Volcanics eLearning: Growing opportunities through collaboration
Around 3,000 college students are currently working with e-teachers in online classes to access subjects such as physics, psychology and languages through one of the main cluster networks, providing them with alternative options for learning.
Students are supported by an e-Dean as well as their online subject teachers.
Volcanics E-learning Community Principal Sara Field says new technologies such as Zoom web conferencing has enabled interactive learning to be anywhere, anytime. Around 200 schools and 3,000 students are currently using online services in the Virtual Learning Network Community (VLN), which is one of several online networks operating throughout the education sector. Students can collaborate in small groups in break-out rooms, as well as with the teacher and whole class.
“E-learning gives students options to take subjects that schools struggle to provide,” says Sara, “perhaps because of the lack of specialist teachers, or sufficient student numbers that are interested – especially in smaller schools.
“It also offers timetabling alternatives for students, so they can fit in all their subjects of choice.
“This is one of the ways that education will increasingly be delivered in the future,” she says.
Almost 30 schools pool resources in the Volcanics cluster – one of the largest of several operating throughout New Zealand, and part of the VLN network. The schools each contribute funding and other resources, such as teacher time, so the community is self-sustaining.
Sara says Volcanics was started as far back as 2003, with the number of schools doubling in the last few years. The VLN cluster it belongs to collaborates to provide access to the curriculum and broaden opportunities for students through online learning.
“Having been a deputy principal of a small rural school, I can see the wide-ranging benefits of this type of learning for schools in meeting their students’ needs,” says Sara.
“It also provides employment and opportunities for specialist e-teachers, such as for psychology, or languages like French or German, to ensure their skills and experience are put to good use in teaching class-size groups.”
Online calculus helps ready Jayden for uni
Napier student Jayden Hunt is enrolled at Canterbury University this year to do a double major in mathematics and physics, after completing his Year 13 calculus at Tamatea High School through online learning.
Jayden says he really needed to do calculus in his last year of school to pursue his ambition of a master’s degree in medical physics, and a career in research.
While initially nervous about a virtual classroom, Jayden says the technology and lessons worked well. There was less interaction between students compared with in-school, but one benefit was that having made the effort to dial-in, the 20-strong class were all there to learn.
Jayden attained a Merit in NCEA Level 3 calculus and was the 2018 Dux of the school.
Benefits for small schools
E-Dean Cindy Morgan says Tamatea High School is only small with just 300 students, so often there is not sufficient demand for less mainstream subjects in Years 12 and 13.
“Being part of online learning clusters has enabled the school to provide a much wider selection of subjects for students over the last decade or so,” she says.
This year a few students are taking physics, economics, accounting and even psychology through VLN, and the school is contributing a digital technology teacher at NCEA Level 2.
Year 9 students from Melville High School in Hamilton learn Beginner Japanese through Volcanics. From left are Ben Thompson, Ryan Jones, Dejanay Allen-San (in the middle), Xanda Erickson, Shiana Dowie and Aria Tichborne.
Cindy says one of the advantages of using Zoom technology on portable devices means classes can be taken in any location – enabling one teacher to deliver her lesson while off-site when she needed that flexibility.
Students also benefit from being taught by teachers with a lot of experience in their subjects. Schools tend to provide teachers who have truly proven themselves, says Cindy, because teaching in a new format like this is challenging, especially when starting out.
As the college’s e-Dean, Cindy also spends a lot of time supporting students with their queries, and the resources they need. Online teachers update e-Deans at each contributing school about how lessons are progressing, and what their students are likely to require.
“You’ve got to be there for the students, in the same way you are for others in the school when there’s something that needs to be resolved.”