Girl at laptop engaged in digital learning

Solving the problem of disrupted education for students in NZ schools

Alex MacCreadie

In a recent blog about preparing for school disruptions, I alluded to the Cynefin framework. This post expands those thoughts further and shares some findings from a recent workshop I ran with some educators and school leaders about practical steps for further disrupted years.

Students first

Firstly, some sense making needs to happen to be able to reach the planning and problem-solving stages of the Cynefin framework. To do this, start with putting the school in second to the students that attend it. What I mean by this is that the focus shouldn't be on keeping the school open at all costs — with relievers and collapsed classes.  For a student, school is more than attending class. It is a holistic experience, and learning happens because of involvement in all parts of school life.

A good place to start in changing focus is to create a graduate profile for the ideal student. Many schools have developed one already, but this would be a good time to check that it still holds true.  This is also a useful opportunity to engage parents and students in the checks and balances. Then: work backwards. What experiences can a student have that will help them? This process can be illustrated through a circle diagram with the student at the centre and ways to help stemming out from this (like spokes on a wheel).  Take your time on this stage - I can't stress that enough!

Compare the students' actual experiences over the last years to those on the wheel.  This comparison will have that circle looking a lot like a flat tire or broken wheel.  A number of the spokes (experiences) have been unable to be fulfilled. This is the real picture of education at school.

Now the problem is understood, you can look for solutions.

The current problems with academic achievement, and some solutions

Most graduate profiles will have an academic achievement as one of their spokes. If we examine this in detail, we will see some of the following because of the disruption from Covid:

  • students absent from key lessons,
  • teacher rescheduling due to absences (both students and teacher),
  • classes unable to move at the same pace,
  • interrupted learning patterns or inability to string a series of lessons together.
  • increased pressure on students' time due to absences and competition for the same time from other commitments (sport, cultural activities, work amongst other pressures).

Turning this on its head — what does this mean we need?

  • More personalised learning programmes
  • Self-paced delivery
  • Less teacher-dependent learning.

So, to make the wonky circle round again: I fail to see a solution without a Learning Management System (LMS) that utilises high quality digital content as part of the school's package for students. Training teachers and staff how to utilise this technology and adjusting programmes is key.

Why is a Learning Management System so important?

To get more personalised teaching, teachers will need to know where each student is at. They need to track progress and be able to help each student. An LMS with a well-designed learning journey will be able to provide what both teacher and student needs.

No one can plan when they will be sick, whether teacher or student. Using an LMS throughout the year will mean there is no further action to take when sickness or absence strikes. Mitigations are already in place.

If a teacher is absent and learning time is precious, then students' learning needs to be able to continue regardless of who is front of them. High-quality content is vital to achieving this.

If a student is sick or recovering, they will need to be able to work slower and revisit their learning. They will need flexibility to be able to work when they feel up to it. Learning on an LMS enables the student to control their pace and stay connected to the rest of the class through discussion and collaboration.

Why LearnWell, amongst other options for schools?

It is a big ask for a teacher to create a system as I've described — one that will meet both their needs and the students' needs.  Across a whole school, teachers’ ability will vary. I am going to put a plug in for LearnWell here, and this is from my own experience. I have been a teacher for over 20 years and taught everything from NCEA Math to new entrants. I consider myself to be a good teacher. I also consider myself to be good with technology. When it comes to designing learning, I thought I was hot sauce. The fact is: all my experience is good for providing content but stringing it together in a way that students can follow and provide them with a relevant learning pathway — that is the realm of the Learning Designer.  They run circles around me. Leading by design is a process; it takes time and skill.

Here are a couple of examples of how LearnWell courses utilise learning design that is far beyond the average teacher who digitises their lessons.  Multimedia objects and diagrams are not just collated into a LearnWell course, they can be created to match the programme design.  Learning is assessed in a variety of interactive ways throughout the learning itself. These are skills the average teacher does not have. LearnWell courses take on average 180 hours to make, and that’s just one course! A fulltime teacher will teach twelve of these, so that’s 2160 hours on top of their day job (if they had the skills to do it in the first place).

All LearnWell Digital courses are made for the NZ curriculum by Learning Designers.  The content is excellent. It doesn’t replace a teacher, but if a teacher was not available, a student can continue with their learning. Teachers, be not afraid: an LMS will not replace you. It is a tool. Used well, it will enhance your programme and give you the flexibility you need to meet the challenges ahead.

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