Tasmania DoE learns critical lessons about successful digital transformation

Person smiling while using a tablet

Real transformational change requires much more than parachuting technology into an organisation – it also needs cultural change, effective training, a determination to make a difference, and deep appreciation of what is possible.

Tasmania’s Department of Education (DoE) recognised the scale of the challenge – but also the opportunity it had to engage with a digital transformation initiative conceived to improve learning outcomes across the State.

There are 196¹  public schools in Tasmania which are home to almost 62,000 students and 5,400 teachers. The DoE’s strategic plan through to 2021 is to; “inspire and support all learners to succeed as connected, resilient, creative and curious thinkers.”

Technology plays a key role in realising that ambition according to Myles Bingham, Manager End Device Services, from the DoE. Bingham’s team oversees any technology that the end user touches or comes across in the Department itself or in Tasmania’s public schools. It played a pivotal role in the deployment of Microsoft Surface devices to Tasmania’s teachers, the impact of which is now percolating through public schools and to students themselves.

The transformation traces back to 2016 when the first Microsoft Surface 3s were made available to schools in regional and remote areas. The expectation was that the devices would allow these schools to connect to larger schools on the island, and allow students to participate in their classes, opening up inclusive learning opportunities to remote students that might otherwise not have been available.

The success of that convinced Bingham that this was the right platform for DoE’s corporate team. A move by the DoE to a whole-of-government building in Hobart was the trigger for the switch to the new technology.

“They would walk out of one building and walk into another with their new technology,” said Bingham. The 120 head office staff had been provided with Microsoft Surface Pros ahead of the move, and also undertaken training to ensure they were familiar with the new technology.

OneNote especially has allowed many people in the organization to move away from paper-based work completely – with paper being a rare exception in the way we work” say Rob Williams, Deputy Secretary Corporate Business Services.

When they entered the new building they had their Surface Pros, and also access to Microsoft Surface Hubs in the shared meeting spaces. Bingham explains that the hardware started to transform the culture immediately – instead of people being tethered to their desks, they worked how and when it made most sense, either using the laptop functionality of the Surface, or going mobile with the tablet in their hands.

“We put a huge focus on training and insisted everyone do training on Windows 10 touch devices, how to make use of OneNote, One Drive for Business, Skype for Business,” said Bingham. It meant that when staff moved offices with their new technology, they were ready for a new way of working from day one.

For the Secretary of Department of Education, Tim Bullard, it has become a far more efficient way of working with statewide senior staff. “With Surface Pro, OneNote and Skype for business it has finally allowed us all to be truly mobile. I am able to have my Executives, who are regularly located across the State, come together to lead the work of the agency, without worrying about when we will physically be together”.

These experiences informed the way the DoE then refreshed the hardware it provided to Tasmania’s teachers last year. Every teacher was offered a choice of a two-in-one device like the Surface, a tablet or a laptop, all running Windows 10.

Recognising the benefits DoE corporate staff had gleaned from their training, each teacher was also offered personal development opportunities showing them how to use the touch component of their device, how a range of apps and Windows 10 worked.

A follow-up survey of 1200 teachers revealed an overwhelmingly positive response to the impact of the training with the success of the rollout of this technology resulting in the School and Client IT Support End Device Team winning the Outstanding Support Employee of the Year award at the Department’s annual awards program in 2018.

According to Bingham the technology driven transformation has changed the culture both for DoE corporate staff and in schools where teachers are now empowered to be more flexible, using their device where it makes most sense and has most impact. No one needs to be anchored to a desk.

All Tasmania’s teachers are now equipped with modern, mobile technology and individual schools are exploring how Microsoft Surface and touch type devices can also be used by students. Meanwhile back at the DoE’s Hobart offices the Surface Hubs have led to a significant reduction in the demands placed on the technology team. In the past corporate staff often called on technology to support them with video conferences, “Now they touch the button on the Hub and it happens,” said Bingham.

“Everyone is far more confident using the technology, happy to use Skype, to collaborate and pick up the pen – because it works. Those support calls just went away and it saved time in meetings.”

¹ https://documentcentre.education.tas.gov.au/Documents/DoE-Annual-Report-2017-2018_Web.pdf

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