CoOLs: Why they're a good idea

April 2017

Their arrival in the proposed legislation has prompted some debate, however Associate Education Minister NIKKI KAYE is keen for schools to see, understand and embrace the opportunities that Communities of Online Learning (CoOLs) will bring.

cools1We live in a world that’s being transformed by digital technology. This transformation is affecting all areas of our lives, but in particular, it’s revolutionising the way students can interact and learn.

The Government has invested more than $700 million to ensure that schools can access the digital world and take advantage of the immense opportunities it offers for learning.

This investment has funded projects to provide schools with digital infrastructure such as cabling and wireless technology. It also includes more than $200 million towards the Network for Learning (N4L) Managed Network, which is providing schools with uncapped, high-speed broadband.

This means we now have a platform in place to support the range of initiatives currently underway to achieve our vision of New Zealand as a world leader in digital education.

These initiatives include an increased focus on digital technologies in the curriculum, and the creation of new learning resources in a range of digital formats.

We’ve also invested over $60 million into professional learning and development for teachers, with digital fluency identified as one of five priority areas, and we’ve set up a $1 million contestable fund to support innovative learning projects that capture students’ imagination, and help them become skilled in using and developing digital technologies.

Perhaps the greatest impact of digital technology for schools is the way it has merged traditional institutional and learning boundaries.

It’s now possible for groups of students to have discussions with each other or collaborate on projects in real time, despite being in different locations. This opens up an entirely new world of teaching and learning opportunities.

Schools have already begun taking advantage of these opportunities. The Virtual Learning Network is seeing schools from the far north to the deep south of New Zealand come together as one online community, to promote the notion of a ‘classroom without walls’.

The concept of Communities of Online Learning is about recognising and further supporting this capacity for students to learn anywhere, anytime and at any place.

Communities of Online Learning will supplement and complement students’ learning in the classroom, and give them access to a wider range of subjects and teaching expertise.

It’s simply not realistic to expect every school to have teachers ‘on the ground’ teaching every specialist subject. Communities of Online Learning will enable students to attend a local school, but include subjects in their studies that might not otherwise have been available to them. This is incredibly important in a country like ours, which comprises many small, remote communities.

I believe it’s important to balance online and other types of learning. This Government has committed over $5 billion to grow and modernise school infrastructure all over
New Zealand, so physical schools will continue to be the cornerstone of our education model.

For some students, attending a physical school just isn’t viable, and Communities of Online Learning will potentially offer these students an option to meet their education needs. But alternatives to physical schools are not new – around three per cent of
New Zealand’s 765,000 students currently learn through Te Kura, our correspondence school, which was established in 1922.

Communities of Online Learning are about being innovative and embracing the benefits of the digital world. The future offers unlimited opportunities for teachers and students to achieve in ways that haven’t previously been possible, and that’s something I’m incredibly excited about.


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