Highbury College

College Develops Student-Centred IT

  • “The applied pedagogical use of technology is a real differentiator for us”

    Paul Rolfe
    Head of Technology & Innovation

Today, Highbury College is one of the top performing further education colleges in England.  It has been a Top Ten college for the last five years.  Recognised by Ofsted (the UK’s independent Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) as Outstanding in all categories, Highbury was judged as mediocre just a few years ago.  Head of Technology and Innovation Paul Rolfe joined the college as part of a new management team, seven years ago. 

“The management team was tasked to make the college outstanding,” says Rolfe.  “In order to do that, everything had to support student outcomes.”  Initially, the college used a traditional PC-based infrastructure but, as technology evolved, Rolfe began to develop his model of more student-centred IT.  Highbury College has around 600 staff and over 10,000 students, 4,000 of those full-time.

The challenge: delivering cost-effective innovation

Under-utilisation of expensive software assets is a common problem for educational establishments.  Sometimes software is installed in classrooms but not needed by every class using the room, making it unavailable to others.  Scheduling requirements or maintenance needs can mean that classrooms are unused for a time and, of course, the entire campus is usually locked up over evenings and weekends.  Rolfe realised that students frequently want access to software when it is idle but inaccessible. 

“We also wanted Highbury’s IT to be as innovative as possible, to support new delivery models for learning and, ultimately, to enable all our students to succeed.  At the same time, we need to be cost-effective and to get the greatest possible return from our IT investments,” explains Rolfe.

The solution: “the applied pedagogical use of technology”

Rolfe wanted to give learners access to applications without physical constraints.  Working with IT partner Vcentral, he evaluated a number of technologies before selecting a Citrix® solution.  “Citrix was very attractive to us.  The college felt that in terms of general direction and approach, Citrix solutions aligned well with our aspirations,” states Rolfe.  Together, Vcentral and Highbury developed a Windows-as-a-Service cloud solution using Citrix XenDesktop®, Citrix XenApp®, Citrix XenServer® and Citrix NetScaler®.  Students and staff have access to a virtual desktop and applications from any device, at any time.  Initially, the college repurposed their aging PCs to run the solution.  As budget allows, these are being replaced by low power thin client devices. 

Highbury has just completed an initial 200 seat pilot project within the college and has used the solution to offer support to a neighbouring primary school.

Key benefit: cost-effective, student-centred IT

“Detaching applications from desktops has enabled us to spend a lot less money on the back-end,” says Rolfe.  “It means that our software licensing is based on real usage rather than spare capacity.  Students can access applications wherever they are, whenever they want: a different classroom, the college library or from home.” 

Highbury’s cloud solution also makes learning device-independent.  Students increasingly prefer to use their own equipment and the Citrix solution easily supports a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) policy.

Together, BYOD and remote access to expensive software has transformed students’ learning experience, freeing them to learn in their own style, at their own pace and in their own place.  This has given Highbury an unanticipated advantage in attracting students who value the advantages of Highbury’s flexible approach.

Key benefit: supporting education across the community

Highbury also uses its infrastructure and economies of scale to support other schools in the community.  It provides a virtual desktop to neighbouring Highbury Primary School, enabling the school to use its aging PCs but still enjoy the benefits of transformational IT.  In the course of nine months, partly through the support of Highbury College, the primary school has improved its Ofsted ranking from “failing” to “Good”.

The college is currently in discussions to expand this service to other institutions in the community.

Looking ahead

Rolfe intends to complete roll-out of the Windows-as-a-Service solution across the six-site, 1,700 desktop campus by June 2014.  At the leading edge of changes in education, the college is looking to expand further by offering remote access to software as part of an online, distance-learning programme.  In all areas, Highbury College is using technology to support and to drive innovation in learning.  This is not technology for technology’s sake but IT investment targeted to support student outcomes.

“The applied pedagogical use of technology,” says Rolfe, “is a real differentiator for us.”