Office 365 and OneDrive deliver the digital glue for a college in transition

A perennial challenge of digital transformation programs is managing the transition period between the old and the new when rip-and-replace is simply impossible.

At St James College, a Catholic school in Bentleigh East, Victoria, which teaches over 400 boys in years 7-10, a four-year digital transformation program, which will see student iPads gradually replaced with Windows 10 devices is being significantly streamlined by Office 365 and OneDrive.

ICT manager for St James, Matthew Marcos, explains that in 2019 the incoming cohort of Year Seven boys has been equipped with HP laptops running Windows 10. Over the next three years each new intake of Year Seven boys will adopt the same technology and over time the iPads will phase out.

Teachers are already using Windows 10 devices as part of the strategy by the school to ensure students are equipped with the sorts of digital skills and application know-how that are prized in the workforce and in higher education.

Matthew says that deploying Microsoft Office 365 and OneDrive on all hardware means that whatever device a student has, he is able to access the same productivity and learning applications as his fellow students and teachers. Matthew explains that; “Three years ago we decided to go with Office as opposed to Google apps for education,” largely because of the preference for Microsoft tools among corporates and SMEs, where many of St James’ graduates will likely forge their careers.

Rather than roll out a BYO device strategy St James has partnered with the Somerville Group to lease laptops to students. Somerville also takes care of the service and support, which Matthew acknowledges adds a premium, but reduces device downtime and ensures everyone has access to computers pretty much all the time in order to maximise learning opportunities.

It’s not uncommon he says for a class using iPads to have ten out of action for one reason or another. The new strategy has been designed to guard against that, ensuring devices are working properly ensuring maximum access for both teachers and learners.

How does the device program work?
For the Year 7 boys the school purchases them and then leases them over a four-year period. Generally in high schools lease programs run for three years – we have stretched that to four to provide the best value we can for our students.

Why is this a smarter approach?
With the structure of the Apple solution we had no ability to ensure a student had a working device, we had no asset, no follow up, no accountability from the channel or service agreements. Now we do.

How are you managing the device transition?
This year only Year 7s have the laptop, Years 8, 9 and 10 have iPads. We use Office 365 and OneDrive as the anchor between the two environments – they bring those two environments together better than Google apps does.

What can you do now?
We use the whole Microsoft ecosystem to support day to day working and communication, and students can also get access to the school’s web-based learning management system. We use OneDrive quite heavily for sharing and submitting files to teachers, also for the boys to share project work amongst themselves.

The whole productivity suite of Office 365 – Word, Outlook, Excel – is available and we use a virtual private network to let the students access legacy school resources from home. The classroom is 24×7 these days – they may start in the six hours of the school day but those resources need to be there all the time.

What do you expect the impact of this approach will be?
Strong independent technology learning through aligning that to what is happening in industry. Having a technology strategy that is aligned strongly with tools in industry means that people know how they work and should be working.

And we are a small IT shop with just 1.5 FTE. Because we are not worried about keeping the lights on we can focus on other issues.

What other solutions is St James using?
Teachers are starting collaborating using Teams this term, headed up by our head of curriculum and development, and they have started using departmental based Teams for maths or science where ideas are discussed. There is more discussion about curriculum development as opposed to curriculum operation.

How are you using data and analytics to enhance learning?
The co-head of curriculum is using Power BI with Simon Schools – our LMS. We have set up a Power BI for her to look at advanced learning visualisations.