Teachers at one of Melbourne’s most prestigious schools are using the latest Microsoft technology to streamline the way they teach – and bring a fresh approach to the digital curriculum.
Students are growing up with a solid grasp of technology before they even start school. By the time they get to Year 7 they are using computers and mobile devices – it’s now just a way of life. Brighton Grammar in Melbourne has embraced the digital age by creating a technology program that not only provides students with the most up to date education – it also provides teachers with a new way of working.
“I think it’s important to have a digital curriculum because the boys need to be prepared for the 21st century that they are entering into when they leave school,” Ross Featherstone, Brighton Grammar Headmaster, said. “I think boys need to be taught the basic IT skills that they will need for university or work. But, in a much broader picture, they also need to be able to use information correctly, they need the skills to sift through it, filter it and use it appropriately.”
There can be challenges rolling out comprehensive IT programs, particularly when it comes to selecting which devices to use. When Brighton Grammar originally implemented a device program they went for an Android tablet but found a few challenges when it came to keeping the students focused on the right tasks.
“If you gave a boy a tablet most young boys would consider it as a gaming solution,” Ross added. “Most boys would see it as a gaming device rather than a device really for the consumption and creation of information so we really wanted to move away from that to get a platform on a system where boys would see it as a device for learning.”
David Humphreys, the IT Director at Brighton Grammar says that at the end of the first year, both parents and students were saying the devices weren’t as suitable for learning as they would like – and they were seen as more of a content consumption device. They were able to browse and get information easily but the parents saw them as a gaming device and the feedback from students was that they wanted to be more creative with their hands.
Teachers also commented that the Android tablets and iPads limited them in the types of software they were able to run which impacted different subjects they were teaching. Dan Belluz, Co-ordinator for Teaching and Learning for the senior school, also asked for access to a collaborative platform that would allow the students to work on projects together.
IT did their homework
After receiving the feedback, David decided it was time for a one-to-one laptop rollout and conducted a rigorous research program to find out exactly what the teachers, parents and students were looking for. It wasn’t just about looking at the device itself, it was about finding out what type of projects the teachers would like the students to collaborate on and then working out the best way to implement that in a way that complemented the school’s existing online website.
“We spoke with all areas of the school. We consulted the student counsel. We surveyed parents to ask them what their preference was and the overriding feeling was to stick with a single platform,” David explained. “Teachers were very strong about having a single platform and their preference was a prescribed device because they wanted to make classroom management as simple as possible.
“There are other schools that have gone with a BYOD bring your own device strategy and the stories that we’ve heard are that it generally makes classroom management more difficult because you are dealing with, you know, 15 or 20 different types of devices. For a teacher that may not necessarily be tech savvy to try and manage all those different types of devices, running all those different types of platforms would be very difficult.”
The next step was to decide exactly which laptop would meet all of the features, so the school had a three month program trialing different brands and models. The School recognised that ultimately the device had to be strong and robust and the students had said they wanted touch and a digital stylus. They also wanted to make sure the product they chose would last students at least three years.
“We implemented Lenovo laptops for year 7 and 10. That came with Microsoft’s Windows 8. We also provided them with Office 365 and created a new interactive multimedia room in the middle school which had 27 inch Dell touchscreen computers running Windows 8. That room is for extension studies for more gifted children, but it’s also for applications like video editing and high-end graphic applications,” David explained.
“We chose Windows 8 as it was the latest Microsoft platform. We wanted to make sure that the latest platform was in the hands of the students. With Office 365 our goal was to make sure that students had access to email, SharePoint and their OneDrive from anywhere. That didn’t matter whether it’s a school computer or their parents’ computer or any other computer.
“Our three-year rollout allows us to have the latest technology in the hands of the students so year 7 will have their device for three years and then it will be replaced. The most important change we’ve seen since shifting towards the Microsoft platform is a single platform so our IT department can find it a lot easier to work with their teaching staff. What we are also seeing is boys are now using their device much more for information and creation and they are very content driven.”
It wasn’t just about addressing the needs of the students, the platform had to integrate easily for IT and David wanted to make sure that his team could easily manage any technical task – and do as much as possible remotely. One of the issues under the Android and iPad program was that they had very limited visibility and control over the devices. They weren’t connected to the network which meant it was difficult to keep them up to date and monitor them.
“With a Windows device we can use tools like SCCM (System Centre Configuration Manager) to image the computers for the students that allows us to push out Windows as a platform to a computer,” David said. “We are able to put the applications on for them and update their computers remotely from an administrator’s console. It means we can update antivirus for them which is something you certainly couldn’t do with the tablet so the management and monitoring is now a lot easier.”
The IT team manage the procurement of all devices as well as updating and installing new applications. They also have a technician from the computer manufacturer that comes in to fix the devices if anything happens to them. There is also a selection of the exact same devices that students can borrow whilst they have theirs repaired which means no down time without a device.
“Feedback from parents has been very positive. They like the fact that it’s pain free. They like the fact that we manage the device and look after it and make sure that the device is always in a student’s hand. They like the fact that it is no longer a gaming device as they were concerned about. And I’ve had feedback personally that there have been some parents who are now looking to put their children through the school based on our technology program and the direction we’re heading,” David said.
Online teaching and learning
To coincide with the one-to-one Lenovo program, Brighton Grammar also launched a new learning management system called Desire2Learn. It allows teachers to manage their content in an online environment, delivering their classes in an online fashion so they can incorporate online discussions, share resources and leave feedback for each other. This system was integrated with Microsoft Office 365 so the students have a single sign-on and can access everything in the one place.
“Teachers have been really great – they have really embraced the new system and we have found we have quite a few technology champions who are helping other teachers with the system,” Cameron Taylor, the eLearning coordinator for grades 7 to 12, said. “We also have other people around the school who are seen as really good with technology and teachers will then approach them and have one-on-one peer training.”
“It also allows us to differentiate the content and personalise the learning experience for our students,” Cameron added. “We are able to put certain restrictions on content so it is only released to certain students. They are also beginning to use the calendar tools within Outlook a lot more. The teachers are sending invites to the students and there has been a big uptake with that, but we’ve also transformed our paper-based record book into a digital OneNote record book so the students are able to share that with the teachers as well and that can be a combination of typed notes, as well as handwritten notes.
“We are using the cloud enabled apps mainly for the sharing of resources and work. Everyone can collaborate in that one space. But also the students are sharing their work through the tools. The teachers are providing the feedback and they’re getting that instant feedback in a variety of ways. OneNote is an expanded worksheet so we can annotate and provide audio and video feedback to the students as well.”
Dan Belluz, Co-ordinator for Teaching and learning for the senior school, says the biggest change he has seen is that they can now create lessons where the boys can research, create and submit a project within one period, and they don’t have to leave the classroom to go to a computer lab. These tasks range from creating a Word document and submitting it for English or Sciences – or creating collaborative work using OneNote.
“I think the biggest benefit is the ability to work together simultaneously. Most importantly it is the ability for every single boy to have an opportunity to research on their own, collaborate with others and then submit work either as a group or as an individual. In the past we have had many students that simply work on their own and that makes it difficult for them to get an understanding as to what the actual theory means and the application,” Dan explained.
Shelley Turek is the teaching and learning coordinator for the middle school and she says the biggest change for her is the way she organises lesson plans. Not only has it increased her efficiency it has also meant she is able to collaborate with other teachers more easily to develop the curriculum. She also likes having the students use the same device as she is so she can give guidance during lessons on how to use different programs more effectively.
“We are using Excel in a lot more varied ways than we were last year to plan outlines for lessons and flow of work,” Shelley explained. “We are also using Word a lot more than we were last year and the compatibility between that and OneNote has been really quite powerful for us. We can collaborate with OneNote and then we find we are sharing Excel documents and sharing templates, notes and running documents.”
All of the documents are saved in one central location so that teachers know where to find their different resources. Having a solution hosted in the cloud means everyone can access documents while they are teaching, in their office or even at home. It encourages a sharing environment that improves the level of work everyone produces.
“We have rolled out OneDrive across the whole school, so staff and students have access to that. I think it’s very handy to have access to your files from anywhere, from any computer,” David said. “I think the ability to use the full Microsoft Office Suite and OneNote on the Microsoft Windows platform is far easier and more feature-rich than it would be on any other type of tablet. So, we’ve certainly found that our students are getting a much better experience using it on a Windows device than they would have done on an iPad or an Android device.”
Shelley said classroom management has been enhanced and the new solution means that devices aren’t just for games.
“It somehow has transitioned,” Shelley added. “While the boys still have games on their devices, that’s not the way that they look at these devices anymore. These are the work machines. These are the things that they use to create and the way they organize their lives.”
For more information on Microsoft in Education visit www.microsoft.com.au/education