The year, 2010. The location, Tasmania. The task, the introduction of online learning in a system of schools. Over the period of the next two years I was to be a part of a small team that innovatively focused on the introduction of eLearning in a system of schools across Tasmania. The aim of the Christian Education Network, of which Calvin was a part, was to support education to all students to Year 12 across Tasmania, utilizing 21st Century learning technologies. Each school ran their own Learning Management System for their 11/12 students, but shared a common website. This could be accessed by students to explore further learning opportunities in subjects not offered by their school. Thus ensuring students even in Tasmania’s remote areas would be able to complete their education in the safe and supportive environment of their local school and home.
My home base was Calvin. My role, the online learning officer, charged with supporting teachers as they implemented eLearning from K-12. The remainder of this post is to review its implementation and how this led to the development of my own model of online learning to support the education of all students.
The Online Learning Innovation
At Calvin the decision was made to implement online learning K-12, supported by extensive and weekly PD, an innovate idea that would encourage students and staff to develop engaging practices. The intention was to move from enhancing education with e-learning tools (K-9) to creating transformative practice (5-12). Thereby encourage deep approaches to teaching and learning.
The strength of the approach to whole school implementation at Calvin (K-12) was 100% adoption by staff and students. Three separate but consistent formats were adopted based on the students study needs. But within those forms, a broad range of tools were adopted catering to the learning needs of the different year groups (for example the use of an image rich primary gateway, different to that for the senior school). This led within a short period of time to increased student participation. In the high school a strength was the use of chat, wikis and blogs as sites of student learning. The collaborative aspect of these tools encouraged students to engage deeply with materials, often working online till quite late, and persevering much longer than when working individually.
The heavy and extensive use of text, tools that were too user intensive, web pages that required too much effort on the part of the user discouraged engagement. Even too many ‘clicks’, signifying too many layers to a website, were aspects that did not work. Users preferred to download a document rather than scroll through pages of text online. And text without pictures discouraged students, teachers quickly learned to break it up with videos, audio and stills. We also had to develop a better menu system. As our experience with the primary gateway showed, image links worked best. We also learned to include instructions! Read, ponder, post, even download, nothing was to be considered as given!
Education philosophy and practices
Critical Constructivism was the primary philosophy driving the practices. This approach was to encourage students collaboratively to construct knowledge through questioning, guiding them to shape and reshape their conceptual understandings of the social world. Gardiner’s multiple intelligences – incorporating learning materials appropriate for all learning styles making learning accessible to all. And for students with additional needs, message abundancy proved to be a key approach that worked well.
100% staff and student engagement, teachers moving beyond using ICT as a substitute (SAMR). Instead many played with the idea of ‘flipping the classroom’. Students were often engaged in collaborative work and problem solving via the use of the internet. Deep learning approaches and better structures of learning spaces in the ‘classroom’, leading to greater freedom to learn.
To create engaging and deep digital online learning K-12 it is necessary to provide clear accessible information, using a variety of modalities, but in a simple consistent layout. We focused on making it easy for people to find information. No more guessing games – “where did the teacher hide this”, thus creating clear expectations for students and staff. We encouraged the creation of links to other materials – empowering people to go further and deeper. We understood the power of the instruction – what do we do with this information! We included clear communication strategies, such as ‘discussion’ spaces where people could chat, blog and share further stories – stimulating further collaboration. Finally, we made assessments easy to find, with a single consistent layout, available to parents and students.
Towards a model of online learning
These findings formed the beginnings of my model of online learning around the 4 key elements: clear structured content, instructions to guide the use of the information, multi-way communication to encourage collaboration, and easy to find assessments.
To read more about the further development of the model read here: Proposing a Framework for Online Learning
©2021 Karin Oerlemans