St Brendan’s College transforms learning landscape, boosts cyber security

St Brendan’s College had three targets in its sights when it embarked on its digital modernisation mission; it wanted to update the learning platform, boost security, and streamline its processes.

Tick, tick, tick.

Based in Yeppoon, Queensland, St Brendan’s teaches boys in years 7-12. It operates a one-to-one device program for students, and recently introduced Microsoft Surface devices for teachers and administrative personnel.

Simon Keen, IT Manager, explains that the College had over the years deployed a number of different systems and technologies – many of which were standalone and didn’t communicate with the other systems. This not only created silos of information across the school, it also posed a security risk.

Deputy Principal, Paul Horan explains that St Brendan’s mapped out its vision to create a fresh, digitally enabled future with standardised platforms and streamlined processes – and e-learning playing a key role in every lesson.

St Brendan’s has deployed Microsoft Teams as a form of digital backbone for the school. Instead of teachers having to juggle content from Google Docs, email and the learning management system – it’s now all accessible through Teams.

Besides deploying Office 365, Teams and SharePoint, the College has worked with Microsoft partner, MOQdigital, to deploy Azure Active Directory, Intune, Azure Advanced Threat Protection and Defender which is helping to improve security across the school community regardless of whether boys are accessing systems from the classroom, the boarding dormitories, or from home.

According to Keen; “Microsoft seemed to have a complete vision and especially in the security space,” noting that the school has increased its security score from “a really low number to 50 per cent plus.”

St Brendan’s continues to beef up security and has started to deploy Azure Sentinel which provides clarity – essentially a single pane of glass, says Keen – about security across the entire user community. Sentinel also identifies which issues need to be prioritised and helps automate many responses, ensuring things don’t slip through the cracks.

Last month 2.5 million items went through Sentinel. We collect that and take action. We can let the community know – this is how we have increased our security posture so when your son does come to school they are safe.

He adds; “Students are very inquisitive and they are always going to try and test the system – previously we had no easy way of identifying where these issues came from. It could take us days down the track to identify it and we could be offline for an extended period of time. That was a really big problem,” especially as the school is keen to expand the use of technology in the classroom and ensure that boys can access Teams and learning content during and after school hours.

Horan stresses that Teams plays a critical role in the school. Although St Brendan’s still has its learning management system, it’s used only to record assessment tasks.

Everything else is done by teachers in Teams – distributing learning material, chats, providing feedback to kids about class content and learning materials. 

“Kids have the resources available 24 hours a day – so if they miss the materials from a classroom activity it’s generally provided in Teams to access at home – and if the boys don’t understand something they can chat to their teacher to provide more assistance,” says Horan.

Teams has helped streamline processes for teachers, and created an almost self-sustaining learning framework, says Horan. “If a teacher is away the boys are pretty much self-sustaining, they know where the work’s going to be, the supply teacher knows where the work’s going to be – it’s working really well.”

Brett Auton, education lead at MOQdigital says; “The whole move to remote learning has changed the way schools, parents, and kids interact.

As we transition to more of these online worlds, there is a higher expectation from parents that the world in which kids operate are going to be safe.

“For us it’s about trying to make sure there is confidence – that means the sort of things that need to be actioned are actioned quickly – but we do it in an educative way not just a punitive matter. It might be by accident – we don’t want to kill a student’s interest that may be better channelled.”

Cameron Reeves, solutions architect, cyber security at MOQdigital adds; “The primary challenge is that students and the education sector in general continue to push boundaries – when comes to accessibility of information.”

We want to make sure we are not curbing that natural enthusiasm for finding information but put some controls in there about where the students are going to ensure that there are boundaries in place and visibility.

With more robust, secure digital foundations St Brendan’s is now looking to the next phase of its modernisation, making better use of the data that it collects in order to maximise learning outcomes.

Horan explains; “We had data coming out of our LMS but it wasn’t providing us with the information we needed. At the beginning of 2020 with MOQdigital we created a Power BI platform to analyse student results.”

“Now we have set aside more funding for development of platform – rejigging data displays for ease of use. Some data is NAPLAN performance data – we match that against internal performance to see if the boys are working above or below capabilities.” A colour coded system shows teachers how boys are progressing and also shows attendance at a glance.

It’s yet further evidence of the digitally driven future for modern, high impact education.