Nayland College Case Study: $150,000 Savings Moving To Microsoft Cloud Platforms

This blog is re-posted content from the original Microsoft Case Study that you can read by clicking here.

Nayland College was using Google Apps for Education to reduce the need for on-premises servers and software, but the solution was not meeting its needs. So the school chose to migrate to Microsoft Office 365. The new software was so well received by staff and students that the migration finished well ahead of schedule. The school now has access to a powerful suite of teaching and learning tools, and it saved $150,000 (NZD) on hardware. Microsoft partner pcMedia facilitated the migration with its cloud and education expertise.

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Taking first steps into the cloud

Nayland College in Nelson, New Zealand, offers its 1,000 students a curriculum of inspirational learning programs designed to prepare them for scholastic and professional success in the modern information economy. The school takes pride in its state-of-the-art educational facilities and its talented, dedicated teachers. Nayland has a leading-edge cabled and wireless IT infrastructure designed to provide the school community with easy access to the its technology resources.

Nayland wants to make sure that those resources include the tools that both teachers and students need to succeed. “We want our students to develop the twenty-first-century skills they need to excel,” says Daniel Wilson, Principal at Nayland College. “And we want our teachers to have strong professional development programs so they can provide students with the learning opportunities that will cultivate those skills. We also want to make sure that our infrastructure is able to keep up with technological changes so it continues to meet our requirements.”

In 2015, Nayland decided that its existing IT systems were not meeting those requirements. The school had on-premises software and servers that were costly to maintain and update, and they could not provide features like remote access to files and lessons. To address these concerns, Nayland adopted the cloud-based Google Apps for Education (GAFE) suite, while still maintaining an on-premises student management system (SMS). However, the solution proved to have some drawbacks. “The online tools weren’t meeting the needs of our teachers,” says Wilson. “The functionality of Google Docs at the time was limited, and it couldn’t integrate with our SMS, which was a problem for us.”

Finding a better solution for the school

Because of the drawbacks of GAFE, Nayland put out a request for proposals seeking a better solution. The school chose to work with Microsoft partner and education expert pcMedia on a plan to migrate from GAFE to the Microsoft Office 365 Pro Plus hosted suite of productivity applications. The initial goal was to finish the migration in 18 months, but once the school started using the solution, the timeline became shorter.

“Our teachers were extremely enthusiastic about Office 365, and they were eager to learn more about how to use new tools like Microsoft OneNote to enhance teaching and learning,” explains Wilson. “The initial rate of adoption exceeded expectations, so we were able to complete the migration more quickly than we originally anticipated.”

Within 6 months, all staff members were using Office 365 as their primary teaching and learning tool. Nayland helped streamline the adoption process by putting an emphasis on comprehensive professional development for faculty and staff. “pcMedia provided us with a Microsoft Teacher Ambassador who conducted individual and group training,” says Wilson. “We also offered video tutorials and a OneNote staff handbook, and we set up lead teachers within departments as a peer resource.”

pcMedia also made the transition easier by providing a hybrid strategy that enabled staff and students to move from GAFE to Office 365 at their own pace. To do this, pcMedia modified the Office 365 application launcher so that all of the school’s key systems were accessible from a single place, giving users time to become familiar and comfortable with the Office 365 interface. The pcMedia solution also made things easier by using Microsoft Azure Active Directory to provide single sign-on (SSO) capabilities so that users could access multiple online tools and systems without the need to log in separately to each one. This enabled Nayland to eliminate a third-party SSO software package it had been using, saving both money and administration time. The school’s applications and devices now all rely on Azure Active Directory for authentication.

Nayland is using the Microsoft Azure cloud platform to store off-site backups of the on-premises SMS. Between Azure and Office 365, the school now has 90 percent of its data and services in the Microsoft cloud with only legacy applications and some large graphics files on a single server at the school. “We have a Windows Server 2012 with ShadowProtect Image Control on it and Azure blob storage
for the back-up. We chose Azure because it provides better cost and uptime than other alternatives,” says Lee Harper, Education Specialist at pcMedia. “Microsoft is also a brand that we trust, and one that the school trusts with its sensitive information.”

Providing benefits for the entire school community

Now that Nayland has completed its Office 365 migration, the school has access to a wide range of tools that enhance communication and collaboration capabilities, including Skype for Business, OneDrive for Business, and SharePoint Online. Staff and students are able to access course content and files at any time from anywhere that they have an Internet connection. Communication between students and teachers have increased, and teachers can more easily enhance and customize class materials.

“Our teachers can create more dynamic lessons through the use of video, which they can easily record directly into OneNote,” says Wilson. “They can also create more personalized and differentiated learning programs and choose from multiple modes of assessment to best meet the needs of each student. Teachers are also finding innovative ways to use tools like OneNote to support dyslexic students and to integrate field and classroom studies.”

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Because Nayland is using Office 365 ProPlus, students have the option to install the software on their own devices, so they have access to the same tools at home that they do at school.  Wilson has also noticed that students are increasingly using educational apps on their own devices. Parents are now able to be more involved in learning because they can see student work at home.

Nayland has also streamlined IT management with Office 365, by reducing the need for on-site administration and maintenance of servers and software—updates to the Office 365 tools happen automatically in the background. By eliminating all but one of its on-premises servers, the school estimates that it is saving $150,000 (NZD) in hardware over two years, and it has been able to redirect that money into classrooms for new computers and wireless projectors. Office 365 also works smoothly with the school’s SMS.

With its Office 365 project, Nayland has taken important steps on the pathway to a digital transformation of the school. Teachers are excited about the technology and exploring its many available options, and there is greater collaboration and sharing of expertise across the entire organization. The project has been a success, and its benefits are spread across the whole school community. “Working alongside pcMedia and Microsoft, we have been able to implement a robust, extremely cost effective, and innovative solution that meets and responds to the learning needs of our students and the professional needs of our staff,” says Wilson.

Dealing With Data Sovereignty: Why Government Agencies Must Use Cloud Services

One of the common objections I hear from schools around New Zealand when the topic of moving to the cloud comes up is “what about the security of my data? Who owns it if it is hosted overseas?”

Data sovereignty is a big deal and schools should definitely be thinking about these types of questions, however the New Zealand Government has significantly simplified this conversation by posting online about why Government Agencies must use cloud services:

Cabinet’s Cloud First policy requires agencies to adopt cloud services in preference to traditional IT systems because they are more cost effective, agile, are generally more secure, and provide greater choice.

Cabinet requires agencies to adopt cloud services

Cabinet requires agencies to:

  • adopt cloud services in preference to traditional IT systems
  • make adoption decisions on a case-by-case basis following a risk assessment 
  • only store data classified as RESTRICTED or below in a cloud service, whether it is hosted onshore or offshore

The last bullet point is especially important – it’s unlikely any schools store data at a security classification level higher than “RESTRICTED” – leaving only Confidential, Secret and Top Secret data not being permitted in the public cloud.

The Government requirement outlines the reasons why they mandate a cloud-first approach for agencies, with the value offering being:

The key benefits of cloud services for the Government are:

  • more cost-effective IT services
  • increased agility from quicker deployment times
  • greater choice
  • improved security.

From an Office Productivity perspective, the article also shows significant usage of Microsoft Office365 usage amongst Government agencies:

There is strong demand for adopting office productivity services, with over half of agency CIOs stating in our October 2016 survey their agencies intend to use these services within the next 12 months. Almost all of these agencies intend to use Microsoft’s Office 365, Skype, Azure Active Directory and Azure Services

From a school leadership perspective, this mandate from the New Zealand government simplifies the decision making process somewhat, by effectively saying the public cloud offerings outside of New Zealand are acceptable for all data classified as RESTRICTED or below. The closest Azure data centers to New Zealand are located in Sydney and Melbourne respectively:

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Helping Students Become Global Citizens

SkypeaThon-1024x423.jpgTechnology is disrupting education in ways that students and educators could not have conceived, as recently as 10-15years ago. Increasingly, schools are exploring ways to enable their students to become Global Citizens and I love the vision statement from Shirley Boys High School:

Kiwi Soul. Global Vision.

Technology enables schools to facilitate global connections for students and one of those is the annual Microsoft Skype-a-thon which this year saw more than 10 million miles “traveled” by schools as they connected with each other through the powers of the internet and Skype. Anthony Salcito, the Vice President of World Wide Education, helped lead the charge with 24 hours of non-stop Skype calls to schools:

As an educator, I think this is a fantastic initiative for schools and classroom teachers to engage with and Microsoft have made it super easy to get started through the Skype in the Classroom resource page. One of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve shared with students is playing “Mystery Skype” – for the uninitiated this is:

Mystery Skype is an educational game, invented by teachers, played by two classrooms on Skype. The aim of the game is to guess the location of the other classroom by asking each other questions.

As the former Director of ICT at St Andrew’s College I helped facilitate a number of these, with a great in-depth write up available here. A couple of the highlights for me was this Year 6 class talking with a school in Alabama, USA:

Another hugely successful chat was with an International School in Russia:

In terms of getting students engaged in learning, these Mystery Skype sessions were a verified success. Beyond that, however, there is other application for the use of Skype. In the past, it was often reasonably simple to arrange a field trip and take students to visit experts and enjoy quality place-based learning. This has become increasingly difficult with health and safety regulations improving, along with schools trying to reduce the costs associated with field trips and minimize time out of class.

It is here that Skype comes into it’s own, becoming the perfect vehicle for connecting students with subject matter experts. In my experience, inviting experts into schools to physically present to students is often logistically difficult. In a secondary school with timetables, asking a guest to come at a certain time on a certain day often makes it too complex and the students miss out on their expertise. However, I’ve found that outside experts are usually more than happy to sit down at their desk for 15-20 minutes to Skype with a class from the comfort of their home or office.

One of the best examples of this was when young science students connected with Dr Michelle Dickinson a.k.a. “Nano Girl”:

It was a great success in motivating students through their virtual engagement with a subject matter expert. I certainly encourage schools, teachers and even students to try and leverage the power of Skype to enable students to become Global Citizens.

Get The Most From Office365 With PowerBI Usage Reports

Many schools are using Office365 to drive learning outcomes and effectively enable faculty and students to communicate and collaborate more efficiently. Increasingly, organisations are asking “how do we know this investment is working?” and, with the recent preview release of Office365 adoption content pack for PowerBI, schools are able to accurately measure usage and uptake.

Even though this is still in limited preview release, schools can sign up to trial this free content pack for PowerBI by emailing O365usagePowerBIPreview@service.microsoft.com and getting access to the rich visualisations on usage within their organisation:

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Sample dashboard of the new Office365 Adoption content pack for PowerBI

From my perspective, these reports now enable schools to actively ask questions of how is Office365 being used within their organisation and then see if the data assists in providing valuable insights for action e.g.

  • Are staff using OneDrive to store and share resources as they have been trained to do?
  • Are students using Skype for instant messaging and video chats for after-school revision sessions?
  • Are staff and students using the desktop application of OneNote or are most still using the web browser version?
  • Are we getting swamped by email and is the volume increasing or decreasing?

The last question is particularly pertinent as email can be one of the biggest time consumers for staff as they read/reply to emails from fellow staff, students or parents:

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The Communication Report showing email and and yammer posts

This new level of analysis also provides schools with focused, actionable insights such as:

  • Areas identified which clearly need further training to increase adoption e.g. if a school is trying to push all non-urgent communications onto an internal Yammer site, these reports will show if adoption is happening through the volume of posts.
  • Return on the investment: with Office Pro Plus available for faculty and students providing a rich desktop environment with deeply integrated cloud storage and connectivity in the back end, are users downloading and activating this on their devices?
  • If the mobile platform is showing as the predominant client for reading emails or other communications, is the school ensuring all emails (and websites for that matter) are mobile friendly to read with responsive designed layouts?

The full range of reports available in this adoption pack can be seen on this link, but the main ones are:

  • Yammer Usage report—Useful for organizations that are in the process of rolling out Yammer or are focused on increasing usage. The report provides helpful information about how various parts of your organization adopt Yammer as a form or communication including how many people post messages, how many consume content by liking or reading a message and how new user activation has changed over time.
  • Skype for Business Usage report—Provides a consolidated view of Skype activity as well as with details about how many users leverage Skype to connect with others through peer-to-peer messages and how many communicate their ideas by participating or organizing video conferences.
  • OneDrive for Business Usage report—Shows admins how users leverage OneDrive to collaborate with others in new ways. They can easily see how many users use OneDrive to share files and how many utilize it mostly for file storage. The report also includes information about how many OneDrive accounts are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • SharePoint Usage report—Shows how SharePoint team sites and groups sites are being used to store files and for collaboration. The report also includes information about how many SharePoint sites are actively being used, and how many files are stored on average.
  • Office 365 Top User report—Enables admins to identify Office 365 power users and the individual products they are using. Power users can often help to drive product usage by sharing their experience about how they use the products to get their work done faster and more efficiently.

In an earlier post I wrote about how professional development in Office365 for teachers can be tracked and measured using the MIE Educator Platform, and this new content pack for Office365 administrators seems like a similarly useful tool for schools to utilize. One of the many strengths of PowerBI is that the reports are easy to comprehend and digest meaning these could, and should, be shared with school leaders and not just be reviewed by the ICT administrators from a technical perspective. All schools want to know and prove that their investments into technology are paying off through adoption by staff and students. This new reporting tool is a great asset for schools to start that analysis and sharpen their focus and expectations around the usage of ICT in education.

Defining Measurable eLearning Goals For Teaching Faculty

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certified-mieOne of the challenges that many educational institutions face is setting measurable professional development goals for teaching faculty in the area of eLearning. Many schools have opted for using various inquiry models, whereby teachers actively inquire into their own practice and how newly acquired research or knowledge can be integrated into their classroom teaching.

This is well and good, however often there is a core base level competency that is required before teachers can actually attempt the usage of some technologies and this is where using existing training tools can be highly effective for up-skilling teaching faculty. Some schools have attempted to develop their own digital literacy passports for students and staff to increase the minimum knowledge of various technologies used by the school. I see this as an effective, albeit time consuming, approach for schools to undertake.

This is where the Microsoft Innovative Innovative Educator Programs can help.

The blurb on the website describes these programs as:

The Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) programs recognize global educator visionaries who are using technology to pave the way for their peers for better learning and student outcomes. These are a variety of programs to help both educators who are just beginning this journey, as well as programs for educators who are leaders in innovative education.

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A range of courses available from the Microsoft Innovative Educator Program

For Office365 schools this makes tremendous sense as not only does it teach staff how to use the staple tools of O365 such as OneNote, Sway and Skype, it also provides real-world contexts on scenarios this would be useful and effective. The dual nature of this approach means that teachers can be released to be self starters in their own professional development with eLearning tools and management or eLearning leaders can track the progress and development of the staff through their completion of the numerous courses available. Continue reading