Using Office 2010 and other Microsoft technologies such as SharePoint and Silverlight, the Australian college based in Victoria has created a range of time- and cost-saving tools for educators, students and parents, ranging from a class management system that lets teachers have a quick glimpse of attendance, to an open calendar system that hooks up all stakeholders via a single agenda view. Key to its success is the Office suite’s interoperability.
For years, Luther College used Microsoft Office 2003 and Office 2007 for everyday office productivity work on campus, as well as Microsoft SharePoint for online administrative and academic applications.
The college runs a 24/7, fully-managed network with a 10 GB backbone connecting all edge switches. This is complemented with a Wireless ‘N’ network providing blanket mobile access on campus.
To manage student attendance, the school used a system based on Excel spreadsheets that teachers accessed to check who had been attending class, and who had been missing class without valid excuses.
Like many schools, students were “transient” in their movements throughout campus, and teachers had to be able to account for students’ attendance in classes as part of their responsibilities.
||Interoperability is the biggest plus. We just need things to work. We cannot spend days trying to fix a simple problem which is compatibility. The Office suite allows this to happen.
Chief Technology Officer,
“Every school has the same problem,” pointed out Chief Technology Officer Chris Topp, who said the process could be quicker and more efficient for teachers.
Previously, Luther College collated attendance on large Excel worksheets, which often contained more information than teachers needed. Topp recalled: “Teachers had to print out a report to check things. We could get a general idea, but the information was not easy to use.”
When Office 2010 was released in mid-2010, the college wasted no time exploring its new features to make attendance monitoring easier for teachers.
An improved classroom management system was just the tip of the iceberg. The college also wanted to streamline some old processes and add new services by leveraging Office 2010.
Today, about 2,300 end users – 150 staff, 1,250 students and 900 parents logging in remotely – use the software, deployed on about 850 notebooks and 450 desktop PCs on site.
One of the features in Office 2010 that appeared immediately useful was its native ability to export documents in PDF format.
Out of the box, Office 2010 was able to convert documents to the popular Adobe Acrobat format. This meant the existing Excel reports could be exported to the PDF format and sent to teachers instead of having them looking through the voluminous spreadsheets.
It did not take the IT team long to tap on Excel 2010 and “SharePoint use Excel and SharePoint server-side code” to create an improved class management system which rolled out at the end of 2010, said Topp. Benefits
Out of the Box Interoperability
Luther College chose Microsoft Office over “bespoke packages” because it provided a similar core operating environment to what the school had been using. “End users get a consistent look without any ‘unknowns,’” Topp said. “The way the products fit together not only saves a huge amount of time in analysis of attendance information, but makes possible the kind of obscure analysis that wasn’t previously possible.”
The tight integration within the Microsoft programs, particularly with the school’s new SharePoint 2010 setup, enabled the school to create flexible services and apps that boosted efficiency, said Topp.
“Interoperability is the biggest plus. We just need things to work. We cannot spend days trying to fix a simple problem which is compatibility. The Office suite allows this to happen,” he said.
“Integration with SharePoint is great, Excel is used extensively across our accounts areas which saves them hours of time, and there are some really cool features we use all the time, such as the image and video compression engines in PowerPoint. Little things like this make our lives easier to do our job.”
Office 2010 Breeds Innovation
An application that is currently in the works is an open calendar where teachers can schedule, say, field trips, and have parents alerted on their own calendars, whether they are using Outlook or Gmail, for example.
When ready at the end of 2011, this will enable teachers to better plan lessons. “Three different teachers may want to do three excursions on three different days with three different classes, and unwittingly, a single class of an individual student might be impacted on those three dates,” said Topp.
“This would mean that his attendance figures could drop to a level whereby the educational effectiveness is severely impacted. By having this information on hand, we can actively avoid this and take a more balanced approach to excursions, so that we are sure individuals are not impacted in an undue fashion. It’s really exciting stuff and a world’s first if we get it right.”
Extensible “Save to PDF” Adds Functionality
“Installing Office 2010 opened up many opportunities for Luther College that previously hadn’t existed, partly because of additional functionality contained within the product such as Save to PDF, but also the appeal of having a well-known product suite maintaining a consistent front end user experience,” said Topp.
College staff generate about 8,000 attendance records each day and tracking the data was a challenge. “Excel 2010 exports to PDF natively without having to send it to print and convert,” he said, so teachers can easily download a report and follow up with particular students if they wanted to. “Teachers tell us they love it.”
Using macro-driven Excel spreadsheets along with some nifty SharePoint coding, his team was able to tie the information in a form of an “aggregated Excel spreadsheet which gets converted to PDF and emailed to each of the teachers so that any student anomalies are highlighted and can be rectified almost immediately.”
Smaller File Sizes
Luther College also had to deal with huge PowerPoint files that students uploaded to the school’s servers. With PowerPoint 2010, the video and image compression technologies built in meant that 50MB presentation files – a common problem in the past – could now be automatically pared down to much more manageable sizes, said Topp.
Time and Cost Savings
Leveraging Office 2010, the college is now able to automate delivery of electronic student report cards to parents, which is linked to a system to schedule a meeting with teachers.
This application, rolled out in March 2011, has cut down paperwork and the human cost of manually double-checking them before delivery, said Topp.
Parents embraced the solution. “Two hundred families logged in and booked within six hours, giving it a real hammering, which let us test how robust the system was,” he added. Assuming about A$1 to A$1.50 could be saved per student, he estimated that the school stands to cut thousands of dollars in costs every three months, because the results are sent out regularly.
Office Technologies Well Managed
“You can buy off-the-shelf functionalities but you have to expect difficulties, say, by having people use different usernames and passwords,” said Topp. Some products also do not have well-managed life cycles. “You can use a Linux solution made by a bloke at the back of his garage, which is great, but what happens if he gets a new job? You lose support.”Microsoft Office 2010
The deal clincher for Luther College has always been how well Microsoft manages products. Topp said: “Office 2010’s consistent and well-tested interface means that we have flexibility to access more information with less development knowledge required. We use Microsoft for a well-managed life cycle. We’re open to everything, and Microsoft has the best of breed products and offers the best productivity gains.”
Microsoft Office 2010 gives your people powerful, timesaving tools to do their best work from more places. With new capabilities and insightful updates to Excel, PowerPoint, Word and Outlook, Office 2010 offers the complete package — with familiar, intuitive tools. Now you can express ideas, solve problems, connect with people, and create amazing results — in the office, at home, or on the go. For more information about Microsoft Office, go to: www.office.comFor More Information
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