The impact of the Enabling e-Learning community groups in the VLN | One person's story: Tessa Gray
After joining the Virtual Learning Network, Josie Woon began contributing to e-learning related discussions, including the Enabling e-Learning community groups - to further her own professional learning. This resulted in:
- shifts in her own teacher practice
- improved learning outcomes for her own students
- changes in the practice of others - within and beyond her school
Josie Woon (Assistant Principal, Literacy Leader) teaches junior students at Te Kura O Takaro in Palmerston North. Josie wanted to ‘find authentic ways to use two iPads to help meet diverse learner needs for several of her students’, including:
- boys who had displayed disengaged attitudes to learning and high levels of truancy
- boys with low levels of numeracy achievement
- students with moderate special educational needs
- one student with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
She wanted to motivate these priority learners, to be 'more on-task' and to 'take ownership of their own learning'.
In the initial stages of identifying the learning needs of her students, Josie wrote to the Board of Trustees with a plea - that she had learners who were not engaging in their learning and that if she, didn’t do something fast, they were going to fall well below the national standards. As a result of this, Josie acquired two iPads for her students. She identified a target group of students to work with and started recording observations and assessment data. She initiated a reflective blog, to report to the Board about the impact of using the ipads on student learning. Reflections from her blog read,
Using the VLN
During this time, Josie discovered the Virtual Learning Network (He kōtuinga ako ā-ipurangi), an interactive resource provided by the Ministry of Education for all New Zealand educators as she began her teacher inquiry. Several months after joining the VLN, reading discussion threads and accessing resources, Josie started posting comments and asking questions. Josie was a bit hesitant to engage at first - not knowing who might reply or whether her questions or comments were relevant. However, when several responses to her posts came back straight away, her confidence in sharing her expertise and practice with others increased.
Initially Josie engaged in the discussion threads in the iPod/iPad user group. She wanted to source apps students could use independently, while at the same time, practising skills they needed to work on such as: building numeracy skills, letter formation, sounds and phonics. She visited the App sharing and iPads in the Junior Classroom threads, found useful recommendations from others, and loaded the same apps onto her classroom iPads. She explains, “At first it wasn’t the applications as such, it was about the actual device and getting these students just to be comfortable and achieving in some area of school.”
In literacy, Josie trialled the alphabet and letter sound apps as identified in Software for Learning snapshot: iPads in the Junior Classroom. She observed students demonstrating improved letter formation, which she captured on video and shared as evidence when reporting to parents. Josie observed ‘traditional’ forms of teaching letter formation can pose a challenge, because you can’t always watch every child and every letter they form. Digital apps help students form letters correctly and practice skills independently (through audio and visual prompts), enabling students to personalise and manage their own learning.
Improved learning outcomes for students
Literacy data showed one student improved from “no sound knowledge” to “recognising 20 new sounds”. Josie attributes this to an increased level of student engagement as a result of using the iPad. The simplicity of the iPad enabled him to use the mobile device to suit his own learning needs. He now interacts with most iPad applications independently - to suit his own learning needs.
Josie shared these stories and more, highlighting examples of improved motivation, engagement and learning outcomes for priority learners in two LIVE webinars for Enabling e-Learning. These stories exemplify several future-oriented educational trends such as, Changing the script”: Rethinking learners’ and teachers’ roles - away from a teacher-directed approach to a more personalised, self-regulated model of learning. This also highlights the increased influence of, The role of current and emerging technologies in education. (Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective).
Changes in Josie's practice
Josie acknowledges her e-learning skill levels and capability have grown as well. She feels more confident using e-tools (blogging, iPads), asking for help, and sharing her own knowledge with others. What excites Josie most, is more people are starting share and reflect on their practice online. When educators collaborate online, it affirms areas in which Josie sees herself as an effective and experienced classroom practitioner.
Josie’s thinking has shifted from seeing, “ICT devices as a tool to keep students occupied” to, “having a purposeful value in supporting student learning”. She attributes conversations in the Enabling e-Learning community groups, in part, to facilitating this shift. Transformative change at this level is indicative of future-oriented trends such as, “New kinds of partnerships and relationships where schools no longer siloed from the community” (Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective).”
Josie attributes changes in her classroom practice to her increased awareness of what other schools are doing in these online spaces. The VLN has provided a ‘window’ into other people’s practice. This is in line with current findings that show, “…schools…simply do not have the resources to provide “in house” all of the very different kinds of expertise needed to develop 21st century learning experiences for their students.“ (Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective, P49, R Bolstad & J Gilbert with S McDowall, A Bull, S Boyd & R Hipkins).
In addition to providing thought leadership online, Josie leads PLD for her own staff around the benefits of the VLN/Enabling e-Learning community groups - as a professional learning network. School-wide community connections (internally, externally) are a key part of future-oriented trends in New Zealand education, where teachers, “…will also need to be able to collaborate with other people who can provide specific kinds of expertise, knowledge or access to learning opportunities in community contexts.” (Supporting future-oriented learning & teaching — a New Zealand perspective, P49, R Bolstad & J Gilbert with S McDowall, A Bull, S Boyd & R Hipkins). In this case, engagement online has provided some of that support.
Josie continues to be an active community member online and talks about her journey in more detail in the following three videos from Enabling e-Learning Media Gallery.