Building A Future of Collaborative Learning

 |   Microsoft NZ News Centre

female teacher and female student working side by side on an assignment

As technology skills become a critical part of most occupations, schools across New Zealand are actively adopting digital tools to keep their students ahead of the curve. For a number of students at both Epsom Girls Grammar School and St. Mary’s College in Auckland, Microsoft Teams is making collaboration fun and easy.

The Challenges of Digital Transformation

Imagine working all night on a homework assignment, uploading your efforts onto the shared digital school notebook, only to find them missing the next day. Or suppose you need to quickly review some class notes taken months ago, only to get stalled sifting through your file system, endlessly looking for the exact date when they were taken.

If you’re a teacher, you probably know the frustration of trying to collect work via email; the stress of scanning and uploading countless physical documents; or the bewilderment of managing students and coursework across multiple digital platforms. If any of these scenarios sound familiar, you’re not alone.

As one of the oldest existing schools in New Zealand, St. Mary’s College is moving rapidly into the future. They’ve been using digital tools since 2004, but it’s only recently that they’ve began a major philosophical shift in their pedagogy. This change has meant the implementation of a BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) program for students and a move to Office 365 and its suite of online collaboration tools. Of these, Microsoft Teams has stood out as a key application for learning and development.

According to the Head of Science at St. Mary’s College, when Teams was introduced the overall response was very enthusiastic. The platform has helped both students and teachers adapt to online learning much faster. Students love the conversation tab features because they are fun and familiar and teachers like the assignments feature because they can set a hard deadline that the computer can enforce.

Expanding The Digital Realm

Epsom Girls Grammar School, (EGGS), is also undergoing a digital-led transformation that is empowering students with the skills and resources they’ll need in the 21st century. Founded on the traditions of service and commitment to girls’ education, EGGS has implemented a BYOD policy as well, with the students having the option to download Microsoft 365 on up to five devices.

This has made it easy to adopt Teams, as Kim Orr, Mathematics teacher and ACCOS In-School Leader of Blended Learning, explained. “I wanted students to have one area they could go to, to access the Blended learning program, rather than several places or sites online. I also wanted to incorporate more social conversation into the learning process and foster social contact with and between the students.”

Blended Learning involves student-paced learning through face-to-face interactions and digital means. Because Teams allowed students to communicate more effectively and work better together, its adoption was remarkably smooth. “I was amazed at how easy all the students were able to access Teams and get the app onto their desktops, regardless of the type of device they were using.” says Kim.

And the fact the app could be monitored and managed with little effort was also a major plus. “I love the ability to create groups in the conversation tab for students to collaborate. As the teacher, I’m able to monitor how the group is working and offer feedback. The students very much enjoy this process, especially with the added ‘fun’ bonus of using the emojis and GIFs. My goal is to transfer some of their social media habits to a learning forum.”

Two Stories with Many Lessons

At schools throughout New Zealand, the push for new digital technologies is in full swing. Microsoft is helping to drive this transformation, both for Kim at EGGS and the teachers at St. Mary’s, with a suite of digital tools that are designed to make online learning and collaboration easier.

“The math equation editor is incredible,” says Kim. “Not only that, but having the ability to access files anywhere, on any device with OneDrive has been a beacon of light in terms of efficiency in the use of teaching resources and time-saving measures, as opposed to having files on a local or network drive.”

The Microsoft ecosystem of tools has also improved relationships with parents. An easy-to-use digital storytelling app for creating interactive reports, Sway, has given students at St. Mary’s the ability to create portfolios that can be shared with their family. The reactions from parents when they see what their children have been doing and learning at school have been priceless.

The technology innovations that these two forward-looking schools are putting in place will ensure their students become more than just users and consumers of digital technologies, but innovative creators of digital solutions.

“Teams makes lessons flow well, allows students to work at their own pace, and gives me the freedom to focus on individual problems.”

Kim Orr – Mathematics Department at Epsom Girls Grammar School

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