For the past year, Omaha Public Schools (OPS) has instituted change through the adoption of a new Strategic Plan and by passing the largest bond issue in Nebraska history. New leadership has been working diligently to create comprehensive initiatives that utilize technology as a component of a larger systemic shift directed toward collaborative learning and workspace environments.
To adopt new, meaningful technology at its lowest level, OPS has been asking the fundamental question: “Will this make a positive difference in our students' learning?” The route of technology that a district decides upon can bring major benefits beyond this question. Technology has the ability to level the playing field for all students, by extending learning beyond the confines of a school building.
But what about educators?
Professional development is fundamental for successful implementation of new technology to ensure students will ultimately receive the most benefit. Many teachers do not have the technical knowledge or skills to recognize the potential for technology in teaching and learning. To remedy, OPS is dedicated to offering PD that will help teachers see technology as an asset in their teaching arsenal and build confidence in how to integrate it effectively.
A major technology initiative for OPS this year was the movement to Microsoft's Office 365 platform. After some initial introductions, it was very clear that both Microsoft and OPS wanted to see how both could generate some real success around this solution. Microsoft was clear that their focus in K-12 was changing and they would like OPS to be an example of the change.
The timing for OPS to move to Office 365 could not have been better. Microsoft is rolling out more features than ever before, including the Student Advantage Program that allows full versions of Office for Desktop and mobile devices to both student and staff personal machines.
A new OneNote Classroom notebook app helps teachers quickly set up a personal workspace for every student, a content library for handouts and a collaboration space for lessons and creative activities, all within one notebook.
Office 365 Video Portal has been introduced to allow each teacher the ability to create a video channel for classroom communication built into SharePoint Online, which is where our collaboration workspaces have moved to. This means teachers and students alike are provided with more accessibility than ever before, providing them with quintessential benefits of collaboration, communication and timely feedback.
Supporting Teachers and the Rollout
In this implementation, OPS district officials have endeavored to develop a relationship with Microsoft of which Microsoft reps were happy to accommodate. Microsoft came on board with the implementation, making OPS one of the first to be a part of their Fasttrack program back in September. Fastrack allows organizations and districts to onboard Office 365 with scenarios, communication resources, and best practices to speed up the adoption.
In addition to the program, key OPS technology leaders and Microsoft identified a new approach that helped with professional development of the system. The Microsoft Innovative Educator Program is aimed at empowering educators to effectively use technology to develop students' 21st century skills within the Microsoft Office 365 ecosystem. One hundred educators in Omaha Public Schools were selected to be a member of the program--essentially one per building--and Microsoft brought in trainers for sessions to work within the MIE program. The recipients of this training will serve as the first level of support for training at the building level and serve as a role model for best practices in technology integration. This is more than just teaching tools--it will include modeling best practices for integration of technology with students, as well.
Supporting District Officials and Communication Efforts
This collaborative relationship with Microsoft allowed for streamlined implementation plans. Microsoft was instrumental in the development of a communication plan to outline how to communicate to all stakeholders involved, as well as indicate the risks and issues surrounding the methods we would put in place.
Due to the district's current state of devices and a need for a planned obsolescence strategy, it was decided to roll out Office 365 web only. This accelerated implementation allowed end users to see the numerous services Office 365 offers. This decision also allowed for some relief to the OPS technology support team in not having to push out the latest office software district wide. The timeline of the implementation allowed for services to move over and teachers to work in Office 365 before the state testing window started. As a result, teachers should be able to become accustomed to the new platform before the end of the school year.
Looking to the Future
We are in the beginning stages of districts embracing the cloud for two big picture reasons: cost and learning potential. One of the biggest advantages of moving to the cloud is that districts won’t need to invest in implementation, integration, and ongoing maintenance associated with traditional software. The benefits for where it is most important, the student, allows classrooms to transform learning outside the reaches of the traditional classroom.
In big districts, organizational change is complex, and there are many issues underlying what helps or hinders success. OPS is focused on managing goals, strategies, action plans and project plans. OPS is also committed to leading people through transition, especially involving rapid change through technology.
Omaha Public Schools is laying the foundation for advancing technology through initiatives like Office 365, as well as other key integrations, that will allow for increased collaboration and communication to expand the classroom beyond the typical classroom walls. That foundation is hoped to provide an ecosystem of embracing change in technology that will drive future adoptions of mobile technologies, digital curriculum adoptions, and multi-delivery of professional development.