Saturday, 20 May 2017

A Research Agenda for Online & Blended Learning

With Communities of Online Learning coming closer on the horizon NOW is a good time to determine a research agenda that will inform regulations for CoOLs and best practice for online learning in NZ. There is a body of local research I have written about previously here, and some of this research goes back two decades and is still relevant today. A thorough literature review and scope of the current educational landscape would help identify gaps and needs and raise key research questions.

I recently read an excellent paper by Cathy Cavanaugh that provides a good insight into how research for online & blended learning should be undertaken.
"To truly understand K-12 online and blended learning research, you have to dig deeper
into the components that make up K-12 online and blended learning. In other words, there are so many variations in design, instruction, facilitation, purpose, and content, no single study will answer everything we need to know about K-12 online learning. It is more important to explore the components and the research surrounding those components.
In addition to digging deeper, there are at least five key areas that any K-12 online and
blended learning educator should consider. They include:1) asking the right question; 2) answering the critics; 3) appreciating the complexity; 4) understanding resources; and 5) exploring current research."
The right question is NOT Is face to face learning or online learning better? The answer to this is "K-12 online and blended education is as good as, and is sometimes better and sometimes worse
than face-to-face education." It doesn't really tell us anything. We need to finding out under what conditions does online and blended learning work well.
Cathy gives some examples of findings such as - we know that successful online students are self-directed and motivated; Colleges of Ed are not preparing teachers to teach online; successful programmes not only train their teachers to teach online, they also train their students to learn online; high quality programmes push the boundaries and are underpinned by good data.

Learning Spanish online - VLN Primary School 
Answering the Critics - this resonates with me because of the huge criticism of online learning that resounded when CoOLs was announced, from people who had no knowledge of this area of education. These critics don't understand that online learning "is a multi-faceted process that involves such things as high quality and interactive content, teachers with strong and specific pedagogical skills, training for parents and students, and strong mentoring and scaffolding opportunities."
Instead they "see online and blended education as replacing all teachers with machines or they picture a student sitting alone watching videos for 8 hours a day. As a matter of fact, one of the most raised concerns, particularly related to online education, is that online students get no social interaction. Many of these ‘critics’ do not realize that online students often spend more time interacting with their peers and teachers than face-to-face students do. They don’t understand that online classes often require students to leave the computer to exercise (i.e., PE class), to go visit a pond (i.e., science experiment), or to go to a museum (i.e., history or social studies)."

Make sure you read the whole paper here.

I am really looking forward to being part of the development of Communities of Online Learning  and ensuring we have high quality online learning opportunities for our children.

Sunday, 7 May 2017


In April I was quoted extensively in this article by Education Review on the VLN Primary & CoOLs. I discussed issues of sustainable resourcing, privatisation, competition & accountability. This article stemmed from a discussion with Jude Barback (Ed Review) ahead of the release of the Education & Science Select Committee report on the Education (Update) Amendment Bill. The report was released quietly with no comment from the media (except for the PPTA) and hugely overshadowed by the simultaneous release of another pivotal education review report the Productivity Commission report on 'New models of tertiary education.' The cynic in me would wonder if these two landmark educational policy reports were deliberately released to dilute the comment and feedback. So much to read, so much to process!

So what was in the Education & Science Select Committee report in relation to CoOLs? Well not much. There was very little of substance that has been amended from the original proposed bill apart from the extended timeline and the amalgamation of the section on provisional accredited cools into the main section on Cools. So really no surprises, this report reflects the majority view.
The concerns noted by the minor parties are also echoed in parts of our submission to the committee and it is good to see they pay particular credence to submissions from Dr Michael Barbour (Michael is on our Governance group). You can read the full report here.

Since the report was released there have been a couple of Q & A reports and a Departmental report. The Departmental report is a summary of key points raised in the submissions - 40 pages on CoOLs. Q & A's I have summarised the parts on CoOLs in this document.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Effective networks = Collaboration

Collaboration is a key theme in my research question and in my reading I have found it is closely linked and underpins effective school networks. Santiago & Fullan (2016) equate effective networks with collaboration that deepens learning, grows professional capital and is a positive driver for system improvement.
They say that on its own mandated collaboration (top-down) nor grass roots (bottom-up) collaborations will work. Effective school networks need both approaches. 
In the NZ setting you can see CoLs (Communities of Learning) as being driven from the top down; although necessary as they provide the resources, structure and support necessary to sustain long term collaboration. Offset this with grass roots collaborations that have been happening for many years - ICT PD clusters, VLN communities, LCN networks & many more. These have been where the heart of collaborative practice and communities of learning have grown in NZ but have been unsustainable because they have lacked the ongoing systems resources and support.

Dr. Cherie Patel-Taylor
Patel-Taylor (2014) supports this view distinguishing between systems collaboration and a culture of collaboration. 
Systems collaborations are more technical in nature - structures, roles, resourcing - they are necessary but not enough on their own. A culture of collaboration takes place in the the learning spaces within and across classrooms and schools, and involves a focus on sharing practice, co-constructing new learning and evolving cycles of inquiry.  Patel-Taylor (2014) defines collaboration as “the process of sharing learning and engaging in dialogue, to create joint new learning that informs future actions focused on the learning of leaders, teachers, students and/or the wider community, over time” (p 8).

School leaders need to be just as concerned for students in all schools as they are in their own schools - this is indicative of a higher moral purpose and 'Systemness' where people deliberately contribute to and benefit from the larger system (Santiago & Fullan 2016). It can be illustrated as well in this adaptation of Spackman's Model:
Derek Wenmoth - adaption of Spackman’s Moral Scale of decision making

  8 features of effective networks

  1. "focussing on ambitious student learning outcomes linked to effective pedagogy;
  2. developing strong relationships of trust and internal accountability;
  3. continuously improving practice and systems through cycles of collaborative inquiry;
  4. using deliberate leadership and skilled facilitation within flat power structures;
  5. frequently interacting and learning inwards;
  6. connecting outwards to learn from others;
  7. forming new partnership among students, teachers, families, and communities;
  8. and securing adequate resources to sustain the work."
    (Santiago & Fullan, 2016, p 10)
Essential features of effective networks in education - Santiago & Fullan 2016
What features do you recognise in your schools cluster, CoL or network? Where are the missing pieces that would make your network more effective and sustainable? Read Santiago & Fullan's work linked below for a really good overview of this.

Santiago Rincón-Gallardo, & Michael Fullan. (2016). Essential features of effective networks in education. Journal of Professional Capital and Community, 1(1), 5–22.
Taylor-Patel, C. (2014). Networking – Weaving the net; gathering the pearls. Auckland, N.Z. Retrieved from
Wenmoth, D. (2013, February 16). Change or Die: vision, trust and support. Retrieved 30 April 2017, from

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Collaboration - different viewpoints

The simple definition of collaboration can be a double-edged sword - working for the collective good or conspiring to change the status quo. This is a reflection of the current education climate where schools are being strongly encouraged and incentivised to form collaborative Communities of Learning. In the educational sector, some look at this from the view of No.1 (image below), and some see No. 2 and are skeptical that collaboration risks undermining their own schools and is a tool of the neo-liberal agenda and school reform. I think they are both right but from the point of view of No. 2, I think we are long overdue for a system change (without the ideological jargon & baggage of  a neoliberal agenda).

To read more about the lead up to Communities of Learning in NZ:
The benefits of collaborative groups particularly for rural principals is recognised:

Iain Taylor - NZPF President 2016
"Collaboration is a practice that professional educators have always incorporated in their practice. It provides the opportunity to share both challenges and solutions and to create solutions where they don’t exist.
Collaborative groups are also great sources of PLD for schools and many share resources which they then agree to channel into a common area for development, whether that is for teachers within schools or for leadership. It has always been a challenge for isolated or rural principals to participate in collaborative groups for PLD, because of the extra travel component.

However, it is perhaps even more important that rural principals are able to connect with each other because they are already isolated with little or no contact with other principals. [my emphasis] The Virtual Learning Network (VLN) has become very popular with isolated schools as they can collaborate at least virtually, even if not in person."

Monday, 17 April 2017

Do rural communities want to be connected?

A couple of weeks ago I was pontificating on a vision for connected rural communities and the benefits it would bring, even going so far signposting a Rural Renaissance!
So it was interesting to read this article from the Taranaki Daily News about locals in the Republic of Whangamomona being divided on the need for internet or cell phone coverage in their district.

On the flip side (& there is always a flip side) - here is what Rural Women NZ have to say in their 2014 - 2017 Manifesto

It is encouraging to see there has been some movement on extending mobile coverage but there is a lot more work to be done to make fast internet accessible for all our rural learners and their families. Access is not only about having the infrastructure available but more importantly about affordability.
With an election year is process I look forward to seeing what is in store with a new manifesto from Rural Women NZ.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

The more things change, the more they stay the same

In my recent post NZ Research & Articles - Online Teaching & Learning, I commented on the similar themes coming up in the research from nearly two decades of learning online. To illustrate this, and just because history really interests me, I want to share this report.

Te Pouaka Whakaako ki te Kāreti o Ngata
Telelearning and Contexts of Awareness at Ngata Memorial College. Report prepared for Te Puni Kōkiri by Ken Stevens (1998).
This case study of telelearning at Ngata Memorial College in Ruatoria, compares students who are telelearning with those who aren't and what their perceptions were of the wider world.
Telelearning (audiographics) provides students with a connection with the world beyond school and extends educational and vocational opportunities for students and adults in remote communities.
In this report Steven's raises the government's commitment to equality of educational opportunity and how developments in ICT have  wide ranging implications for schools, in teaching & learning, and administration policy.
He unpacks in detail the differences between telelearning and distance education in relation to how each was positioned to serve the society of the times. Distance education belongs to an industrial age model; telelearning to the information age. Steven's goes on to describe the changing educational environment where:

  • schools are inter-connected through ICT networks, 
  • technologies are used to provide new and better ways of learning, 
  • ICT skills will provide employment advantage, 
  • there will be an urgent need to provide the mass provision of appropriate technologies to classrooms. 
These are key themes that are still important today, as are individualised model of teaching and learning and the changing role of the teacher, which are also discussed.
This report was written just on the advent of Tomorrow's Schools and describes a highly centralised system of education without which small schools would be challenged to provide a quality education in a increasingly competitive environment. This has been a huge change since this time and in itself has been a key driver to the growth in collaborative online networks in the decade to follow. Steven's mentions the growing reality of the virtual classroom with the development of Cantatech & TOSItech and a developing East Coast network (which could be the precursor to the KAWM Network).

There were a number of recommendations from this report to the Ministry of Education. Some are summarised below:
  • Recognise their pioneering role in telelearning education and support the expansion to other NZ schools;
  • Expanding links to Colleges of Education;
  • Recognise the Māori cultural context and consult with the broader Māori community;
  • Be recognised as a special technology school, 'a valuable educational laboratory' from which other schools could learn;
  • They should no longer be considered a small school but be funded as a virtual school.
It is interesting to see the work that was pioneered by Ngata Memorial College is still very relevant today. Maybe now we are 17 years into the 21st Century we will start to see the change that the Information Age has promised being realised for NZ learners.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Fast internet drives 'Rural Renaissance'.

 In 2003 TUANZ led a National Broadband Applications Project where cross sector forums were set up regionally to discuss the potential of broadband and come up with some scenarios about what life would be like beyond dial-up. This was during the days of the roll out of Project Probe. We are now well onto the second wave of superfast internet with the roll out of fibre, 4 G networks and improved satellite service.
Those scenarios discussed in 2003 forums were published in "Survival of the Fastest"
I love the education scenario of "A Third Way at Blacksmith's Elbow" (Chapter 4) which describes a small rural community connected to broadband:
  • Broadband brings everybody access to whatever resources they need;
  • The community grows, instead of shrinks;
  • People find it easier to be life-long learners;
  • People are collaborate;
  • The school is the hub of the community.
“Rural New Zealand” by Sarah Stewart is licensed under CC BY 2.0

And "A Renaissance in our Heartland" (Chapter 4)
"But perhaps among the most important were social applications. Broadband is ultimately about empowerment and decision-making. It's about access to information. It's about a change in the rural environment. No longer is it just farmers and craftspeople plying their trade in relative isolation. Give them a broadband link and any entrepreneur worth their salt can live and work anywhere. We're already seeing software design becoming a rural industry. With a video-conferencing link, people can have a virtual presence from almost anywhere.
Broadband access means the whole distribution of the population will be different as the city moves to the country. Why? Because they want to, because they can, and all because of broadband.
And if one person moves, it's likely that the family will, too. They will go to the schools, buy from the shops, use the services, and generally contribute to the community. In turn, they will create jobs, opportunities and lead to a rural renaissance."
These future focused scenarios were envisioned 14 years ago. So where are we now? How far down the track are we heading towards scenarios described here? Or are the paths we are walking different than we had earlier imagined and will they lead us to different destinations? 

Adams, G., & Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand. (2003). Survival of the fastest: a guide to how New Zealand can use broadband to lead the world, from the TUANZ National Broadband Applications Project. Auckland, N.Z.: Telecommunications Users Association of New Zealand.