Process automation in education helps school during COVID-19

Using process automation, a school in Sydney helped keep classes going online by automating the daily roll call process. Organizations have increasingly turned to automation and AI during COVID-19.

When COVID-19 forced much of Sydney into lockdown in March, Trinity Grammar School, a private pre-K-12 school in the area, had to transition quickly to online learning.

Relying on communication tools such as Microsoft Teams, Skype and Zoom, as well as the learning management platform Canvas, the all-boy, Christian school took its lessons digital. To help monitor attendance, the school also turned to process automation in education tools from Nintex.

Trinity has worked with Nintex, a low-code/no-code process automation vendor based in Bellevue, Wash., for years.

Automating roll call

Together with Synergy, a Nintex partner in Australia, Trinity used Nintex for various process automation projects over the years, so it made sense to use the platform to automate roll call during the lockdown, said Paul Queeney, head of ICT at the school.

It's a "very, very simple" workflow, Queeney said.

Built with Nintex Workflow Cloud, the process automation in education tool automatically sent a notification to students at 8:25 a.m. each school day through the learning management platform Canvas. The notification prompted students to submit their login credentials to record attendance during a 30-minute window.

On Trinity's side, the submission simply filed into the school's existing Microsoft SQL database. Existing processes marked students who did not sign in within the time limit as absent, and the school sent an automated text message to the absent students' parents.

"It was something we could turn around very quickly," Queeney said, noting that Trinity built and deployed the workflow in less than 24 hours.

It was something we could turn around very quickly.
Paul QueeneyHead of ICT, Trinity Grammar School

As simple as it was, the workflow had limitations. The school did not have a process to continuously check if students were present. In theory, a student could have logged into the system during the initial 30-minute period, then turned off their computer. If they did that, however, they would miss out on one-on-one sessions with teachers, as well as the ability to ask them questions through video chat. They might also fall behind on their classwork.

That didn't appear to happen much, based on how well most students did academically during the lockdown, Queeney said. They consistently completed their work on time, he noted and seemed to benefit from the freer structure, so much so that the school, now holding in-person classes with precautions in place, will have certain "free learning" days.

"That approach for us really paid off. It really worked," Queeney said.

While Trinity is holding in-person classes, Queeney said the school isn't throwing out the automated roll call workflow. If another lockdown hits Sydney, he said, the school can easily bring it back.

Trinity's pivot to more automation isn't unique. Schools have moved toward more automated tools for years now, said Terry Simpson, technical evangelist at Nintex. COVID-19, he said, accelerated such digital transformations.

Nintex, Nintex Workflow Cloud
Trinity Grammar School used Nintex to automate roll call

More AI

Organizations, in general, have increased their use and adoption of AI and automation during COVID-19.

"A lot of companies now are putting a big bet on AI" because of COVID-19, said Wilson Pang, CTO at Appen, a crowdsourcing machine learning annotation vendor.

Appen recently released its annual state of AI and machine learning report for 2020. The report surveyed over 1,000 enterprise employees on the state of AI in their organizations.

The report found that 70% of surveyed businesses said COVID-19 would either have no impact on their AI strategies or will accelerate them, some even significantly. Still, 30% said COVID-19 would delay their AI projects, and cause some significant reporting delays.

AI investments will likely continue or even increase during this pandemic, Pang said, as AI and automation can help organizations continue to handle their workloads, even as they are forced to lay off employees or have them work reduced hours from home.

"The whole digital transformation is sped up" for a lot of companies, he added.

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