Online learning: ‘It opens up a world of possibilities’

There are hopes the online learning the pandemic forced on schools this year will permanently change the way many teachers work.

Deidre Shea is the principal of Onehunga High School and the president of the Secondary Principals' Association of New Zealand.

Deidre Shea says digital options make for far more interesting lessons than those of pre-internet days.
Photo: supplied

Hundreds of thousands of students and their teachers had to interact with one another and learn over the internet, often for the first time, during the national and Auckland lockdowns.

Advocates of online education told RNZ schools should build on the experience instead of trying to put it behind them.

The primary school e-principal of the Virtual Learning Network, Rachel Whalley, told RNZ teachers were a lot more confident about using the internet thanks to the pandemic, and she hoped they would not wait for another lockdown to use that knowledge.

“I hope that schools will take the best of what they’ve learnt this year because it certainly has been a baptism of fire for them,” she said.

“They’ve learnt that online learning can be a good way to learn and that it provides opportunities to keep those opportunities going with their students and it provides opportunities to collaborate with others.”

Whalley said 27 schools joined the network this year and it worked with more than 1200 learners across 69 primary schools.

She said most members used online learning to give their students access to subjects they would not otherwise be able to provide and many were using it for te reo Māori classes.

Kid studying homework math during his online lesson at home, social distance during quarantine. Self-isolation and online education concept caused by coronavirus pandemia

Students can try subjects they would not otherwise be able to learn, the primary school e-principal of the Virtual Learning Network, Rachel Whalley, says. (file pic)
Photo: 123RF

The executive leader of the Net NZ group of more than 55 South Island secondary schools, Darren Sudlow, was less optimistic that this year’s online learning would have a lasting impact.

“Some schools got quite excited and some teachers and leaders got quite excited about the possibilities. Once they were immersed in that environment they started realising there is an opportunity to do things differently,” he said.

“I would suggest though that there’s lots of schools that approached it as an emergency, remote response and not a lot more.”

Online learning presents challenges

Sudlow said online learning could completely change school timetables and structures, but such changes would be very challenging for most school communities.

“It would be quite brave schools to make significant change based on that, but I think you’ll have some schools tweak what they are doing,” he said.

However, he said all schools would now be expected to be a lot better at working with their students over the internet if there was another lockdown.

Secondary Principals’ Association president Deidre Shea said she expected a lot of secondary schools would make more use of online learning next year.

“If I use my school, Onehunga High School as an example, we have an agreement with all of our teachers now that every lesson includes a digital component,” she said.

Shea said that was only possible because of the government’s decision to distribute thousands of computers so students could learn from home during the lockdowns.

She said teachers could make their lessons a lot more interesting with the internet.

“If I think back 20, 30 years with the way we used to present a lesson, often it was quite boring to be frank. Whereas now you’ve got at your fingertips as a teacher all sorts of

amazing ways of presenting information, of interacting with students, of getting instant feedback.

“It opens up a world of possibilities.”

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