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Great Southern Grammar harnesses technology, blurs country-city borders

The 750 students at Great Southern Grammar have an array of unique opportunities; they can study agriculture on the school’s 40-acre farm, or learn about marine science, they can Scuba dive or ride a horse – as well as access the full complement of traditional curriculum options.

The K-12 school which has around 135 boarders, prides itself on being “a country school with city opportunities.” Overcoming the tyranny of distance – the Albany based school is located around 400 km south of Perth, in Western Australia – requires committed teachers and clever technologies that combine to melt away the miles.

Kieran Bailey, is the Head of IT Services for Great Southern Grammar and a digital technologies teacher, who readily acknowledges that regional schools have their own unique challenges.

As a relatively new school – Great Southern Grammar turns 20 this year – technology has always played an important role at the school, but it has recently embarked on a digital transformation project standardising on the Microsoft Surface.

A one-to-one laptop school for years 6-12, Bailey has been steering the transformation which has equipped most students and all teachers with a Surface device, involved the roll out of Windows 10 and extensive use of Office 365 as a learning and administrative platform. Great Southern Grammar is also using Microsoft Teams for staff professional development, to co-ordinate professional learning teams, and Teams is now starting to percolate through to class activities for collaboration and homework co-ordination.

Skills impact

Bailey says that the transition away from tablets and toward the fully featured Surface with digital pen has delivered important benefits. “It has been really positive. There was a real noticeable shift. When we were when running iPads there was a lack of technical skills in students in being able to send email and manage files and write documents. They were lacking the basic skills we wanted them to have.

“As we rolled out the Surface we have seen big shift in their ability to use the technology and do more with the technology. Teachers were crying out for the kids to use a proper computer. Now they use the Surface, with stylus in learning areas such as art and technology, and learn to type properly.

“With all these fundamental skills there has been a shift in what we are able to offer to the students and what they can achieve with a Surface device,” says Bailey.  

“It’s equipping regional students with the future skills they will need to succeed in their adult lives.”

The school is a long-standing customer of Solutions IT and has implemented an initiative to become a Microsoft Surface School by 2020. “As part of our initiative there was a rigorous consultative process with Solutions IT to ensure the device met all our needs. We were able to access value-adds such as Solutions IT Learning Tools Training and they also secured funding from Microsoft to help with the implementation”, according to Bailey.

“We are particularly impressed with the support model around warranty. Having that managed by Solutions IT has ensured quick turnaround times which means that devices are back in the hands of our students swiftly.

“We regularly meet to discuss the evolving needs of the school, to gain updates to devices and the ed-tech landscape. I have definitely found the relationship to be positive for one for GSG and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to another school”.

Boundary breaker

Certainly the school’s approach to technology is expanding the horizons of the school and its students.

During his Digital Technology lessons Bailey uses MakeCode, developing students’ coding skills and ability to create micro:bits robots. He is also one of the global mentors for the Minecraft Education Edition which is used across the school with recent success in English and Maths enrichment programs. Minecraft Education Edition has allowed Great Southern Grammar to deliver the curriculum for students in these programs in engaging and interesting ways.

Bailey has also overseen the installation of a Surface Hub with Skype for Business in the school’s meeting space that can be used for web conferencing. “We use that to conference in guest presenters, parents and other people we may need to consult about students or programs we are running. We also connected up to Curtin University talking about their Clever Climate initiative,” he says.

The technology isn’t just preparing country students for city opportunities – it’s bringing the city right into the country.

“My role is to manage the deployment and use of technology in the school, to make sure it is working. We are providing innovative experiences, and that encompasses what we provide to parents as well as students.

“We have a SharePoint portal that students, parents and teachers can access to get school information and academic updates,” says Bailey.

To streamline his administrative role, Bailey’s team has deployed Microsoft System Centre configuration Manager and is currently planning a move to InTune to help with mobile device management of Surface devices. Also on the drawing board for the future, plans to move the school’s servers into Azure.

The School’s IT team is also exploring how it can leverage Power BI and data analytics, making more use of data to track things like enrolments and student performance.

That brings its own challenges Bailey acknowledges: “There is such a push to have access to everything online. The reality is that we are a small IT team in an independent school; we need to think how best to secure data and yet give students and parents access.

“So we make sure we are running the latest version of software products. We have engaged recently with a security expert to do a penetration test of the network, and ran a social engineering task on teachers to see how resistant they were to phishing emails, then we ran a campaign around that to show them importance of data and their role in that.”

Bailey has also developed a data breach policy and made staff aware of that and what to do if a breach takes place.

Ultimately though he sees the most important work being around “developing those future learning skills and skills that our kids are going to need in the coming years and beyond.”

Connect with Kieran on Twitter 

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Great Southern Grammar harnesses technology, blurs country-city borders


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