Cloud streamlines teaching and learning at St Joseph’s

Matthew Gausden took up the reins as director of ICT at St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace a mere 141 years after the school first opened its doors. Since it was founded the school has focused on producing generations of young men filled with knowledge, humility and wisdom.

In the 21st Century the tools available to achieve that are radically different than they were in 1875; Mr Gausden is charged with ensuring the school’s students, staff and broader community has access to technology that supports learning in all its shapes and forms.

That increasingly means having access to technology that is available anytime, anywhere, on any device. St Joseph’s does not believe learning should not be confined by a classroom’s four walls.

This has prompted a rethink of the school’s own technology infrastructure, and spurred a move to cloud computing that has primed the school for growth and agility, in a cost effective and efficient way.

Cloud transformation

Matthew knows his way around educational IT – he also knows that delivering value to the school does not necessarily come from running its own core infrastructure. “Microsoft do server rooms better than me – it’s cheaper to let them do that,” he says.

St Joseph’s have now migrated the work of 38 servers stored in half a dozen racks at the school across to Microsoft Azure. Now cloud based the school has the opportunity to scale computing power up and down through the year, coping with peak demand around report time economically, with no risk of overload.

The majority of the St Joseph’s server room is now empty and contains a rack with an uninterruptible power supply and communications gear, freeing the team for more impactful work. “Lot of schools have server rooms full of things – I’d prefer the team to be focused on productive change for the school rather than looking at graphs and fixing things,” he says.

Selected for its performance, resilience and integrated environment, Microsoft Azure provides the school’s computing foundations allowing St Joseph’s to exploit the array of Azure services for a streamlined technology experience for students, teachers and parents.

Fully BYOD, younger students in years 5-6 use a Microsoft Surface device – Matthew says the consistency afforded by a single device in these formative years provides the best technology grounding for younger students.

In terms of device selection he stresses functionality first, also cost, supportability, and the resilience of the device. “It has to be quality device, with Windows 10, at least 4GB Ram and pen and touch are highly recommended.”

By the time students enter years 7-12, they can choose any Windows device as long as it meets those critera, buying the computer through the school’s online portal, or independently. Students then onboard themselves to St Joseph’s computing environment using a single secure sign on through Azure. This provides them access to Office365 and a broad array of learning resources, as well as storage through SharePoint and OneDrive.

“That’s the default if you want to work with us – you have to use Azure single sign on,” says Matthew who strives for a completely seamless and secure user experience. This allows streamlined access to Office365, Moodle, PaperCut, eBooks, ClickView etc.

Streamlined interaction

Matthew is mindful that people are at school to learn and to teach, not to struggle with technology.

That approach extends to the communication and collaboration platforms available to the school community. “Teams is now automated, and linked to the student information system. That knows the students and where they are, it integrates directly into Teams, and a team is automatically created with the teacher as the leader.”

St Joseph’s has a pretty open approach to internet access and social media. Matthew explains; “We don’t do locking and blocking, unless it’s related to our duty of care.

“Kids have been distracted in class for 100 years – only then it was paper planes and spit balls. The issue is not that kids are distracted in class it’s that students aren’t engaged in their class,” he says.

Instead of blocking access Matthew leverages it for insights, providing a league table so that the College can manage student behavior. The granularity of that data allows staff to identify students who are not engaged in learning, and whose marks are heading south, giving the opportunity for early intervention.

Data insights

Given its academic reputation St Joseph’s is also making increasing use of data to identify students needing extra support with their studies, and also what learning strategies are delivering the best results so that insight can be shared among teachers.

We are in the process of moving the College’s data into Power BI to give us visual and easy to digest trends and timelines; which kids are going up, which kids are going down, and which kids are going nowhere. Compare the classes and see ‘oh you’re doing really well what are you doing?’ and copy that – it’s a work in progress.”

His vision is to; “Have a one-page view on a child.  In Power BI I can see marks for the entire time, attendance for a year, issues in the last year, how he matches to the cohort and the rest of the state on one screen. For a parent interview it’s really easy to show the whole story in one pane of glass.”

Besides supporting a ‘learning anywhere’ model, basing the school’s computing in the cloud provides enhanced access for teachers and the community.

Parents are able to log in to the school’s portal to pay fees, order uniforms, or access their son’s report.

The cloud also makes light work of report generation. While St Joseph’s outsources the analytics associated with report generation; “The amount of computing resources goes up astronomically – last time ramped from two to 20 servers in 15 minutes. Then down again. Purchasing 27 servers that would be idle for the majority of the year is not feasible – for situations like that Azure cloud infrastructure is the best option.”