Australian Islamic College tech upgrade opens a door to the future – and the world

Students talking in a circle

When Australia went into Covid-19 lockdown, the Australian Islamic College was able to switch to online learning in days, thanks to a well-timed technology upgrade to Microsoft 365 A5 for Education.

With over 25 years’ experience in the Education Sector, Microsoft Gold partner and solutions provider Data#3 worked with the college in Western Australia to transform teaching, learning and IT management. Before the upgrade, the school had been hampered by outdated technology and time-consuming manual processes.

Students and caregivers would often be required to complete paper-based forms, which needed to be entered manually by office staff. Most reports were also produced manually and based on data from Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

The upgrade from Microsoft 365 A3 to a more powerful and secure Microsoft 365 A5 has enhanced collaboration, while supporting online learning and digitalising core processes, such as academic reporting, according to chief information officer of the college, Tamjid Aijazi.

The co-ed college, Kindergarten to Year 12, is WA’s largest school, with more than 4,000 students, around 400 staff and a network of four campuses, with two more to commence next year.

More than a year after the upgrade, Aijazi says the school has embraced remote and hybrid learning, and made the transition without disrupting the students.

The technological upgrade solved multiple issues. The first was that the previous system limited the ability for staff to collaborate digitally, which meant most communication was conducted by phone or email. This assumed colleagues would be on-hand and available to respond.

“As we hadn’t yet rolled out Microsoft Teams, our staff were making a lot of phone calls – mobile to mobile – rather than simply sending a chat message to a colleague and awaiting a response,” says Aijazi

“This meant there was a lot of excessive communication noise, which can be distracting. Something that could probably be resolved in a few seconds was taking at least a few minutes. It proved very inefficient,” he adds.

The school also needed a solution for the time it took to do reporting, hampered by too much reliance on paper-based documents and spreadsheets. The college wanted to streamline and automate processes to enable greater collaboration and information-sharing.

The existing system also offered insufficient security controls and digital rights management. As a result, the costs of creating digital tools for learning were outpacing the available budget.

We had grown quite quickly, and our existing technology wasn’t able to facilitate the needs of a school of our size. We were experiencing bottlenecks and it forced us to go to market to look for better solutions.

Further, teachers and students were missing out on the newest advancements for modern learning and were not using the existing Office 365 to its full potential.

Aijazi knew his staff and students would benefit from a system that would enable them to collaborate, teach and learn more dynamically and effectively.

The outcomes of upgrading to Microsoft 365 A5 are numerous and considerable.

Because it is a cloud-based service, staff and students can be easily onboarded and deploy software updates – no matter where they are located. In addition, there are no servers for the school to manage, and support needs are low, making it ideal for the college’s small in-house IT team.

Microsoft 365 A5 also includes security and data protection features that keep organisational and personal information safe and secure.

The most successful thing for us has been the improved efficiency and collaboration we now use every day.

“Initially, when we rolled it out, people were scared to send messages to people who weren’t online,” says Aijazi. “Now everyone really appreciates the efficiency and the extra hours that it’s given back to them, as they’re no longer interrupted by constant phone calls, and they can address each message they receive at a time that is more suited to them.”

According to Forrester’s most recent Total Economic Impact of Microsoft 365 report, the 365 suite of apps can save a teacher up to 216 hours per year.

Now that the college has a modern collaboration tool, staff and students use Microsoft Teams to interact with other schools around the world. Hybrid classes mean that if some students are in the classroom, and others are attending remotely, they can all see the same information on the teacher’s screen in real-time.

Teachers can use Microsoft 365 tools to plan lessons, mark assignments and work collaboratively with each other and with students.

The upgrade means the college can use interactive data visualisation software Microsoft Power BI to improve and simplify reporting functions. The finance department, for example, can automate reporting for the board and provide near real-time details such as financial information and forecasting.

The automated reporting also allows staff to better manage student attendance and Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) performance.

Using Power BI dashboards to monitor and minimise printer usage has improved sustainability, reducing the college’s 45 printers on campus to just five.

Aijazi says the college is digitalising and automating whatever it can.

“In the next two years, we will build on where we are now to gain enormous business efficiency and cost savings,” he says.