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IT’s Role in Online Student Safety, AI for Learning and More with Philip Callil, Yarra Valley Grammar


Philip Callil, Director of IT and Digital Learning at Yarra Valley Grammar works each day not only to implement innovative technology solutions, but to ensure that both staff and students are using them appropriately.

In this episode of Saasyan's Wellbeing Wednesday Series, Philip discusses the role that IT plays when dealing with student online safety, the use of AI for learning, and establishing Yarra Valley Grammar's duty of care.



As an IT leader, how would you describe the responsibilities you have when it comes to ensuring the online safety of your students?

As a K-12 Australian independent school, we have an obligation to ensure that our students are safe when using devices at school.

That responsibility includes having IT systems in place, such as mail filtering, internet filtering as well as network monitoring. So our role is therefore to have those technical systems in place, but also to communicate our expectations to stakeholders in the school.

While students are a key stakeholder group, so too are our year level coordinators and our heads of school. Our responsibilities include communicating those expectations, but also empowering those educators to have confidence that they have the right tools at their disposal to help students.


How do you empower your non-technical staff to be more involved in keeping students safe online?

Now it's a given that we've got our technical systems in place to monitor our network and to filter email and internet searching. And prior to Saasyan coming on board with this, we really had all those scripts written, but they weren't user friendly at all.

So for non-technical staff it's one thing to communicate those expectations about online student safety, it's another thing to empower year level coordinators, heads of school and wellbeing staff by giving them a tool that provides relevant data on a daily basis. And that's one of the strengths of Sassyan.

This is our third year using Saasyan, and I can say hand on heart that this is a product that has become an indispensable tool for us. That's because it gives us eyes over what students who may be at risk are searching up on their BYOD device on the school network, or who may be on a student device owned by the school.

So for us, Saasyan Assure also empowers our classroom teachers who can see real time, what web links individual students are looking at in their class time. While year level coordinators receive a daily report Monday to Friday at 4:30 PM, on students who may be at risk through their internet searching or through their use of email.

Similarly, wellbeing staff have access to what students at risk are doing with their internet and or their email use. So for our non technical staff they now have much more confidence that they are able to keep students safer online, when students use the school network with their device.

We've had a commitment to learning management especially for at least eight years. With a commitment by all of our teachers from department heads and heads of school, that they must report formally through learning management. So digital learning has really been embedded in our environment, our learning environment, for a lot longer perhaps than other schools.

So naturally, when COVID came around, we were in an ideal position to be able to fall back to that structure and then build on it with Microsoft Teams in our case.

So with all of that there was a very strong culture of digital learning in the school prior to introducing Saasyan.

But really for us it was more a case that we thought we had good eyes over what we're doing. And we had reports in place that weren't really great to use, they weren't showing the real picture.

So there was perhaps an artificial sense of confidence that all our students were doing the right thing. But what Saasyan allowed us to do was then to communicate that on that daily basis that I mentioned before, exactly what students were searching.

And for year level coordinators for heads of schools, it was really a surprise to them to see what we could see in a really dynamic real time way.



In your opinion, where does the school’s duty of care begin and end when it comes to the online activity of your students?

When students come to school, there's an assumption and there's an expectation that the school is able to provide a safe, physical and online environment for our students to be able to interact with their peers, to learn and to socialise.

At Yarra Valley Grammar, our students therefore use learning management, as I mentioned before, as that bridge between home and school for their learning.

All assignments and feedback, formal assessments, and many informal assessments are communicated to students and parents, through our learning management system and our community portal as well.

Increasingly, particularly with COVID, the online environment has become blurred. And when that has happened, it's also blurred the school's duty of care when students are online for most of the day, and also the night.

For our students with BYOD devices, if they use school email, we have an obligation to be able to monitor those messages to ensure the safety of our students. Similarly, when a student uses a school issued device such as an iPad or a laptop, then again we have an obligation as a school to be able to monitor the online actions of students who may be at risk.

While home management in setting up the environment that will support a students learning or a child's learning is a parent management issue, if students are using school devices or school services than there's a strong expectation that students follow conditions laid out clearly in our acceptable use agreements. 


How do you balance the risks associated with increased reliance on technology for learning with the benefits that it can bring?

Our student acceptable use agreements state clearly that it is Yarra Valley Grammar’s right and responsibility to ensure that the school is a safe place for the use of ICT on digital devices.

But kids being kids means that they're not going to get it right 100 percent of the time. While respecting and protecting oneself, others and intellectual property are essential parts of digital citizenship, we recognise that students need guard rails to help them develop their own understanding and application of those ethical considerations associated with the use of technology.

So we really stressed that online access is a privilege, it's not a right. And users are responsible for their behaviour and communication over school networks.

To that end, we as educators need to have confidence that our online and physical work environments are ones that promote safety and the wellbeing of our students.

Saasyan is our valued and respected partner in being the critical integration point between the data being generated by our mail filtering, our internet filtering and then highlighting possible areas of concern in easy to read daily and weekly reports on students who may be at risk.

In this way, our students can have confidence that we're providing a structured environment that helps protect our students.

YouTube access is a really good example of this. Before Saasyan was introduced, we couldn't find a system that enabled YouTube access to specific sites.

With Saasyan, all teachers are able to create a rule that enables access to individual YouTube sites for a specific time and class.

Not only can teachers easily monitor in real time what a student is searching for on their laptops in their class on a single screen, by being alerted to any particular sites that may be of concern, YouTube access to specific videos can help focus students in their learning.


What is your approach and philosophy when it comes to the use of AI for learning?

Yeah, we've got a very strong opinion that we want to harness the best that AI offers for our students.

We're not in the business of blocking everything at all. We're in that process of really communicating to our staff and our students what the value is of AI, how it can absolutely assist students as a personal tutor if you like, but also being aware of the negative implications for its use.

We don't want students thinking they can get away with plagiarism and copying. There's many ways that you can detect that, and they're not technical ways. They're not based on technology.

Technology hasn't come up with a way of really detecting it in an accurate way. But teachers who know their students will be able to detect its use.

So it's a watching brief and it's one that we think has got value to add for specific types of assignments and for work, in not only student productivity, but especially teacher productivity as well.

As long as students understand that this is a part of the work and learning process, it doesn't substitute anything for that particular depth that only a student and a teacher can bring to the table if you like.