Close your eyes and think of online learning? What do you picture?

Would it surprise you to find out that like many things in education, it is about the people. “He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata.”

Though many of the students surveyed about their experiences in their online class had not taken a course through NetNZ before. For many of them it was the human connection that made the difference.

For instance, if a student reported that the course had a strong sense of belonging or community, they were far more likely to feel positively about other aspects of the course such as how engaging the course was, the ownership they had over their learning or feeling supported.

This makes a lot of sense as teaching online is not at all about just transmitting content. Feeling connected to the class is what sustains and supports the motivation to learn. As Garrison (2009), puts it “the ability of participants to identify with the community (e.g., course of study), communicate purposefully in a trusting environment, and develop inter-personal relationships”  Online learning is not that different to learning face to face, in fact more care needs to be taken to develop a sense of social presence, safety and belonging.

Ultimately teaching online is a social endevour and belonging matters. 

Students in 2021 valued teachers who were kind and empathetic. Who took the time to understand the class and used this knowledge to drive and structure the learning.

Students valued teachers who took the time to communicate clearly in a way that made sense at a student level and went out of their way to create a culture where students felt comfortable to ask for support and help. They also appreciated teachers who were responsive to questions and gave supportive feedback.

Interestingly students in NetNZ classes felt well placed to continue with their learning during COVID lockdowns, as their NetNZ classes were generally well structured and well prepared, expectations were clear and in the words of a student ‘consistently made sense’. This made the learning feel seamless for the students, and embodies the NetNZ aspiration of “quality, online learning experiences, for anyone, anywhere”.

Furthermore many students reported that this sense of sense of structure enabled them to manage and take ownership of their learning as they had the confidence in what they were doing and felt supported to structure their learning in a way that suited them.

When I reflect on my experiences of teaching online a lot of this rings true for me. Where some of my colleagues in the school that I work in have perceptions of online learning being less personal and less effective in comparison to face to face learning I find the opposite to be true. Teaching online over the last 6 years, has kept me on my toes in terms of effective pedogogy. It is the thing that teaches me the most as a teacher and helps me to continue reflecting on developing what I do with my classes to make it as clear and effective as possible while supporting students to develop and challenge themselves as Art Historians. It continue to keep me thinking about how to develop a class culture and a sense of connection in a way that can often be overlooked or taken for granted in a face to face class.

By Philippa Mallinson