Friday 20 August 2021

A New Era

A snapshot of the first week of the HSC Trial Examinations, conducted at home this week

On Monday 16th August, a new era dawned at Riverview. For the first time in its colourful and distinguished history, the most robust online assessment program – one that was developed in only a handful of days – was released into Canvas, the Learning Management System (LMS). Within minutes, all of this information flowed directly into student computers, across Sydney and greater New South Wales.

Fifteen minutes prior to the start of the first assessment, 239 students across 14 classes – the 3rd largest HSC cohort in NSW – were admitted to the Virtual Waiting Room to be led through the preliminaries. The release of the pin codes at the designated time saw students online instantly. 100% of the student enrolment, even those in remote regions of NSW who have been battling brittle Wi-Fi, had access to these important assessments that are a vital precursor to the HSC in mid-October.

This was an exercise that involved extraordinary logistics: it began an assessment program that will see over 1,200 individual candidate scripts across 45 subjects, involving 90 teaching staff in virtual supervision rooms with dozens of volunteers managing Special Provisions in assessment. Synchronised time allocations for responses to the breadth of course content, skills and processes has enabled the efficacy of the exercise to be conducted seamlessly. The use of scanning apps to retrieve papers in real time to the LMS is integral to the success of the exercise. In certain instances, locked browsers are strategically used to monitor the surveillance of networks and the integrity of the assessment environment. This was a remarkable feat: one that could not have been considered even weeks ago. It wasn’t considered because it had never had to be, but in these days of rapid change the capacity to be agile and pivot when needs present is paramount. The HSC Trials are the means by which the most rigorous and robust preparation for public examinations can be made, and for the better part of a century, both of these have been conducted in a physical setting.

But, with the lockdown that Greater Sydney incurred in late June, the last six weeks have required enormous adaptability, dexterity and creativity. This does not just happen. The Deputy Principal, Mr Russell Newman, and the Dean of Studies, Mr Lloyd Walker, have worked assiduously with the Chief Information Officer, Mr Brett Houghton and his team, to develop this capacity at break-neck speed. Among other things, that included the creation and integration of API scripts to monitor Canvas logs and interrogate trend identification data to ensure the integrity of the process.

The IT Team has been supported by Heads of Faculty who have given oversight to modified assessment frameworks all within one calendar week, and by Subject and Supervising Teachers who have responded to this situation with great commitment and professionalism. My deepest thanks are extended to all.

Just one of the many technicalities of the Online Assessment Program is the need to ensure that Disability Provisions can also apply for those who have identified learning needs. In and of itself, that is a massive task but an important one as it responds to the principle of inclusion and equity. Many volunteers prepared for their role in the final days of Week 5 by attending a number of Zoom meetings to ensure that each respective provision was delivered effectively through the online environment.The division of students into virtual singular or group settings related to the nature of the provisions saw the candidature split across two different English papers on Day 1, further testing the versatility and strength of the platform and the human resources that complemented it. Special thanks are extended to Mr Dom Wilkinson, Ms Gabby Nicholson, Ms Kim Prodinger and the small army of volunteers who attended to their role magnificently.

Despite its considerable impost on our personal and professional lives, COVID has taught us the importance of expanding horizons through innovation and creativity. The institution of education continues to respond to a constantly changing landscape, one that will require us to move with the concomitant unpredictability of this pathogen and its impact. Because of the success of the online assessment program, the Year 11 End of Semester Assessments will also be conducted online via the digital platform in the final weeks of the term. Parents and students have been invited to information sessions via webinars beginning this evening so they can become familiar with a system which is entirely novel and still developing.

Sadly, Afghanistan is confronting a new era of its very troubled and turbulent history. While at Riverview we rejoice at the achievements across a remarkable week, many I am sure would be recalling those distressing images of desperate refugees clinging to an American aircraft during take-off at Kabul airport. This is one of the more disturbing scenes of our time, one which puts our personal challenges into perspective. Life in Sydney is not easy by relative standards, but it is a dream that many Afghan nationals could only hope for. Let us take comfort in and be grateful for what we have, rather than what we have not. And, let us keep in our prayers those who are suffering such hardship and adversity in our community and our world.

Dr Paul Hine