By JASON BROWN, Wednesday November 26th 2014, 23:15 PM
It’s incredible really. A year ago I was just like any other Year 11 GCSE student: spotty, studying hard for mock GCSE exams and madly passionate about computers and technology. Whilst much of that hasn’t changed (apart from the fact that I’m now 17 and studying for mock AS exams), my life over the past year certainly has.
Today marks a year since I first met Kevin Sait, Head of IT Strategy at Wymondham High and Harry Traynor, who was a Year 13 A level student a year ago but is now an IT technician apprentice at Wymondham High Academy. It’s incredible to think that had I not attended a small meeting in an IT room (N12) about Microsoft IT Academy and Microsoft Qualifications at Wymondham High at 3.00pm on Wednesday November 27th 2013, my life would not be where it is today.
I remember going to the meeting in N12, meeting Kevin Sait and telling him that I was interested in programming and interested in taking a Microsoft Technology Associate exam in C# Software Development Fundamentals at some point in my life at Wymondham High. There weren’t many people at the meeting. I remember there were maybe two A level students, myself, Harry Traynor, Kevin Sait and Mr Dickerson (Head of IT/Computing teaching), who didn’t stay around for very long, and that was about it. The two other students left quite early after they had discussed with Kevin the pathway they wanted to take with their MTAs. Whether they did them or not, I don’t know, but what I do remember is Kevin being absolutely overjoyed that a student [me] was taking a keen interest in the IT facilities at school and I remember him getting me signed up onto Yammer before you could say ‘let’s get you on Yammer’. I also remember excitedly setting up Office 365, SkyDrive Pro (now OneDrive for Business) apps on my Nokia Lumia 710 Windows Phone 7.8 device and generally being elated about the whole thing. Then he told me about DreamSpark, which a friend of mine who went to another school had, and before the day had ended I had already downloaded Visual Studio Ultimate 2013 from there and Windows 8.1 Pro. At that point in time, DreamSpark and the free software was the big thing for me.
Normally on a Wednesday evening I would attend a GCSE Media Studies lesson with a friend of mine, but on that particular night I had excused myself from the lesson to go to this small meeting. I remember walking out of the meeting at around 4.15pm to be greeted with the stunning sunset that is the featured image for this article. This sunset was one of the most spectacular I’ve ever seen in my life and this photo that I took on my Nokia Lumia 710 and then processed in Photoshop Lightroom 5 when I got home really reminds me of the evening that I met Kevin Sait and Harry Traynor.
When my friend came out of the Media Studies lesson, we walked home together and I remember her saying as I unlocked my bike in the freezing cold, ‘you’re in your element’. And indeed I was.
I went home and told my parents who were also absolutely amazed. My father in particular, who is a self-employed IT technician, was very pleased to hear about all of these IT opportunities that I’d be getting at school. And back then I wasn’t talking about visits to Microsoft or becoming a Worldwide Microsoft Student Ambassador or rebuilding the IT infrastructure of the school over the summer holidays or even getting a job out of it at the end. I was just talking about doing Microsoft exams and being able to get my hands on a free copy of Visual Studio!
So, a year on and what am I talking about now?
I’ll answer that question in a bit, but I’ll briefly go through what has happened over the past year in terms of my personal experiences in being part of student involvement in IT at Wymondham High Academy.
For a photographic record of the past year, you can view my latest article!
Although I joined Yammer a year ago today and this was when it all really started, from November to April it was all about drawing up plans with Kevin and talking about how we could use technology in school. My first post on this blog was all about becoming a Microsoft IT Academy and was published on February 17th 2014. You can read it here, and on the Microsoft Education Blog too because it made it to there, too!
The exciting stuff really kicked off in April when I had to create something to promote Office 365 in our school for my O Team application. I decided to make a video about the benefits that Office 365 brings but in a fun and fast way, quickly demonstrating some of the things it could do. My target audience were Year 7s who have the attention span of a fish! The whole video only took two days to create and at first I thought it was solely for application purposes, but man was I wrong! Little did I know when I was sitting there creating it, that this video would eventually be shown to the whole school in assemblies through May 2014 and I’d receive feedback such as ‘I am inspired’ and ‘I’m going to use this!’ and better still used to open a Microsoft Education Conference in Canada in May 2014. You heard me correctly there!
After the success of the video, and presumably a good interview, I became a member of the O Team in May 2014. I had been friendly with A level student Harry Traynor prior to me becoming an O Team member, but over the coming months a strong friendship would develop. Becoming a member of the O Team meant the world to me. It meant that I’d gain real-world IT experience in school and also be able to build great links with Microsoft and above all work with Kevin Sait, Harry Traynor and Paul Harvey in managing the school’s IT.
On May 22nd I took part with several of our Student Digital Leaders in a worldwide K-12 YamJam on the Yammer YCN network. After having sat a GCSE Geography and English Literature exam on that day, it was lovely to be able to do something fairly relaxing, simply talking about what I loved to other schools. It was a great feeling to represent the school’s use of technology on a worldwide scale.
Although I still haven’t gotten round to doing my C# MTA, after some studying and hard work, I passed my Outlook 2013 MOS exam on May 28th 2014 with 100% in two areas of the exam, 92% on one and 77% on the other. This was the first Microsoft qualification that I gained, aged 16. I am hoping that this qualification gives my CV the edge over competition because it is a a unique qualification to have.
In June 2014 I was still sitting GCSE exams but this was when the O Team went social. The Twitter and YouTube accounts went live and were both a hit! At the time producing videos explaining how to use Office 365 in school was a great ‘revision break’ which is why a lot of the O Team videos were produced in June whilst I was still sitting GCSEs. Although the channel doesn’t have a thousand videos, we do have a steady stream of subscribers and our most viewed, video, ‘How to upgrade from Windows 7 to Windows 8.1’, has over 12,000 views.
The Twitter feed has been very successful and is growing day by day. We get around 1 or 2 new followers per week and we are retweeted and favorited by Microsoft, Yammer, Nokia, Office 365 and OneNote a lot! If you want to find out about what we are doing in school in terms of IT, the O Team Twitter is the place to go!
I finished my GCSE exams on June 23rd 2014 and from there I had a long summer holiday that would last for well over 2 months. I could have spent my summer holidays at home being very bored but instead I decided to spend it at school with the O Team refurbishing the school’s IT and deploying Windows 8.1 onto our 700 desktops and 200 laptops.
On June 25th the O Team attended the WyConf teacher training event at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. Here, with the Student Digital Leader Team, we told staff members at Wymondham High what we do with Office 365 and how it can be used in the classroom, demonstrating various Office apps on a variety of devices from Surfaces to conventional laptops.
After this most of my work was basically ‘housekeeping’ until the school term ended on July 23rd. This involved helping Harry and Paul support lessons with the Surface tablets, tidy up the Surface trolleys and begin to set up our Training Centre that would open in September to businesses and students.
But how can I forget the most important event in July? The trip to Microsoft HQ in Reading! This was organised in June by Kevin and as an ‘O Team outing’, and a big thank you from Kevin for the work we had done, we were taken out for the day to Microsoft HQ on July 17th to meet some Microsoft employees, mostly notably Mandeep Atwal, Helene Fyffe and Steve Beswick, to learn about career opportunities at Microsoft (big ambition!) and also to play on the Surface Pro 3 which at the time was a brand new tablet device. The day at Microsoft was one of my favourite days of the year and I would love to go back again at some point in the future.
Over the course of July and August we tore the whole school to pieces and pretty much rebuilt our IT infrastructure. This was where the real-world experience in networking, systems management and deployment was had, delivered to us by IT technicians Andy Underwood and James Dunlop. The summer was also when our resident Raspberry-Pi and Minecraft expert, Nick McGee, joined the O Team as a reward of his hard work over the summer helping to deploy Windows 8.1, clean our computers, rebuild our IT rooms and clear out all of our old stuff, as well as lots of other bits and pieces, of course!
The summer also saw several little outings by the O Team. Harry and I had a lovely day out in Norwich taking photos and then editing them with Adobe software back at my house, and August also saw the O Team trip to the Computer Museum in Cambridge where Kevin and Andy introduced the O Team to some ‘tech’ that was a ‘little bit before our day’ (and we thought anything pre-Windows XP was old!) Many of these outings involved a little trip to McDonald’s, most notably a McDonald’s just off the A505 at Royston where I had a chocolate milkshake in a ‘never-ending cup’ as Kevin put it. And of course, GCSE results came out. As you can probably imagine, I was delighted when I got 3 A*s, 8 As and 1 B, including an A* in IT and English (which is probably why I enjoy writing these long articles!)
September saw a new term and an influx of new Year 7s signing up to our Yammer network, perhaps thanks to teachers such as Mr Howard (IT) and Mrs Southgate (languages) running lessons on Yammer. From August 2014 to September 2014 several hundred new users signed up to Yammer with the growth figures being ridiculously high. 500% growth springs to mind! Over the course of the next few months more and more members would sign up to Yammer with the 1,000th member being Charlie Bennett who joined the network on October 18th. Today, we have 1,174 users on our network and this figure is only likely to keep growing. The response we had from new students joining the school was remarkable. As I said in my last blog post, many of them were thrilled about Wymondham High having a social network and offering something a little bit different to other schools. ‘We never had anything like this in my old school’ was how one new Year 7 student put it.
September also saw me starting my A levels at Wymondham High and building great relationships with my teachers. Of course, everybody in my year knows that I am mad about IT and everybody knows that I have a strong connection to the IT team at school and I know how the network works and so on and so on. With this comes positives such as spreading my enthusiasm about this around the year group and getting them to use the services we can provide, and negatives such as people moaning at me when the Wi-Fi doesn’t work or if Python isn’t installed on a computer, but this is the real world. This is what you get when you work in IT and I get this from teachers and students. It’s to be expected! I feel that part of my great relationship with teachers comes from having a passion for the subjects they teach, but also it comes from being friendly and willing to help with IT problems. Whether that’s showing them how to use Yammer, setting up groups or deploying Surfaces in their lessons, I am always happy to help. And I think they see that.
Before the new term the Surface tablets were in their infancy at Wymondham High. Now they’re everywhere, being used by everybody in their lessons as great alternatives to booking an IT room. The geography, maths and science departments probably use them the most and it’s great to see these tablets being used and the students enjoying them. It is the biggest reward we can possibly ask for after having spent months setting these devices up and deploying them.
September and October also saw interest in IT management at Old Buckenham High School and Robert Kett. We have gotten further with Old Buckenham and so during the course of September and October I presented some assemblies about Office 365 which went down extremely well with the students and also attended some open evenings and Saturday training sessions to talk about Office 365.
The audience of the assemblies were shocked when I instructed them ‘to get their smartphones out’ and the saying ‘Jason says’ allegedly went around the school for a week or two after the assembly, with students there allowing themselves to get phones out in lessons because ‘Jason says’. The feedback I had from the assemblies was positive with some staff members saying ‘I could not present an assembly like Jason does’. Looking back at the photos from the assemblies, I could see that everybody in the audience was engaged. It was a truly great feeling going up there and talking about what I love to 250 students at a time. Presenting is what I live for!
In terms of what we’re doing at Old Buckenham, we are managing their IT on a contract-based plan and also teaming up with their Digital Leaders who are visiting the school next week to work on some great Raspberry-Pi projects. This is the ultimate in school-to-school collaboration from a student-lead perspective.
We opened the Training Centre up in September and this was when we began running our Tuesday IT Club. This is a fairly large club of enthusiastic students, with ages ranging from Year 7 to 11 who come down to the Training Centre every Tuesday afternoon to learn about all things IT. We teach them things that they aren’t taught in their IT lessons at school and we give them hands-on experience. We have just spent the past few weeks teaching them all about networking, getting them to ping one another and even build their own cables and set their own networks up, and now they are using this knowledge to learn how to build a Minecraft server, taught by Year 11 O Team member Nick McGee, who said that whilst it was ‘exhausting’ teaching them, it was also ‘great fun and a rewarding experience’.
Throughout October we also recruited new Student Digital Leaders to try and get the younger generation inspired. Interviewing began on November 3rd and ended on November 17th, with the final Student Digital Leaders being selected on November 20th. We have five new Student Digital Leaders – four Year 7s and one Year 9. They will start their roles representing IT from a student’s point of view in January 2015 after their inaugural meeting on December 12th.
The story ends on November 6th 2014 when Wymondham High Academy finally became a Microsoft International Showcase School and Harry and I became Worldwide Microsoft Student Ambassadors. What does this mean? You can read my article about what it means, but in short it means we’ve done it. We had an ambition to use Microsoft technology in school to its full potential, and we’ve done it. And we’re going to carry on. We are now recognised on an international scale as being a leader in using Microsoft technology in an educational institution. And we are mighty proud of it.
So to come back to the question, what am I talking about now?
To say the least, the future is bright. Today we unofficially launched our O Team Venture commercial enterprise. This is the first step in generating money from the O Team. When we talked about these proposals in July at Microsoft they said they were pretty sure that we were the first school in the UK to do this, if not the world. The O Team could go down in history, if it hasn’t done already.
The 2015 Student Digital Leaders have been chosen and in those five we can already see potential future O Team members. We inspire the younger generation and provide them with opportunities that no other school can provide. The opportunities I’ve had over the past year have been out of this world, but the opportunities future O Team members will have will be even better as we continue to develop our links with Microsoft and ‘the big world’.
There is a strong likelihood that thanks to being in the O Team and proving my worth to the right people that I will be able to get an IT apprentice at Wymondham High after my A levels in 2016 to gain even more real-world experience. From here, I intend to go onto Microsoft or another large tech company. For the past year my Dad has been saying ‘you’re going to end up working at Microsoft,’ and I hope he is right!
To conclude, this post is not only an insight into the past year of my life from a student IT perspective, but also a massive thank you to Kevin Sait and the others who have made all of this possible. It is just incredible to think that had I not attended that small meeting on that Wednesday evening, my life could have taken a completely different path. Had it not been for a couple of posters on a few doors in school, I wouldn’t have known about any of this. This just proves that the ‘best gifts always come in the smallest packages’.
My friend no longer goes to Wymondham High, but I still speak to her and see her regularly. If she knew exactly what I was doing and what the future holds for me, I’m sure she’d still say ‘you’re in your element’. And indeed I am.
Be sure to follow the Wymondham High O Team on Twitter for regular Wymondham High IT updates: @WyHighOTeam
The O Team also has a YouTube Channel with several Office 365 tutorial videos for students at Wymondham High Academy.
Be sure to follow me on Twitter so you can read all about my amazing life(!): @JasonBrown2K13
Also be sure to follow Kevin Sait’s Twitter for Microsoft Educational updates and updates on IT in the classroom at Wymondham High: @kevin_sait
Last updated: Friday November 28th 2014, 22:22 PM