Episode 5: IT IQ Series – Are teachers in danger of app-overload?

Summary: Educators need to consolidate their software platforms if they want to develop even more innovative digital lessons for their students.

The days of the computer-free classroom are well and truly over. In fact, the government has been at the forefront of supporting the use of technology in Australian schools, with plans like the National Assessment Program ensuring students are equipped with digital skill sets that will enhance their employability in the future. According to Austrade, Australia has more than 350 edutech companies servicing the entire education ecosystem. But are teachers at risk of being overwhelmed by the sheer multitude of platforms?

“With Australia’s edutech market expected to grow to $1.7 billion by 2022, we’re seeing more choices for digital learning on-market than ever before,” says Jesse Cardy, a Microsoft Solutions Specialist for the education industry. “By consolidating their platforms, rather than simply adopting whatever looks most attractive in the short-term, teachers can keep IT management simple and students’ data safe–even as they endeavour to develop even more innovative curricula for the next generation of digital natives.”

Smarter students for the future

Ideally, a school’s apps and programs should all run on a single platform that can be accessed anytime, anywhere via secured sign-ins. That way, students can collaborate ‘live’ in the cloud using real-time data, with input and changes instantly visible to all. Doing so not only makes project teamwork more efficient, but permits greater autonomy amongst students without potentially putting core systems or data at risk.

At Glenwood High School in New South Wales, for example, a group of Year 10 Geography students built their own sustainable suburb in a 3D environment, complete with roads, underground plumbing, and internet cabling. Doing so became possible thanks to Minecraft, a popular video game that lets large groups of players create their own world using blocks, cubes, and other virtual building materials. Minecraft runs on Windows 10 for Education, the Microsoft 365 for Education solution that combines productivity, mobility, and core OS functions on a single integrated platform.

“With a single hub at the centre of all your apps, you can create far more intuitive and innovative student experiences,” Cardy says. “Students can connect and co-author projects in real time across a range of platforms, regardless of whether they’re inside or outside the classroom. You’re essentially emulating the sort of tech environment they can expect once they finish school, but in a way that minimises cross-platform frictions that might otherwise interrupt learning.”

Simplifying the teaching experience

A single-platform approach to digital learning also minimises a different sort of friction: time-consuming manual tasks. When apps and platforms aren’t well integrated, teachers often spend hours on manual tasks like transferring information from one network or app to another. In fact, a 2016 survey of 13,000 teachers in Victoria found that teachers are struggling to give their best in class amidst an ‘out of control’ workload–something which smoother back-end processes could help to fix.

“Educators must balance more teaching and administrative duties than ever before, with online learning creating much higher demands for feedback and updates that go well beyond school hours,” Cardy explains. “Cloud technology can make life simpler for teachers, but only if it recognises that processes must flow between apps and remove manual steps wherever possible. The design of Microsoft 365 for Education, for example, makes communication much simpler and more natural between not only teachers, but with students as well.”

In one Brazilian high school, teachers use OneNote to share their lessons with students, who in turn can add to those plans with their own notes during class. At the same time, the school uses shared calendars in OneDrive to schedule activities and due dates for assignments, which every student can then see and use to plan their own individual or group activities. “Getting everyone on a common platform can really cut down the time spent on mundane tasks like circulating information,” Cardy stresses.

Safety for data and networks

However, digital learning can’t afford to grow more efficient at the expense of security. In 2017, the Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) released a report revealing that universities are becoming an attractive target for hackers due to the intellectual property of their wide-ranging research. The report also highlighted an increase from 4% to 5% between 2016 to 2017 of cybercrime incidents targeting education bodies.

With distance learning now the norm in universities and Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policies entering many Australian high schools, teachers and IT staff need platforms that put embed security in every app and device. At Somerset College in Queensland, for example, parents can log on to a secure online network to retrieve semester dates, reports and school news via a single sign-on made possible with Azure Active Directory Premium, the mobile security module of Microsoft 365 for Education.

“We’ve been automatically upgrading schools on our platforms to Microsoft 365 for Education simply because the security component is so important,” Cardy highlights. “The new solution incorporates mobile device management and security controls at every level of operation, so that educators don’t need to keep worrying about the implications when they introduce a new app or adapt how they’re using current tools. Vigilance remains important, but this approach takes away much of that burden and lets teachers get on with developing lessons and getting their students excited about digital.”


Find important updates on the new Microsoft 365 for Education and news around the Suite upgrading for schools on https://docs.microsoft.com/education

Watch Jesse Cardy talk about why Microsoft 365 Education is becoming the leading MDM package for Australian schools on our YouTube channel.

Our mission at Microsoft is to equip and empower educators to shape and assure the success of every student. Any teacher can join our effort with free Office 365 Education, find affordable Windows devices and connect with others on the Educator Community for free training and classroom resources. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for our latest updates.