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OtagoNet & DunedinNet: Milestone 6 Reflections (a summary of progress made)

This is an overall summary of the progress we have made (& sometimes not made) towards realising the broad goals we set for ourselves at the outset of the project. The diagram below provides readers with a summary of  the broad goals we hoped to achieve through this project



An overarching goal (& sub goals - in blue) of ‘Students increasing their ownership of and engagement in learning’, underpinned by 4 broad goals, which we viewed as the necessary foundations - pre or co-conditions to achieving our overarching goal

Briefly here’s a summary of progress made over the last 3 years in each of the foundational goals:

  • Goal A   Building Community / Building Relationships.

The relationship between OtagoNet and DunedinNet has grown as a direct consequence of this project - there are regular meeting of both cluster leadership and there is a more conscious efforts aimed at collaboration and coordinating our systems and activities. Because this relationship is well embedded now, we see a very close working relationship continuing well into the future

A strong relationship with Otago University (particularly the College of Education) continues to grow through such activities as: the codesign and online delivery of the postgraduate Edux papers; co-research projects (Student Support in BL environments; Knowledge Building Project, CoP leadership; Primary KB project); OU’s continued sponsorship of the region’s Scholarship Mentoring programme; and collaboration with College of Education Advisory Services

Telford Rural Polytechnic, now a division of Lincoln University, continues to be at the forefront (nationally) of the online provision of tertiary and vocational courses to our schools. As a result of  the merger we’ve had discussions on how further opportunities could be developed. Telford provides an effective model (of online course delivery) we’d like to see other tertiary organisation follow.

Relationships are emerging with new organisations (Otago Polytechnic, Telecom/Chorus, FX Networks, City Council) as we begin to develop new online services as UFB/RBI is rolled out

Nationally we’ve continued to play a very active role in the activity of the Virtual Learning Network Community, particularly organising the national Scholarship Mentoring programme, and mentoring new, emerging clusters. A strong, strategic partnership have been forged with CantaNet, as we consider our immediate and future development of our clusters, and delivery of online programmes of learning and other services.

Exciting early relationships are emerging with overseas networks/organisations. Particularly IKIT (the international KB organisation) and with Hong Kong University College of Education. Opportunities for both teacher and student collaboration are likely in the near future.

Less progress has been made in growing the working relationship with the region’s primary schools, and with Kai Tahu as tangata whenua. Growing these and existing relationship remains an ongoing priority.

  • Goal B   Connected teachers / Leadership for Learning.

Teachers and schools in the past have been reliant on PD being arranged and supplied by external providers. As these traditional opportunities have all but disappeared, there has been a shift in perception of the need to take ownership of their own PLD. Online Communities of Practice are recognised as a very viable way of meeting teachers PLD needs. However while our teachers’ expressed very strong interest and support for the concept of online CoPs, establishing a pattern of ongoing participation in online communities has been more challenging. Limited CoP participation in  CoP online ‘spaces’ is occurring, however the challenge of  growing a culture of broadly based and ongoing online participation remains. Unfortunately this type of participation has yet to become a normal part of most teachers’ routine. Providing ongoing facilitation (through CoP leadership) which encourages active participation and can provide support, will be needed for a sustained period beyond this project. In 2013, with the UO College of Education to develop a programme for CoP Leaders, which develops ‘across school’ teacher leadership skills specifically aimed at facilitating active participation of schools’ teachers in CoPs (& subject associations). Another Otago-wide ‘jumbo day’ is planned early in 2013, allowing all CoPs to meet ‘f2f’ early in the year, plan activity & hopefully lead to a rise in ongoing participation in CoPs’ online spaces.

While we had hoped to make more progress with this goal over the project, we know we have made significant progress, but recognise it is going to take longer to embed online CoP participation into the ‘normal’ practice and culture of teachers

  • Goal C   Connected Schools / Connected ‘Communities of Schools’.

Quite significant progress has been made with this goal - a common, shared online environment, incorporating an evolving suite of ‘cloud’/virtualised applications (based around Google Apps as a base platform) has been been introduced in most our schools. Teachers are a lot more competent and comfortable using these online applications and are beginning to use these in ways that support learning in their classrooms, and across schools as a means of sharing and co-construction of teaching and school resources. We anticipate teachers more widely using other online tools/environments, including Mahara (ePortfolio) and ‘Knowledge Forum’ in the near future, and  want to explore ways the participation in these online spaces can be extended to include learning-focused participation of parent/whanau & community.

The introduction of ‘cloud’-based environments and tools into schools has not been totally unproblematic, as it has accentuated the problem of schools’ current limited internet bandwidth. Schools have generally been ready and willing to do more than current internet connectivity can adequately sustain. The UFB rollout will alleviate these problems and allow a lot more learning-focused online activity to occur.

New online courses were added to the OtagoNet & Dunedin menu in 2010-2012, and overall enrolments in these online classes continues to rises. Future challenge will include: diversifying the online courses (beyond the current ‘traditional’ senior subjects currently offered); creating greater flexibility in programmes of learning are structured  (eg unit/term/semester options) & delivered (using more diverse online mediums); and move towards more ‘community-centred” learning & teaching practices (with larger and more diverse class groups). While the VLN-C/ OtagoNet/DunedinNet online space offers a significant opportunity to develop the vision of a ‘seamless education’

the challenge of encouraging tertiary and PTE providers to deliver a broad range of vocational and tertiary courses online remains.

  • Goal D   Knowledge creation and dissemination

Formal research is being carried out in partnership with the University of Otago - Projects include: Exploring students’ experiences of a blended form of learning (2010), Knowledge building pedagogy in the senior secondary (2012 & 2013), and CoP leadership (2012). Findings of these projects have been presented at our eHuis and at national conferences, such as ULearn. Further research projects are planned (eg Support strategies and systems for online/blended learners).

Individual teacher research, and research by CoPs, has been a lot more limited. Our CoPs are not yet at a stage of maturity for this to occur. Teachers involved in the online Edux papers are carrying out some individual school-based research which we are encouraging them to share. These papers seems to provide an effective means of encouraging and supporting teacher research - ideally it would be good to be able to continue supporting all teachers enrolling in these papers

Key Lessons:

The goals of this project are ambitious and were never likely to be fully realised over the period of this project. Promising progress is being made with all project goals. When we consider the overall progress made towards our overarching goal of ‘Students increasing their ownership of and engagement in learning’, it is still very much ‘a work in progress’. There is a growing acceptance, and increased participation, of students learning in ‘blended learning’ environments across our schools. Learning, teaching and schooling practices continue to evolve to allow the successful participation of this increasingly range of students. Students and teachers working in these online environments are undoubtedly becoming more competent users of using a growing range of digital technologies, however basic pedagogy still remains fairly content and teacher centred.

Schools and teachers are beginning to develop practices and systems to support and mentor their students who are learning (particularly those learning in in blended & online learning environments) in ways that are improving engagement and ownership for learning, and include the involvement parents/whanau & community supporting learning, but there is still a lot more to do.

Our real challenge going into 2013, is embedding the gains made, in terms of lasting change, particularly the progress made growing our online Communities of Practice. We see such cross school collaboration as a necessary precursor to the ongoing systemic change learning, teaching and schooling practices