Guest blog post: Kevin Sait
It has been a really quick seven weeks in the job at Wymondham High School and I think that has got to be down to what we have achieved together. In my first meeting with the school’s Principal Russell Boulton he said ‘we need to do something with our VLE ‘, that was a big enough challenge in its own right!
The schools VLE had gone through the stages of being initially set-up on a big wave of energy, but then over a period of months and some staff changes it seemed to die off; to a point where staff hardly knew what it was or even what it did - my thoughts at this point turned to Office 365 for Education.
Having experience with Office 365 on a smaller scale at my previous school, I had soon registered a domain name and signed up for our free Office 365 tenancy. After finalising some configuration issues with the domain (with the help of some great articles in the Office 365 community) I was knocking on the Principal’s door with my plan.
I explained how we could stop using a VLE which staff didn’t really have time to understand and in essence seemed a bit clunky to upload work, and instead use Office 365 which would solve various issues that the school had and give us some strategic advantages – all for free (he like that bit a lot!)
SharePoint 2013 – would give staff the opportunity to create department sites, using familiar technologies and ribbon bars that they are used to in Microsoft Office. Showing staff how easy it is to embed a video from YouTube and saving a page to make it accessible to students drew comments like ‘ I can do that !’, which is very reassuring.
Skydrive Pro - student’s love the 25 GB of web space that they can store documents on and retrieve at any time and on any device. They can also share documents and work collectively together (this is great for our sixth formers!)
Lync 2013 – when you have a school as big as ours (1600+ pupils) it can take a while to get a message to someone or even know if they are in the building, our deployment of Lync has assisted with speeding communication up, as well as helping to reduce the numbers of emails that land in the inbox on a daily basis. Now Lync is moving into the student domain; with Lync to Skype federation we can now support children not just in school. In fact, one sixth form student who is leaving for Australia will receive lessons using Lync and OneNote 2013.
I have to admit personally I really use Lync a lot especially on my Windows Phone around school as it puts me in contact everywhere – I especially like the ‘missed conversations’ which is great if I have missed a Lync call.
We then opted to use Yammer to replace the Newsfeed in Office 365. Yammer is described as an Enterprise Social Network and looks a lot like Facebook, which in itself is great as both staff and students need hardly any training to use it (if any at all). We have branded Yammer as part of our Student Learning Resource (along with Office 365).
Yammer helps us improve communication at all levels in the school. We have setup two Yammer networks: Students & Staff, & Staff only. Students & staff allow for all aspects of school life to be detailed, like clubs, events etc, this is backed up with departmental groups which allow more in depth discussions and collaboration on topics to occur. One parent described it as a searchable school knowledgebase for students, which is indeed true, we do find students answering questions from other students and using it as a ‘learning conversation’ once the school is closed. Also the fact the Yammer has mobile apps for all platforms is great and helps students clearly define the school and personal networks in their lives.
Russell Boulton and members of the Senior Leadership team have used the Yammer network to communicate with students and also leave feedback on ideas and articles that appear. Our staff network works as a notice board and information centre to reduce the number of emails sent, a place to create ideas that can be shaped for use in the school. We are still on a journey with staff changing the mind-set of not creating long email conversations!
We also plan to give younger student’s access to Yammer in the future under guidance of how to setup your digital profile for the future and e-safety guidance. Until now e-safety has been done with no hands on experience (though all students have Facebook we don’t teach them how to use it) Yammer allows us to do that in the safe environment of our school.
How have we enriched our Office 365 rollout? well, we have also deployed Office 2013 through our EES licensing to all school computers, added to this we have updated our licensing to include the new Student Advantage allowing students to receive Office 365 ProPlus. This gives all our students and staff a level playing field in which to start their Office experience.
Added to the Office 365 rollout we took part in Microsoft Education offer for the Surface RT’s as well as deploying the Microsoft IT Academy as a CPD resource for staff and students looking to make themselves college or career ready, (but that really is another story!)
We believe that technology is important to all aspects of the curriculum and its use should be transparent in its use. Office 365 gives the ability to give all our students the same access to resources and software throughout the school or at home and on whatever device they choose. We talk so much about 21st Century Educators – what we need to do is make sure we give people the chance to use 21st Century tools to shape their education for the future.
Educator Spotlight: Kevin Sait