Written by Education Writer Gerald Haigh
This is the second half of a two-part blog on a significant ICT project at St Birinus School in Didcot, Oxfordshire. There, a strategic partnership with consultancy 3E, and managed ICT services specialist Civica, is developing an ICT programme which at the time of writing is beginning to transform teaching and learning across the board. Microsoft Office 365 with SharePoint 2013 plays a key role in this exciting project.
In the earlier blog we saw how the St Birinus project was conceived and initiated. Here, we take the story on, looking at implementation, and the school’s BYOD vision. And finally we take some opinions from a few of the most important customers – the students themselves.
With any major implementation the challenge is to bring all the users on board. And at St Birinus the person responsible for ushering everyone up the gangway is ICT Advanced Skills Teacher Tom Mannion.
‘I’m the link between the school and Civica as the providers of the managed service. My role is to develop teachers’ enthusiasm for the technology that arrived in September.’
Civica’s e-Learning team members have been a great asset in this.
‘The fact that they are teachers makes a powerful difference when working with other teachers in the school,’ he says.
As always, though, confidence building is a priority, and Tom has some interesting strategies for that, including using as ‘champions’, teachers from different areas of the school who might have started out as sceptics.
‘That’s more powerful than hearing someone who is seen as an IT specialist. It’s a different kind of voice.’
He’s also introduced ‘RiskIT’ weeks.
‘That’s where once a term everyone’s lessons will have some element that they haven’t tried before,’ he says, ‘It’s planned in advance and teachers talk to each other about whats worked for them. It might be using mobile phones or tablets, collaborative working, video.’
It’s a ‘no blame’ scenario, he says. The aim is simply for people to try things out.
Tom is full of praise for ‘Cloudbase’ and the limitless possibilities that it opens up for collaboration and communication.
‘You can have four working on a presentation at the same time for example – on a PlayStation, a tablet, a laptop, a desktop in the library, all in different places.’
Inevitably, not all teachers have moved on at the same speed, but the portal’s user-friendliness encourages everyone to try, often with encouragement from students. Tom gives the example of a previously reluctant teacher who led a class as they used their mobile phones to take video and make an interactive cookery book which is stored on the portal for everyone to see and use.
‘The new IT provision is having a positive impact on learning.’
Bring Your Own Device
The BYOD policy at St Birinus is very permissive in terms not only of which device can be used, but whether any device is necessary at all.
‘My feeling is that lesson objectives will be the same but there’ll be flexibility about how to get to that point,’ says Tom Mannion. ‘Some will take notes, some will use tablets or phones.’
SharePoint 13 with Office 365, he says, is ideal for providing that level of choice. He paints an exciting picture, ticking off some of the key features
And as so often, students will be pushing any teacher or department that seems to be lagging.
‘The system is so much better than before and students are asking for ICT. We also plan to have student champions to provide support.’
One of the best parts of my visit to St Birinus was hearing students tell the Civica team how they felt about their new portal. Unsurprisingly, they had very quickly identified all the key features – ease of collaboration, ease of access to any area, anytime anywhere learning, speed of response. There was general approval, too, for the school’s move to what they saw as a more modern way of working, and to the introduction of BYOD. Most interestingly, there was a strong sense of expectations being realised. No student criticised the previous ICT regime in their school – they were too polite for that – but they make it clear that there’s almost a sense of relief. At last their school has, in its online portal, a working environment that enables them to live up to the high expectations that their teachers place upon them.
‘We can share things with teachers and have an instantaneous response. We use to do it by email, now we can share it and it’s marked already.
‘It’s easy to navigate. All the things you need in a lesson are there. Its easy, clear, bold and simple.’
‘We can start work at school and finish it at home. BYOD will be good too because I write too fast and scribble, and using my own laptop will be much easier.’
‘We’ve started using our own devices in science, which is better for research because textbooks are out of date sometimes’