Virtual Learning as an Impetus for Educational Change: Charting a Way Forward for Learning in New Zealand


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The purpose of this white paper is to examine the current state of virtual learning in the schools sector, as well as chart a vision for the virtual learning in 2016 and beyond. In this document, first, we trace the history and development of the main types of providers of distance education to establish the context for the current provision of online distance and blended learning in New Zealand. Second, we examine the organisational models designed to allow for the continued development of these initiatives. These models are outlined in the DEANZ’s report entitled Primary and Secondary e-Learning: Examining the Process of Achieving Maturity and the CORE Education report entitled Business Case: Virtual Learning Network Community (VLN-C). Finally, we consolidate and expand these two organisational models to chart a specific vision for the future of education in New Zealand’s school’s sector.

Key findings: 

Given the multitude of differing players in the virtual learning environment in New Zealand, we submit there is one potential organisational structure that could be accommodated within the existing and impending realities that allows schools to become more networked in their own orientation towards student learning. Under this organisational structure, ideally one national body would have three main responsibilities:

  1. provide and support asynchronous and synchronous tools for virtual learning (e.g., video-conferencing, virtual classrooms, learning management systems, student information systems, e-portfolio programmes, etc.),
  2. develop and maintain a repository of online course content that is available to users free-of-charge, and
  3. provide brokerage services for users that wish to provide excess capacity to or collaborate with others.

This structure would allow existing distance education providers to focus specifically upon the provision of distance education and professional development (potentially even to specialise with certain geographic, pedagogical, eth- nic, gender, etc. foci). It would also allow individual schools and teachers to use virtual learning tools and virtual learning content with their face-to-face students in a blended format or a “flipped classroom” model. It would also allow individual or multiple schools to consider creative scheduling and delivery options.

This structure would change the nature of individual schools — at least in terms of potential membership and governance. It would encourage schools to belong to or associate with a variety of geographic and thematic networks. This structure could also encourage schools to cooperate across schools, where two teachers located at two different schools — possibly in geographic proximity to each other, but not necessarily – could team-teach the same course to students located at both schools.

Finally, this structure has the potential to re-envision the physical nature of a school. If some or much of the learning is completed in a virtual environment, is there a need for ALL students to physically be in a school for ALL of the school day. For some students, under this structure, there may not be a need for them to be physically present in the school building all of the time; which opens up interesting opportunities to create open learning spaces that could be used by more than a single school. This vision of multiple schools coordinating their use of one or more shared spaces — possibly even using shared or collaborative staffing models – calls for a new vision of what is a school and how this “school” should be governed or managed.

Download the full report:

Virtual Learning as an Impetous for Educational Change: reportVirtual Learning as an Impetus for Educational Change Research report by M.K Barbour and D. Wenmoth (PDF, 1.6MB)

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