Online education tools: streamlining operations and facilitating remote learning for schools

Young girl learning from PC while mom and little sister observe in their kitchen at home

Running a school isn’t easy. It comes with various challenges – and these may differ slightly for public and private schools, but the unique hurdles that they face require unique solutions.

As a private school, for example, Jacaranda College in Centurion, Gauteng needs technology that is able to improve school efficiencies from both a teaching and learning, and an administrative perspective. It’s important for the school to balance its business operations with its educational responsibilities – and finding a platform that juggles those needs can be difficult.

But since the school began exploring its options with Microsoft in 2014, it appears to have found what it was looking for to achieve those aims: Microsoft Teams, as part of the broader Office 365 Education offering. Teams provides a virtual classroom that facilitates online face-to-face connections, assignments, files and conversations into a single place accessible on mobile, tablet, PC or web browser.

“Our priority is to create operational efficiencies without duplicating efforts on the parts of our administrative, financial and teaching staff,” says Lizelle Cambell-Wilson, Chief Academic, HR and Compliance Officer at Jacaranda College. “We started working with Teams in 2016 from an admin and finance perspective to streamline operations, and then started lesson planning. Currently we use Teams from Grade R to 3 for admin, and from Grade 4 upwards for learning, with all videos, workbooks and necessary learning resources uploaded to the Teams platform, and preparations to move to a remote e-learning environment are at an advanced stage.”

Making the transition to digital learning seamless

Teachers, parents and learners are familiar and comfortable with the digital learning environment, so the transition should be seamless. The school has provided guidelines on how to access videos, workbooks and additional resources. All teachers are also on standby to answer questions that parents or learners may have, and to help them navigate the Teams platform.

“The Teams platform is a simple and more effective way of managing what learning materials students are accessing and ensuring that they are obtaining the right resources to continue and enhance their learning,” says Cambell-Wilson. “It is also useful because it enables learners and parents to engage with teachers immediately and in real-time, streamlining learning and teaching and making it an efficient and supportive process.”

It has also presented opportunities for different ways of teaching and learning in subjects like art, which have typically proven to require close personal interaction between teachers and learners. Using the Teams platform has helped make it easier for teachers to record and pass on feedback, and has taught leaners to think about how exactly their work is presented – opening up opportunities for greater creativity.

Teams has also made it easier for the teachers and administrative staff to collaborate internally. Jacaranda College has offices in Centurion and Cape Town, and the curriculum development team sits in Cape Town. This makes it critical to be able to work together fluidly and to be able to communicate and collaborate instantly.

Teams does this for the school, powered by the capabilities of Office 365 Education Edition, which integrates all programmes and applications and provides an easy-to-use platform that ultimately streamlines teaching, learning and the overall running of the school. It enables schools to have the same functionality as corporates by reducing redundancies and improving efficiencies for their staff who are under immense pressure to help equip today’s learners with the skills needed to transition from the school to a work environment.

“There has been buy-in from the entire team at the school, because they have been able to see how the Teams platform can enable the educational ecosystem and educators to facilitate twenty-first century learning. It has become clear that schools need to go digital to keep up with the changing world, and this requires solutions and platforms that provide the support and functionality to streamline working and teaching,” says Cambell-Wilson.

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