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.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

NZ Research & Articles - Online Teaching & Learning

As part of my literature review I am collating as much of the NZ written/NZ based literature on online/virtual learning as I can find. Much of this I have read, and some I have contributed to, been a participant in, or even written myself. Some of it is before my time, but I believe our whakapapa and learning  journey contributes to where we are today, and where we will go tomorrow. I also see that what was relevant in a report for example on Telelearning in the early 90s, is still relevant today and is really a case of 'the more things change the more they stay the same.' Two decades and more down the track virtual/online learning is still on the fringes (and often not even a blip on the radar) of mainstream learning. However this may start to change as policy catches up with practice (see recent post on CoOLs).
Although technology brings us closer together (it is only 2 years ago that we were able to turn cameras on in our VLN Primary classrooms!), we are still challenged by many of the same things online teachers were in the 90s.  The need for schools to be open and collaborative, the professional learning needed by teachers (& students) to become more digitally fluent, the need to change teacher pedagogies to be more student directed; there are many more similar themes running through the literature some of which I will unpick more of over the coming months.

I use Zotero and have a group with shared bookmarks - genuine contributors welcome to join here. In this post I will share some key resources and include abstracts. There are many more in this Zotero folder & I am sure many new readings to discover.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Review of education funding systems - Threat or opportunity for NZ Rural Schools?

Following on from an earlier post about Rural NZ - A great place to live and learn, here is some context of what is happening in the educational landscape at the moment.

We are currently going through the process of legislative change and a funding review that will have the biggest impact on NZ schools since 1989 and the introduction of Tomorrow's Schools. For more on Tomorrow's Schools see Langley, 2009; Wylie, 2013.

The Education (Update) Amendment Bill proposes a range of changes, of particular relevance to my study is Communities of Online Learning (or CoOLs), which has been the most contested and provocative part of the bill. I write about this in another post.

The Education Funding System Review, that sits alongside the proposed legislative changes, has been in the consultation phase since last year (I recommend that you read the Cabinet Paper that sits behind what is on the MoE website) There has been one change of tack to the original proposal when teacher unions pushed back on Global Funding mechanism - this was seen as another way of bulk funding schools that was so strenuously opposed in the early 2000s. The reasons given for not proceeding with the global budget was
"schools indicated that the current system of funding delivery generally works well and can provide the flexibility required"..."Moreover, it is clear that neither principals nor teachers yet have confidence in governance and management to make good choices about the mix of inputs necessary to meet the educational challenge for their students." 
That last phrase is dynamite and should be of concern if the Minister thinks that after more that 20 years of self governance school leaders lack the skills to make good choices. Without going further into the politics of the discussion in this paper - here are the key points in relation to small and rural schools:

 The Proposed Model of Funding

26.1 a core funding model in both early learning and state and state integrated schools made up of two components:
26.1.1 a curriculum-based per-child funding amount - linked to the learning expectations of children and young people at each stage of the curricula. In early learning, this involves moving to per-child funding. In schooling, this involves a review of funding levels at each stage of the curriculum;
26.1.2 additional funding for individual challenges: targeted additional achievement allocation - for children and young people from disadvantaged backgrounds and to replace the current decile system and better align funding to the actual curriculum-based achievement challenge; learning support (special education) allocation - for those learning support needs that services and schools are expected to meet from within their funding;
26.2 for small and isolated early learning services and state and state integrated schools, supplementary funding to enable the maintenance of a network of provision;
Of importance to rural and small schools is section 70 - 73:

Defining small and isolated services and schools
70 To support education provision being located as close as reasonably possible to families, I propose supplementary funding for small and isolated services and schools. This takes into account population densities in rural and provincial areas and our objectives for choice and diversity in education provision, including for Maori medium education. 
71 Small schools face fixed costs in administration and curriculum delivery, including in providing subject choice at the senior secondary level. Isolated services and schools can face extra costs related to both teaching and learning and accessing trades and services. These services and schools would not be educationally viable if they received only the curriculum based per-child funding amount and the additional funding amount for individual challenges. 
72 I am seeking to develop an approach to these services and schools that provides the minimal additional funding necessary, supports our objective of increased collaboration across  and system,  and takes into account  the potential  over  time for  Communities  of
Learning I Kahui Ako  and for Communities  of Online  Learning  to mitigate  some of  the costs in the operation of small schools, including those associated with providing curriculum breadth. 
73 The first stage of this work involves establishing a coherent basis for defining small and isolated services and schools. The second stage of this work involves determining the extra costs that these services and schools face in maintaining a viable provision and, hence, the funding that they require over and above that provided by the core funding model. There is a close relationship between this work and that related to the per-student funding amount.

I can understand the need to simplify a complicated system, I can understand the benefits of network provision across schools, I can see a need for equity across our schooling system, I believe to move forward we need to make changes, and change is challenging. However lets make sure that we do this while retaining what is special about our small rural schools, and not just focusing solely on 'progress that can be measured at each level of the curriculum'.

If you are a supporter of our small rural schools, I would be watching this review process carefully, talking with Principals in your local schools and advocating on their behalf.

Langley, J., & Cognition Institute. (2009). Tomorrow’s schools 20 years on-. Auckland, N.Z.: Cognition Institute. Retrieved from

Wylie, C. (2013). Tomorrow’s schools after 20 years: can a system of self-managing schools live up to its initial aims? The New Zealand Annual Review of Education0(19). Retrieved from

Sunday, 12 March 2017

CoOLs - Communities of Online Learning - A double edged sword?

Tomorrow the report from the Education and Science Select Committee, who are looking at Education (Update) Amendment Bill, is due. There are a raft of changes proposed in this bill, though the part that is most of interest to me is Part 3A - Communities of Online Learning.

With my work at the VLN Primary School, I have been asking for something like CoOLs for a very long time. Here are our VLN Primary Submissions over recent years, they all ask for better resourcing, support and for inclusion of online learning within the mainstream schooling sector:
Why the outrage from parts of the sector that say they have been blind sided by part 3A of the Education Amendment Act bill? That it came out of nowhere, and there has been a clear lack of consultation? Well no, for some that were 'gobsmacked' to hear about it, they just didn't have this on their radar because they aren't taking notice of what is already happening in our schools. It isn't through lack of engagement on my part, I have been trying to get these ideas through to the wider sector for many years, as have some of my colleagues & been frustrated by the sectors lack of interest and support.

I have to support the notion of CoOLs this is what I have been working for most of my professional life towards. So why would I be concerned that CoOLs is going to come back and bite us on the bum!

Because it's not just about the VLN and its not just about CoOLs alone, its about being part of a whole system change, with some contentious neoliberal agendas in the mix.

The VLN Primary School has always been about providing equity and access to our learners where ever they are through online learning; the flip-side some see commercial providers using online learning as a tool to provide cheap online education to the masses.

The VLN Primary School has always been about collaboration across schools and building collective capacity, networks and relationships where all are contributing to the education and well being of our learners; the flip-side the imposition of networks across schools with a focus on standards based learning and accountability of achievement, this may change the unique character or rural education in NZ.

If you want to know more about what has been happening with Virtual Learning in New Zealand, and have some myths about online learning busted, then watch my EdTalks video, screened at ULearn16.

CENZ presents Rachel Whalley from EDtalks on Vimeo.

If you want to read some of the submissions about CoOLs made to the Science & Select Committee you can see them all in their entirety, or you can read notes from some key submissions that I have collated here. This will give you an idea of many of the concerns that are being put forward about CoOLs, some of which I agree with.

Rural New Zealand - A great place to live & learn

This video from Barbara Kuriger, MP for Taranaki/King Country, prompted me to think and write about my focus on Rural Education.

Barbara is responding to this type of media report "Tough choices ahead for small-town New Zealand". These sorts of articles appear regularly in our media "Regions must adapt or suffer decline, says academic" or how about this lovely headline "Zombie towns looming, leaders told".

I believe that with affordable land and housing AND access to super fast broadband, not to mention a better quality of life for families then we could see a demographic shift away from the cities back to the regions and rural areas.

More professionals are now working remotely and running their businesses from home. In 2015 The Future of Work Commission found that:
"30% of workers in New Zealand now work full or part time remotely. 11% of these stated they were working full time at home which is double when it was last measured by the company in 2006.
It found further expansion might be on the cards as well with 39% of people saying their work could be done remotely and 68% of those who don’t currently work at home would like to. One of the major advantages it identifies from this is that it would enable the person to live in a different town or city if they wanted to." [my emphasis]
People can live and work anywhere, they don't need to be stuck in the cities. A Rural Renaissance could be just around the corner!

With fast reliable internet, and collaboration across schools and communities our children can also can learn anywhere with anyone. The small rural school that is open, networked and collaborative now has greater teaching & learning capacity than it's urban counterparts.
"For the first time in history, school size, as measured by students in daily, physical attendance, is no longer a measure of a school's teaching capacity. In an open learning environment it is the extent to which a school is networked that determines its teaching and learning capacities." (Stevens and Stewart, 2005)
Stevens, K., & Stewart, D. (2005). Cybercells: learning in actual and virtual groups. Southbank,
Vic.: Thomson/Dunmore Press.

So why do i love rural schools?

Growing up in Rural NZ (Stratford, 1970)
  • Where else can you have fresh blackberries picked for you for morning tea;
  • Build tree huts in the shelter belt;
  • Play in piles of autumn leaves at break time;
  • Look after lambs in the staffroom;
  • Have a weeks worth of cross curricular learning originate from the school woodpile - technology, maths, science, reading;
  • Have the whole school come in camouflage at the start of the duck shooting season;
  • Go to the harbour for creative writing and have an elephant seal oblige for story starters;
  • Have bush camp for juniors (and all your kids);
  • Have a conservation reserve in the middle of your adventure playground when a rare stilt nests there;
  • Join in the docking in the paddock next door after lunch;
  • Care for the kiwi in your local area;
  • Tell your Mandarin teacher that you need to learn how to count past 10,000 because that's how many animals you have at home;
  • Have a school trip/treat to the end of the road to meet the Mr Whippy van that stops for all Eastern Taranaki schools on a Wednesday afternoon on the way to Whanga. (I don't know if this still happens :)

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Collaboration Across New Zealand Rural Primary Schools: A Virtual Learning Perspective.

So here is my successful Research Proposal. I'm going through the process of preparing my Ethics Approval now and hope to be inviting participation in this research in about a month's time.

Virtual learning has been taking place in New Zealand for two decades and pioneered in our rural
schools (Barbour, 2011; Roberts, 2010; Wenmoth, 1996).
“Small rural schools in New Zealand are in the forefront of changes in the application of information and communication technologies to teaching and learning. The emergence of rural school electronic networks is an important step towards the development of virtual classes in New Zealand, requiring new ways of organising teaching and learning. It is particularly appropriate to reconsider the pedagogy of the one- and two- teacher school in relation to the emerging virtual class. These small schools could have a new role in the information age and should, accordingly, be repositioned within the national educational system” (Stevens, 1996, p. 93).

This quote from Ken Stevens, made 20 years ago, has challenged me to consider how virtual learning has evolved over the last twenty years. How have rural schools been leading the way and benefiting from virtual learning? To what extent are we seeing new ways of teaching and learning online?

Virtual learning can be defined as learning that is facilitated by a range of technologies to enable communication and collaboration, where students and teachers are in distributed locations (Bolstad &Lin, 2009).

My research aims to examine how collaborative practice between schools working in virtual learning environments can alleviate the challenges small rural schools face for both students and teachers. These challenges could be in relation to access to professional support and a wider curriculum because of a school's small size and relative isolation.  I will explore how collaborative online learning could enable innovative practice and new ways of thinking about the nature of schooling; while also exploring the challenges and potential pitfalls this may bring to schools. This research will be undertaken within the context of the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) Primary School network within which I work, and with the Principals who participate in VLN Primary programmes and projects.

The VLN Primary extends learning opportunities for students by enabling online learning between schools. Children have the choice to engage with a wide range of subjects that may not be available in their school. The VLN Primary provides professional development for teachers, student learning support, technical support and logistical coordination of online classes and programmes to schools around New Zealand (Virtual Learning Network Primary School, 2013). Learning is tailored to meet the needs of students, and make the most of the strengths of the schools. For example, through a reciprocal arrangement, the schools provide teachers in a subject in which they have a high level of expertise. Where it isn't possible for schools to provide that teacher, another teacher is contracted into the VLN Primary. Students and teachers use a range of synchronous and asynchronous tools that enable them to communicate and learn online together. The VLN Primary School is a registered Charitable Trust governed by its participating schools and supported, in part, by the Ministry of Education (Virtual Learning Network Primary School, 2016).

Research question or hypothesis
My main research question is:
What are the challenges small rural schools face and how can collaborating online provide benefits to learners, teachers and principals?

Supporting questions:
  • What is the experience of teachers/principals with online collaboration across schools?
  • What are their beliefs about learning online?
  • What are some of the enablers and barriers to collaboration across schools?
  • What are some of the enablers and barriers for teaching and learning online?
  • How do teachers/principals think that teaching and learning online may change the nature of schooling in the future?
The conceptual context of this research will be situated within an interpretivist or constructivist framework. Within this framework reality is socially constructed, is context dependent (socially, culturally and historically) and can have multiple meanings depending on individuals’ perspectives. The stance of the researcher is not subjective as they are part of the research process, and involved in co-constructing meaning (Cohen et al., 2007; Mutch, 2013).

In addition to this there will be some elements of Critical Theory emerging as underlying the aims of the VLN Primary School are notions of social justice through providing greater equity and access to learning. Tait & O’Rourke, (2014, p.51) articulate the vision of the VLN Primary really well when they say: “our concept of social justice for each individual encompasses both the notion of equality rights as a ‘level playing field,’” and the “right to opportunities and support that enable each person to fully participate in all aspects of society—to get to the playing field in the first place.”

Semi-structured interviews will be held with a focus group of school Principals. Key themes will be drawn from the focus group discussion and followed up in more detail with individual interviews with no more than six of these Principals. I will use an iterative data analysis process whereby patterns and trends emerging at each stage of data collection are used to inform the next stages of data collection (Srivastava & Hopwood, 2009). Existing VLN Primary documents will be analysed to contribute to the body of knowledge developing. eResearch will be woven through the process not only because it makes sense due to the context but because it enables and amplifies research in ways that were not previously possible. eResearch will include online focus group discussions, the collection of data such as recorded lessons, conversations, screenshots, chat transcripts and Google analytic tracking of website usage and interactions. With this type of eResearch, ethical concerns of privacy are raised. Pardo & Siemens, (2014) identify four principles that should be addressed in regards to privacy of online data in educational institutions; they are transparency of processes, student control over data, security and access to data, and accountability and assessment of systems

Who would be interested in the outcome of your study?
Whanau and communities who have children learning in collaborative online communities would be interested in this study to gain a better understanding of their children’s online learning experiences. For those whanau and communities whose children are not learning in the virtual setting, this research may make them more aware of the potential benefits and challenges involved and cause them to consider supporting virtual learning in their own schools.

Schools (teachers, principals and Boards of Trustees), who are involved in collaborative online learning might be interested in the findings of this research for self-review and school improvement purposes; and schools that are not yet involved may be interested to see the possibilities and to learn from experiences of those who have pioneered the space.

Research findings will inform policy makers on current practice in collaborative online learning across schools and how we can realise the potential benefits of virtual learning for students, teachers and school communities with the New Zealand educational setting. This study aligns with Ministry of Education priorities in relation to collaborative practice and system changes within IES - Communities of Learning and the current Education Review  - Taskforce on Regulations Affecting School Performance (2014). Particularly relevant is the proposed regulatory framework for online learning and potential formation of CoOLs (Communities of Online Learning). It also aligns to the Ministry of Education (2016), priorities as outlined in 'The Four Year Plan 2016 - 2020' for improving student centred pathways and championing 21st century practice in teaching and learning.

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Tuesday, 31 January 2017

How Accessible is the Internet for our Rural Children?

We had our first staff meeting for this group of Principal's to make plans for the year ahead in our collaborative cluster of schools. 
So we got to talking about access to technology that is so important to providing the base from which we learn together. What do our children have available to them at school and at home in the form of computing devices and internet connectivity?
We estimated that in our schools the range of childrens' access to internet at home was 50% in one school through to 80% in another and several points in between for the rest. So still a clear digital divide for a lot of our learners. But the digital divide does not stop there. Although we can say our students have the internet at home, it is often still not accessible to them, or for very limited periods of time. ISP costs mean that data is carefully rationed and often only used by parents on their phones.
Although it is said that there is internet at home, children may only get to access the internet when they come to school. Given this scenario, it would be interesting to see the real data about how accessible the internet is to our children. I should include this as part of my research questions. I am sure it would be nowhere near Statistics NZ's number of internet enabled households. 

Principals from the Rural & Remote Project first staff meeting 2017
More than a dozen years since Project Probe was initiated specifically to serve these communities we still have broadband that is too expensive. This is very disheartening on the back of announcements that fibre will be coming to more of rural NZ. Good for those areas, it is good news for them, although the wait time is still up to 2024! However some of those areas (like my own) already have access to a reasonable copper network & VDSL. Our rural areas have no networks and have to rely on expensive & unreliable satellite service.

The next UFB rollout is aimed at provincial NZ where there are towns - I didn't see Whangamomona on the list (Whataroa, Tapora, Makahu or Oban). What about the rest of the rural NZ, what can be done to make Internet more affordable and accessible to our children there?

Sunday, 29 January 2017

TeachNZ Study Award

Matata Beach at Sunset
I feel very privileged to have received a TeachNZ Study Award to undertake some research this year. My thesis will be in my special area of interest - Rural Education; and expertise - Virtual Learning. I'll be on sabbatical for Term 2 & 3, however I will still be working in a Governance role and doing all that is necessary to keep the VLN Primary School on track and moving forward. I'll be using my blog to share some of my learning and reflections during the year ahead.

I am really looking forward to having some time and headspace to read, reflect and write more deeply on education issues that interest me. In the last few years any time and headspace has been completed directed to growing and maintaining VLN Primary communications - Blog, Facebook, Twitter & Hail; and there has been little left over to write from my own professional viewpoint. Not that these viewpoints widely differ, there are just some things that I wouldn't want to say in VLN Primary media that i hope to be able to write about here.