Tackling online learning in our secondary schools


I???ve just spent the day in a workshop hosted by the PPTA called the Distance Learning Collaborative Video Clusters Meeting. It was attended by an eclectic group of some of NZ most experienced distance educators from the secondary school sector, mostly from schools involved in clusters using video conferencing as a means of extending the range of educational opportunities for learners.

This was a very significant meeting, and I applaud the PPTA for arranging it. After a decade of innovation in the use of telecommunications technologies (first audio-graphics, then video conferencing) in some of our smaller secondary schools we are at a point where we must move from a ???cottage industry??? approach to something that is more systemic.

The recent support for the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) in the recent budget announcement, and the reference to this in the MoE???s recent eLearning Action Plan for schools is an encouraging sign that this is being taken seriously now at a government level, and that there is support being put in place ??? but for real progress to be made a much broader, ???bigger picture??? view of what the opportunities are needs to be developed.

In the presentation I made to the group I referred to the OECD six scenarios, and the work I’ve been doing around a school OLE in an effort to extend some of the thinking in the group. Some of the key challenges and thoughts from the presentation I made to the group follow??

The virtual learning network provides a powerful solution to many of the challenges and concerns facing secondary schools today?? BUT, some of the questions below still linger??

  • Is what we are doing truly learner-centric?
  • Are we simply replicating the practices of the f2f classroom?
  • How can we get policy change to provide the flexibility we require?
  • Is our view of the technology future-proofed?
  • Where is the evidence that what we are doing is supporting the claims we are making?

Issues to be addressed before the use of distance/eLearning methodologies can become truly systemic in NZ include:

Policy issues

  • How can student funding be shared between schools?
  • How can staffing, including management units, be shared among schools
  • What evidence needs to be gathered to demonstrate the worth of this?

Technology issues

  • Connectivity and interoperability ??? who sets the standards?
  • Networks ??? VPNs or MUSH etc
  • Bridging ??? what is required? What technologies must be supported?
  • Scheduling ??? enable direct access and school level control?

Curriculum issues

  • assessment ??? developing consistency in approach
  • reporting ??? enabling a unified student report from several ???schools??? etc
  • modularisation ??? a different view of ???course???
  • RPL ??? includes recognising the value of informal learning

Staffing issues

  • Creating more flexibility in recognising teacher roles: e-teachers, m-teachers, c-teachers,
  • How to involve those with real subject expertise as mentors, hotseats etc

Pedagogical issues

  • ???personalisation??? ??? what does it mean? How do we make it happen?
  • staff training ??? how to train a large group of the teaching force in these new approaches?

Leadership and coordination issues

  • where does the leadership come from?
  • What form should leadership take?
  • What coordination is required nationally, locally etc?

Learning Resource issues

  • How best to provide resources for learning to support teachers in this environment
  • learning objects, repositories, search tools ??? who provides them, who manages them etc?
  • how to cater for user-generated resources?
  • Copyright and IP issues ??? how are these to be managed?

Quality issues

  • What is best practice?
  • What are quality indicators?

The group has decided to pursue the idea of establishing a representative group to pursue these issues further, and to work closely with the PPTA and the MoE to explore solutions that will enable us to build a systemic solution. I???m looking forward to seeing what develops.

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