The Decision Between Collaboration Platforms
In today’s world, we operate as a society outside of the walls of our schools, our businesses, and our homes. The access to mobile devices has expanded our social and professional lives, many times blurring the lines between work and home. Technology has been front of state in the lives of students born between 1982 and 2002. Skills such as the swipe, selfie, and snapping are being trained with our daily use of social media. Per the Center for Digital Education, “62% of working Americans use the internet as an integral part of their jobs. And nearly all industries today require at least some on-the-job interaction with a digital device – including sectors the general public often doesn’t consider technology dependent.” It is no surprise, then, when it comes to selecting a cloud based platform, we need to keep mobile first in mind.
In my first couple of months entering the district, it was clear selecting a cloud platform was the first step needed to mirror the environment and data outlined above. In my previous district, we had used Google Apps for Education for years. The rest of the districts around Nebraska widely use Google as well, so it seemed like this would be an easy decision, right? There are really two major players in the district cloud category, Google and Microsoft. In the end, we selected Microsoft, and the rest of this post will discuss the “why”.
Building a Set of Requirements
In the last 3 to 4 years, the district has been no stranger to large initiatives. As a result of creating a 5 year Strategic Plan, coupled with passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history, large initiatives are common place. It was important to include future requirements in this changing landscape, as it was clear Omaha Public Schools would be a changing dynamic for years to come.
The first requirement is safety and security as it is foundational for student learning. When defining this requirement, it was important to understand what types of inquiries happen in a large, urban district. To follow are questions we thought of when determining what safety and security requirements were of upmost importance:
Another important requirement was collaboration. In today’s world, collaboration is everything. Historically, there were tons of meetings; sometimes meetings to plan meetings. A great collaboration platform allows for flexibility to communicate and work synchronously and asynchronously, continuously. This allows work to continue, not being limited to input from a point in time meeting. As a result, solutions such as Slack and Microsoft Teams are becoming increasingly popular. In addition, Skype in the Classroom has become an innovative way to expand student experiences outside of the traditional classroom walls. Skype in the Classroom enables:
These groups can be organic or federated. The Azure Active Directory environment allows us to sync our groups from on premise Active Directory into our cloud environment. This type of federation allows us to flow identities across different platforms, on premise and in the cloud. This is just one example of Modern Group use. Many tools in Office 365 use this foundation as well:
Once requirements were determined, we needed to create an implementation plan. When moving to Google Apps or Office 365, a vendor partner can assist in the process. In our situation, Microsoft had just released a new plan called FastTrack. FastTrack allowed us to work with Microsoft on an accelerated plan for rolling out Office 365. You can read more about that program here:
An important piece of implementation was professional development. In my previous blog post, I outlined our Microsoft Innovative Educator Cohort. Helen Gooch, a Microsoft Fellow, was introduced to us as a resource for how we could approach the sessions in a gradual release model, as to not overwhelm our cohort. Our instructional technology team has taken this program to new levels in the last couple of years.
One of my key learnings when implementing Google Apps in Andover, was to not roll out an email client. Keeping everyone in web email was not a popular one initially; everyone was used to a client with on-premise solution FirstClass. The reason to keep everyone in the web client was to keep the Office 365 suite front and center in everyone’s experience. If one were to spend all day in a full client, they would not notice Sway, OneNote, Sites, Forms, PowerBi or OneDrive. Not only would they fail to notice these tools, but because of single sign-on with Azure AD, they would be less likely to recognize other platforms integrated into the waffle as well.
Building Processes and Tools
Early on in implementation, was the need to build workflows and tools. Instead of using FastTrack dollars to migrate email, we used them to build SharePoint Online Sites. These sites provided the needed intranet and added workflows that were previously paper based. One of the initiatives we were tasked with was building a coaching tool. We started this process with Microsoft Consulting in April 2015, and through our work with them, chose a product called PowerBi that would later be introduced to general availability in July, 2015. This tool allows Principals, Academic Coaches, Instructional Facilitators, and District Leadership to facilitate walkthroughs that produce data for coaching feedback. The online forms were customized to our Best Instructional Practices Handbook, providing the necessary common language that greatly assisted in its adoption. Also, we introduced the ability to insert artifacts into the tool such as pictures, video, and attachments. It aligned well with our implementation of Surface Pro tablets to secondary staff the same year. In the first year, the district produced over 23,000 coaching visits (see below).
This year, we continue to evolve the tool to meet the needs of our Curriculum and Instructional Support Staff. Recently, we redefined the dashboard as a result of feedback over the course of the last couple of semesters utilizing the tool. As a result, use has increased immensely. In just over half of the year, we produced nearly as many coaching visits as all of last year.
This is one example of producing effective tools to meet the needs of the classroom. Another example is outlined in a previous blog post about App and Hardware Lifecycle Management.
These tools have expanded our use of Office 365 and have brought purpose of our use to a new level. Moving forward, we will continue to expand these uses and present them in the web portal as “tile” experiences in the waffle.