requirements for staff increase at Grand Erie, there is an urgent need for a Learning Management System for staff. One of the Board s existing online resources for professional development will soon be upgraded, providing the ability to not only schedule training events, but also to deliver online digital content, courses, testing, and compliance tracking. This upgrade is scheduled for late spring New Student Information System In September 2014, Grand Erie will start the school year with a new Student Information System, called PowerSchool. This new SIS is a centralized, web-based application that will provide several improvements and conveniences to the operation of schools, classrooms and administrative departments at the Board. PowerSchool provides an easy, intuitive interface for Administrators, Teachers, and System Staff, requiring no software to install or maintain, no requirement to log in to a remote computer, no dependency on continuous connectivity, and provides for centralized control of data elements which will allow for easier data management and higher quality information. Training for Secondary School Administrators began April 1 st, with Elementary School Administrators and System staff to follow in late April, and Clerical staff in late May. Teacher training will commence in late September in preparation for the first Reporting period. Office 365/Online classroom collaboration Limited piloting of Grand Erie s Office 365 (O365) environment has been ongoing throughout the school year, with full deployment and access planned for Summer 2014 in preparation for the new school year. This suite of online applications includes a classroom SharePoint site that teachers and their students can use to communicate, collaborate and share information including multiple users editing documents together in real time; online personal file storage (OneDrive) that will dramatically reduce the dependence on local file servers, backups and security management; Office Web which provides popular Microsoft Office applications like Outlook, Word, Excel and

5 D-2-c Information Technology Services Annual Report Page 5 PowerPoint, all running in a web-browser; and Microsoft Lync, a real-time communication platform for video and voice conferencing, desktop sharing, IM and online meetings. Support process improvements ITS Management is currently re-evaluating several internal processes related to support, with a particular focus on hardware maintenance procedures, in an effort to streamline service to schools and improve response time. In the last four years the number of devices deployed in schools has more than doubled while ITS staffing levels have remained the same. As a result, simpler, faster and more efficient processes are required to maintain devices in working order and improve responsiveness. Consultation with staff has begun and will expand over the next several weeks to include input from Grand Erie staff in various roles, in an effort to develop internal processes that maximize the capacity of the department. Budget Implications 1. Proposed expenditures for the ITS initiatives will be communicated through the Budget Process. Communication Plan 1. Information regarding ongoing ITS initiatives will be shared with school administrators and other stakeholders through various venues such as Director s Meetings, Family of Schools Meetings, and other user-based forums for feedback and discussion. Respectfully submitted, David Abbey, Assistant Superintendent of Education

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