St Andrew’s College embraces tech for security and world-class education

 |   Ashlea Lynch

School Children

At St Andrew’s College in New Zealand, students are supported and inspired to become confident, well-rounded young adults prepared for life in a rapidly changing world. The co-educational school has a diverse academic program and a comprehensive co-curricular program, involving a range of sporting and cultural opportunities. Technology is broadly applied to education by linking experts with collaborative learning, developing digital media, and information literacy. St Andrew’s College provides teachers, students, and administrative personnel with the right technology to empower them.

Since the College started its digital transformation in 2014, the entire school community has benefitted from the wide adoption of Microsoft 365, through apps like Microsoft OneNote, Teams, Power BI, and Surface devices. So, when the college’s licensing agreement was up for renewal, Dave Hart, Director of ICT, and his team decided to take their digital journey further. “We’ve signed up for Microsoft 365 Education A5. We saw it as an opportunity to implement digital transformation across our security, enhance our already extensive use of Power BI, and get Minecraft Education Edition, too.”

The beautiful 13-hectare campus of St Andrew’s is the perfect learning environment for its Pre-school, Preparatory School, Middle School, and Senior College. The College’s digital transformation began with a decision to migrate to Office 365 and share documents in the cloud. Teachers quickly fell in love with OneNote because it was so easy to use. Encouraged by the response, the College continued research around the value of digital inking inside OneNote, which led them further into the transformation of teaching and digital learning. Also, there was wider adoption of Office 365 apps, including Microsoft Teams.

A safe environment for running the College

The most strategic move for St Andrew’s College has been to increase cloud security. “We thought about malware. We realized that we were wholly reliant on the staff making correct decisions about whether the email they received was malicious or not. Without many layers of protection, the risk for our staff was too great,” says Hart. He and his team dove deep into areas of risk such as email, files, online storage, applications, logins and third-party sign-ins, hacking, and phishing. The goal was to minimize risk and add as much protection as possible.

“We’re talking about advanced, real-time protection of mailboxes, files, online storage, and applications. That’s holistic protection in Microsoft Teams, Word, Excel, and so on, which are essentially the core platforms and services integral to the running of St Andrew’s College,” explains Hart. “We considered it reasonable to add extra layers of security given how much we embrace cloud services and the Office 365 environment. We’ve added security management for threat detection, enhanced control, and visibility into Office 365 usage. We’ve also added Azure Active Directory Identity Protection 2 (AADP2). We’ve recently implemented a weekly review of our security using Office 365 Secure Score. So that’s a really good way of seeing where we are from a security standpoint and what we can do to increase that score moving forward,” he notes.

Convenience, simplicity, and freedom in the digital classroom

Teachers use Surface Pro in tandem with Microsoft 365 in various ways. “A teacher with a Surface Pro can use OneNote to give a student personalized feedback instantaneously. It’s the sort of thing we couldn’t do before. It feels more natural, as it’s handwritten, not typed. The student gets the sense of the teacher’s voice,” adds Tom Adams, e-Learning Integrator at St Andrew’s. “Also, because of the Surface Go devices in the Preparatory School, more and more students at a younger age choose the touch interface. They say it feels like a truly natural way of using the tools. Engagement is phenomenal; however, you’ll still see students using textbooks. There’s always that approach of blended learning with pen and paper as well as the Surface devices, which prepares them for the future ahead.”

Santhia Hamburg, Science Teacher at St Andrew’s, shares her experiences in the classroom. “I teach chemistry, and it involves using a lot of subscripts and superscripts. Digital inking all of that is much easier than typing. I render my lessons on OneNote. Drawing scientific diagrams, annotations, shapes, and even arrows that show where electrons move makes it visual for students. I use the pen with PowerPoint to just click through slides from any part of the classroom. It seems so simple, but it makes teaching that much easier and more fluid.”

“There’s also the idea of OneNote and a Surface pen versus a white board,” adds Wilj Dekkers, Head of Innovation and Information Services at St Andrew’s. “If you’re dealing with a series of numerical problems in your Mathematics class, you’re able to do that directly in OneNote while working with a small group or an individual student, or even moving around the classroom. Students can revisit those notes afterwards if there’s some homework, prep work, or study to do. They can even use the ink replay function, which has been so great. They see each stroke put in OneNote and see how a particular problem was solved one step at a time,” he explains.

Collaboration and teamwork

Microsoft Teams is fast becoming useful in classroom management and collaboration. “Teams provides one place where the teacher can share all the classroom material for a particular lesson,” says Dekkers. “It removes a lot of distractions. From the teacher and student perspectives, Teams has simplified the number of tools and channels that everyone used to have to check to get the information needed for the next class. It’s really simple and helpful in the way which we want to facilitate collaboration,” he adds.

“One feature we’re quite excited about, which is coming very soon, is read receipts in chat messages. It sounds like quite a small thing, but the knowledge that students have or haven’t seen the message about a changed schedule or cancelled game is quite key. With Teams, OneNote, Office 365, and Outlook—everything is aligned now towards a consistent learning experience,” asserts Hart.

When it comes to visualizing data and making informed decisions, Power BI has become a super tool for management, administrative staff, and teachers. “We all use Power BI and have a highly visible, flexible presentation layer of various inputs from our Data Warehouse that we simply didn’t have before. It’s a real game changer. We can tailor the dashboards to suit the audience,” explains Hart. “For example, there’s more in-depth analysis for department heads and senior management to make informed business decisions. Budget holders use Power BI for financials and reporting, as it highlights pain points and areas of concern.” Teachers and pastoral care teams can use Power BI on a daily basis for tracking student academic performance and well-being. “We can see early warning signs at the individual student level. We can look at data around absences and how it links with other information about the student’s welfare and their commitments,” he continues. “When as a team, we are having conversations about students, we are looking at accurate, up-to-date information and can be confident about where it has come from. Power BI has given us visibility that wasn’t there before.”

Playing to learn

St Andrew’s College now has a license for every single student for Microsoft 365 Education A5, and its rich feature set includes Minecraft: Education Edition. “I feel as though we are quite early adopters of Minecraft,” says Dekkers. “We were using it before the Education Edition came out. Using Minecraft has expanded from our Preparatory School students to those in Year 9. It’s marvelous to see Minecraft being used in a cross-curricular way.”

Dekkers has examples at his fingertips of how Minecraft engages the students’ imagination and encourages their active participation in learning. “We have Year 4 students moving through a scaled model of Antarctica, Year 6 doing work with Kiwiana, looking at what it means to be a Kiwi today. In Year 7, students have written a choose-your-own-adventure kind of story and developed that as a 3D world within Minecraft. They’re learning to use command blocks to teleport to different parts of the story. We’re quite excited about this prospect of the Immersive Reader being incorporated into the game because the stories will be far more accessible to younger students and students with learning needs. We’re looking at using MakeCode and Minecraft to help teach computational thinking and a little bit of programming. There are a lot more examples of innovative work that students and teachers are doing around Minecraft,” Dekkers concludes.

Transformational journey in learning

Hart points out how Microsoft solutions have transformed St Andrew’s College. “It has been a school-wide change. OneNote is embedded now in Years 7–13. I suppose you could say it’s part of our DNA. We use technology where it makes a difference. In the classroom, we’ve seen this massive change because of digital inking in the Preparatory School, which gives students a skill set they’ll take far into the future. Outside the classroom, we’re seeing Teams used for sports and cultural activities. It has enhanced students’ ability to collaborate and interact in a manner that they want and expect. Students live in a world of instant messaging and push notifications. Office 365 and Teams deliver that.”

The digital journey of St Andrew’s College hasn’t slowed down, with a strong future focus on cloud migration. “Having a cloud identity in Azure Active Directory has facilitated everything that we do with Office 365. We have started running Minecraft worlds in Azure, but we’re also looking at Intune for device management and moving some chunkier things around Power BI to the cloud. We’re also looking at backup storage and VM hosting in the Azure cloud. We’re using the framework of Azure, but I think we’re really just touching the surface of what digital transformation can do for us,” says Hart.