Hale School may be the oldest boys’ school in Western Australia, but it has a thoroughly modern outlook.
Hale is a Microsoft Showcase School and a Surface School. It runs a one-to-one Surface program and has embraced digital pens both for the learning flexibility they promise and the opportunity to encourage handwriting and support traditional learning techniques.
Murray Webber is the Standard Operating Environment (SOE) and Deployment Administrator for the school, managing everything from software licensing through to SOE design and deployment of all devices and the software they run. He’s focused on the future – but deeply respectful of Hale’s heritage.
“I have always understood the benefit of a tablet type device and the importance of having a pen,” he says. Mindful of concerns about the nationwide deterioration of handwriting, Webber sees the Surface coupled with a digital pen as a “way to start a digital transformation while also providing the opportunity for traditional teaching, and for using the pen and writing in the classroom.”
Ultimately the school’s goal is to support students in the best way possible so that they graduate with both confidence and strong academic results.
Hale began its one-to-one notebook program in 2003 and has championed the Microsoft Surface since 2015. He describes OneNote as “the backbone of classroom technology”, but maintains that it is the device that matters, and when you combine lightweight, solid wireless connectivity, wireless display technology, and both touch and pen inputs, this really enables a dynamic classroom experience. The technology ecosystem that has evolved at Hale delivers true learning flexibility.
Students and staff can use the Surface as a tablet, as a notebook with keyboard, and use the digital pen to annotate documents, which is particularly useful in subjects like Science and Maths.
“You can use software but it’s a little cumbersome. With the digital pen you are able to write the equations, and the teachers’ feedback is that those devices and that feature in particular, have allowed students to grasp concepts in a shorter term than before,” says Webber.
Webber cites the experimental research conducted by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer in the US, which has found that students who write rather than type their notes learn more. Although the studies found students typing their notes took more notes, they didn’t learn as much as the students taking notes by hand.
“The pen is mightier than the keyboard,” he quips. But consistency is king.
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Hale has explored multiple models for technology procurement, including parent-purchased as well as the idea of BYOD. But Webber is a strong believer that “technology consistency in the class simplifies instructions, lessen distractions and does not create social issues around who has what device.”
An IT levy allows the school to purchase devices, Microsoft 365 solutions, and pay for the on-premise and in-cloud applications it needs. Staff and students are provided with a fully configured device that is ready to go and the school’s IT department provides ongoing support.
“We want the best device with the best software and services,” says Webber, but also a measure of flexibility. “We have a consistent environment and provide the tools and training for staff and students but let them find their own frontier.”
Webber says Hale has also benefitted from being a Microsoft Showcase School. “Sometimes it’s the little things that are surprising and incredibly rewarding when you see it become reality. Being an early adopter of technologies, and having high standards for those that we adopt, we are often one of the first to notice if something isn’t quite right or could do with some improvement.
“Being part of the technical adoption program as a Showcase School means that action is taken quickly by Microsoft and we receive a patch or update that fixes it for us, and everyone worldwide.”
Webber also leverages the Microsoft Azure cloud and Azure stack including Azure Active Directory, Azure DNS, and Office 365.
“We still have some legacy file shares, but we are now pushing strongly ahead with OneDrive for Business. We are also migrating our on premises SharePoint server to SharePoint Online and we will probably use the Mosaic LiveTiles solution to dress that up and make it more approachable for our users.”
Webber is also championing the use of Teams across the school. He’s used it to simplify the provisioning of classes and OneNote Class notebooks and is now exploring how Teams can be used to handle assignments and formative assessments, also by leveraging Microsoft Forms and the Take a Test app in Windows 10.
Hale is also looking to make more use of its data, both to support pastoral care of students and support executive decision making. Webber also has plans to extend the parent portal and enrich it with additional data insights. He sees value in being able to automatically generate reports from school information systems and make that available in useful and clear ways, allowing authorised users to drill into charts and graphs for more detail.
“A move to SharePoint Online along with OneDrive for Business makes everyone’s work available everywhere. The next step is to adopt Azure Active Directory Application Proxy and publish resources, truly allowing access anywhere, on any device, at any time,” adding that will also simplify account management for parent access to Hale’s portals.
“We are constantly looking for new areas to improve, to be more efficient and offer more to staff and students – and do more to feel like we are getting out of the way,” says Webber, leaving Hale, its teachers and students to get on with the business of learning.