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Donna Hourigan-Johnston

Donna Hourigan-Johnston

Last updated by Donna Hourigan-Johnston

eLearning Inquiry: How to make counselling help more accessible to the 21st century student using the MRGS iLearn site

Background Thinking and Research:

Having been on study leave last year, completing the Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching, one of the realisations I made was how important technology is for the 21st century student and teacher, and how I needed to keep on this track when I returned to MRGS. I was lucky enough to be able to join the elead team which has been very supportive for my continual learning in this area. There is a lot of literature that supports the idea that we as teachers, and in my case, counselors, need to be up with the play as far as technology is concerned, so that we can make teaching more engaging and interesting and meet the needs of our diverse learners.

Sinkinson ( 2010) writes “ successful use of technology in the classroom enhances student learning”( p.69). She continues, “this is the Net generation, the first generation to live their lives completely on a non- stop diet of media” ( p.68). When researching the use of technology and the safety challenges on the internet and mobile phones, Dr. Fenaughty ( 2011) interviewed 1700 NZ Secondary School students. He found that “ 99% of all students used internet and/or mobile phones at least  three or more times a week” ( Netsafe, 2011). Indeed, when I interviewed a Year 11 student when on placement in a school, the student reported checking her phone in class every ten minutes for “any postings on my wall, friend requests or mail”. She had a logical argument as to why all students should have ipads in school, and as I understand it, a year later this school is introducing exactly this to their Year 9and 10 student classes. “ We must teach in the way that 21st century students learn best- that is through teamwork, experiential learning and technology” ( Pope & Gillon , 2009, p. 139).

So with this in mind, I fully intended to try and make my lessons as interesting as possible, with technology helping me to do this.

In Counselling, I wondered about the idea of developing a counselling ilearn page so that we could reach those students who did not access counselling and also have a forum of self help information, so that students could access it themselves. This would also be another way to make our work in the counselling department known to students so that they were informed about where and how they could get help.

Many students are dealing with issues such as depression, anxiety, bullying, relationship conflicts, violence and abuse, stress, identity issues, exam pressure and many others. It is not always easy to come into a counselling service, so I thought it important to have another way to access help.

Also, there are a lot of really useful youtube clips and self- help sites that could be helpful to students.

The focus for my inquiry became: “ How to make counselling help more accessible to the 21st century student using the MRGS iLearn site”.

With the help of Sophie, Fiona and the elead team, I set up a counselling iLearn page, and put on information that I thought was important like bullying, depression and peace week/mediation news. This became difficult to maintain due to time restraints and lack of technological skill on my part. After struggling with this for a while, it then dawned on me: why don’t I ask the students what they want, and see what ideas they had about how to set it up and promote it, as I had a feeling that the ilearn counselling page was not being used so far.

The original iLearn Counselling site before student input.




Student Voice:

I surveyed over 40x Year 11-13 Mediators and asked them if they used ilearn; what ideas they had of what could be put on an ilearn counselling page, and how it could be advertised. I also asked if there were any students who wanted to help me set it up. Eleven students volunteered! It turns out they had some great ideas and they also had the technological knowledge  of how to create these within the ilearn page (see survey results).

I then met with the students, and they had some interesting  ideas: For example, setting up pages/tabs of different topics of self help information (eg stress/bullying/depression/relationships), including a home page about the counselling department, mediation (having the video of a role play about mediation)- how to make appointments, etc; images and photos ; newspage; a flow chart of where to go for help; outside agency phone numbers; what to do when you’re in a particular situation; inspirational quotes and having a direct link to the counselling page from the homepage of ilearn.

It seemed to me that it would be a much more useful student self help page if the students themselves decided on the content.

I met again with a subgroup of this group, and what became clear was that no one was using the established page as they were finding it hard to navigate. This highlighted again the initial student feedback idea that there needed to be a direct link from the homepage. I spoke to Sophie who quickly established a direct link from the homepage. (see image right)

The students made a video of what they thought should be included on this ilearn counselling page.

student voice

Summary of student ideas from our survey

New Link from Home page

Next Steps

We are at the point of starting to develop the iLearn counselling page further being guided by student voice. The feedback and recommendations shared by the senior students will help guide our thinking and next steps. For 2013 I will establish a core student group and we will work collaboratively on developing this iLearn counselling page further to better meet student needs.


Akshay and Santhosh share the group's ideas on how the counselling iLearn page might be developed.


Netsafe.( 2011). “ Challenging Risk: New Zealand High School Students Activity, Challenge, Distress and Resilency, within Cyberspace” by John Fenaughty. University of Auckland. Retrieved from:


 Pope,J., & Gillon,K. ( 2009). Cerebral techniques for a brain friendly classroom. In Do it less do it better: Making the New Curriculum work in secondary schools ( pp. 121- 140). Hatbox Publications.

 Sinkinson,M. ( 2010). Conversations with teenagers: Incorporating a study of youth culture into pre-service teachers’ health education courses. Journal of Adult Learning Aotearoa New Zealand ( JALANZ), 38(1), 57-73.