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An eDean Perspective: Supporting students as they learn online

Anne Williams —

NetNZ online students are fortunate to have an eDean in their schools to support them with their learning.

In the world of Online Learning, evidence shows that students will achieve if they are supported by their eTeachers and by another teacher, the eDean, in their home schools. The triangle created by effective communication between the eStudent, the eTeacher and the eDean can make all the difference to the learning and achievement of the student.

The role of the eDean is a diverse one but essentially it relies on the eDean getting to know the students well, understanding their needs as learners, gaining their trust and setting up support systems as and when they are needed. This vital support role requires flexibility, initiative, great communication skills and lots of common sense, as well as a broad knowledge of the New Zealand curriculum and an understanding of how students learn. Most schools understand the need for this position but in some schools it is under resourced and this is reflected in both the retention rates, and achievement, of students.

As part of a Ministry of Education Grassroots initiative a group of NetNZ eDeans are currently carrying out an inquiry to find out the best ways to support online students with their learning. In order to gather data and identify these students a survey has been created based on building the habit of perseverance from the work of Guy Claxton. Following this survey selected students will be used for case studies. As a group we have identified strategies to trial with our selected students and scaffolding for the learning conversations we will have with them. Later in the year we will meet to share our results and reflect on the process and the results.

In addition to this we are working alongside the NetNZ executive to consider systems that would allow more information sharing about our students with their eTeachers and eDeans so that individual learning needs can be catered for to a greater extent. The development of an online induction for our students is another result of this work. The challenge with this is to give information to students about being online learners but also to allow them to consider themselves as learners and identify their strengths and weaknesses. Ultimately NetNZ should consider an online student management system that would benefit all of the students and teachers and allow information to be securely shared.

By the end of this inquiry process we hope to have valuable data that can be shared with other eDeans and eTeachers and that will become part of the ongoing process of improving the outcomes for all online learners.