​Pymble Ladies' College using data to track students' performance

Pymble Ladies' College in Sydney is flipping a typical learning model on its head, using data to gain insight into every aspect of a student, not just their test-sitting ability.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

With a focus on numbers to measure a student's success flagged as passé, Justin Raymond, Dean of Curriculum Innovation at Pymble Ladies' College in Sydney, has implemented an analytics platform at the all-girls school that tracks an individual to monitor their overall performance.

Raymond said that education is something everyone has an opinion on, with parents generally believing grades launch their child's career, such as the Higher School Certificate (HSC) or an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR).

He said that while employers do want students with qualifications, they also want problem solvers, communicators, and innovators.

"We're actually moving away from numbers, which is a huge culture shift for our parents because we all went to school and we all thought that numbers are what we should measure learning by," Raymond said, speaking at EMC Forum 2016 in Sydney.

"For us as educators do we need to know that she got 89 percent or do we need the descriptive feedback? Detailed data can tell us where she is, where she needs to be, and what her next steps are."

As part of the digital journey at the school, Raymond implemented a platform that tracks students "from functioning to thriving", gathering their performance data from each teacher and class the student is in.

"These are skills that we have a responsibility to foster and grow and develop in the girls and I guess that tension for us is determining if these pull apart; getting someone who's a wonderful HSC sitter and exam performer but also has the skills that you want in your organisations in the future," Raymond said.

Pymble Ladies' College is the largest girls school in the southern hemisphere, with over 2,100 girls enrolled in 2016. The school has a concurrent user base of 6,000 users, which Raymond said makes it quite a substantial size compared to other organisations.

"A hallmark of ours is really about a personalised education," he said. "A criticism that you could throw at Pymble is it's a big school, but it actually means we need to do the 'personalised' better. We have the structures in place to know each girl and really be able to target her as a learner."

With so many students on its books, Raymond said the idea of individual tracking came from the following questions: How they know how a student is learning; how they know if they're developing her creativity; and how they know if they're developing her problem-solving skills.

He said that essentially, the point of the whole exercise is about knowing, guiding, and challenging the students.

"The big piece of knowing -- it's having the data to know our girls as learners, not just test sitters," he added.

Raymond and his colleagues created a simple web-based platform that shows each student's performance for each class, broken down into subject type, with the data also commenting on personality traits such as introversion, extraversion, creativity, perfectionism, and attention to detail.

He said the "huge number of records" and the ensuing data is stored in SharePoint and displayed as soon as called on in the web browser.

The concept of sharing data on a student was a big paradigm shift for the school; Raymond said teachers would previously keep that information for themselves and share it on occasion with parents.

Getting a snapshot of the students in a class is simple for teachers, Raymond said. The application features a slide bar that equates to four bands, with traffic-light colour coding; it takes them seven minutes to enter each subject.

"Seven minutes for every single subject that a girl has and you get a wealth of data," he said.

"We mandate that our teachers do this twice a year -- two collection periods -- so that we can be on the front foot."

Once the data is analysed, a teacher still needs to intervene to discuss concerning results with the student, but Raymond said this tool allows them to step in earlier than they usually would, which can only be better for the student in the long run.

With the school recently celebrating its 100th birthday, Raymond said this data-based platform was a real game changer for the staff. Moving forward, Pymble Ladies' College is going to work through a method to allow students greater access to their data to be able to self-reflect on their learning.

"It's about the 'why', and that's what our data is really good for," Raymond said.

He said that the school is now dabbling with business insights and its existing dashboards to gain further insights into each individual student's learning journey, and is also working with its dashboards from an enrolment perspective to be able to gain a better insight into areas such as where each student resides

"It's about really making the most of our big data sets and being proactive," he said.

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