BETT 2017 Guest Post: SalamanderSoft – “Getting on with teaching and learning in Office 365, with SalamanderSoft”

The next post in our BETT 2017 partner series comes to us from SalamanderSoft, who focus on integration services helping Schools use the data they already have to provision, maintain and manage Active Directory, Office 365, SharePoint, and Exchange.

Find SalamanderSoft in the Microsoft Partner Campus at BETT 2017 (stand C300).


Getting on with teaching and learning in Office 365, with SalamanderSoft

Innovations within Microsoft’s cloud platform in 2016 and coming in 2017 have given schools and colleges an opportunity to deliver richer teaching and learning experiences, while reducing costs and complexity. Highlights over the last year have included previews of Microsoft Classroom, School Data Sync and expanded capabilities in OneNote Class Notebooks.

SalamanderSoft has a long history of integrating key IT systems with school data in highly flexible ways, and we are continuing this approach within Office 365, allowing the automation of these new features in Office 365. Our aim is that everyone can access the resources they need as soon as they need to start learning or teaching, whether that’s Microsoft OutlookOneNote Class Notebooks, Microsoft Classroom, Microsoft SharePoint, or simply logging on to their devices.

Microsoft Classroom and School Data Sync

Microsoft Classroom is an assignment/homework tool built into Office 365 which allows teachers to assign online work to classes. Teachers are already beginning to use Microsoft Classroom to assign work to students, and track student responses.

School Data Sync is the process which builds the classrooms for the teachers and pupils, either from manually uploaded CSVs or automatically from the school management system where supported. These classrooms are built on Office 365 groups, which we have automated for several years, and we have built upon our previous automation to include automatically building classrooms. We have rolled this out for several early adopter schools, customising memberships to support each school’s specific curriculum. This means that everything is ready for the teachers and students when they arrive for lessons rather than the teacher or IT administrator needing to create the classrooms manually.

How the classrooms are configured is entirely up to the school and, in general, class membership is based on timetabled classes from the MIS with the option to add additional teachers. As a different example though, in one large primary school, we have set up Microsoft Classrooms for each registration group as well as for all students in each year - this gives teachers flexibility about how they want to assign and track work. We are also customising the teacher list for each Microsoft Classroom so that all teachers and teaching assistants for a class are automatically given the teacher role, as well as pre-selected members of the senior leadership team.

Another advantage of School Data Sync is that once the classrooms are created, then other systems can also use these groups. In the words of Paul Edge from Ribblesdale High School:

“I am really excited about the future,’ he says. ‘Having the groups within Office 365 opens up opportunities to interact with students and parents on a number of levels.  A successful home-school relationship is essential to allow students to fulfil their potential.”

Class Notebooks

Another tool which is transforming the way that teachers and students collaborate is Microsoft OneNote, and in particular Class Notebooks, which have been a great success in schools over the past couple of years since its first release. A Class Notebook is a OneNote Notebook that can be shared with all the teachers and students in a class. As well as shared sections for pupil-to-pupil collaboration or notes from the teacher, each student in a class receives their own personal area within a class notebook. This provides students with an easily accessible area in which to take notes or to complete classwork, coursework, or homework. Crucially, teachers and students are able to access their class notebooks on a variety of machines, with content syncing between the master copy in Office 365 and their various client devices.

Microsoft allowed developers to work with Class Notebooks in early 2016 and we quickly added support for this to allow our customers to have these Class Notebooks provisioned based on the data in their school management system, together with any customisation they require. The Notebooks are then ready and waiting for the teachers and students without any manual set up required.

Royal Wootton Bassett Academy (RWBA) has been using standard OneNote notebooks provisioned by SalamanderSoft since 2015. Led by Assistant Head Teacher Steve Gillott, they switched to using our automation for Class Notebooks in 2016. Speaking in a case study last year, Paul Day, PE teacher and Lead Practitioner for Teacher Development at RWBA highlighted the advantage of instant feedback with OneNote.

“The use of live marking against the pupils’ work has been highly beneficial for them as formative feedback. I am also able to see how hard they working when they are set independent study tasks outside of lesson times. The use of OneNote has greatly engaged the pupils and they find it a highly positive way of working.”

Neil Wilson, Head of Computing at RWBA, also finds that now he can have easy access to the students’ OneNote class notebooks to remove delays and misunderstandings, keeping on top of any errors students make as they go along.

“I can see that the notes they are making are correct, whereas it’s difficult to check what they are putting in a paper exercise book.”

Paul Edge from Ribblesdale High School, a Microsoft Showcase School, is very appreciative of the automation we provide:

"The manual process of putting classes and names into class notebook takes too long. In fact if you teach, say, eighteen classes, it’s not going to happen. The need is to rationalize so that you just have one system."

While a teacher, also from Ribblesdale High School, comments

“Having OneNote Class Notebooks set up automatically has allowed me to distribute activities to pupils before the lesson starts.  This saves time and lets pupils review certain aspects before the lesson.”

Through our ability to manage Class Notebooks directly, we are able to build customised structures within the Class Notebooks we build for schools. These have ranged from teacher only areas, custom content areas, custom sections and pages for each student’s area, and sections based on calendar dates. We can even add custom sections for different subjects with different themes - such as a graph paper background for maths sections.

Timetables in Outlook and Exchange

One of the most popular features of Salamander Active Directory in recent years has been its ability to pull any timetable from the school MIS into Exchange or Office 365. As these calendars are supported on any device, including mobile devices, this ensures that staff and pupils always know where they need to be wherever they are. And unlike other timetable synchronization products this is fully customizable, as are all of our products, allowing any categorization and use of data to create the events. Some schools even ask us to insert hyperlinks into their calendar events, such as links to a related class notebook, or a subject/class site in SharePoint.

Find SalamanderSoft at BETT 2017 in the Microsoft Partner Campus on stand C300.

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