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CantaNet: Beyond 2012

Vision (planning guided by vision) Despite the fact the cluster has been in existence since the beginning of 2011, there is no agreed upon vision and as a result there is no strategic plan.

Online Programme of Learning

The current online programme consists of 24 courses offered from within CantaNet, with access to up to around 300 other courses through the various eLearning cluster that make up the Virtual Learning Network (VLN). The collaborative nature of the eLearning clusters means students have a range of online courses to choose from, although admittance into other clusters’ courses is not guaranteed. This year we had to turn more students away than previous years, which suggests there are not enough courses, or at least the right type of courses.

Each school also has one teacher fulfilling the role of the eDean, whose job it is to support eStudents and eTeachers.

State of the Nation - Summary given at meeting

Part One: In what ways can we improve the quality of the learning experience for students enrolled in the online courses?
The online (or video conference) programme has remained the core focus for the cluster since the merger and will continue to remain so in future planning. While there has been undoubted progress in the quality of the learning we are offering students there are some major holes in what we do.

1. How can we improve teacher practice? There is no systematic programme of professional learning and development for our eTeachers, as outlined by Kerry Stevens’ thesis,

“eTeachers and Site Supervisors professional learning/development is primarily collegial, informal and sporadic, rather than well-planned and well-aligned to their professional learning needs, goals and and support is informal and haphazard rather than part of an integrated and proactive system for professional appraisals/goalsetting and PD”

All eTeachers are expected to attend the two days PD at the end of each year (in preparation for the next) and these two days are of great benefit. During the year there is some collaborative sharing that goes on through the asynchronous environment (Educo) which helps build further understanding on some of the challenges of teaching online. For example in term two there were a series of discussions that ran over a few weeks where teachers engaged in some really worthwhile dialogue. During this term teachers contributed to a collaborative document sharing good practice in the video conference lesson. All this is good, but as mentioned earlier it is ad hoc and sporadic.

In the past we have trialled appraisal systems, but found that it was another layer of performance management on top of what is already expected of teachers. It was too much to ask of them. When we amalgamated we agreed that all eTeachers would have a school based goal for appraisal that directly linked to teaching online. The schools and teachers would then liaise with me on how to make progress towards this goal, and in evaluating whether they have achieved it. This hasn’t happened. The problem is there are no clear mechanisms for making this happen.

New eTeachers are given more support than experienced teachers, but it is still a shock to the system for them. They really need far more preparation and orientation than they currently do.

2. Quality Assurance We currently assure quality of courses by surveying students’ experience twice a year, examining NCEA results, interviewing students on an ad hoc basis, and by relying on eDeans to be able to effectively monitor students progress and then pass on problems to the Director or eLearning responsible for the online programme. There is much more we could be doing, but we are currently constrained by resourcing / time. There are also a lot of cross cluster enrolments, which enables our students to access a broad range of courses, but I have very little input into ensuring the quality of those courses. In fact I have very little idea of the processes other clusters use to ensure course quality. This is indicative of the fractal nature of the Virtual Learning Network.

3. Innovation While we have many competent, and a few very good teachers, there is very little real innovation in teaching and learning. Most teachers are building courses that perform an important function, but there is very little pushing of the boundaries. While this might reflect where many schools are at with their staff, it would be of benefit to develop examples of innovative practice in online teaching and learning. Maybe this is through developing this in a few teachers or trying to get some teachers we know push the boundaries into the programme

4. Choice of Teacher We are not always getting quality teachers into the programme. While it is difficult to marry up the course need, the need for a volunteer (can’t be forced) and a high quality teacher it would be of benefit to our students it we could find ways of succeeding in this more than we currently do.

5. On-site support Effective on site support for students is vital to their success and important in developing if we want to get a broader range of students into courses. While there are a few students who have developed the self-management skills to be successful with very little on-site support, this is not the case for most. The role of the eDean is the key to students thriving in this environment. The issue is they have enormous responsibility with very little time allocation. They are under-resourced to perform the task that is needed. Currently the vast majority of eDeans get one hour a week irrespective of the needs of the students they are responsible for or the numbers of them. An eDean with one hour will cope with a small number of students, but how do they cope with 15 or 20 or 25?

As you can see from the graph above, there is some excellent work going on from many eDeans, but it is on the back of them working above and beyond the call of duty.

Related to this is the provision of the physical space for students to work in outside of the VC lesson. A recent survey given to students by the eDean community of practice asked them what sort of space was provided for them and the results can be viewed below.

It is good to see so many students have a specialised space for eStudents, because that is the ideal. In answer to my request for feedback a group of eDeans and eTeacher made the following interesting points.

Making sure that students non-contacts are used wisely. Schools that provide supervised non contacts result in better student achievement

I disagree with this- I don’t think that the students need to be supervised all the time but I do think that they need an eDean with the time to take an interest them and to be there often enough to offer help etc.

I agree with the first comment, students who, where possible can be supervised, do work better as often you might have 10-15 students in one room all doing different courses

Schools should be providing their eStudents with a customised place to study in their study times- with reliable computers and all the resources they need to be successful. Even better if there is easy access to help within that environment- eDean, librarians, teachers etc

Students having common access to resources-ie some schools provide better on line capability than other schools

I don't believe that eSudents need to be supervised all the time but they do need to have an eDean who keeps a close eye on them and interest in them. Part of being an online learner is learning the skills to become independent. I do agree that schools should be offering their eStudents an environment to study in that includes access to reliable computers and all the other technology and resources that they need.

I think that we know which students need supervised study time at our own schools and should plan accordingly. I agree that some students in senior school should be able to manage and organise themselves and I would encourage them to manage themselves. However some student need supervision in order to reach their potential.

The question of supervision is an interesting one and I think that the last comment is spot on. We need to examine the needs of the students in front of us and resource accordingly. We also need to closely examine how we develop a students’ ability to self-manage both before they take on fully online courses and during.

Provision of computers for eStudents was noted as an issue by a significant number of students in this survey. While they do have access it is not always guaranteed. We can’t do much about the current internet speeds, but we can ensure that students have guaranteed access to computers.

6. Course Provision While we are providing a broad range of courses for students there are current inefficiencies in course provision. Some of the courses provided are based on what a school can offer rather than need. This results in empty or close to empty courses, oversubscribed courses elsewhere, and having to get large numbers of students in out of cluster courses. There is also a major inefficiency across the VLN with replication of courses and little rationalisation. In part this is a result of each school having to find a course to offer.

Our courses are very traditional in nature which means we are tending to only meet the needs of the more academically minded students. This links in with the “innovation” section earlier, but we haven’t developed courses that are a little different, or meet a different need. While we realise that the academic courses meet a very real need (and this won't change), it would be a very positive step to develop the ability / capacity to offer a broader range of courses.

Part Two: Networked Schooling
In this second section we need to examine what else schools want from cluster membership. In fact we first need to ask whether there is anything else they want, or what if anything is even viable with current funding. If principals have aspirational goals for the clusters’ future then it would also be worth examining alternative funding streams.

The following possible focus area for the cluster reflect aspects of networked schooling, but it’s probably worth examining what networked schooling actually represents

Learning would be networked, with seamless integration of fully online courses and blended learning. Learning would closely resemble what I discuss in this blog post (also available in the “Keep Informed” pdf emailed to principals). In a sense it would be ubiquitous (everywhere).

Collaboration would be a key feature of networked schools, with learners working across schools, teachers actively working with teachers from other schools to not only develop their own expertise, but for the benefit of the learner. Team teaching across schools would be a common.

School systems and structures would reflect this approach to learning, with a more flexible approach to staffing, timetabling and even governance (although limited by current policy)

Shared online learning environments, although this does not preclude schools having their own as well.

Blended Learning

The goal of the Southern Central Divide Regional Cluster (with WestNet) was to develop schools capacity to blend learning (as seen above) and as a result develop an approach to learning that provided enormous flexibility for the learner. We brought together 30 teachers, from around the two clusters and made them the focus of three years of intensive PD. These teachers would be leaders within their own schools and would work within and across schools to develop teacher capability. To some extent this has happened. We were never going to achieve the ideal, and the reality is that three years should only be a starting point. Most teachers directly involved in the project group and some schools have really benefitted from the project. A few teachers dropped out in the first few months. Some of these have been replaced over the last year or so and some have not. Overall the three years have been of benefit and the question has to be asked, do we want to continue this focus (as a cluster) on blended learning in the future and if so in what form without Ministry funding? See some views of teacher involved in the project below

“everything that I have done here has been of value to me professionally. I'm no expert, but I do think this has transformed my teaching and the learning of students along with it. I really need to keep in touch with this group as it is advancing abilities that I simply would not be developed otherwise. I have very few people to collaborate with on ICT and teaching except for the members of this group.”

“I am currently surveying staff for more specific info on networking and needs so would like to be able to connect them with others willing to work with them when I find out which subjects or areas of need are most urgent. I have really enjoyed and appreciated working with everyone on this project. I have learned heaps and feel really quite passionately now about moving forward with the push towards blended learning and reviewing how we teach and how students need to learn in the future. Thank you to everyone involved”

“We have learnt how important three things are to progress this: 1. Time 2. Face to face time 3. Compulsion Any future in this project will need to recognise these and I can't see how it can happen without a supervising/driving force.” “We've forned the connections. We're beginning to collaborate in many different ways. We are all becoming leaders in our own schools.

Personally I have also become so much more confident with using online environments and tools with students. I know from my students how engaging they find this type of learning and how motivating they find it. If the learning intentions and success criteria are clear then they can fly.

The other big lesson for me has been to take risks!! I needed to realise that I could learn as much from the students as they would learn from me. I am loving having the chance to share this newly developing passion with other teachers.” “There has to be time available to further develop skills in the blended learning arena between schools, although I haven't used any of the funding yet, the ability for us to tap into other schools strengths in this area and utilize this in PD is crucial I think.” “I think this project has been a fabulous opportunity for people to work together across schools and to think about practice in their own schools from a broader perspective. The mix of face to face discussion and activity with online work has given us opportunities to overcome distance, without losing the personal interactions. Our schools all face a degree of rural disadvantage, and one way we can work with this is to work together and to use our collective wisdom and ideas in a range of contexts.” “Requirements vary between schools and departments. Smaller departments may have previously worked together (between schools) out of necessity and the tools available now make broader cooperation easier. We have to learn them somehow and this will become easier as resistance/inertia to the technologies wanes with time. A big driver in my opinion is usefulness. Given we have other issues around assessment, funding and MOE resistance to genuine teacher input, the atmosphere in which some are working may hinder their acceptance of new ideas that don't appear to achieve anythng but killing time.”

Teacher Networks / Communities of Practice Another key goal of the regional cluster was the development of teacher communities of practice. The core group is an example of a very effective community of practice where teachers work together on a shared interest. We also have funded communities of practice in English, Art History, Digital technologies, and eDeans. The Digital technologies group has developed to the point where two teachers are team teaching across their schools. The eDeans group has been highly successful and have developed resources and practice to ensure more effective support for eStudents. Do we want to continue to foster this across our cluster? If so, what would it look like over the next three years?

Cross cluster PD Closely connected to the prior focus, is the idea of sharing expertise across the cluster. While all schools have their own pools of expertise, you can better develop capability by hooking into expertise across the cluster. As an example from this term, two teachers from the project visited another school that needed introductory PD on Moodle for a group of teachers. This was replicated by another two teachers in another school just recently. Is this an approach that is of value, is viable and could be developed over the next three years?

Shared online learning environment A shared online environment would support all of the key focus areas already identified - online courses, blended learning, collaboration and teacher communities of practice, and shared PD. We currently have this in Educo (Moodle and Mahara) which is in some cases used by whole schools, pockets of staff, or individual teachers and for some schools, not at all. At no stage have we discussed which schools want to invest (time, energy and money)in a shared online environment, what form that use would take or even what tools / platforms the environment(s) would consist of. As schools start investigating the role of online environments (whether LMS, Google Apps, My Portfolio, Edmodo, or any other tool) in developing teachers ability to blend learning we will need to decide whether it is best done using a shared platform or an individual school based platform. It may be that some schools develop their own and others invest in a shared environment. Collaboration does not rely on the existence of shared environment, but does it make it easier?

Scholarship Mentoring This is currently available through OtagoNet and is largely the work of Ken Pullar. This is not sustainable though so should we look at working with other clusters (in particular OtagoNet, WestNet, GCSN) to develop a sustainable programme?

Junior Opportunities We currently largely focus our energies at the senior level, but there is lots of untapped potential to develop informal and formal learning opportunities in the junior school (year 1-10). This could take the form of cross cluster projects, gifted and talented programmes or the provision of languages (as well many other possibilities)

Part Three: Final Thought to Ponder Do we need to think outside the box in how we organise ourselves for the future. Should we investigate the formation of a new, larger organisation that is capable of developing alternative funding streams? Is this even possible? Or do we continue as we are and see where it leads over the next three years?