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Photo by Darren Sudlow

What is NetNZ?

Darren Sudlow —

NetNZ is a community of secondary and area schools from the Otago, Canterbury, Southland, and West Coast regions who work together to provide online learning opportunities for their students based on the New Zealand Curriculum. In 2016 membership consisted of around 54 schools across the South Island.


NetNZ’s mission statement recognises that, above all, it specialises in innovative education regardless of location:

to develop an environment for sustained innovation and development of quality, online learning experiences, for anyone, anywhere across New Zealand and beyond.

Background

Many members are small, rural schools who have a long-term commitment to the provision of a broad curriculum for their students. The origins of NetNZ can be traced back to Oxford Area School in 1994. Driven by the need to innovate in order to maintain rolls, Canterbury area schools worked together to provide senior courses for all schools willing to collaborate. Since that time, the provision of online learning across New Zealand, and in particular rural schools, has grown markedly and we are now also seeing a number of urban schools taking advantage of the potential for collaboration, by joining NetNZ.

Purpose

NetNZ was formed from the two original eLearning clusters, CantaNet and OtagoNet for the purpose of sustaining and growing a vision for online learning across New Zealand. Structurally, the organisation is made up of a charitable trust and a limited liability company. The charitable trust operates at the governance level, with the trustees elected from the schools and tasked with ensuring the educational purpose drives all operations, while the limited liability company is where these operations take place. The enrolment scheme, once loose and informal, is now firmly linked to an exchange model where each individual enrolment holds a monetary value. This now means any individual, school or organisation can enrol in NetNZ courses at a cost per enrolment. Importantly, NetNZ while a Community of Schools, is also now a commercial operation with all that entails.

How does it work?

NetNZ courses are generally provided by member schools themselves. Schools that choose to provide courses earn enrolment places based on the number of courses they put in the mix, while schools that choose to only receive courses pay for each enrolment on an individual basis. Each course is open to enrolments by other member schools, non member schools, and individuals (homeschoolers and international students for example). Courses usually consist of 10-18 students from 5-10 different schools. Each school has an eDean who has the responsibility of providing on-site support for students and acts as a point of contact for the eTeacher. Each course uses an online hub or class space which acts as the focal point for learning and interaction. These class spaces are developed by the teacher using their tool of choice. Some courses are fully online, but the majority are a mix of paper and online learning. Each class meets once a week using a video conference (using Google Hangouts) which acts as an important point of contact between teacher and students.

Why?

Technology and in particular the internet, is changing the way we live and work. It will undoubtedly change education. It is just a matter of communities and schools shaping this change themselves in a way that recognises a distinctly New Zealand context. Being able to offer a broad curriculum is clearly important, but involvement in NetNZ reflects more than a ‘bolt on’ set of additional courses. It reflects an investment in the future of education. A future in which fully online learning is merely an extension of an approach where learning is structured around the learner in a way that is flexible and gives them some autonomy. Students should be able to walk into the school and experience the full range of face to face, blended and fully online learning. Ubiquity is the key – everywhere learning, without the limitations of the four walls of the classroom.

The Future

The NetNZ model is designed to scale, and move beyond geographic boundaries, including international boundaries. There is an exciting opportunity to develop a distinctly ‘brand New Zealand’ vision for online education that can cater to an overseas market. Not only could ex-pat New Zealanders take NetNZ courses, but students in any country around the world.

While NetNZ offers a broad range of course options, most are senior academic and reflect the need for small schools to access these sorts of courses. Over the coming years courses will be developed to meet a range of needs, including primary age students, senior vocational, adult learning (courses for adults in the local community), as well as integrated, project based courses.

The internet means that distance is no longer a factor in education and the opportunity is there for New Zealand schools to take control of the online space themselves, rather than rely on external organisations to do it for them.