Anne Williams, e-Dean at Ashburton College, explains the benefits for students of online learning, particularly using NetNZ. Anne comments, “Being an online learner really does give a lot of independence to students around their learning."
Being an online learner really does give a lot of independence to students around their learning. Our online students have a lot of flexibility in the way that they learn. So for their online subject, they have a studyline of four hours a week and in that time, in our particular situation, they come to the library to study and there are computers available for them or they can use their own laptops. They become very independent about their learning because they can actually access their course twenty-four hours a day if they want to, seven days a week. And I have noticed as a spin-off from that, that they'll continue to use those tools in all their other subjects because they suddenly are really motivated about how much difference it makes to the way they learn and the way they share their learning with other people.
NetNZ really encourages the teachers to encourage the students to get to know each other. And that is not that easy when they're all at a distance and they don't get to meet each other face-to-face. But because of the range of digital tools available now, students do find ways to communicate with each other in the classes. So, they might use a Google community, which is just for the students to be chatting and NetNZ does have a thing called Student Lounge, which all the students are invited to and that's another online space where they can go in and ask questions and maybe other students will give them answers to their questions.
When a student is in a NetNZ course, they meet their teacher once a week using Google Hangouts and in that Hangout they meet all the other students from around New Zealand who are in their class as well. Now, Google Hangouts allows a lot of flexibility because you can be at home sick and still do your weekly lesson in fact, so you can be wherever you like as long as you have a laptop and a good connection. So that's one of the key parts of the course. The students do get to know their teachers. They actually physically see them once a week. But the teachers also provide sites, a whole variety of different kinds of sites, for their students to go to and that's where they put the information of the curriculum for the students and often those sites are very flexible and students can ask questions on them. They can also email their teachers, they can communicate with other students in the course, that kind of thing.
We have a NetNZ list of dispositions that the students are developing through being an online learner and I certainly see their growth and they can articulate that they are becoming more organised, that they feel motivated about it, that they have learnt to use a range of digital tools, that they feel like they're in charge of their own learning. So I see it as a really big advantage to them and I normally say to them, "If you can do this, you will be fine when you leave school, and you do anything else out in the big wide world.”