The following blog post is an extract from the November edition of #TheFeed, and is written by John Barneby, Head of Group IT services at Oasis Academies.
Oasis Community Learning – Being part of something big, whilst retaining a family feel where every student, staff member and parent matters.
By John Barneby
Oasis Community Learning was set up in 2004 with the express purpose of transforming learning, lives and communities through the development of the Oasis Academies. We are one of the largest multi-Academy sponsors in England, currently with 47 Academies opened since 2004. Our mission is to deliver exceptional education by creating and sustaining a network of excellent learning communities where every student can realise their full potential. At a global level Oasis Community Learning (OCL) belongs to a family of charitable organisations working in multiple countries and supporting a variety of causes. The ambition from the top of the organisation is for everyone in all of our Academies to feel part of that global community – part of “One Oasis”.
"The support networks within Oasis are phenomenal, being part of a group is one of the main reasons I wanted to work in an Oasis academy.” - Oasis Academy Silvertown
Behind the “One Oasis” approach there is one global IT infrastructure supported by Oasis IT Services, which has been put in place over the last 2 years. With that infrastructure, the Oasis Services IT team offer a range of services to our academies throughout the four regions, ensuring they have reliable networks and a sustainable way of delivering technology to the classroom. Oasis IT Services has been an integral part of the Oasis Community Learning solution from the start and currently has 96 members employed in supporting learning. Our approach is all about “National Economies of Scale, Local Choice” – ensuring that the Academies get value for money by being part of a group, but are still empowered to decide on how technology is best used to enhance learning in their own unique settings.
We have been clear from the start, that the only way to enable a culture of collaboration between our academies and to help all Oasis teachers to feel part of something bigger than their own school, is by using modern communications tools and technology. Our teachers do not get to meet teachers from other Oasis academies very frequently, but we are finding other ways to connect them. Our platform for making all this happen is called the OasisZone. The platform is built on Microsoft Office 365, which we moved all of our email services to back in 2014. That move alone saved us a huge amount of money because we used to host our own Exchange servers for 22,000 users.
As we move forwards, it is the other parts of Office 365 that are enabling the real innovation and helping our schools realise the benefits of belonging to the “One Oasis” family. Here are some of the Office365 components we are using as part of the OasisZone:
Skype for Business
We have a global address book for all Oasis staff across all 47 academies, plus all of the Oasis national team staff. This lets our teachers find colleagues from across the country and have free phone calls, video conferencing and online meetings – sharing curriculum ideas or even getting guest speakers into their classrooms. Our weekly Education Team Briefing is now delivered via Skype.
The Oasis Yammer Network
Yammer is the social network for all Oasis teachers, support staff and national staff. It lets them post updates or news stories about their Academies and is great for sharing knowledge and finding experts on particular subjects from within our own network. An example of how this is now working in practice comes from the London and SE region where each subject or phase of education, and just as importantly administration and support teams, have their own Yammer group known as the Regional Improvement Network groups. There is a voluntary leader for the group who makes things happen. Their first task has been to maximise the time available for their group when they meet face to face at a regional conference later in the term by finding out what key issues they should target. A perfect way to gauge opinions through the ‘Poll’ tool and dialogues about any pressing issues.
National & International News
Our teachers are proud to work for an organisation that does so much good around the world, but it’s hard to keep up a recycling program to share PCs and Laptops with our Oasis projects in Africa sites. This gives us even more possibilities to make OasisZone a global platform and make a real impact in people’s lives, and bring the whole Oasis family closer together.
“Oasis is about inclusion, our values & our ethos – a sense of family & community – we can take a PGCEstudent through from NQT to Headship, with those same values.” - Clare Wilson, Oasis National Team
OneDrive, Class Notebook and Staff Notebook
Our long-term plan is to have less and less data stored locally on school networks and to move more and more of our data into the cloud. OneDrive is a great way of moving documents between home and school, and gives all of our teachers more storage space than they’ll ever need! We are identifying how best to make use of the powerful tools for both staff and students through the shared ‘Notebooks’ which will bring about a significant pedagogical shift. Whilst OasisZone is already delivering great benefits to OCL staff, the impact on students and their learning both inside and outside the classroom is now also starting to be seen. As well as delivering first-class and innovative education, Oasis builds ‘hubs’ in the areas it works; creating safe and inspiring local neighbourhoods that provide integrated and diverse services to benefit the whole person and the whole community. Many of our Academies and hubs are in some quite challenging areas of the UK, so anything we can do to help our students and their families is welcomed. All young people across Oasis can now get 5 complementary copies of Microsoft Office at home, which not only saves them money – but also ensures that they have modern software at home to do their homework.
Sway and Office Mix
The advent of the Computing curriculum 2014 created new levels of challenge for the IT infrastructure, IT Teams and teachers. Adding in the ‘Life after Levels’, changes to the core subjects and the OFSTED requirement for 2016, ‘Progress 8’, has made a collaborative approach to moderated data essential not a luxury, our CPD programme has to reflect this. Based upon an Excel tool designed internally at Microsoft Showcase School Oasis Academy South Bank we are just starting to use innovative approaches to CPD and engaging resources shared through the Office 365 tools such as Sway and Office Mix are proving a great success. As a record of CPD sessions these tools are incredibly powerful giving pre and post development sessions real clout. Here is a link to a Sway from a session where primary teachers learnt about the creation of bitmap images through binary code – it went down a treat and helped to dispel a lot of anxiety amongst some of the less confident teaching staff. They all became experts and could revisit the session again and again as well as sharing with colleagues from other schools!
Oasis is a great place to work, and has a strong ethos, but it’s always tough to really build a common culture when we just don’t get to see each other enough. Office365 is starting to change that and is bringing people closer together, helping us connect with new colleagues and discover new ways to collaborate.