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De La Salle College Strengthens Community Bonds with Microsoft Office 365

“Microsoft Office 365 empowers students, gives them more responsibility and allows us to individualise the way we interact with students,” says John Singh, Director ICT at South Auckland’s De La Salle College. “And, for us, having a common platform makes it much easier to function within the school environment. We have moved from the blackboard to the whiteboard and now to the screen. The classroom is still the priority, but we have added a whole new dimension to the way we teach.”

De La Salle College has a roll of 1000 boys from across Auckland, predominantly from South Auckland, and a staff of 110 including 65 teachers. The College is tasked with being a high impact provider of quality education in line with Catholic character and La Sallian tradition. As such, De La Salle has embraced technology in general and Microsoft Office 365 specifically to empower and train students for tomorrow’s challenges. This has been possible with the ongoing support and vision of the Senior Leadership Team and Board of Trustees.

Schools have diverse needs as do the communities they serve. Indeed, in many communities, schools are a valuable resource over and above academics. They instil values, provide a focus for community involvement and foster a sense of belonging in otherwise ethnically and economically disparate populations. And, increasingly, the glue that bonds together students, educators, parents and the public is technology.

 

Teacher using OneNote app on a smartboard.

 

“Microsoft Office 365 has been an outstanding addition and learning resource for the Staff and students of De La Salle,” says Principal Mr Myles Hogary. “The common platform provides a consistent tool which is widely used across all curriculum areas in the College giving our Staff and students a structured format which makes it much simpler to access resources and store their own work. The applications which are available to our learning community allows learning, feedback and assessment to take place within and outside the normal classroom environment.”

“Providing our young men with current ICT infrastructure which complements their classroom learning has been a priority for the College,” he continues. “Microsoft Office 365 has met the needs of our staff and students through its intuitive format and ability to be used across the whole College.”

Microsoft and the Ministry of Education

“Working with our technology partner, New Era IT, we took advantage of the joint Ministry of Education Schools Agreement with Microsoft. This provided, at no charge to end users, up to five copies of Office 365 Pro Plus for students and staff as well as a powerful suite of learning and collaboration tools for the school’s computers,” explains Singh. “This gave us the platform we had envisioned at the outset.”

As with any major upgrade, implementing a unified solution across servers, the cloud, laptops and desktops over wired and wireless networks was a team effort. “Professional development for teachers and staff has been a vital aspect for us,” he continues. “Uptake varies with the individual and we have structured our PD for maximum impact. Lead ICT Teachers, together with New Era IT and Microsoft Educator Mr John Phelps, have mentored colleagues and provided a well-developed programme for professional development training on specific aspects of technology for the last three years.”

Professional development is on-going. “We have turn-over, so new people are coming in and need to learn the system,” he continues. “Plus, with all the systems in place, we have access to many more pedagogical resources that require a certain amount of time and effort to understand. But a major plus for Office 365 is that it is a defacto standard and most staff are already familiar with the interface which means that we can spend more time with training on specific pedagogical applications.”

Modern management for teaching and administration

“Microsoft OneDrive and OneNote are two particular features that have made our lives much easier in our day-to-day interactions,” explains Singh. “Now that students have access to email, they can view assignments and lessons via OneNote and submit homework via OneDrive. Before Office 365, I would have to hand-out USB drives with the work and then collect them once the assignments were completed. It was time-consuming and USB sticks have a habit of being misplaced. Not so with Office 365. And with everyone connected, feedback and reviews are so much more streamlined.”

“…for us, having a common platform makes it much easier to function within the school environment. We have moved from the blackboard to the whiteboard and now to the screen. The classroom is still the priority, but we have added a whole new dimension to the way we teach.”

– John Singh, Director of ICT

De La Salle College relies on Microsoft Office 365 for both administration and teaching. “In the Arts Faculty,” says Jackson Tan, Head of Department Visual Arts, Assistant Head of Faculty, Arts, “our appraisal structure revolves around the use of Microsoft Planner OneNote Notebooks in Office 365.  This engine allows us to easily access and share information, as well as provide a framework for an effective appraisal document/folder. All our team members confidently work on Office 365 OneNote Notebooks and continually add to the knowledge base throughout the year.”

“Overall, Office 365 has had a positive impact on my teaching practice by using it to create effective communication in the teams I work in. It has proved to be a useful tool to create frameworks for file sharing and discussions. The students have benefited from its integration into our school with more efficient file sharing properties and the capacity to save digital work as well.”

Promoting literacy skills

Office 365 provides more ways for students to express themselves. “We have found that Office 365 helps promote literacy skills beyond cut and paste,” says Lynette Hay, Digital Information Technology Teacher and De La Salle’s Communities of Learning Across School Lead. “Plus, it gives us the ability to provide students with immediate feedback, multiple iterations and a medium for positive reinforcement.”

Mrs Hay is a strong believer in Microsoft’s effectiveness in the NZ education community. “I made the effort to become a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert,” she says, “because I felt that Microsoft would be a major force for good in the education sector. This has given me the skills to mentor teachers and Staff here at De La Salle as well as the wider educational community via the MoE’s Communities of Learning initiative. By providing a common platform, a familiar interface and opportunities for professional development, Microsoft has given us the resources to support both modern management for ourselves and positive digital outcomes for students.”

Microsoft Office 365: A student perspective

Students are equally enthusiastic about Microsoft 365. “I use Microsoft 365 as a tool in finishing my school and homework tasks within the time frame set by my teachers,” says Hans Higgins, a Year 12 Student at the College. “It is a convenient tool for a teacher as well as a student like me. It helps me to develop my assignments step-by-step and produce quality work at the end. Microsoft 365 gives all the benefits a student or teacher needs from writing a report to sharing files wherever they are and helps create a better learning experience for a student or teacher since it provides a platform to work together to share ideas and tasks.”

“For me,” he continues, “the main benefit I’ve gained from the program is convenience. It makes things easier for me, my friends and my family. Microsoft 365 is a program built for this generation. A generation where technology is developing. For all of us, having the chance to access everything at once in a single place is what we want. Whether its writing an essay, doing a PowerPoint presentation or collaborating on projects with classmates, Microsoft 365 helps us achieve our learning goals more efficiently.”

Empowering Students

De La Salle has been using Microsoft 365 for three years. “The greatest benefit,” says Singh, “over and above the facilitation of our day-to-day interactions with students and colleagues, is that students have been empowered to take charge of their educational needs. They can work at their own pace, on their own time and in their own space. Indeed, this is the learning style many students prefer. And it is their responsibility to ensure that they complete their assignments on time. If they need extra help, they can email us. If we sense that a student is falling behind, we can communicate our concerns directly and identify what the issues might be. Anywhere, anytime (within reason) and from any device.”

The benefits cross over into the community as well. “Each student, teacher and staff member are entitled to five licenses of Microsoft Office 365 that they can load on their laptops, their home PCs and smartphone,” continues Singh. “Currently 30% of our Year 11 student families have taken advantage of this offer and are participating in the School’s BYOD Programme launched earlier this year. Parents are a critical component for student achievement and the ability to share experiences on-line builds stronger communities.”

De La Salle College is taking full advantage of the benefits of Microsoft Office 365. “Open communications, on-line assignments, emailed homework, a common interface, everyone connected, the list goes on and on,” concludes Singh. “Added to that is a world of additional resources as part of the Microsoft Education ecosystem. Not to mention all of the other third-party teaching applications like Education Perfect, Matheletics, Lexile, Minecraft, Code HS, Edmodo that are available. Today’s students are tomorrow’s professionals, leaders and role models. It is essential that we give them the tools they need to succeed. And Microsoft Office 365 provides the foundation that we can build on to train for tomorrow’s challenges.”

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At a Glance
  • Client:De La Salle College
  • Solutions:Microsoft Office 365, Managed Network Support