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.