Brisbane South State Secondary College reinvents education for Generation Alpha

Students and teacher

Generation Alpha – children born from the early 2010s – have never known a world without smartphones and social media.

They herald the future.

Brisbane South State Secondary College is one of Australia’s newest vertical schools and it’s reinventing education with Generation Alpha’s needs front and center.

In collaboration with The University of Queensland (UQ), and with support from an array of research facilities and institutions, the College aims to set a new standard in school education by working with young people to instil a passion for lifelong learning. It also wants to streamline the transition from school to tertiary education and beyond – so that when students enter the modern, hybrid and increasingly fluid workplace they are fully equipped with knowledge and skills they will need to thrive.

The first intake of Year 7 students arrived at the College at the start of 2021. Eventually it will house more than 1,600 young people.

With a focus on science, technology, engineering, mathematics, medicine, the arts and research, the College is based in Brisbane’s Knowledge Corridor and has walkway access to UQ. School students will be able to visit UQ facilities and laboratories to enrich their understanding – already the College’s 12-year-old students are preparing to extract DNA in UQ labs and literally bring to life what they have learned at school.

Tamara Sullivan, deputy principal and a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert, says that there are three key pillars on which the college is founded – challenging convention, collaborating with the best, and thinking globally but acting locally. The College’s multidisciplinary hubs and digitally infused learning approach guard against the sort of subject silos that traditionally exist in secondary schools, she adds.

Sullivan notes that the College took a leaf from Microsoft’s Transforming Education resources to facilitate; “Learning anywhere and anytime, happening not just in the classroom but outside the classroom and developing these essential skills for employability.”

It also bore in mind Monash University research investigating which technologies had maximum pedagogical impact.

Sullivan says;

The research clearly shows us that when students are using the wrong interface – such as just a keyboard and a screen – it can significantly reduce their cognitive ability.

Instead the College has deployed OneNote notebooks allowing students to interact with digital content – but also to write, draw diagrams, annotate and bring in additional modalities such as audio, video and images to enrich the learning experience and also support flipped and hybrid learning.

The BYOD program calls for each student to have a Windows device with a digital stylus, like the Surface Go. Microsoft Teams is then accessed from the devices to provide access to files, to OneNote, to the chat feature for informal collaboration as well as a range of productivity tools – for example integrating to calendars or making calls. All assignments are uploaded to Teams allowing portfolios of work to be created ensuring that students are both knowledge consumers and knowledge producers. Teachers meanwhile use their devices to share content, leveraging OneNote, with any annotations immediately synced to students’ devices.

This, says Sullivan, delivers a “dynamic learning experience platform”, fosters a rich change culture and promotes a hybrid learning environment where students can work in the physical environment or remotely online.

As she notes; “We are not teaching for our past. We have our students at the forefront of everything we do. We are creating the new standard in education.”