Are NZ schools ready for more online learning?

July 8th 2020

The challenges schools will need to overcome first

The ideas of online learning and virtual schools have been around for many years, but there are several reasons why they haven’t become mainstream. Some believe that compared to face-to-face learning and traditional classrooms, student performance isn’t as strong, and a lack of social interaction poses developmental issues.

“There’s a lot more social learning going on here. College could go online, but when it’s for primary, you need the social interaction,” says Bruce Griffin, Communications Manager at Gladstone Primary.

When COVID-19 hit, a national lockdown forced kids to stay at home and schools to shift quickly to remote teaching. Over the years, schools have slowly adopted new technologies and explored different ways of integrating online learning tools into their pedagogy, but never has the education system experienced – or implemented – online learning techniques as quickly as they did pre-lockdown.

Now that things seem to be back on track, and teachers are once again in front of physical classrooms, what does it mean for the future of online learning? The ‘lockdown experiment’ has raised questions about the education of future generations. If remote teaching continued, what IT challenges would teachers and students need to overcome?

Improvements in IT infrastructure

To start, there are hardware and software issues that need to be addressed before remote learning could become a permanent feature in education. The digital technologies are available, with mobile, cloud computing and AI making huge advancements in the past 10 years, but there’s also more to be done to accommodate the needs of students and teachers. Plus, an increase in IT investment from schools should include a solid IT strategy to manage all aspects of security, cloud applications, connectivity and hardware.

The digital divide

The education system would also need to address digital inequalities between students as well as urban versus rural schools. It’s one of the biggest challenges online learning must overcome before it can take off, and some believe remote teaching will only amplify the problem – even if schools and the government provide digital equipment. The experience of students who have reliable internet access and the latest technology is vastly different from those from lower-income brackets or in rural areas, who struggle to participate without a stable connection, up-to-date hardware and digital fluency.

Retraining our teaching workforce

The other stark reality is the digital divide between teachers – and the training our nation’s teaching workforce would need in order to deliver e-learning programmes effectively.

Bruce says teachers at his school had to adapt during the COVID-19 lockdown.

“Lots of them were uncomfortable with it. They had to use new technology and learn how to do it quickly.”

Online learning isn’t just a switch in how education is delivered – it disrupts the entire classroom experience. The fundamentals of teaching and learning would need to change – curricula reconsidered, student engagement tactics deployed, and strategies put in place for creating inclusive virtual classrooms.

“I sat in on a few of the Google and Zoom meets, and kids are sitting there muted, and the teacher unmutes them when they want to talk. There’s no feedback or interaction – there are a lot of kids who are looking away,” says Bruce.

The role of schools and timetables

With the right technology, there is evidence that student performance increases because of online learning. Some research shows that on average, students can retain 25-60% more material when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. E-learning requires less time to absorb than in a traditional classroom because students can learn at their own pace.

For high school students, this opens opportunities for learning outside the classroom.

“We’re considering how we can give more flexibility to our Year 12 and 13 students. Why can’t we let students undertake work experience or volunteering? I’m really excited about the possibilities,” says Kaipara College Principal Steve McCracken.

For younger children who are more easily distracted, a more structured environment is required, but that doesn’t mean simply replicating a physical class through video capabilities. It would take a fresh perspective on the role of schools and timetables, along with the integration of new digital tools and engagement methods.

Education in the future - what does it look like?

COVID-19 forced us to adapt quickly to remote teaching, and there are some indicators that the pandemic has changed the world of education for good. The unplanned and rapid move to online learning during lockdown has certainly highlighted many parts of remote teaching that need work – before it plays a more significant role in education. The immediate future, as the global pandemic continues, is likely to be a hybrid between the old and new.

Need help maximising your current IT strategy and infrastructure for more online learning? Get in touch with the Isometrics team.

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  • I can manage changing hardware and basic IT solutions, but it’s great to have support only a phone call away. They’ve got extensive knowledge and experience with schools from years of working with them. Isometric’s commitment to the school and its students is what makes it the best IT solutions company.

    Bruce Griffin (Gladstone Primary)

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    Moira Koptittke (Rutherford College)