Monday, March 16, 2020

Limit the Links

Kia iti ngā kuputoro

The Manaiakalani Programme response to Distance Learning

February in Aotearoa, NZ has seen us enjoying a beautiful Summer and although we were back to school the warm evenings and sunny weekends have been outstanding.
The news coming from overseas about the spread of COVID-19 has felt distanced from our experience, although it was impacting international students arriving to study at our universities and higher decile schools. Despite stories of ill travellers on cruise ships and NZ citizens being flown home from Wuhan on a special flight to quarantine in a military facility occupying our media, this felt like another northern hemisphere epidemic  that would have little impact on our lives in NZ, unless we were travelling to China, then Italy, then...


We had a case in NZ on Feb 28th, and the last couple of weeks have seen more cases of COVID-19 being identified with eight by this weekend.  At the same time we have seen parents overseas start to keep their children home from school and teachers talking about distance learning, home learning and blended learning. We have seen teachers overseas rising to this new challenge and teachers at a loss as they wonder how to cope.

It is looking highly likely that New Zealand will be impacted by this and our schools could be asked to supply socially distanced learning for our young people, and it would be wise to plan for this while we still have children attending schools and we have the opportunity to plan and prepare for this.

Over the weekend we worked on a document that schools implementing the Manaiakalani Programme could use as a guide and a support. These Manaiakalani schools around the country are well placed to move seamlessly into learning from home because we have established systems for our parents to buy a device for their child and we have a pedagogy that has been proven in a wide range of contexts.  But most importantly we have teachers with effective practice, who know their learners and their whanau, and have been leading learning using a digital learning environment for years.

In this time of uncertainty we want to empower teachers to back themselves and continue to design learning experiences that they know will be effective for their young people.  To neither be distracted nor confused by the offers that have begun flooding in from commercial companies offering their products and services. To take stock and plan for the eventuality we could end up in a similar scenario as schools in the Northern Hemisphere.

We called the document " Limit the Links" and sent it out to all our principals on Monday morning, with the suggestion that they share it with their staff and call upon our facilitation team to help them unpack it.

The biggest challenge if our young people find themselves learning from home is 'where do I find my work?"  "Where do I access my learning?"  So we have suggested principals make sure their school website is set up to be a direct portal that students can use to locate their learning - if it is not already.  Anyone can locate their school website through a simple Google search, so no one needs to remember a URL for this at all.

Our teachers lead learning via a class or subject site, so once the young person has landed on this from the school website, they should be good to go. No passwords to remember, a clear pathway to accessing learning online.

The missing ingredient here is the important link connecting our children and their teachers in real time. We emphasised that using the tool we already have as part of our Google Apps domain, Google Hangouts Meet, would have an important role to play as we focus on learner wellbeing. on making and maintaining connections with students and their families.  And of course invaluable as a teaching tool.

The final link we emphasised in the document was one we use to support our young people connecting with each other, sharing their learning with their peers, their teachers, families and friends.  This is their individual blog.

We believe that this will be enough- hence, Limit the Links.  Back yourself as a teacher, as a professional. Use the tried and tested technology teachers and learners are familiar with and together we will make this work!