Technology in harmony: The story of Port Alberni

The snow-capped Beaufort mountains frame the small mill town of Port Alberni, located at the head of the Alberni Inlet on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. The twelve schools in the Port Alberni Public School District have a total of 3,500 students—smaller than some high schools. That hasn’t stopped them from becoming mighty through technology innovation.

To that end, three IT professionals manage the whole districtone of them remotely! Working closely with Jack Hitchings, Director of Learning and Technology, these professionals are responsible for the management and maintenance of all of Port Alberni schools’ technology infrastructure and applications, deployment and support of all user devices, software training and support, and assistive technology. Despite this lean tech staff, in the last decade, Port Alberni schools have implemented an impressive mix of educational technology, starting with Windows-equipped computers in 2007 and most recently deploying Intune for Education to manage about 150 HP Stream and Lenovo N23 devices.

Jack Hitchings is an educator first and an IT professional second. He’s been working at the Port Alberni school district for 15 years and has led many of the school’s education technology efforts. He does not consider himself a tech expert, but he is driven by finding technology that will work for his students and his staff. As a small school district, Port Alberni used to spend a disproportionate amount of IT time on security issues. This constant security battle was unsustainable and so Jack and his team started to investigate an alternative solution. They decided to implement Intune for Education to complement their existing Microsoft technology, manage devices, and help maintain security.

Custom Experiences, One Cart at a Time

With a small but mighty staff, Port Alberni Schools needed to standardize and align technical support and training with the tools and devices they had available. It was essential for Jack to have the students be able to share devices between each other but still provide those students with specific learning tasks and custom experiences.

Intune for Education gave Jack and his IT team a way to both standardize devices and customize student experiences so that students saw their own work every time they signed on. He created user groups for each cart so that students from different grade levels could access their designated apps and programs “With Intune for Education,” Jack noted,” we can easily customize what apps or group of apps we’re sending to a laptop cart, a lab, or a group of students.”

Intune for Education’s mobile app management capability helps Port Alberni students learn both in and out of the classroom. “When we assign an Intune for Education license to a student,” explains Jack, “and add the student to a group, all the apps that we’ve assigned “follow” that student.  So, if the student signs onto another computer, the apps will be available on that computer as well. This is part of the Azure Active Directory that we use in our Office 365 subscription.” Intune for Education works closely with Azure Active Directory and Office 365 for Education to simplify identity management by getting automatically added as a management tool to Azure AD and Microsoft Store tenants.

Port Alberni uses School Data Sync with Intune for Education, both of which work with Azure Active Directory to create, organize, and update student and teacher identities at schools. Intune’s identity management capabilities enabled a valuable BYOD strategy for Port Alberni schools: “If a student brings their own Windows 10 device and signs in to the store with their district account, they can now get access to all these resources on their device—at home, in the classroom, on their own device.”

Students working with laptops

Integrated Security

The Port Alberni school district doesn’t have the resources or personnel to manage unwieldy or overwhelming technology. Thanks to a small grant, they were able to consult with IBM, who offered Jack and his team the following advice: “Pick something and do it well as opposed to trying to be everything to everybody.” They picked Windows.

Jack explained: “We require security, privacy, compliance, and compatibility for our systems working together. We were clear that we wanted to stay with apps within the Windows environment. What’s more, with a single Office 365 for Education login, a student can sign on to a work station with a predictable set of applications.”  Port Alberni students use programs like Microsoft Teams, Sway, Minecraft: Education Edition, OneNote, and Office 365.

Port Alberni schools deployed Intune for Education because they knew it would quickly and seamlessly integrate with their existing Microsoft for Education products, easily connecting student profiles with the suite of applications they needed to use. “Intune for Education gives us a tool to quickly deploy apps and tools that support learning and individual learners by getting everything in one place at one time, bringing the apps together, bringing the resources together, streamlining the process, and making it more efficient for student logins,” said Jack.

A student raises her hand to answer a question

Less Time to Value, More Time for Teaching

The icing on the cake for Port Alberni schools was how quickly they were able to deploy Intune for Education to manage their varied technology. “We used a USB to install Windows 10 Education which took about 15 minutes for each device, and then joined the device in Intune to the group,” Jack said. “Literally, that was all we needed to do.  When we signed into the device with a test user account, the Start screen and apps began downloading and within a few minutes the student laptop was ready to go – customized for the user and the device.”

Intune’s rapid deployment and simplified management frees up education IT professionals from focusing on security patches to doing meaningful work improving student learning experiences. Students can complete their homework on the same apps they used in the classroom.

A small school district doing big things with the power of Microsoft and Intune for Education, Port Alberni is preparing the students of Vancouver Island for a rich future.  As the Director of both Learning and Technology, Jack Hitchings has the challenge, and the advantage, of knowing that those two topics are fundamentally two sides of the same coin.


Learn more about Microsoft Intune for Education. For free resources and connection to a committed network of educators, visit the Microsoft Educator Community. Learn more about our tools and what they can do for your school at