CIO100 2017: Ones to watch: Nigel Wilkinson, Kristin School
Kristin School is constantly looking at ways to improve electronic access of information for students and parents, says the school's director of business services Nigel Wilkinson.
“We have a Digital Group for the school with representatives from the Senior Leadership team, as well as the different areas of the school, along with our IT leadership,” says Wilkinson. “We use this group to raise challenges and ensure our digital strategy meets the needs of the different areas of the school.
“We have evolved into a role of working alongside, rather than leading or following change and we use the digital group to help us ensure we are delivering on the strategy for the school.”
The IT decision making process is influenced by teaching initiatives, to ensure that good, well informed decisions are reached to address the needs of the whole school and particularly, student learning, he says.
“Therefore the priority is on the overall school's needs, rather than an IT focus. This also allows the leadership of the different areas of the school to support the decisions made in the IT space, as they participated and understand the rationale for the decisions.”
Some examples of what has been delivered by the IT team are the synchronisation of student timetables with their Google Calendar, allowing students to access their results from within the Learning Management System and a mobile app version of the Learning Management System so students and staff can receive push notifications of new messages.
“Based on customer feedback, it has been an objective to standardise access to data and systems, and ensure all our community members have access to their relevant data. This is what we have focused on - making data accessible to more community members in more ways,” he says.
The synchronisation of student and staff timetables directly into their Google Calendar has been well received.
“The feedback from teachers of this relatively simple innovation has been extraordinary - staff are able to see what classes they have more easily and have begun to make notes and plans in their calendar entries.
“Students are able to make notes such as homework reminders and what they need to prepare for class. The teachers have also started creating calendar events for assessments and tests, and sharing that calendar event with their whole class - so that all the students have that reminder.
“The benefits include the improvement to organisation and preparation for the students, and reinforces the push towards digital technologies skills for organising life generally. These students will be using digital technologies in the working world and it is essential that they use them at school too, to be prepared for the differing technologies of the future.
“As our students pick up skills in specific digital technologies, they will be ready to pick up future technologies that haven’t been invented yet,” Wilkinson says.
“This project was initiated by IT based on staff feedback. We take on board the pain points and ideas that our staff have, to make their world a more efficient and effective place.”
He says the IT team knows the first priority is to ensure the existing systems are working effectively.
“Our technical staff need to complete any operational work first before working on new projects. Thankfully over the years we have invested time in ensuring that we have appropriate infrastructure that delivers very few issues, meaning that we have time for our technical staff to get to do innovative projects.
“For example, when deploying new print and copy machines last year, we invested time in testing the potential suppliers’ machines and drivers, to come up with working solutions. Once a supplier was confirmed, we produced scripted installers to make it easy for the end user to install the print queues in our largely BYOD environment.
“Our past investment in our print and copy cost tracking system meant that we could easily switch over to a new supplier, keeping things the same for the end users,” he points out.
While this project involved lots of upfront time and thorough testing, the support required during and after cutover was minimal, and the disruption to end users was minimal.
“Our technical team does have capacity to be able to work on innovative projects. While we are not of a scale to make use of ‘DevOps’ style systems, we have focused this year on ensuring that our developer and operations work more closely together, with the aim that development understands the challenges that operations face, and that operations can get involved in automation projects."
His goal is to spend 65 per cent of their time on new initiative projects, rather than on day-to-day maintenance and support work.
“Our students’ exploration of the digital world as part of their learning is constantly challenging our teams to innovate with them, in terms of the technologies they are using and accessing,” he says.
In addition to the Digital Group meetings, The ICT team meets builds relationships with the teaching staff.
We have been successfully providing training and information through ‘Techie Brekkies’, he says. These are with small groups of staff who will come in for a breakfast session and receive training or information, which they can then help to share throughout the organisation.
“We also announce or provide short training sessions at staff meetings to get messages across and we use internal messaging for short, simple messages or highlights for staff,” he says.
The IT team is a multi-cultural group and the retention rate of staff has also been excellent he says, with some of his staff having completed 10 years’ service.
“We have also brought in school leavers on internship type arrangements during university holidays, which has been successful over the years both for their knowledge and providing new ideas and input into the team."
“The team is increasing its focus on understanding and meeting the needs of the school. Looking ahead, the team is considering ways to increase the wider school’s understanding of positive project management approaches and role model good project management practice.
“The objective is to improve project execution, by ensuring all the key stakeholders understand the role they should play to help make a project successful and to demonstrate it does not need to be cumbersome and difficult,” says Wilkinson.