We are wanting to shake up our Scholarship Mentoring Programme a bit in 2016. What we have done has been effective, but it perhaps recognises a way of doing things that is very reliant on a teacher, which doesn’t necessarily make an awful lot of sense when you think about the sorts of students your will generally get at Scholarship level – Self-managing, motivated, independent, etc.  This year we are introducing a second tier of mentoring that involves connecting students through online subject communities. These largely sit as a focal point for learning in their own right, rather than as an addition to the actual tutored hangout sessions led by a teacher. Although students can enrol in both if they want to.

The idea of ‘connected learning’ has been developing over recent times and recognises the powerful influence technology can have on learning. This graphic sums it up nicely with six key elements of connected learning identified – Peer Culture, Openly Networked, Academic, Shared Purpose, Interests, Production Centred. For me it shows how technology is enabling more informal approaches to learning to filter through into formal educational settings.



I have to be honest, the potential for these communities excites me far more than the tutored sessions do. This is because they place the notions of student led learning, agency, connected and community based learning, and ubiquity front and centre. These are also terms you will see mentioned in our own curriculum document and endless blogs, tweets, posts, discussions on future focused learning. While there will be some very light facilitation that will take place, it is largely about letting students have ownership of the space and letting them go for it. There may be a few teachers involved in these communities, but they are there to support and help, rather than lead. And because these communities are entirely online, it opens up some very exciting possibilities. What if we brought in some undergraduate or post-graduate students from some of the Universities as mentors? What if a University Professor made a guest appearance every now and then brought some of their insight to the table? What if the students themselves instigated some of this? The possibilities are endless when you place things online – suddenly a whole world of connections can take place.

Sounds a little like utopia doesn’t it and I don’t pretend for a second student led communities just happen. When you place students online who don’t know each other you don’t invariably get a flurry of talking…unless you are very lucky with the type of student you get. Which is why we are looking at bringing some mentors in. Scale will also help – if you get plenty of students within a community you provide more chance for discussion to take place.

I am reminded of this video from a NetNZ colleague of mine (and long time collaborator) on the idea of networked schooling. So what would it like if you could place all the students entered for Scholarship History  in one room? Well we can actually do that online. What would that look like?

There will be no cost involved in this programme (project) for NetNZ schools and a very minimal cost for non-NetNZ schools ($50 one off fee to register as many students as you want). Our aim is to connect as many like-minded learners as possible in the one online space. And then to throw interested teachers, mentors, and experts into the mix to support the community. There is little to lose on a school or learner front. This will be done outside of school time and as an additional support system for those students who want to or are thinking about entering for Scholarship. Should we stop there though?

We see this is a first step towards exploring a model of online learning that is larger in scale and based on a connected approach that values interaction, sharing and community. The reality is these sorts of communities could exist for learners online for all sorts of interests, projects, subjects etc. The numbers don’t become a burden – they become an opportunity.

If you are interested then please complete the form