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CIO50 2018 #26-50: Christopher Topp, Luther College

  • Name Christopher Topp
  • Title Director of IT
  • Company Luther College
  • Commenced role 2005
  • Reporting Line Strategic and operational management team
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Technology Function 5 full time staff plus incidental contractors
  • Related

    Melbourne-based Luther College is playing on a global stage and it’s the institution’s job to develop the minds of the future, says director of IT, Christopher Topp.

    “The technology we used to achieve this provides us with new opportunities to accelerate and add a deep understanding to learning. The key is to empower our student body with the tools and skills and importantly mindset – needed to step into a new constantly evolving workforce,” Topp says.

    Topp says education is now a 24/7 operation that is transitioning from an industrial design for the curriculum to a modern, agile learning environment has meant that everything just needs to work.

    “Our community is not limited to the student body but includes a multitude of stakeholders including, for example, student families whose reliance on effective and timely communication with the school is paramount. Continuous reporting, absentee monitoring, reactive and proactive communication is expected to be available around-the-clock,” he says.

    Over the last two years, Topp and his team have modernised the college’s entire infrastructure to include hyperconverged hardware while extending its security footprint by using advanced threat monitoring to deal with the increasing quantity of attacks.

    Last year, the team implemented multiple new software platforms to modernise and replace almost all of the college’s core line-of-line-business applications that support its administration and management systems, which are used by 200 staff.

    ‘Even with the increased learning to make it all fit together, the efficiency savings mean people have far more time to focus on making their processes more efficient – even to the point of designing our own in-house two-factor authentication product to meet a specific security need,” he says.

    This particular product has now been ‘productised’ by a major firewall vendor and is being sold due to its effectiveness and simplicity in front-ending legacy services, says Topp.

    Transforming education

    But what is more exciting, says Topp, is how his team is pushing back from traditional thinking to make space for disruptive technologies across the college. This may mean working with architects and designers to ensure new buildings they design can handle modern technologies such as 3D printing or same virtual reality spaces, as well as areas where the college can explore artificial intelligence and IoT technologies to create smart classrooms.

    “Focusing on gamifying our education not only ensures a contemporary education program is delivered but is also designed to achieve the best possible performance outcome from each student or staff member,” Topp says.

    To measure this, Topp and his team have created PANDA Metrics, a 3D mind plot designed specifically to identify gaps per student in a cohort. This recently-developed in-house tool allows the college to perform targeted differentiated learning around what is known as the ‘zone of proximal development.’ The tool guides teachers on how they can most efficiently teach a student.

    “While it’s early days, we are starting to see the benefits of this accelerated absorption of information pay dividends in student’s results,” Topp says.

    Luther College is also rolling out virtual reality solutions for students and encourage students to build 3D applications and walk throughs to test out their designs in a 3D landscape. 

    “I have also introduced various world-class STEM projects involving staff and students – the coolest no doubt being one in coding 5 sensors onto Raspberry Cubes which were given to NASA and put on the SpaceX supply ship destined for the International Space Station. I am happy to report that the mission was successful!” he says.

    Byron Connolly

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