Toowoomba Grammar transforms teaching and learning, prepares boys for life after school

Student using a laptop or tablet

When Jayson Mullins joined Toowoomba Grammar School as Director of Information Technology in early 2019, he had a clear strategy in mind.

He was appointed to modernise the digital landscape of the School, delivering technology to help prepare young men for the working world they would enter at the end of their school years.

The Queensland-based school was established in 1875, and currently has around 1,190 boys enrolled in Prep to Year 12, including around 300 boarders. That creates an additional requirement, says Mullins – the school’s technology needs to work around the clock.

With learning equity a priority at the School, a prime focus for Mullins has been phasing out the BYOD laptop program and introducing school supplied laptops. “One of the faculty heads said to me that with school supplied laptops it puts all the boys on an equal playing field. At the moment some have laptops that are five to six years old,” he says.

Adopting a pedagogical lens to the selection of the laptops, Mullins and the School’s data assurance engineer, Matthew Dalamaras, determined that they wanted to deploy laptops that supported digital inking to allow a ‘digital slate’ style of note taking. The School also needed a device powerful enough to run heavy applications such as those required by the digital technologies faculty, lightweight for students to carry, and easy to convert from laptop to tablet to make best use of the digital inking. The Surface devices were selected as the most suitable. 

In 2020, the School adopted the Microsoft ecosystem as its preferred platform rather than Google Suite. Class Teams were created, and staff migrated their lesson plans to OneNote. The timing was perfectly aligned with the online learning requirements that surfaced with the pandemic.

Mullins says;

Coming from a commercial background, having worked or consulted in many organisations, I’d never seen Google Suite adopted as the main ecosystem to drive the business. As a parent with boys at Toowoomba Grammar School, I was keen for the boys to have the exposure to Microsoft products to gear them in readiness for when they entered the workforce.

This year the School will move to a 1:1 laptop program for students. It will adopt Surface Pros in the Senior School and for staff, and Surface Gos in the Junior School.

Surface, streamlining, support and service

The School’s laptop strategy hinges around deploying devices that are technologically advanced with digital inking, are resilient and reliable – and backed by a robust warranty and premium service.

Toowoomba Grammar School has been working with The School Locker to supply and support all Surface laptops, and to ensure that there is a quantity of hot-swap devices that can be accessed if a device is lost or damaged.

Device configuration has been largely automated using Microsoft Intune.  According to Mullins;

What was a four-week job is moving towards a process taking less than an hour in its entirety to prepare for the students at the start of each year. This is massive for all school IT departments to consider.

Jack Crawford-Corser, National Sales Manager for The School Locker, says that the combination of AutoPilot and Intune has accelerated the deployment of devices. “Toowoomba Grammar School is actually light years ahead of other schools when it comes to implementing Intune.

“We have come in with the backing of Microsoft to do a lot of the heavy lifting. We have taken weeks of deployment down to a single delivery, doing all the pre-deployment, charging the devices, putting the cases on, labelling with the student names and numbers on the boxes. It’s all about minimising downtime,” says Crawford-Corser.

Toowoomba Grammar School has also taken advantage of a Microsoft program that allows a school to purchase a percentage of its fleet at 50 per cent off recommended retail price and have those devices ready to use if a student drops a device or has a problem.

“The last part for us is the adoption of the technology – we want to make sure students and teachers are getting the most out of the device,” says Crawford-Corser who adds that School Locker is working with the School’s Head of Professional Development to ensure teachers understand how the Surface Pro form factor – both laptop and tablet with digital inking – changes the way people learn and teach.

The Surface program has also transformed the School’s service desk to a premium service says Mullins. “Staff or students can  swap out a laptop and be up and running in 15 minutes – that’s all made possible by Intune in combination with Microsoft OneDrive. Two years ago the students would need to wait for their laptop to be repaired which was sometimes up to two days lead time.”

Dalamaras adds; “Our goal was simplicity – if we wanted, we could have a device preconfigured, in its case, labels on, and ship that device to the student. So, in the case of a pandemic or a student not able to come to school, the device is ready to go, out of the box with no configuration required.”

For Mullins the streamlined approach to deployment and service has saved him the equivalent of one and a half full-time employees who can now focus on more value-adding work than trouble shooting laptops.

For the School, Mullins says it has; “Allowed us pedagogically to go in a different direction. For instance, all textbooks are digital and accessible from anywhere. Class lessons are in OneNote and can be collaborated together with teacher and student, and teachers can even check real-time on homework status and assist with difficult lessons outside of school hours.”

Toowoomba Grammar School is also poised to continue to innovate. Mullins is starting to deploy large scale flat panel screens in classrooms, with access to Office 365, fostering students’ ability to collaborate and work in small, agile teams.

Mullins also states that becoming a Microsoft Lighthouse School will open up many doors, including to Microsoft expertise, and align Toowoomba Grammar with other innovative and leading Lighthouse schools. “It’s an exciting journey ahead for the School,” he says.