Project group meeting in Dunedin by Darren Sudlow

Grass Roots Initiative: Deep Support

In 2016 we received funding from the Grass Roots Initiative which has enabled us to form a community of practice focused on exploring the concept of Deep Support.

By ‘deep support’ we mean going beyond just administrative and pastoral support. Many of our eDeans provide excellent support for students, but we want to develop practice that goes far beyond that. How do we actively develop the dispositions necessary for a learner to flourish in a fully online environment, while they are actually doing their course(s)? For example, managing self is an important part of the NZ curriculum and a key skill for all learners to develop as they move into adulthood. It is also one of the key challenges of working online without a teacher there physically with you. The other side of that is a fully online environment provides a fantastic, authentic context for developing these skills. So how can we actively develop this sort of competency as part of a ‘deep support’ approach to online learning?

We have gathered a small group of our eDeans who will work on this project over the course of 2017. The group met in term four last year to lay the foundation for 2016. It is was an important chance to explore what is possible, and for the teachers themselves to connect as a project group - so important for a working community of practice. Discussion was big and broad and resulted in a number of new initiatives that we took away and implemented beginning 2017 - in particular the student induction. Now that the dust has settled from the beginning of the year we have been able to meet again to really get stuck into the project goals and get underway with students. The main focus has been how to develop and support those dispositions mentioned before. We are using Guy Gaxton’s Building Learning Power as a framework for building these dispositions, although rather than trying to develop all of these, the group will focus on one or two. The project group worked closely to brainstorm possible strategies for growing students in this environment with a view to each of them trialing these with students over the course of term two especially. There has been some interesting stuff to come out of this already and it will equally interesting to see how things develop. What works and what doesn't? What are the implications for resourcing onsite support? And what are the implications for how organise schooling?

It has been nice to finally spend time on an area which is so important to the success of online learning. I have a firm belief that online learning can work for almost anyone - it just depends how much onsite support a school is willing to put in. The future of education is not one in which all learning is confined to our physical environment. We need to continue to develop the ways in which we use technology and the internet to meet every individual need. The world is a connected place. Schools should be as well. As part of this we need to examine how we can shape learning environments that are flexible and connected beyond physical surroundings. In this sort of environment students are coached and mentored to help them succeed.

This project is perhaps our first step towards exploring what that could like for our schools.