Friday 1 September 2017

Looking Ahead

As this statement is being written, I am seated on an early morning flight out of Sydney bound for Brisbane. Looking out of the window of the aircraft, I am reminded of the sun-filled beauty of the Australian coastline from this vantage point, the better part of 10,000 metres above sea level. In the seat across the row is the Deputy of Teaching and Learning, Russell Newman, and we are on a fact finding mission to Brisbane Grammar to cross reference data management and analytic tools that are being utilised to determine educational efficacy through measuring student achievement and well-being.

Such technology is recent in the educational landscape and administrators at the College have been positioning themselves to be at the forefront of this initiative over the last two years. Early in 2016, a small delegation from Riverview visited Anglican Church Grammar School, one of the premier grammar schools in the nation, and compared and contrasted software systems and metrics that are being used respectively, not only to quantify student learning and well-being outcomes, but to measure the value add that is being registered in the delivery of the educational program. At its simplest, it is the use of visibility software such as Tableau and Power Bi to profile student learning metrics; in a more complex form, it is determining indices such as z scores (measured by student performance against cohort standard deviation) to best measure and interrogate student learning and well-being profiles. If the College is to maintain its place at the forefront of Catholic and Jesuit education across Australia, it needs to be at the cutting edge of new technologies, to be responsive to them and to embrace new fields that enable it to assess and critique its current success as well as its shortfalls. But equal to that, the College needs to be able to move into a future that will open new frontiers of understanding in a complex and changing educational environment.

Images: An external and internal view of the Therry Building

Stage 1 of the Ignis Project continues to progress, as attested to by the structural steel which now caps the third floor of the Therry Learning Centre, imposing a haunting spectre against the skyline. With the concrete formwork complete, the building program surges ahead. Next week the first of the roof sheeting will be applied and the outer walls will start to appear as services to the building are cut in over the coming months. As the Therry Learning Centre will be saturated with new and robust installations of wifi, many of the technologies that are forming the current basis of research will be progressively applied. This will simulate an ‘Internet of Things’, which will allow many new functionalities into the building to measure and track room usage, movement, data access, internet use and portal functionality, as well as yet to be developed operations that will be loaded onto the infrastructure spines that have been incorporated into the building. New and innovative use of software systems, which are being developed both at Riverview and in Jesuit schools in the United States, form part of the suite of contemporary initiatives that are designed to ensure that the boys, their learning and their well-being reside squarely at the forefront of education. Like many institutions, education is moving at breakneck speed and those entrusted with the responsibility of the future – I for one – take it very seriously.

The first iteration of the SELT program went live last week and over the coming fortnight, boys in core subjects such as English, Mathematics and Science across the secondary school will complete the survey questionnaire. A preliminary look at the data indicates that over 900 boys have already taken the opportunity to provide feedback to subject teachers about different elements of their classroom experience including the level of engagement, teacher support and assessment. This information will be fed back to teachers and Heads of Faculty to provide insights into the perceptions of classroom environments and how these can be modified to optimise learning outcomes. Predicated upon research that leads to school improvement, the SELT program will be the object of ongoing assessment for the benefits that are identified and measured longitudinally over time.

Left: Staff and students in 1882; Right: Francis Souter with Milliam Walsh, John Armitt, Joseph Fleming

Over the weekend, boarding staff from Riverview visited Newcastle to spend time with future, current and past parents, as well as the Old Boys who have been coming from this region of New South Wales for over 100 years. The first boys to attend from Maitland, Robert Hyndes and Francis Souter, arrived in 1880 and joined the first class of boarders, which numbered 26. Modest by current day standards, boys have been coming from the region ever since, strengthening a relationship that spans time and place, And, some of the stories that have etched their way into the voluminous archives of the College make interesting reading. Francis Souter, for example, graduated in 1882 before being accepted to study Medicine in Aberdeen in Scotland, returning to Australia after graduating and setting up practice in Sydney. Like many, he enlisted in the Great War as a medical officer but after contracting tetanus, died prematurely in Europe in 1916. One of his contemporaries, Thomas O’Sullivan, was Riverview’s first global citizen. The O’Sullivan family left Ireland in the aftermath of the famine and Thomas was born at sea off the coast of South Africa en route to Australia. He was baptised when the boat docked in Hong Kong before the family alighted the vessel in Sydney and then settled in the Maitland area. Subsequent to graduating from Riverview in the mid 1880s, Thomas studied Law and became a successful solicitor in Sydney until his death in 1946. These were the foundational years, when the College was forging its place as one of the most respected providers of Catholic and Jesuit education in Australia.

As much as we embrace new technologies associated with data measurement, SELT and the like, we need to be mindful of an extraordinary history that provides such enormous opportunity for the boys and their families today. As part of that, to offer a statement of gratitude for the vision of the founding fathers and the endowment that has been left for current and future generations.

And, while acknowledging fathers, best wishes to all of our fathers and grandfathers for Sunday.

Dr Paul Hine