What a Year it’s been with Microsoft Education

Guest post by Education writer Gerald Haigh

In the various blogs and articles I’ve written during 2013 I have concentrated, perhaps inevitably, on devices and systems – tablets, hybrids, Windows 8, the various features of Office 365, SharePoint. In the process, I’ve learned from some fascinating people. So I thought at this, the turning of the year, you might allow me to mention one or two of them again, without having to dwell too much on the techie things that they taught me. But where do I start? Or rather, with whom?

Why not with Kirsty Tonks, E-Learning Director at Shireland Collegiate Academy? If you want someone who knows how to put learning first, with technology in support, then look no further. She fizzes with enthusiasm for learning, is ever ready to talk about it, and has as complete an understanding as you could find of what technology for learning is all about. A phone conversation with Kirsty is as good as a CPD course I’d say.

She started her career, I notice, in primary, and as a one-time primary person myself I’d say that it shows. I’ve met numerous secondary heads over the years who have spoken about the value of bringing teachers on board from the primary sector. But then, it probably works the other way too. There are secondary teachers who have a lot to offer in primary classrooms and staffrooms. Maybe school leaders need to be a bit more adventurous about appointing from other sectors – and teachers a bit bolder about applying.

Kirsty’s one of a number of people I spoke to during the year about some of the quite dramatic changes that are happening to technology in school. We’re moving to a world of one-to-one devices, software on tap from the cloud, anytime anywhere learning, transformation of communication, all neatly delivered with Office 365.

prev_prev_Skype13_Photo_School-Friends.jpgAmong other Office 365 enthusiasts I ought to mention Tom Mannion of St Birinus School in Didcot. Tom’s role is to lead colleagues through the school’s implementation of Civica’s Office 365, SharePoint 2013 –based ‘Cloudbase’ learning environment. As an Advanced Skills Teacher he has an interesting and, I guess, slightly unusual job, a mixture of coaching, troubleshooting, motivating, supporting, persuading – very much centred on people rather than technology. Although he certainly has to know about the technology and what it can do.

What I liked about Tom was the amount of confidence he shows in his colleagues, encouraging them to take ‘no blame’ risks with ICT in their lessons. There’s a fine line to tread here, because if people experience failure it can make them reluctant to try again, but I just get the feeling from Tom that he’ll carry people along, convincing them that everything will be fine, and if it isn’t, no worries, he’ll help them to sort it out.

Another enthusiastic evangelist I came across isn’t a teacher at all. Angela Bingham is Admissions and Customer Service Manager at West Suffolk College. In the highly competitive Further Education world, her combination of responsibilities is a very big deal – Angela looks after the enrolment of 2,500 students each year, and her main working tool is one of the Surface tablets that the College chose instead of iPads. She takes hers to meetings, constantly using OneNote to keep her notes and action points organised. Now she’s convincing everyone she meets that Surface is the tablet they need.

‘I’m not a techie,’ She says, in the blog I wrote back in April, ‘I was a notebook and pen person. With the ‘Surface RT’ you need only limited training and then you’re ready to go.’

Quite a few FE Colleges have taken to Windows 8 tablets. Liverpool Community College, for example, bought a large number of Lenovo tablets, and I talked to one lecturer – John Bainbridge in Business Studies -- who found that his new ability to record video and audio of students talking about their work was making a huge difference to the assessment process. His excitement on the phone was a real pleasure to experience.

‘Some students who were going to fail will pass. Some who were going to pass will get merits. Some who were going to get merits will get distinctions, ’ said John.

What better testimonial could Microsoft and Lenovo have than that?

The biggest delight of all, of course, has been meeting students. They’re always well ahead of the game when it comes to technology. What a pleasure it was, for example, to see the Kodu Kup competition, in July, won by an all girl team from Afon Taf High School, whose presentation included an impassioned plea for more gender equality in the programming industry. The teams were wonderfully looked after at Thames Valley Park with lots of child-centred refreshments.

‘Put your hand up if you had four chocolate lollies’, said Microsoft's Stuart Ball whose good-humoured hosting was great to see. I love the fact that he took all the entrants out for a walk while the judges conferred.

Then there were Kodu experts at Dunstall Hill primary in Wolverhampton, competing to create the most ferocious game they could manage.

‘It’s called “Mission Impossible”, because it is,’ one child said, of his friend’s creation.

Most impressive of all, perhaps, were the presentations made to Microsoft visitors by the young digital leaders at Priory School in Portsmouth last May. The best bit, I’d say, was Robbie, of Year Nine explaining the school’s move to ‘Bring Your Own Device’

‘There used to be a “no phones” policy and now laptops, tablets and mobiles are widely accepted,’ said Robbie. ‘We helped with that, and Mr Rogers (a teacher) was the engine to make it happen. It was a matter of convincing everyone, changing opinions.’

Oh to have been a fly on the wall…..

Robbie and his friends also told us about the Priory school bench – the only school bench in the world with its own Twitter account (‘ @priorybench I’m in the hall, come sit on me.’) The bench seems to have gone to sleep since May, incidentally, which seems a shame.

Looking at what I’ve written here, and then at the notes I’ve made on my various jobs during the year, it hardly seems fair that I’ve mentioned so few people. There been so many great encounters you see, with teachers, leaders, support staff, Microsoft friends, Microsoft partner businesses, the list goes on. What a privilege it is to poke my nose into the working and learning lives of our nation’s educators. And what a wealth there is out there of talent, expertise, good humour and dedication to the task of improving the life chances of our young people. All I can do is tell the stories, spread the word a bit. So now I look forward to 2014, and the chance to meet old friends again and make lots of new ones.


From all of us at Microsoft Education we wish you a very Merry Christmas, and look forward to connecting in the New Year.

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