A look inside the classroom of the future at Sacred Heart School in Tullamore
At Microsoft, we are continually inspired by schools across the globe that are enabling remote or blended learning in ingenious ways. One such example is Sacred Heart School in the town of Tullamore, which is leading the way in Ireland when it comes to the integrated use of technology in the classroom.
Teachers and students at the all-girls school now use Microsoft Surface devices that allow them to embrace online tools and interactive teaching techniques both during school time and from home. This digital approach to learning came into its own during the COVID-19 lockdown, with teachers and students able to quickly adapt to remote lessons.
A digital-first approach
New technology at the school ushered in a new way of teaching as it moved away from the longstanding “chalk and talk”
The introduction of new technology at the school ushered in a new way of teaching as it moved away from the longstanding “chalk and talk” approach, where children watch while the teacher works at the board. Now, teachers can take their Surface device and walk around the room, projecting what’s on their device onto the board and students can project their screen to share their work also.
Microsoft OneNote provides a digital canvas or whiteboard that is easily shared with students, where teachers can write, type or add links, videos, images and audio for students. It allows for a more interactive and immersive learning experience.
The classrooms at the school have now become active spaces where different groups work on different collaborative projects and students can work at a pace that suits them. The teacher can allocate and oversee multiple projects via Microsoft Teams and use it to orchestrate the class. All while the students use it to discuss, share files and collaborate on projects in real time, both in and out of the class.
This use of Office 365 can also make learning more accessible, with tools like the Immersive Reader helping students with dyslexia by providing audio versions of written documents or by using visual clues for words.
Teachers at the school reporting that it is already improving student grades
This move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to lessons is ideally suited to a generation of digital natives, with the teachers at the school reporting that it is already improving student grades and engagement with their lessons.
Photo Credit: Jeff Harvey
A seamless shift to remote learning
When schools up and down the country were forced to close to help stop the spread of COVID-19, many struggled to adapt to this new way of teaching as they weren’t set up to operate in this way. For Sacred Heart, adopting a digital-first approach over many years meant that its teachers had the skills to adapt and students were already accustomed to learning in this way.
During the lockdown, classes were conducted using Microsoft Teams with each class recorded by the teacher so it could be easily accessed by the students. Microsoft Teams was also used to correct assignments which were returned to students using a variety of feedback methods, including audio, inking and text comments.
The Microsoft solutions being used by the Sacred Heart School also helped solve some issues that other schools experienced when remote teaching, such as student engagement and management.
During the lockdown, the school reported a 90% engagement rate with lessons among its entire student base
The Microsoft Teams Insights tab provided Sacred Heart’s teachers access to data on how and when their students were using Teams during the day and the level of engagement of each student. During the lockdown, the school reported a 90% engagement rate with lessons among its entire student base – which is truly amazing given the difficult circumstances.
For most teenagers today, technology is their primary form of communication, it is second nature to them, and introducing it to the classroom has made learning more enjoyable. One student recently told the school principal Pauline McKenna that they are “finally using technology the way it should be used”.
Not only is the school engaging and weaving the technology into the teaching and learning in a meaningful way, but they’re also engaging with the wider community globally, working with other teachers and other countries sharing best practice and always looking to listen and learn and keep improving.
The experience to date has more than justified the school’s leap of faith eight years ago, proving that a digital approach can work both inside and outside the classroom. Microsoft Surface devices enable limitless learning, and with the tools available to teachers to support teaching and learning only set to improve, technology looks set to play an increasingly important role in the development of the next generation.
Read the interview with Sacred Heart Tullamore and Stephen Eustace in the Irish Independent.
Dr. Kevin Marshall
Head of Education