In 2017 I have been privileged to receive a TeachNZ scholarship to study Rural Education. I will still have a hand on the tiller of the VLN Primary, but will be taking time out to follow my research interests. Expect a visit from me as a road trip is on the calendar! Read more about my research proposal:
Virtual learning has been taking place in New Zealand for two decades and pioneered in our rural schools (Barbour, 2011; Roberts, 2010; Wenmoth, 1996).
“Small rural schools in New Zealand are in the forefront of changes in the application of information and communication technologies to teaching and learning. The emergence of rural school electronic networks is an important step towards the development of virtual classes in New Zealand, requiring new ways of organising teaching and learning. It is particularly appropriate to reconsider the pedagogy of the one- and two- teacher school in relation to the emerging virtual class. These small schools could have a new role in the information age and should, accordingly, be repositioned within the national educational system” (Stevens, 1996, p. 93).
This quote from Ken Stevens, made 20 years ago, has challenged me to consider how virtual learning has evolved over the last twenty years. How have rural schools been leading the way and benefiting from virtual learning? To what extent are we seeing new ways of teaching and learning online?
Virtual learning can be defined as learning that is facilitated by a range of technologies to enable communication and collaboration, where students and teachers are in distributed locations (Bolstad & Lin, 2009).
My research aims to examine how collaborative practice between schools working in virtual learning environments can alleviate the challenges small rural schools face for both students and teachers. These challenges could be in relation to access to professional support and a wider curriculum because of a school's small size and relative isolation. I will explore how collaborative online learning could enable innovative practice and new ways of thinking about the nature of schooling; while also exploring the challenges and potential pitfalls this may bring to schools. This research will be undertaken within the context of the Virtual Learning Network (VLN) Primary School network within which I work, and with the teachers, students and whanau who participate in VLN Primary programmes and projects.