Each day of term – at least, each day of term in a normal, non-Pandemic Year – 1,300 students from K-12 make their way into the very heart of Sydney, to St Andrew’s Cathedral School. For them school is a high rise perched alongside the Town Hall; a city school in a city landscape.
Its mid-city location means that students are never far from the hustle and bustle of the modern world – they have ringside seats on what the future workplace will look like. St Andrew’s Cathedral School (SACS) prides itself on ensuring students are prepared to fully participate in that world.
Technology has played a significant role in teaching and learning at SACS for several years with the school previously operating a Bring your Own Device program. Every student had a digital learning platform – the problem was, not every student had the same learning platform.
It was challenging to manage from an IT perspective as the devices were owned by the students; it introduced complexities for teachers if their class didn’t all have access to the same features, functions and apps.
After scouring the market for different devices, and testing how they would perform in the often-unforgiving world of a high-rise school where students go up and down stairs between lessons, and can’t easily charge their devices during the day, the Microsoft Surface emerged as the clear winner. According to Lyle Corvisy, ICT Manager, it proved to be high quality, lightweight, robust within its protective case, with a long battery life and is well supported.
At the start of 2020, SACS rolled out Microsoft Surface devices for students in years 3-10. Teachers also have a Surface device. SACS worked with CNS Australia to prepare the Surfaces in time for the start of term, and used Intune and Autopilot to preload and configure the devices for each student.
It transformed the school, teaching and learning.
Corvisy explains; “The enrolment was really important. The students on day one of term came to school, picked up a device and turned it on. Everything was installed and ready to go.
“It was easily the best result we have ever had in any roll out,” he says. During the BYOD era, by comparison; “Everything was chaotic, everyone was rushing around trying to install apps, the network was smashed, wireless was struggling – we were holding back on some apps telling people do it at home.
“This was seamless …I have done this a lot of times and it was easily the smoothest run through we have had,” says Corvisy.
By standardising on Surface for students and teachers, SACS has a unified and streamlined teaching and learning environment, with Office 365 as the software foundations.
As the first school in Australia to have adopted Surface devices end-to-end, SACS is also a beacon for the entire sector – revealing the benefits of a more streamlined approach to technology than previous BYOD programs allowed.
Corvisy acknowledges that for the IT department, the shift to a cloud-based management platform took a little getting used to. Now though Intune and Autopilot ensure that any upgrades, patches or additions can be managed centrally and securely with staff freed for other more value adding work.
“It exceeded my expectations – I did have doubts – but this by far exceeded them, it has been a very reliable solution for us.”
Teacher productivity is also improved because they no longer have to spend time helping students to update apps and laptops. The consistency across the classroom has been a further benefit, and restored confidence that every student has access to the same tools and functionality. OneNote is used widely- and again the teacher knows that they and their students can all access the same content.
To ensure students gained the most value from the new technology SACS started the 2020 school year with a half day training course for every Year 3-10 student. They learned how to use the laptop, the stylus and digital inking – which has proven particularly valuable in music, Chinese and maths lessons – and teachers showed classes how they could write on their laptop during lessons, rather than on a whiteboard, with all the content instantly available to students.
Completed well ahead of COVID-19 school shutdowns, the Surface-based transformation meant that when students undertook lessons from home, they were familiar with the fully featured device allowing them to participate in remote classes. Teachers also used Microsoft Teams to allow them to collaborate with one another.
Pip Hoermann, head of innovation and enterprise, SACS, says that the technology has been invaluable; “To teach enterprise skills – teaching students to use innovation and think creatively about solutions for the world around them.”
She says that moving to a unified and streamlined technology platform for the entire school has demonstrated to the entire SACS community how computers can support learning in and outside of the classroom.
“It has moved us three to five years along our technology journey in the space of nine months”
It has also delivered students with an invaluable opportunity to develop important digital skills and understanding, priming them for an even brighter future when they step outside their city school and into the Big City.