Michelle and Helen from Exeter CollegeHelen Gunn and Michelle Traynor, are our work experience co-ordinators at Exeter College. They head up the ‘job shop. Their team of four support our special educational needs (SEN) students with work experience placements. They have seen how embracing a digital approach and using Microsoft Teams have revolutionised the way their team works.

Over the last year, Helen and Michelle have been on a digital journey. To say it had been massively transformational for them and the wider team, would be an understatement.

“We were 98 percent paper driven. We are now 98 percent paperless. We have completely transformed our working practices, it’s turned everything on its head. Instead of paper forms we now use Microsoft Forms and Teams,” says Michelle. “It not only saves money on our print budgets and our time but makes everything a little easier. It also simplifies things for students at the same time. It’s a win-win situation.”

What a transformation

The processes that we have put in place as a result of our partnership with Microsoft, has allowed this to happen. For instance, what used to be a 15-minute round trip to the nearest photocopier has become a simple share via message in Teams.

Filing paperwork by hand has become a collaborative online process with forms, so no need to re-enter information. Every member of the team now has instant access to all files, student records and documentation on support needs at any time, wherever they happen to be.

For the learners, mock interviews are now done online with a collaborative word document. This opens up the opportunity to use immersive reader for additional support where needed.

It’s estimated that at least 10 hours per week have been saved per person.

As Helen was quick to tell me “I’ve gone from being petrified of IT, knowing nothing about it, to being excited by it, in what it can do and how it can help me in my role at Exeter College.”

Both took part in training sessions run by the Innovations Team at the college. These introduce colleagues to the world of digital and the power of Windows 10, Office 365, and mobile technologies. Both are now recognised as Microsoft Innovative Educator (MIE) Experts. They have jumped head-first into the Microsoft Education Community and the digital training opportunities available to them there.

Exeter College

Increased security

Not only has Microsoft Teams given us huge productivity and collaboration gains, it’s also helping our drive to become carbon neutral and more sustainable.

Then there’s the whole business continuity aspect; a colleague being off sick no longer stops the flow of information. Michelle and Helen are not always in the office at the same time. Microsoft Teams has allowed them to work better together wherever they happen to be.

Employees can securely review paperwork at home or anywhere they wish, as Teams is built with security and compliance in mind. It’s got two-factor authentication, but single sign on so team members don’t have to waste time with multiple logins. Documents are stored on an encrypted SharePoint as well to ensure we meet tough compliance regulations such as GDPR.

The wider impact

As a result of working smarter, our teachers are able to better prioritise their time and spend more time with our students. It means the time that would have been spent shuffling paper, filling in forms, and waiting by photocopier can now be used for exactly what the team are there for; supporting our students to achieve the best possible outcomes, building confidence, and giving them a head-start in society where they may otherwise have struggled.

This year they are working with 187 learners to find them week-long placements with local employers. This gives students a taster of the working world, develops their confidence, gives vital practice in interviews, and helps them explore job opportunities. All experiences which many of us simply take for granted. Learners pick their own placements and are guided by the team.

Exeter College

Team members have instant access to all the documents they need and can collaborate on forms on Teams. They can also communicate easily, which simplifies and speeds up the process. For learners, they can access documents using the accessible-by-design features, such as narrator, or immersive reader to practice mock interviews or fill out forms.

Changing outcomes

Michelle told me about one of her learner’s placements with a local retailer. “The student is autistic with speech, language, and communication difficulties. They were paired with an employer for work experience.”

After the placement, the employer told us, “Ordinarily as an applicant, the student might not have made it through the interview process. Having gone through the college programme and with the extra support they were able to give, it supported the student’s confidence and highlighted their abilities. He’s now one of the most dedicated and dependable employees.”

Michelle added: “The change that we have seen in him is amazing – he was shaking at the interview and now when you call in to see him, his confidence really shines through, that’s why we do this job. That’s the reward.”

The future’s bright…

In the short time I spent with Helen and Michelle today, I have seen first-hand how they use digital tools to solve real world problems and reconnect the human element of work.

Learning of their successes, I have come away inspired and humbled that what started as an training session has transformed into something that genuinely changes lives for the better.

When asked about what’s next, Michelle told me: “We know there’s more that can be done, and we want to know everything we can about assistive tech. Next year, for example, we will be working with the translator tools”.

Watch this space!

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About the author

Anthony Martin headshotAs the ICT Innovation officer at Exeter College, Anthony is tasked with reviewing and implementing leading technologies and developing processes to support the continual improvement of IT systems and teaching and learning technology.

Anthony’s core focus is on digital transformation with an emphasis on breaking the norms in education for the better, improving business processes, and reducing the burden on educators.

He places a great deal of importance on sustainable business practices, and long term strategies for continued development and innovation.