In 2016, Madison Flavell, a year 12 student from Kaikoura High School, studied L2 History through NetNZ. It was the first time she has ever taken an online course, but she flourished in the environment finishing the year with straight Excellences (her best result for any course). I interviewed Madi to get her first had thoughts on the experience and why she did so well…
Like many NetNZ students, Madi took the course because History wasn’t offered locally. The school’s course handbook for seniors had a dedicated page to NetNZ programmes, and this is where she first became aware that she could choose to take History online if she wanted to. The school encourages students to have a look at the NetNZ website to find out more which is what Madi did. L2 History was certainly available, but she also liked the sound of the course and in particular the self-managing, self-directed nature of it (This particular course used a knowledge building, inquiry based approach). Some students may feel a little apprehensive with only one hour face to face type interaction with the teacher and other students, but the one video conference (using Google+ Hangouts) a week was part of the appeal for her. She liked the idea of having more freedom and having more control over her learning, especially how she would use the time. She ended up enrolling alongside two other Kaikoura students.
It was her first time taking an online course so Madi had a few reservations. She wasn’t quite sure of how it was going to work, especially around NCEA credits, but these fears were alleviated as she got into the course. Madi particularly enjoyed the openness of the course and how you could see what everyone else was doing . She felt there was good communication with the teacher and enjoyed the online communities which helped build connections between students and provide ongoing motivation.
While Madi enjoyed having control over her time, it was a challenge to stay focused at times. It’s fairly easy to muck around without the teacher there in front of you and in the first term she didn’t feel she did much. She soon realised that like anything, you needed to do the work to progress and that she would have to take responsibility for getting things done. She felt the feeling of making progress (especially with regards to NCEA) she got with the ongoing progress report the teacher did for students and being part of an active community or group of online students really helped with this. Having others doing the same thing together, helped drag you along.
Madi felt the role of the eDean in the school was very important in supporting the students. In particular she felt that as a student you felt most supported when the eDean was proactive and checked up on the students rather than just wait for them to come to you. A pro-active eDean makes a world of difference. At the beginning of the year all the Kairkoura NetNZ students met as a group and that was a very useful exercise, even if to just highlight others were having the same challenges as you. She feels these would be a great idea throughout the year, rather than just at the beginning.
When asked why she was so successful in this environment, Madi highlighted one very important characteristic – perseverance. For her this was a key reason she did so well. When she was stuck she kept going rather than giving up and felt that when other students didn’t persevere they fell away.
Madi would advise any student taking a NetNZ course for the first time to work hard on their time management early on and make sure they stayed focused. Ongoing communication with the teacher and eDean was vital and meant you can easily sort out issues when they arise.
She also felt that online learning was going to continue to grow moving into the future and that more and more students will be doing it at Kaikoura. While there is little doubt it provides students with far more subject choices, it also opens you up to a different way of learning. In a sense it opens students up to a wider variety of approaches to learning and connects them to a wider world. She also felt it was excellent preparation for University because it teaches you to educate yourself.
In saying that, Madi recognised that there are a few dangers in online learning and it was important to have a balance between that and face to face learning. Too many online courses can potentially isolate students who don’t have good self-management skills. For example, it is easy to just go home rather than stay in school and mix with other students and it can be easy to slack around if you have large blocks of time to manage. It all comes down to the skills of the student really.
Madi finished by emphasising how much she enjoyed the course and the chance to be exposed to new ways of learning.