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Kayas College chooses Surface to transform distance learning

Written By published May 1, 2017

On his first day as Director of Kayas Cultural College, Kyle Trumpour walked in met his entire student body, of 13 students. Eight hours north of Edmonton, Kayas College, is a First Nation college located in the remote area of Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta. A difficult socioeconomic climate, combined with a large geographic expanse and harsh weather, had made it challenging for people living there to access education. Furthermore, the dated method of communicating and teaching between the college’s three campuses was extremely difficult and inefficient for the students and the teachers. Each of them lacked the face-to-face interactions that are fundamental to a teacher/student relationship.

Eight hours north of Edmonton, Kayas College, is a First Nation college located in the remote area of Little Red River Cree Nation in northern Alberta.

Trumpour knew if the school was to thrive, and if lives were going to be changed, that he had to change the curriculum, and the tools used to reach the student body, from the ground up.

Soon after he arrived at Kayas, Trumpour and his staff began using Microsoft products starting with Surface devices and later incorporating Office 365 into their teaching, which radically changed their educational experience. Removing communication and technological barriers has led to increased student engagement, success and boosted enrollment. In this Winter semester, there were over 50 students enrolled at Kayas.

We sat down with Kyle to ask five questions about the drastic changes that have taken place at Kayas and how Microsoft’s products helped play an important role in the school’s transformation:

How long has Kayas been using Microsoft Surface and Office 365?

We have been on the Surface Pro bandwagon since the day one. We bought one Surface Pro 1 and one Surface Pro 2. At the time, we were beginning to roll out Office 365 and Skype for Business and we purchased units as a pilot project to determine how well they would work for marking student work electronically. Since then we have upgraded all our instructors and management staff to Surface Pro 4s.

What does Surface do for your staff that other devices can’t do?

What drew me to the initial Surface devices was that they could still serve a function similar to tablets, while running full 64-bit operating system. I hated the fact that I was limited with what software I had access to on an iPad or other basic tablets.

I wanted to move the school away from paper, faxing, and printing. At the time, the Surface devices carved out a unique competitive advantage over other devices, in that they came with a pen. At the time, we moved students from scanning to emailing all of their work, but we still needed to print the work off for marking. With the Surface, we envisioned never having to do that again.

Obviously, competitors for the Surface Pro devices have come out; however, nothing matches them entirely. Our Surface devices are versatile, functional, pack a punch and are extremely portable. They also work perfectly with Surface Hub.

We noticed how Surface devices are not only great tools but an amazing perk for our staff. When you think about how remote we are and the types of technologies our staff are being exposed to and getting to play with and use in very customized ways – it’s a great staff retention mechanism.

What benefits have you seen from Office 365?

The most significant is the ability to deploy all of this through a revamped and truly amazing Office 365 environment.

Office 365 has dramatically evolved in the 3-4 years since we initially adopted it, and it is now a complete solution for an education institution. SharePoint Online has evolved as well, with more of a focus on the online offering as opposed to the on premise deployment. We are moving towards a blended integration of a student intranet using SharePoint Online and Office 365.

Have I mentioned a complete lack of needing a full-time IT department to manage all of this for us? My goodness, that’s huge. My background is Biochem and business…I basically set up and administer Office 365. I did all the PowerShell scripting for the Surface Hubs. No on premise servers required. We plan to fully integrate our new laptop carts with Intune and Azure AD, to cloud-manage our domain devices. We have single sign-on for O365 accounts; no more personal Microsoft accounts.

What has your experience teaching with Surface Hub been like?

We had been using a SMART-brand smartboard connected to a Surface Pro and it served its purpose. However, we saw what the Surface Hub could do and we recognized how well they would integrate into our Office 365 environment. The key was their camera system. Being able to stand basically 180 degrees from the screen and still have the cameras pick you up was an obvious advantage to the Surface Hub that had dramatic distance learning classroom applications.

Because of our unique distance-learning situation – I need to teach students physically in front of me while two other (remote campus) locations are seeing me on a screen. When the cameras can continue to track the instructor perfectly as they write on the board, the students learning remotely really do feel like they are in the same room with the instructor. It is what allows the Surface Hub to create what I describe as “a seamless virtual classroom,” as opposed to basic distance learning where an instructor sits in front of a laptop.

You get the feel of the classroom, as the instructor moves around, goes back to the “board” and interacts with students both physically there and virtually there.

We love being able to “book” the Surface Hub or invite them to meetings using Office 365 and Skype for Business. We often have internet issues, which, in the past, required someone to re-invite one or all call participants. You can imagine how that affects our classroom setting. Now, if a call drops, a student can just walk up to the Hub and easily rejoin the call by pressing the big, obvious button on the screen. It was much more difficult before with our projector and laptop/Surface Pro set up. It is all a complete and holistic solution that has transformed Kayas and the experience of our students and teachers.

Is there a plan to share your success with other First Nation (FN) schools and communities?

I truly believe that our method is the model for adult continuing education in remote and First Nation communities, and I have the numbers to back that up.

The dropout rate over the past 30 years for FN K-12 students is staggering. Everyone loves to focus on improving K-12 funding and systems, and that’s great, but what about the former students that are now adults? They’ve been forgotten and have literally no effective ways of improving their situation. If you were to look at many of the teaching assistants at the K-12 schools, the payroll staff, or admin staff at LRRCN, the majority of them are former Kayas students.

I need to get the provincial government to see and recognize what we are doing, as well and the federal government, so that we can export our model to other communities. I would love to, one day, to be a part of something that takes this model and help to set it up in FN communities across northern Canada, and get industry and all levels of government on board.

Removing communication and technological barriers has led to increased student engagement, success and boosted enrollment.

At Surface, we are inspired every day to work with educators like Kyle and students like those at Kayas to enable them to achieve more on their life’s journeys. We have seen tremendous growth for Surface in classrooms of all ages and all sizes, helping to deliver real impact to classroom outcomes.

A recent IDC study shows student’s science scores were 25 to 36 percent higher when using pen and digital inking to draw out diagrams before solving a problem. In the same study, two-thirds of teachers said digital inking with Surface saves them time when preparing materials and grading homework.

Check out our case study on Kayas Cultural College to read more about its amazing digital transformation, and be sure to watch our education-focused live stream on May 2 at 9:30 a.m. EST to see what else Microsoft has in store for students and educators.