Over the years online learning has often been represented as a disconnected, linear process of working through set content, but is this the reality in our emerging networked society? What is actually possible in this space?

Around eight years ago I came across a very talented lady, who was working at a highly innovative school based in the centre of Christchurch, Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti (now known as Ao Tawhiti Unlimited Discovery School). Her name was Renea Mackie and she led a groundbreaking web, app, music and games development class which became known as UPT Digital.

What struck me about the approach was that is was entirely student-led, authentic, representative of how the technology industry worked and connected – students were mentored by people from within the industry (whether locally or overseas). Students worked as a team, harnessing different skill sets, and naturally integrating curriculum.

The video games industry these days is huge and the work that goes into these games varied, and highly skilled. Many games carry sophisticated stories, are graphically stunning (a world beyond frogger in the 80s) and are cleverly marketed. 

If you want to take this into an educational context, you suddenly open up the opportunity for a range of students to work on a single project together. You will clearly need students who can code or want to learn to code, you need the creative storytellers who may often linger in the local library, the artists, the graphic designers, the business students who will take the product to market. The list goes on.

This is how Renea’s class worked. The students had to work together, harness different skill sets, project manage and take a product to market. You can view more on this in the video above, but I was blown away by the possibilities. I immediately started thinking about how this could be taken online – something I was absolutely certain could be done. What if you connected students across multiple schools in a common interest and project?

Renea and I continued to maintain contact over the years and I have seen her class evolve into what is now a complete framework and start up business – Creative Forest.

NetNZ is finally in a position to work with Renea and partner on a trial project, with a view to developing a Creative Forest platform designed to connect learners on interests and projects. All we need now are the kids themselves. View the details and next steps here.

By Darren Sudlow