Avondale College students head to Microsoft champs

Issue: Volume 95, Number 14

Posted: 8 August 2016
Reference #: 1H9d3N

A group of young Kiwis will fly to the United States next month to compete against the very best Microsoft brains from throughout the world.

Three students from Auckland’s Avondale College have won the opportunity to attend the 2016 Microsoft Office Specialist World Championships in Orlando, Florida.

The global competition will see students from more than 130 countries test their skills on a number of Microsoft Office programmes.

The group from Avondale College won places to attend the world championships after they topped the New Zealand national competition.

Paul McClean, director of Avondale College’s Innovation Programme, says this is the third time the school has sent representatives to the competition.

“This is the third year in a row that all of the New Zealand competitors are from Avondale College,” he says. “Two of the students are competing in the worlds for the second year running, and one student, for his third year running.”

Last year’s world championships in Dallas saw students from Avondale College win top world places by solving problems using Microsoft Office applications.

“This is particularly impressive because the global competition is usually dominated by universities and tertiary training organisations who live and breathe the Microsoft courses,” Paul says. “The students from Avondale, however, have never sat the course.”

Instead they are involved in the school’s Innovation Programme, which sees them gain industry recognised ICT qualifications while working on real-world learning projects.

“The Microsoft competition is just something that happens along the way.”

Inside the Avondale College Innovation Programme


The only noise in the classroom of 25 students comes from the tapping of keyboards, the clicking of computer mice, or the buzz of a new notification on the teacher’s mobile phone.

The teacher, Paul McClean, is the Director of the Avondale College Innovation Programme. He appears unfazed as he talks about teaching students in three classrooms throughout the school – simultaneously.

With the support of two industry practitioners and the innovative use of modern technology, Paul manages the students’ projects via software and sometimes on his cell phone. Each new notification signals that a project objective has been completed or teacher support is needed.

The students in the programme all work on different ICT projects and earn real-world qualifications. Many of the students spend their early mornings, Saturdays and even holidays at school, working on their projects.

Avondale College principal Brent Lewis says the Innovation Programme started off as a pilot in 2013, offering 23 students a new way of learning. Three years later there are more than 800 industry qualifications that have been gained by 387 students, including credentials across Adobe, Hewlett Packard, Autodesk, Microsoft and many other programmes.

“We believe that the economy is going through a disruptive phase when it comes to technology,” Brent says. “In order for all of our students to be participants in the new digital world they need both the thinking characteristics and proficiency with the tools to participate."

“We also want to be a little bit different and sit outside of what other people are doing.”

All of the students in the programme are on individual learning programmes. Paul keeps track of the students using integrated real time teaching performance, student-engagement and assessment tools – which he has developed himself.

The Innovation Programme has transformed the entire traditional model of teaching and learning. There are no tests, no lengthy exams, no lesson or unit plans.

Paul says he wants to make learning engaging and fun.

“Everything the students do is based on systems, design and critical thinking, which emboldens real project work as well as student-centred education.”

Paul says the students’ projects are built upon bringing objectivity to NCEA achievement standards, so students can see how they earn credits with industry qualifications. This transforms engagement as they complete objectives for real industrial endeavours or outputs.

One student in the programme created a restaurant management application that ‘went viral’ on Chinese social media and has reached an audience of more than 700 million people. He is now part of Avondale’s internship programme, and is qualified as a Microsoft Technology Associate and Autodesk Certified User.

Paul says the programme is about developing talented, savvy, smart and strategic thinkers.

“The programme is designed to develop students who make a positive contribution to New Zealand sectors and also the technology market.”

Many of the students on the programme have plans to gain tertiary qualifications in digital technology when they finish high school. Others, Paul says, will go straight into the workforce as he is approached directly by employers who are seeking talented young people.

The flexibility of The New Zealand Curriculum allows schools to design their own learning programmes that best meet the needs of their local communities. The Innovation Programme is a good example of this in action.

Unusually for somebody that spends their days supporting young people to explore the world of modern technology, Paul says he cannot stand computers.

“It’s not about the technology,” he says. “A lot of people make the fundamental mistake of thinking we’re in a new digital era. It isn’t a digital era, it’s an ideas era. It’s about the people and how they think.”

New Zealand at the forefront

Digital technologies have revolutionised how we live and work, and are increasingly influencing almost every facet of our lives.

It was recently announced that digital technologies will be recognised as a part of the Technology learning area in The New Zealand Curriculum.

For Te Marautanga o Aotearoa, digital technologies will be recognised as a whenu within the Hangarau Wāhanga Ako – as well as being integrated across all Wāhanga Ako of Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

From 2018, schools, kura and Communities of Learning will be supported to include the teaching of digital technologies in their programmes from year 1–13. More information on this change will be released in due course.

Further information

Hear about the projects that Patricia, Aden and Di kun have been working on in the Avondale College Innovation Programme(external link)

Digital technologies are set to become part of The New Zealand Curriculum and Te Marautanga o Aotearoa.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero, reporter@edgazette.govt.nz

Posted: 7:41 PM, 8 August 2016

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