So, two weeks of the new school year has passed and beside the „normal-horror-of-restarting-school“ I managed to get another project running with great help of our IT-company esys.at. We started to roll out Office Groups in our school both for teachers and students. First let me explain a bit about our background on how our IT-Systems(!) are working in our school and why I really appreciate the collaboration with this great company.
We have several „IT-worlds“ we have to manage in our school. First there is a platform called Sokrates, where all student related information is managed, e.g. here we manage their info and grades. Second there is an Moodle-installation (which is losing more and more usage due to Offcie 365). For the class roster and lessons we (have to) use Untis, where all timetables are stored and also viewable for students/teachers (online and through Apps). Of course all our students are allowed to login into all 300+ school’s PCs and we provide a them with a great WiFi (150Mbits). Therefore they need a personal account. And last but not least all our students and teachers have an Office 365 account with a dedicated hak-steyr.at E-Mail address.
The IT company does a great job with keeping all the systems in Sync. So when a new student enters our school we create an account for them and thanks to some „magic“ with the AD the account is created in all other „IT-worlds“.
The system is getting better and better each year and we have distribution lists within Office 365 and all kind of useful, supporting things for our big school with about 700 students and 80 teachers.
Office Groups for productivity
Now, I’m not the IT-admin in our school, but as an Office 365-freak I want to get the most out of this platform and provide students and teachers with useful tools make their (organizational) life easier.
I’ve created some SharePoint sites for different purposes (registration for the final exams, organizing the last weeks workshops, …) and I am definitely not a SharePoint PRO, but I like to develop solutions that makes everyday’s life easier in school. And thanks to Office 365 Groups I have found a tool, that takes us onto the next path.
With the help of esys I managed to create Office 363 Groups for every faculty in our school (you have to understand the Austrian organisation of so called „working groups“ within every school: these are for example all maths teachers in one school, that work closely together= „ARGE MAM“). So we switched from e-mail lists to Office groups to communicate with each other. BUT with groups you get lots of more features like a calender, a dedicated group OneDrive and a OneNote notebook for all members.
But I have dug a bit deeper into the O365 groups as all groups are „just“ SharePoint sites. In my school it is not only necessary to have a working mail distribution but also a place to store all relevant info, that are editable by only a few people. So I’ve taken the group OneNote notebook and changed the permission in the hidden backend (I hope this functionality will come to O365 groups soon!) So only 5 people can edit the notebook, but all other teachers can read the information.
I did the same with the group OneDrive, so that not every teacher can delete or edit important documents.
In addition esys also created an O365 group for every class with their syncing tool automatically. So all the students in one class have the opportunity to exchange not only E-mails but also run a class calendar or store relevant documents on their „Class OneDrive“ (Once again I have to emphasize that in Austria, students stay within their class groups for years, this is a bit different to English-speaking school systems!) So the challenge is here, that the groups that are called after the class names (e.g. 1AK@hak-steyr.at) are changing from year to year; they have to get a new class name next year and some students may leave or may be added. This should not affect neither the class documents nor the class calendar.
Once again I wish for a better out-of-the-box solution for our school system, cause the O365 education developers are not aware of lots of problems that come from this „European-style“ school organization. (Hopefully school data sync will evolve and in combination with Azure AD will do the job!)
A pretty useful side effect of these groups are, that they can be used when teachers want to create OneNote Class notebooks or I can make use of them when we have to address certain forms in our SharePoint environment. (final exams,…)
There are also some downsides of this idea/solution. We do not use the teacher calendar as it is not possible (now) to set different editing rights and it’s not manageable if every teacher can edit the official teacher calendar. For this purpose I rely on another calender stored on a dedicated ShrePoint site.
Also, we do not make use of the Office Planner yet (step after step), but I think this will be pretty useful if everybody of the staff will get familiar with working with O365 groups.
And we use Office groups officially in our school lots of teachers start to create their own groups (that said is a great response, as they „see“ the benefits). This could soon cause problems, as lots of groups are created just for mail distribution and maybe there are soon
I hope that my school will slowly transform and all teachers and students make use of all the fantastic tools and apps within Office 365. The biggest problem I see in real life, that 99 percent of colleagues and students are not aware about the possibilities and opportunities of Offcie 365. So, I keep on going to show them best practice examples and think about how to make their lives easier.