by Darren Sudlow

NEX Southern Regional Hui Summary

Held over two days at Salmond College in Dunedin the NEX Southern Regional Hui, 40 teachers from across the South Island (and a couple from beyond) met to explore ways and approaches to online learning.

The first day featured a mix of review, refresh and unconference style breakout sessions on particular themes. 

Initially some reflections on the year took place using personal, and a collective PMI chart. Teachers then broke into groups to discuss and brought their ideas back to the wider group. This highlighted a number of very positive aspects to working in the online environment including the diversity of connections for both students and teachers which is of course a key benefit to working across schools. We no longer live in just the local. Challenges highlighted the continued importance of the role of onsite support in ensuring students flourish. A wide range of students can be exposed to online learning, as long as the necessary local support is in place. 

The rest of morning was spent exploring future developments for NetNZ in 2020 and beyond. In particular the opportunity to open up education to anyone, anywhere. How could we create an environment that provided a whole range of informal and formal learning available to a diver range of needs - adult, community learning, home schoolers, international markets, teachers themselves. The possibilities are endless if we think outside the box.

The rest of the day featured break out sessions around key themes, such as learning conversations, support, developing community, technical help, and others. Teachers enjoyed the opportunity to explore an area of interest with others.

The second day kicked off with one of the highlights of the Hui, when Blair Sheat, Principal of Cheviot Area School, video conferenced in for a 30 minute chat about curriculum development. Cheviot is a small rural Area School who have been the backbone of the Virtual Learning Network Community for many years. Small schools need to think outside of the box in how they provide curriculum for their students and being a part of a network of schools is integral to ensuring breadth. However, Blair highlighted the changes they have been making to their senior curriculum to better ensure they meet varied needs. Greater flexibility, project based learning, semester or term based courses, integration or all in the mix for them. This means that the full year courses that have been the conventional approach across the Virtual Learn Network may not met their needs moving forward. Blair presented a compelling picture for curriculum change to ensure online learning continues to meet the needs of small rural schools.

This was followed by a long time critical friend of NetNZ, Emiritus Professor, Kwok Wing-Lai spending time with teachers on how we could use Micro-Credentialing to provide a framework of professional learning for online teaching and learning. This has been missing at a national and local level. The concept is to create micro credentials for different aspects of online learning that teachers can take at a time that suits them, based on the teaching they are engaged in. Teachers were enthusiastic about the potential for something that will work for their context - which is generally a busy one.

The rest of day, teachers had flexible time where they were sharing practice, ideas and / or working on their courses for 2020. Of interest was Renea Mackie sharing the Creative Forest programme, a project based, connected environment for supporting passions and interests. This enabled a number of teachers to connect with a different way of 'doing' online learning. One that was learner centred, and beyond 'courses'.

Feedback has indicated that many teachers felt this was the best Hui of this type they had attended. This was largely down to the 'retreat' nature of the event where teachers were taken out of their school environment and immersed in a connected space with few external distractions. This enabled relationships to be built and a friendly, collegial atmosphere developed.