School leads with app for parents

Grace Robinson
9 March, 2011
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Brighton Grammar School has just released what is believed to be Australia’s first smartphone app for parents of  students.

James Wilson, whose child attends the school, and his company bhive Group developed the app, which allows users to take part in live video streamed conversations with the principal, place orders at the school canteen and check holiday times.  The app also features alerts for sporting events to notify parents of time changes or cancellations.

Parent Sarah Olsen has been using the BGS app for a couple of weeks now, and tells Australian Macworld that it has been a useful addition in running a household.

It’s just so useful, a no-brainer.  [The app] keeps us connected and on the same page as a family.”

Sarah says the whole family has downloaded the app, so that they’re all up to date with important information and events.

The BGS app is just the beginning of the school’s involvement in working with technology to enhance education for students and parents and their work is fast gaining recognition.

Brighton Grammar’s Director of Community Education, John Phillips has just been awarded by Apple as an Apple Distinguished Educator and will attend a conference later this month to meet the 39 other winners in this category.

John chats exclusively with Australian Macworld to discuss the BGS app and other exciting projects in the works at Brighton Grammar School.

Australian Macworld: How do you think the BGS app will change the experience of education for students and parents?

John Phillips: We live in a society that now expects access to information instantly.  Already the app has had an impact in this area.  For example, we know more parents are now accessing our newsletter via the app and I believe this is because they can read this where and when they want!

AMW: What has been the feedback from students and parents?

JP: Overwhelming!  We sent out an email to all parents alerting them to the launch of our app and the replies we received were amazing.

AMW: Have you heard from other education institutions about adopting an app like BGS?  Do you expect the app to catch on around the country in other schools?

JP: We do know that other schools love the idea of an app for their parent communities.  In fact, James Wilson has already received expressions of interest from 4 other schools!

AMW: What security system is employed to ensure the app only be accessed by parents with children at Brighton Grammar?

JP: The app does not include any security as the information on the app is simply harvested from our website.   We did not wish to complicate the app at stage one of development.  Stage two, however, will need some form of security as it will have some interactive features such as excursion consent, changing personal information held on databases and tuckshop ordering.

AMW: Tell us a bit about the research you are doing in relation to iPads in education

JP: We are in the final stages of our iPad research project. In fact, we were the first school in Australia to embark on such a research project to validate the use of iPads in education.

Briefly, the research project focussed on four key areas.

1. Numeracy:  Can the use of iPads and accompanying apps improve numeracy outcomes?

2. Usability: How effective are gesture based user interfaces of devices such as the iPad for accessing and interacting with digital resources in the classroom?

3. eBooks: does the use of the iPad as an electronic reader make a difference in terms of engagement and understanding of a text?

4.  Pedagogy: how does teaching change to accommodate the use of iPads in the classroom?

AMW: Are you working on any other projects that incorporate technology in education?

JP: Yes we are.  We love playing in the sandpit with new technologies and already have plans underway to strengthen our lead in this area.  Our boys are building iPhone apps as we speak!  In fact, we are the first school in Australia, maybe the world, that has boys building apps for commercial companies (the boys are currently working on one for Nutrient Water).   And we’re soon to trial a system that streams video content directly onto the ipads via our wireless network.   The plan here is that our students and staff will have access to an enormous repository of educational videos which can be accessed when and where the students and teachers require them.  We are also soon to launch an app building academy at BGS.  This will occur out of schools hours as we want students who do not attend our school to benefit from our expertise in this area too.

To learn more about the BGS app, check out the video below:

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