Posted by Irish Independent in Features.

Students and teachers alike at Coláiste Bhaile Chláir have ditched the text book

There was a time when teaching without a textbook would have been impossible. That time is gone. Today, Claregalway College in County Galway has made the impossible become true—with the help of Microsoft. “Our school is two years old” says Principal Alan Mongey. “Between first and second years there is a total student enrolment of fewer than 390. We wanted to move away from textbooks and eBooks. In this day and age, there is an abundance of information out there. We felt we were in a position to create our own teaching resource.”

By partnering with Microsoft, the staff at Claregalway College were able to create unique teaching resources using Microsoft OneNote and Microsoft Office 365. Students and teachers at the school are also using Microsoft Surface Pro devices. “OneNote is a really useful tool for teachers and students to use for organising their notes and information. Each subject department came together and started to collate all of the information they had and compile them on OneNote. That has essentially replaced the text book.”

Pictured are Coláiste Bhaile Chláir students Vicka Mulroy, Niamh McGrath and Nicola King experiencing the benefits of technology in education. Photo via Irish Independent.

Pictured are Coláiste Bhaile Chláir students Vicka Mulroy, Niamh McGrath and Nicola King experiencing the benefits of technology in education. Photo via Irish Independent.

“Students can also submit their homework online and the teacher can correct it straight away from looking at the class site on Office 365. There is also a news feed page and a forum where students can ask questions amongst each other about a class they had earlier that day.” Mongey says both students and teachers alike have adapted well to the technology.

“The reaction has been hugely positive. We have found that the level of students’ engagement has increased in class. It also makes teaching easier. There is a learning curve in terms of using the technology. But we have found that our staff are quite open to working together and learning from one another.”

“I have a great staff. I’m very proud of the work that they are doing. We have lots of examples of excellent teachers—in particular Gareth Callan and Lara Dabbagh—who have huge strengths in the classroom. They have been great in terms of assisting in the professional development of their colleagues. In our school we call them change leaders.” Dr Kevin Marshall, Head of Education at Microsoft Ireland, says the company was excited to enter the relationship with Claregalway College.

“What attracted us to Claregalway was their willingness to experiment and be innovative. That’s what makes it a really interesting school.”

“They have an innovative principal. When Alan became principal of the school, he engaged with us to explore the possibilities of technology in education. We worked with him and offered support.” Marshall says that Microsoft will have a vital role to play in the future of education in Ireland. “Microsoft has a critical role to play in the education sector in Ireland. We have some of the best technology in the world and the structures to allow for the whole school to operate in a connected and engaged way. We want to talk to more schools and support their efforts to transition to a fully digital environment.”

“Equally, we also have an important role to play at policy level. We want to sit down with the ETB (Education and Training Boards Ireland) and NCCA (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment) and policy makers and discuss what is coming down the line. They have a huge role to play in supporting schools,” says Mongey. “They can make change happen. They have been a great support for us. We simply told them what we wanted to do and they showed us how to get there.”

Microsoft also has a number of interesting projects in the EU. “We are working on the EU portfolio project, which is a seven partner country project,” says Marshall. “It looks at portfolios as a learning platform for students. There are two platforms, one is Microsoft Office 365 and the other is Microsoft Mahara and we are exploring that with 26 Irish schools, over 50 teachers and about 1300 students. The second project is also groundbreaking. We are the first country in the world to work with the Collaborative Assessment Alliance and the NCCA to research and develop critical problem solving skills and effective ways to assess them.”

This story was originally published as part of a Special Report in the Irish Independent on Saturday 11th of October.