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Parental portal and cloud connection delivers transformational transparency

Educational success requires a special three way compact between school, student and family or guardian where each engages with the others to ensure the best learning outcome. 

But often that compact has in the past been challenged by opacity. The twice a year school report, annual parent-teacher nights and occasional attendance at P&C meetings only provide a glimpse of how a student is faring.

Around 78,000 students are currently enrolled in the 163 schools operated by Catholic Education Western Australia (CEWA) which is currently undertaking a transformation programme that will boost learning outcomes, support and develop a community of best practice teaching staff, and also inject a great deal more transparency for parents, guardians and the broader community.

The LEADing Lights platform is a cloud based digital ecosystem that will provide transparency and valuable insights to all stakeholders.

Dr Ginno Kelley, head of digital transformation teaching at CEWA, explains that while the student is at the heart of the design of LEADing Lights, it reflects the fact that the greatest influence on student outcomes is often outside of the school and in the home.

With its new digital platform, CEWA wanted to bring parents into the fold to make them more aware of what is happening to their child in the school.

CEWA’s head of digital transformation learning, Dr Cathy Cavanaugh explains that as CEWA schools join the LEADing Lights community, parents and guardians will be provided access to information through an online portal.

“They will establish their identity and then use their email to log in once they have established the children that they are identified with. They will then have access to information about those children – and be able to do transactions, enrolment, BPay and see student records.”

By ensuring much more open access to parents and guardians, CEWA believes its credentials as a learning organisation will be burnished as it helps people become more collaborative and communicate in better ways. As a system, it is able to take learnings from across the system, celebrations in the community or analytics in order to deliver more impact.

While some CEWA schools already do offer parents some access to information via a school portal, the information is often incomplete or spread across multiple applications, and without the rich interactive tools that can help engage and inform parents.

The LEADing Lights platform will offer a single sign on and secure access to comprehensive information about a student’s progress and all the school information around fees, term dates and school events that parents and guardians need to make informed decisions and more actively support their student’s educational progress.

Aidan McCarthy, CEWA’s head of digital transformation, explains that previously the patchwork quilt of technology equipment used by different schools across WA was a particular challenge.

The development of LEADing Lights – which is a Microsoft Azure cloud based platform with access to a rich and growing array of technologies and tools – has levelled the playing field providing equitable and cost effective access right across the state.

By pausing to reflect on what could be possible if a purpose built, learning platform was developed that supported the needs of students, teachers, the community and school administrators McCarthy and his team are deploying a solution that is at the leading edge of global learning systems.

“We were able to imagine what all the different requirements schools have – from marketing and asset management through to learning systems for students and teachers.”

And by partnering with Microsoft to deliver the solution using the Azure cloud, and leveraging the most up to date technologies in Microsoft’s ecosystem CEWA has ensured a best-of-breed solution.

The platform is also future ready as any new Microsoft tools that emerge will integrate with the current generation of technology.

As cognitive platforms and machine learning to support students, teachers or school administrators develop these can be easily integrated and deployed.

Cost efficiency is also assured as CEWA has negotiated a cost per student agreement with Microsoft.

“It removes that pain from schools,” says McCarthy. For parents and guardians it’s a cost effective way to deliver a leading edge and flexible learning platform.

In parallel to the LEADing Lights platform, CEWA is increasing school connectivity, reducing the costs to schools of both connectivity and licensing, and guiding schools on improved wireless infrastructure on the school grounds.

At the same time, moving to LEADing Lights also allows schools to use offline apps and files. In the instance of a connectivity hiccup, students can work on locally stored files, using battery power if needed. In this way, students can create media, images and videos, collaborate on group planning and learn beyond the classroom. 

The same goes for homework – if a student can’t for some reason access the platform from home over the internet for a period – they can still learn and tackle tasks set by the teacher. Parents and guardians won’t be swayed by plaintive cries of ‘the internet’s down – I can’t do my homework.

As Aidan McCarthy says; “We wanted to have the smartest systems and operate as an intelligent platform. Part of it also was looking at costs, how to manage it more efficiently and effectively and how what we created we could build on and leverage over the next five to ten years.

“This gives us the intelligence to help us make better decisions individually, but also as a teacher, as a school and certainly as a system as well.”