The experiences of education systems adapting to remote learning during the pandemic while thinking through solutions to ongoing social and administrative challenges have given engaged observers much to listen to.
Policy leaders are unpacking the sweeping disruptions of COVID-19, which saw many teachers in Australia deliver virtual lessons and strive to get the best out of students online. At the same time, education leaders at federal, state and territory level are seeking data driven insight and direction to drive improvements to education, training and employment outcomes, and to lift the performance of all aspects of our critical education system.
Lifelong learning and uplifting student literacy and numeracy skills remain primary goals for educators, while post-lockdown demands for student mental health and wellbeing are the focus of programs helping to build resilience.
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is collaborating with education institutions across Australia to understand how they can be a part of supporting educational leaders on their path to identifying the best solutions in different educational contexts.
AWS will bring together educational leaders from across a number of jurisdictions to share insights, lessons learned and ideas at an upcoming roundtable in Melbourne, Victoria.
As AWS K-12 School Industry Lead Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, Sally Webster, says: “It takes a village to raise a child.”
“If we can play a part in bringing multiple villages together to tackle the most pressing problems, resulting in a positive outcome for students and teachers across Australia, then we will have achieved our goal,” Webster says.
New visions for the classroom
Webster says the roundtable comes at a time when educators also want to imagine what the classroom of the future will look like. “When we think about innovating around education, we think about the entire ecosystem that sits around a student. It’s their parents, their teachers, their school friends.”
“What might appear as unsolvable problems in the ecosystem can actually be fantastic opportunities to unlock the student’s best learning potential and create a classroom that serves the student’s needs.”
Education departments and schools can access vast reservoirs of data, and Webster says what is needed is to visualise this information and make timely and informed decisions, based on greater insights for each individual student.
“For a teacher in a classroom, you can use that information to your advantage to help personalize learning for your students,” Webster says. “If you’re a principal, it can help you pull levers that, for example, ensure you have the right layers of support in and out of the classroom for each of your students.”
New ways to support mental health and wellbeing
Young people’s mental health and preparation for the workforce – issues brought into focus during the pandemic – will be front of mind at the roundtable.
Software company Saasyan, whose technology is built on AWS, signed a contract with Telstra and the South Australian government in 2020 to monitor school networks for cyberbullying, self-harm, risks of suicide, and threats of violence.
The company’s chief executive, Sidney Minassian, says their solution gives educators vision into online blind spots and helps schools fulfil a duty of care to protect student wellbeing.
“We start with classroom controls, engagement and teacher visibility, and use technology to see a digital problem rather than using an analogue method,” Minassian says.
Across hundreds of schools – also including a number of religious and independent institutions – the software analyses 100,000 online messages and internet logs each second.
Saasyan’s solution has already flagged students at-risk of suicide, communicating with suspicious parties, and engaging in cyberbullying, triggering a report that prompts teachers and counsellors to step in.
On the question of privacy, Minassian says the software only monitors data that already exists on the school network, helping educators supervise students as they do on school grounds.
“If bullying was in the schoolyard, parents and carers would expect this,” he says. “Online, students are going to go home with it and it’s going to carry on.”
The intuitive software makes distinctions between alarming online activity and a student’s internet searches being a one-off curiosity or for a class assignment.
“Sometimes the problem is the other way around; schools come in and there’s this hard lockdown on everything and it actually gets in the way of the learning outcome,” Minassian says.
In the classroom, teachers use the software to limit students to only visiting websites needed for lessons, or to make adjustments to blocked material.
AWS’s Sally Webster says unblocking websites for lessons can take days in some education systems, but with this type of software, teachers can maintain student engagement on the topic at hand.
“You don’t want to lose that passion that has just been ignited in a student who now wants to learn something new, all because the website is blocked,” she says. “With this solution, teachers can maintain students’ engagement and build their love of learning without losing their attention.”
Profiles that give a 360-degree view of students’ performance
Policymakers are also shifting Australian education systems towards digital learner profiles. The profiles are a holistic record across the years of a student’s achievements and education, enabling them to make informed decisions based on their personal learning style and interests.
“Australia is joining a small, but growing number of countries that have just started on this journey in the last 12 months. It’s a really cutting-edge place to be in,” Webster says.
The digital learner profile, already in early stages in NSW, will give employers and tertiary institutions a 360-degree representation of a student’s performance skills and capabilities which cannot be conveyed through examination results alone.
AWS’s upcoming roundtable will also consider how policymakers and cloud technology providers can enable students to make informed decisions about career paths earlier, and this will help employers identify suitable candidates with the right skills and capability levels.
Additionally, learner profiles will help students review their skills and capability levels gained at the end of their schooling to identify their next steps.
“Students can look at what skills and capabilities they’re learning through both their academic, extracurricular or work-experience activities and identify areas of focus to support them achieving their career goals,” Webster says.
“Likewise, it helps teachers and career counsellors engage and help those students who don’t know what they want to do when they finish school.”
Trends during the pandemic show the usefulness such a solution like the digital learner profiles may have in the future, including a shift in how some tertiary institutions offer places, along with a rise in micro-credentials, and employers looking to understand skill gaps and how students can leverage this for their employability.
Listening to a conversation about the future
Webster cautions not to discard lessons learned during remote learning as educational leaders gained new insights outside of the bricks and mortar of the classroom and engaged different student cohorts.
“We want to and are committed to help the educators who are in the classroom and working with students every day to find cloud tools that open new ways of addressing challenges,” she says.
“By being part of that conversation while listening and understanding we can potentially help address challenges in the student experience and personalized learning space, reducing administrative burden to give back more time to teachers and school leaders to spend with students.”
For Webster, the future is already becoming clearer thanks to technology that supports a wider goal to personalise student learning.
“A typical day in the classroom in the future is still about the student fundamentally,” she says. “Cloud technology can enable and support teachers by taking weight off the administrative workload burden and giving back time to focus on all students being successful, lifelong learners.”
To explore the transformation of the Australian education system The Mandarin, in partnership with AWS Education, are hosting an executive roundtable in Melbourne on March 22. Designed for education leaders and industry experts, the forum will focus on the current state, challenges, and opportunities in K-12 education. Click here to learn more about and register your interest to participate in the event >