Brisbane Catholic Education delivers services, programs and resources to 141 schools across South East Queensland – supporting the education of 73,000 students and the needs of 12,000 staff. Core to its success is Office 365 which has been deployed as the core learning and collaboration platform for the entire network.
Office 365 and Microsoft Teams now underpins all school and student collaboration and acts as the central learning management system.
The solution is also providing access to useful metrics that are providing insights about learning outcomes that can be shared across the diocese.
Ahead of the decision to adopt Microsoft cloud services and Office 365, Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE) liaised with schools and teachers across the network to get a deep understanding of their needs, considered the large geographic spread of schools in the diocese (a round trip to the furthermost school would take about 10 hours), and grappled with the change management and ongoing support required to ensure that the digital investment would achieve its full potential.
While many of BCE’s schools are located in Brisbane and metro areas, a sizeable number are in rural and remote areas where delivering professional development to develop technology skills is challenging. BCE needed a solution that would be accessible to all schools, prove straightforward to access and use, and – importantly – also deliver the tools to ensure an inclusive learning environment supporting the needs of students with disabilities, indigenous students and pupils with English as a second language.
Microsoft spent time with Sharyn Creed, BCE’s Manager School Information Services; Warren Armitage, Chief Information Officer; and Allan Sheffield, Senior Service Management Officer, to learn why Teams and Office 365 ticked all the boxes.
MS: This is a significant transformation – how did you approach the change management needed for this to fly?
Sharyn Creed (SC): We started with the decision to make these products core in our schools so that all schools have access to the same products. We also have an expectation that schools use these products as part of their Learning Systems toolset. That means that we are not spreading change management and learning across a range of products – instead we could focus our support and professional learning on Office 365 and the Microsoft Teams space.
Using School Data Sync, we created Teams for staff and students based on their timetabled subject classes – so those were available for them up front – there was no need for teachers to go through the set up process, saving them significant time.
We also initiated a digital skills program for upskilling teachers in schools – specifically those that were struggling to engage with our enterprise systems. We have a team that works with each school over six months – they work directly; with teachers and their classes, so it is really a mentoring, modelling and coaching program – we’re not pulling teachers out of the classroom.
MS: What made you select Microsoft and Office 365?
Warren Armitage (WA): We were somewhat burned in the past choosing a learning management system that we thought would be all encompassing – we no longer use that. We decided we would not go down that path again but instead look at the toolset Office 365 offers rather than seek a specific set of functionality.
“We did consider Google’s education offerings and several years ago they were interesting. We decided, fortunately for us, that we would stay in the Microsoft fold and it seems that in the last four or five years Microsoft has leapt ahead in terms of the scope and depth of their functionality. Google has barely kept pace in the last two or three years. I meet a lot with other school technology leaders and pretty much all of them were at one point Google focussed – it was really prevalent across Catholic education – now that is no longer the case.”
MS: You have a strong focus on inclusive learning. Can you tell us more about that?
WA: We have nearly 9 per cent of students with English as their second language, 4,000 students with a disability and a couple of thousand indigenous students.
Allan Sheffield (AS): We have a digital schools program where teachers with a passion for supporting other teachers with technology, work alongside them to provide support. We worked alongside one school that had ESL students to bed down Microsoft Teams and also OneDrive as a way to engage students that focussed on using the Immersive Reader tools.
That had a great impact, students can log onto Office 365 and start composing text and then use Immersive Reader to proofread what they have written. It speaks to the benefits of strategically and consistently applying Office 365 – students are able to come with all different devices and be able to connect to an environment that is secure and reliable and assisted their literacy as well.
There’s a real kind of wow factor. For those students where, for example, Arabic is their first language this brings a sense of self-esteem – to have their culture and language validated at the school – their language in their classroom context.
MS: Have you been able to engage parents through school and parent portals as well?
WA: Yes, and it’s worth noting we have collected some metrics. We have 5,000 parents a day that visit the portals – and there’s a strong correlation between the number of visits and improved learning outcomes. Not cause and effect perhaps, but strong correlation. I think portal visits is a proxy for parent engagement in their kids’ education.
MS: So analytics are delivering valuable insights?
AS: What we have is world class. We now have a comprehensive learning analytics platform that is widely used. We believe that the greater use of learning analytics leads to improvement in learning outcomes in primary and secondary schools and we have pretty good evidence for that.
WA: There’s a program underway with our BCE learning analytics for Victoria’s catholic schools; a plan to have that in 500 catholic schools in Victoria. We developed that through some PowerBI work plus existing piece of work around SQL Server and using SharePoint as the front end presentation to a data warehouse.
AS: We’re also kicking off a couple of projects around teacher analytics using dashboards in Microsoft Teams to support teacher analytics around assignments that we hope will expose some deeper insights about assignments around the criteria or dimensions of the assignment.
We are also working with a team on system wide analytics for Office 365 and data around particular product use. How many assignments are pushed out by Microsoft Teams? We may be able to correlate with information from the student information system – but we have only just kicked that off.
MS: With Microsoft and Office 365 as the foundation – what does the future hold?
WA: We need to make sure we can demonstrate how technology use in the classroom can assist in improving core learning outcomes – numeracy and literacy. Equally important is classroom technology’s role in developing the 21st Century skills that come from deeper learning, creativity, collaboration – the so-called softer skills.