Although many teachers and families are concerned about education minister Hekia Parata’s announcement of a law change to enable more school students to enrol in online learning, a world-renowned expert in e-Learning describes it as an inevitable development.
University of Canterbury distinguished professor Niki Davis says that the virtual schooling – Communities of Online Learning (COOL) – will be a COOL change for school students and communities, when preceded by professional and organisational development. Providing it is designed to address unmet needs in New Zealand, as stated by the minister, it is time to encourage this flexibility, she says.
However, there are many misconceptions about online learning that need to be dispelled, Professor Davis says.
“Online courses are not new; they are already spread nationwide in the schooling sector. For example, clusters of schools sharing online courses began in Canterbury in the early 2000s with Carol Moffat’s visionary leadership in Oxford Area School, which founded CantaNet, now in NetNZ.
“Another potential partner in a COOL, called VLN Primary, successfully offers Māori language teaching right inside many primary schools (teaching online from a distance). In the far north, North.net is another e-learning cluster of schools supporting one another for over a decade.”
Quality learning never stops at the screen, says the professor. “Students in our online university courses find that online learning is best designed to be social and blend with everyday life.”
Online learning happens every day in schools, she says, but only some leaders recognise that a quality online course involves changes in roles and responsibilities, planned strategically.
“School board and education review staff will also need professional and organisational development to learn about the possibilities and pitfalls so they can ensure quality online learning.
“In conclusion, the minister says that ‘There will be a rigorous accreditation process alongside ongoing monitoring to ensure quality education is being provided’. This can only be done with adequate professional and organisational development in all parts of the schooling sector,” says Professor Davis.
The University of Canterbury e-Learning Lab could work to address this, as yet unrecognised need, and we have strong links nationwide through the Flexible Learning Association of New Zealand.”
Professor Davis is recognised internationally as a leading expert in information and communication technologies in teacher education. Sought by UNESCO, national agencies, companies, scholarly societies and institutions for her expertise; she has more than 200 publications including books and scholarly papers.