Ormiston College embraces digital age with a fearless mindset

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“Students are fearless,” observes Brett Webster, Headmaster of Ormiston College in Queensland. This simple and direct observation cuts to the heart of how K-12 students across Australia are approaching technology in the classroom.

There are countless stories of how education is transforming and how students are not just rising to the challenge but aspiring for it to move at a faster pace. At Ormiston College, that pace is stepping up. From the cutting edge, with Microsoft HoloLens enabling year 8 students to study the body’s organs in a mixed reality environment followed by a unit on organ donation. To the spatial, with Maths students exploring the axis of symmetry and shapes in Minecraft for Education. And the immersive, with English students exploring ancient virtual worlds.

Brett’s perspective on the potential of technology in education, makes it clear that he takes a page out of his students’ book and is embracing the digital age with a fearless mindset. Brett is preparing himself and Ormiston College’s leadership team and teachers for the next great adventure in education. And like any great expedition, he is considering what is essential to explore new frontiers. The preparation to be ready for the inevitable obstacles, the curiosity to understand the unfamiliar, and the passion to ask: “what’s possible?”.

So, if students are fearless when it comes to technology, are education leaders like Brett essential? Absolutely. It is imperative that the debate on the long bow of education strategy in Australia considers how to keep pace with our students. Not how to keep pace with technology. This is at the heart of how Microsoft considers digital transformation at its most impactful – people first and technology second.

And while Ormiston College is an example of a leader in technology in the classroom, every school can experience the potential of AI and machine learning via the unassuming entry of online assessment into many schools.

Dynamic and adaptive learning is central to the power of online assessment. As students submit answers, online assessment systems can modulate subsequent questions according to their ability level. This works to challenge students appropriately and build confidence. It also enhances measurement precision as students are more accurately tested on what they know.

Today, teachers benefit from fast turnaround on results, a reduction in marking time and speed in which feedback can be delivered to students and parents. Importantly, time savings can be redirected into teaching individuals and groups across “need” areas identified by insights and comparative data.

Accessibility takes an easy step up for the benefit of teachers and students. For teachers, in-built accessibility features create confidence that students are not distinctly disadvantaged in a testing situation. For students, features like voice-to-text, and text-to-voice, screen view control in areas like font size, all help to personalise the experience to their learning needs.

As we look to the future potential of online assessment, it is best characterised within the context of the drive to create a continuous growth and learning arc for students. From Gonski 2.0 to the National School Reform Agreement that commenced from 1 January 2019, the way assessment transforms is critical to the realisation of any new education strategy in Australia.

Reassuringly, online assessment can hurdle a firm barrier that comes up time and again in the debate on the practicalities of a continuous individual learning experience for students. Travis Smith, K-12 Industry Lead at Microsoft Australia summarises the issue: “How do you make individual learning real in the classroom when you can teach anything from 20+ students in primary and up to 125 students per day at secondary level?”

Brett builds on this: “It’s a big ask to deliver individual or personalised learning and it’s difficult to achieve in practice. Advances in technology present our best chance to provide a younger person with a tailored and individualised learning pathway.”

This is where exploring technology becomes critical. It will be the foundation that supports educators in achieving individual, accessible, dynamic and immersive learning.

Travis views it through the lens of ‘why not?’. “Why not have an online textbook that looks different to me than to you based on what we each know? Why not let a child with dyslexia choose how they learn? Why not let technology help us pitch learning at a challenge level that sits in a student’s unique zone of proximal development?”

It’s for these reasons that online assessment is a great starting point for every school in understanding the benefits of AI and machine learning to adaptive and individual learning. And as for that fearless future, Brett and many educators across the country have a firm hold on exploring what’s possible.

“I think this is an extremely exciting time for education,” says Brett, “we’re about to hit that part of the exponential graph where it tends toward the vertical. I’m sure that AI, virtual and mixed reality will play an increasing role in augmenting the learning process, immersing students in learning activities that are more and more engaging and interactive, seeing us achieve deeper and faster learning as a result.”

Let’s look at it this way. If our students are setting the pace, let’s make sure we keep up.

Learn more about AI in education: https://aiforgood.com.au/

Our goal at Microsoft is to empower every student to achieve more and to do this we have a range of resources available to support educators in achieving better learning outcomes for all students. Find the right Windows devices for your students, deploy Office 365 Education with ease,  join our Educator Centre for free training and connect with others, or attend one of our MS Edu Meets or IT IQ Edu Meets workshops.

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