Guest blog post from Gerald Haigh. Gerald writes regularly for the Microsoft Education series of blogs.
Ramandeep has been absent from school for five weeks following a road accident. Recovery is slow, and there’s still no firm date for her return. The school sends work home with her brother, but, as she tells her mum, she feels more and more cut off.
‘I just don’t feel I go to that school any more. I sometimes think they’ve forgotten me. When I first had the accident it was all fuss, and visits, and flowers and chocolates. Now I hardly ever see any of them.’
Next day, Ramandeep’s mum went into school and spoke to Ramandeep’s year leader.
‘She’s really down I hate seeing her like this. It can affect her recovery, and her work is going to suffer.’
He understood and promised to speak to Ramandeep’s teachers and her friends, but he also made a mental note to follow up on a thought that niggled in the back of his mind. He went off to see the network manager.
‘Sal, you know when we took on Office 365 Education, and we decided to move our email to it, and then get started on a proper online portal. Well, isn’t there also something called “Lync”? I wonder if we could use it to solve this little problem.’
He explained what he had in mind. Sal thought it was a brilliant idea, and entirely possible, given a bit of advice from Microsoft, and a visit to the local university where they used Lync all the time to save travelling costs between two campuses.
Within a few days, the year leader and Sal had been round to see Ramandeep, with a tablet borrowed from the pilot ‘Surface’ project running in Year Seven, set up for Lync. And suddenly, there on her little screen was a tightly framed gaggle of familiar laughing faces – Ramandeeps’s friends who’d been prepared in advance.
That was just the start. Over the next few weeks, Ramandeep had Lync tutorials with her teachers, about the homework they’d set. She ‘sat in’ on some lessons with her own class and, of course, had some personal sessions with friends. Many of the ideas, such as being able to take her turn at reading in assembly with the aid of a smartboard in the hall, came from Ramandeep herself.
Best of all, so far as Ramandeep was concerned, was that when she shared in a classroom session, she could record it to watch offline later.
‘That’s great, I often get things much better the second time,’ she said.
(When Mr Johnson heard she’s said that, he made a mental note to discuss lesson pacing with his colleagues)
‘All this must be costing the school a fortune one way or another,’ said Ramandeep’s mum to Mr Johnson on one of her visits.
‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘It’s completely free to schools as part of our Office 365 package.’
‘Unbelievable,’ said Ramandeep’s mum. ‘I just know how much money and trouble went into the video conferencing set-up we have at work. I wonder if they know about this?’
By Christmas that year, Ramandeep was back at school, but the experience the school had with Lync during that time led to a whole lot of interesting innovations including screen sharing by staff during planning sessions. Integration with ‘OneNote’ also enabled staff working group members to share their ideas on what they were seeing on their screens.
For the near future, again based on the experience with Ramandeep, senior staff are hoping to run ‘Virtual Parents Evenings’. Obviously these won’t replace face-to-face meetings. The idea is to make Lync meetings available to specific parents who have genuine problems getting into school – they may be housebound, or work difficult shifts. Again the ability to record sessions is going to be really useful.