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 Rinc√≥n-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