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"Our Journey with Ultranet" - Reflections from Otonga School


Focusing on National Goal 4 - Family and whānau to actively participate in their child’s learning

Cluster Goal 4 - Communicate changes in pedagogy and use of e-learning and SOLO Taxonomy to the school community.

 Setting the Scene - 

Otonga Road Primary School was opened on 2 February 1960 with a roll of over 200 pupils and a staff of six. By 1977 the roll had increased to 600 with a staff of 22. Over the last few years the roll has been between 500 - 580 pupils. We are a multicultural school, currently with 26 Nationalities represented.

Since its beginning, the school has had only three previous Principals:

1960 - 1074 Mr Gerry Allen

1975 - 1989 Mr Para Bennett

1990 - 2007 Mr Reg Nimmo

The present principal, Linda Woon, started in 2007.

The School is named after the road where it is located, the name is an abbreviation of Tihiotonga referring to it’s position to the south of Rotorua.



Our children should grow up to be confident people, adept at working in teams and able to communicate their thoughts and ideas effectively.

They should be self-directed learners who view education as a life-long process. They should also be innovative and enterprising individuals, able to cope with ambiguity and adapt well to change. They will be citizens with a strong value base, well-prepared to actively and positively contribute to a multi-cultural society.

We have four core values that we deliberately unpack in our learning one per term:

  • Respect
  • Co operation
  • Perseverance
  • Responsibility

We have 4 future-focussed themes that drive the selection of our studies:

  • Sustainability
  • Globalisation
  • Enterprise
  • Citizenship

We have 5 life skills that we deliberately teach:

  • Managing self
  • Relating to others
  • Participating and contributing
  • Thinking strategies
  • As well as the foundation Literacies of Reading, Writing, Maths and IT.


Background and context

Otonga Principal decided to start our LMS journey as she was aware of the importance of providing anywhere, anytime learning in case of earthquakes, flu pandemics or other situations that could mean children are not able to access regular schooling. She also saw this sort of system as an integral connection between home and school.

Moving towards a fully integrated LMS is a long journey that we as a school we have been steadily working our way through since August 2009. Otonga ICT leads, senior management  and principal researched different LMS platforms before deciding on Ultranet as it was uncluttered and it’s interface was similar to programmes such as word. 

What is ultranet?

Ultranet is a learning management system which comprises of 3 areas.  Some areas such as the webSpace are publically accessed, while other areas require a login.   

WebSpace: which acts as the schools public website, is fully editable by staff administrators and publically viewable online. 

ClassSpace:  is an online classroom for the teachers and children. This space is accessed by login. Each child’s login allows them to see their own class and any other pages that they are a member of. This Class Space can also be accessed through parent logins.

USpace:  is a private area that belongs to each child (or teacher) and includes a social networking component, a place to host media (photos, movies and sound files), a blog and an e- portfolio section. This is private space unless students  request and accept buddies – buddies can access each others Uspace to make comments. Parent’s logins give them access to their own child’s Uspace only.

Method, Interventions and Actions

In the first year 2009

  • Priority number one was developing the school website as a portal for information for parents and new families. Our Website went live on September 2nd 2009
  • An ICT lead had meetings with Ultranet staff and did own learning on how to administer the LMS.
  • All children and teachers were added to the system.

In the second year 2010

  • All students were taught how to login and change their passwords.
  • Teachers received PD on how to edit their ClassSpace at team meetings.
  • The lead teacher and principal met with Ultranet and developed an implementation plan to use ultranet in a purposeful way in learning. (see attached document).
  • In response to the implementation plan, a whole school unit on energy was developed around the LMS system. A learning links page created, and an Ask an Expert page created.
  • The Lead teacher developed schoolwide learning links pages on main website, for home and school use.
  • Ongoing teacher PD was held at team meetings with expectations of at least  twice a term.
  • Snippets to promote ultranet usage by families were added to the school newsletter.

 In the third year 2011

  • The Principal developed their own page on the website to inform parents of 21st century learning,  with thought provoking snippets.
  • Some teachers started keeping reflective blogs in their own Uspace.
  • Some students started collecting learning artifacts in their Uspace area, and blogged.
  • Many students were accessing learning links pages from the website to support in class learning and teachers began setting up class specific learning links for children to use in their Class Space. 


  • Lunchtime Ultranet PD was offered to all staff twice a week on a turn up basis. A focus for each week was posted on the whiteboard ahead of time. This is treated as a duty for the teachers hosting.
  • To promote teachers to continue their development, Teacher  goals  were set for the year . They were  4 tasks for editing and adding content to Class Space. At culmination of the year teachers who had achieved these goals were acknowledged by certificates at a staff meeting.
  • A Lead teacher trials e-portfolios as an alternative to paper portfolios, with the purpose to see if e-portfolios have the ability to share equal or better information for reporting to parents. (see the results in the teacher’s reflection below).

This year 2012

  • To get ClassSpace pages up and running early this year, it was an expectation for all staff to share their page at Meet the Teacher evening in week 3. 


  • Staff were also asked to share important areas of the website such as the newsletters, News Centre (like a school blog) and the calendar (which shows all school events).
  • A Lead teacher trying whole class e-portfolios, developing templates and working out systems for access (as there is only 4 computers per class).

Summary of Key Results

Where are we now?

Webspace: Our school website is a fully functioning portal to our school for the public. It has both static and changing pages. It includes information on our schools beliefs and curriculum, links to the public parts of our class pages -sharing what each class is doing, has learning links pages, has the school calendar and newsletters  and has schoolwide news and photographs. This has been well received by families who can now see our website as a great resource.

Class Space: Most teachers are using their Class Space as initially a blog type platform  and for uploading photos of special events so they can be shared at home. Many teachers have developed pages  to support units of learning, including weblinks, slideshows, images and video;  for both the teacher to use at instructional times and for the children to revisit during learning rotations and at home. 

Uspace: We decided to turn off the social networking aspect of Ultranet due to increasing issues with monitoring. At this point in time students still chat with each other on their front page, a more open forum. One class has all students using this area for e-portfolios. This has also been used successfully with special needs students to communicate through images and video between home and school.  Some teachers are starting to use the Uspace as an area to collect students digital work.

So as a school we are well on our way towards our goal of having anywhere anytime learning and a link tighter link between home and school. With continued development of the Class Space into useful resources for children, and parents being invited to take part in the children’s learning journeys through e-portfolios our Ultranet LMS will become a important part of the schools development of confident, capable connected learners.

Drawn conclusions and identified any recommendations or Next Steps

Develop whole school continuum of how Uspace can be used through the different levels.

Load all parents into the system and develop a parents class to help them with ideas to support childrens learning at home.

Develop the use of the different collaborative tools such as discussion forums, and wikis with children’s input.


 What do Student's Think?




What does a Teacher Think?





What does a Lead Teacher Think? - By Kath Cochet

E-portfolio Trial 2011 – Parents/Teacher/kids Reflection


To gauge child and parent readiness for e-portfolios at Otonga Primary I offered an e-portfolio trial to all parents in my year 5-6 class. Of the 31 students 7 parents accepted my offer at the end of term 1 (this was to shrink to 6 at the end of term 2 as one student left the school).


6 students created e-portfolios within the Ultranet systems Uspace.

11 parent accounts were created with both parents having log ins in most families, and 1 grandmother.

Data was gathered through surveys at mid and end of year for parents and end of year for children.





  • The most notable positive throughout the year by parents was the accessibility anytime, not having to wait till the folder comes home at July and December only.
  • This was closely followed by comments about being able to take time, when they had it, to revisit work with the children at home.
  • Parents also enjoyed the multimedia component with photo albums, video, audio and digital work samples able to be shared.
  • One family particularly like that overseas family could also share the child’s work.
  • The site was mostly easy to navigate.


  • Technical glitches such as hard to read scans, or text size were the main negative mentioned – which was to be expected.
  • The second negative was around regularity of entries and having no notifications of new entries therefore either never remembering to go and check the portfolio, or going to find nothing new had been added.
  • Children not using the forum feature as they could.



  • Parents noted the valuable technical skills children were learning simply compiling the portfolio.
  • One parent found it hard to comment to their child in this environment – was afraid how the comment was being interpreted by the teacher. Something to keep in mind, reassuring parents and giving them learning in how to comment effectively.
  • A parent who moved overseas mid-year was able to keep in touch with her sons learning through the parent portals (even though he didn’t have an e-portfolio he uploaded photographs and some digital work.)


  • Most liked doing it as it was different.
  • 1 child preferred typing to writing
  • 2 out of 6 thought it was easier that doing it on paper, and 5 out of 6 said it was pretty easy to do.
  • Two kids mentioned being able to see it anytime.



  • Kids also reported frustrations with technical issues. Uploads not working, taking too long, and one child’s work disappeared. 


  • 4/6 kids had grandparents who had seen their e-portfolios.


  • Being able to access children’s folders from home was great. Not having to lug a box of books home instead.
  • In Ultranet as a teacher I am able to set up a task template and send it out to all children, groups or individuals.
  • Great independence shown by the children in technical skills, and helping each other.
  • Less photocopying (saves money and enviro-friendly)


  • Again technical issues were a problem as to be expected with anything digital.
  • Trying to replicate AFL folder contents was difficult as many classroom assessments had to be done on paper and then transferred somehow.
  • Cross-grouping maths proved difficult as I needed digital assessments from the other teachers.
  • Having to modify or create versions of AFL folder pages digitally for the kids to fill in online.
  • How to share testing without scanning

  • The speed at which children up skilled in computer use because they had to know how to achieve the task of putting their work in their folders.
  • The patience and adaptability kids showed when things weren’t working so well

Summary of findings

On the whole parents were positive about e-portfolios being as substantive as the paper versions and being the way that the child will be going in the future. Parents were happy that they had anytime access, and that it had up skilled their children quickly in ICT skills as an added benefit. They preferred to be able to see comparisons of growth on a single page, with less links for ease of viewing. 

When asked about content of the e-portfolio parents expectations seem modelled on paper AFL folders. This is something in the ethos of reporting to parents I think we may need to alter slightly moving forward, as having to scan paper tests into a computer is not good time management, and it is not possible to administer online tests to a whole class until we have 1-1 computing and have E-Astle up and running.

Parents were positive about wanting to see goal setting as an important part of the e-portfolio and I envisage this as being a more child led reporting process and aim to try a more goal directed reflective process for regular e-portfolio entries by children in my whole class trial in 2012. I see children starting with the goal or learning objective, then providing self-chosen (and/or initially teacher directed) evidence. Children would then be responsible to photograph or scan (if I can get hold of a scanner) evidence from books, or upload digital activities, or create audio or video explanations to back up the learning, finishing with a reflective statement component. Once completed, the teacher can add a comment.

Kids on a whole enjoyed their experience of e-portfolios and all said they would like to do it again next year. They found using the Ultranet system fairly easy and liked that they could go home straight away and share work with their families. 

As a teacher I can see the potential power that an online document (in the correct form) could have in a child’s learning. The power to bring the extended family into the classroom is fantastic, kids like nothing more than to get praise for their ‘work’ from people who are not there to see them doing it. To execute this would require a lot of educating and promoting the commenting facility with parents and children as a safe place to talk about their learning. Parents and children alike would need educating around how to make good reflective comments. The Ultranet system is still not the most ideal software for e-portfolios as it still needs updates in RSS feed, tagging and flexibility in the portfolio section, but it does cover important factors such as security, safety, privacy and the ability to keep all primary years e-portfolios in one place and download to take home at the end of year 6.


Recommendations for 2012




  • Lots of simple chunks of information about the how and why of the e-portfolios so parents are well informed of expectations and outcomes this year.
  • Hand-outs/email guides for parents to help with commenting and getting involved with the e-portfolio.
  • Hold an introduction hands on session with parents to learn how to access.
  • Open evenings or mornings to access computers if families do not have access at home.
  • Build the criteria together so children have buy in and ownership from the start – as it will be harder work than their folders for some of them. Set up their first pages, avatars, cover cyber citizenship.
  • Focus on the skills needed in the first 2 weeks of school (camera use, uploading, editing and saving, using email, using excel, keyboard shortcuts etc)
  • Teach them to use the What, so what, what next reflection tool.
  • Teach them to email their parents when they have made an entry (we will be the RSS feed till it is ready) to promote buy in from them.
  • Build into their routine checking and replying to comments (when first get to suite)
  • Keep a visual check sheet and roster so each child knows what they need to do and by when, and can tick off.


  • Plan, plan plan: keep all child entries, prep (photos etc) as part of the class rotations, part of the children’s’ learning day.
  • Set up regular times to go online and add comments to kids work.
  • Set up all parents e-mails into class email account.
  • Plan for open evenings or mornings at school twice a term if any families do not have access to computers.
  • Keep gathering feedback from invested parties, including staff this year.
  • Celebrate good examples of reflective thinking (with permission) in portfolios, practice commenting as a class on each others work.





  • Tessa Gray

    Thank you Paula and Otonga School for this incredibly detailed reflection - with sound data gathering processes. The feedback and analysis from parents, teachers and students make for some useful recommendations for 2012. Your school must be pleased and confident about the growing connections building between home and school - through the use of webspaces in your LMS.

    There are some valuable key findings - not only for Otonga School, but also for other community members reading this story. This is well worth mentioning to others.

    Again, thank you Smile