Sunday, 28 March 2021

Using the online class well: Making the most of the synchronous time with your class

When I started teaching online, I figured out pretty quickly that I couldn't simply squeeze four hours of teaching and learning into the hour I had with my class. The first few years of online teaching felt like being a beginning teacher again. I had to fundamentally rethink how I organised things as those 60 minutes were such a precious commodity.

For my class, I am interested in developing a Knowledge Building Community. Well. That's the goal. This means that discussion and collaboration are central and everything we do hangs off of these principles.

Often my students are the only Art Historians at their school, sometimes they are the only online learners. They work in isolation during the week, so it is ultra important that collaborative opportunities are maximised during our synchronous time together; whether we are collaborating in a slide, in a breakout room or discussion in Knowledge Forum. Everyone has a responsibility to add to our collective knowledge and they know that they have a part to play. Our work as a collective is highly visible to everyone in that learning community.

And when I talk to my students about what they value in their learning, it is that discussion and connection to the class that is important to them.

When I think about learning design that will help to support this, the SAMR model (Dr Ruben Puentedura) comes to mind. As the image above shows, the emphasis is on the affordances that technology allows. So how can you leverage the Zoom call or even the tools you use with the class to connect in ways that previously wouldn't have been possible?

Thursday, 18 March 2021

How do they know what to do?

With online learning, because the teacher is not physically present with the students "It is thus essential that the eTeacher provides a clear course structure and makes assessment guidelines explicit, as well as giving regular feedback to the eStudents to enable them to track learning progress." (Lai and Pratt, 2020)

This sounds like an obvious question, but how do your online students know what to do?

Do you have an outline, that covers a block of learning (be it a week, a fortnight, or longer)?

If so, is it accessible? 

Let's pull apart that word accessible. 

Firstly is your outline easy to find within three clicks or less? If I'm a student how easily can I find it in your class community? If it is buried and too hard to find, students are less likely to engage with it regularly.

Is it accessible in terms of using plain language? Online learning can be quite overwhelming for some students, Clear, direct language is really important.

And is it accessible in terms of multi-modal ways of sharing information? Recently I have been making short videos on Loom to go with the instructions. I've found this to be powerful for a couple of reasons. I can model how something works if we are using a new tool or doing something that students may find challenging. I can also see how many times my video has been viewed in Loom's analytics, which gives me a picture of how students are engaging with the work over the week.

However your course is structured, there are a few things you should try to cover in our outlines:

The Why

  • The objectives (these might be developed with or by the students)
  • An overview/explanation of the work. (Students are more likely to engage in the learning and engage more deeply if they have a clear picture of the purpose of it)

The How and When

  • The tasks to be completed (choices could be available in how or what students do)
  • Supporting resources (students could also find and share resources)
  • Some assessment of/for learning (this could be informal and synchronous e.g. a discussion in the next Zoom meeting or asynchronous e.g. sharing of work in a Google Doc or Slide with feedback using comments. This need not be teacher assessed. Peer assessment or metareflection can be powerful)




Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Online learning - Who is in the centre?

Who is most present in your online class? And by present, I mean socially and cognitively (Garrison, Anderson, and Archer, 2000). Or in plain language who influences your class the most, who do you see and hear the most? Who controls the flow of the discussion?

A finding from the recent pedagogical report (Affordances and Barriers of the VLN Classes User Experience and Perception, Lai and Pratt, 2020) highlighted that online classes tend to "that the eTeacher was often at the centre of the class, providing content, giving out instructions on assignments, or answering individual questions, but there was little interaction between the teacher and the class, and between students".

Though we need to keep in mind that this drew upon online classes from across New Zealand, it is fitting for NetNZ teachers to look at our own practice in our online classes and ask 'Who is in the centre'.  We value community, connectedness and student agency. This is clear when we talk at our annual hui. However, in the pedagogical report, almost half of the students responding to the survey (n=21)  raised the issue of lack of discussions in their online classes.

Students  are interested in connecting on a social and cognitive level, this is exemplified by a comment made by a student when interviewed for the report 'I think it would have been good to have more class discussion ... you talk with your friends and your teacher of what you are working in, it gives you more ideas ... '

If you were to playback a recent class what percentage of the Zoom call do you spend talking? How many opportunities do students have to share their thoughts, practice skills or collaborate? 

This is something I have been reflecting on personally. I navigate a tension within my Art History course. That is, on one hand, there is the pressure to cover the very dense course content of Art History. On the other hand, I aspire to work within a Knowledge Building Communities framework. Knowledge Building in crude and simple terms is students working as a community to build/develop knowledge around issues and questions that matter to them. It's honestly a fine balance between these two. 

Some days the teacher does sit directly in the middle. I will give a short lecture about a key concept. However, I'm not too fond of hearing my own voice at length, so I try to leverage student participation or reflection out of this. For example, we'll pull apart the language around an idea and I will put it to students 'So what is your understanding of this?'

Other days the students absolutely sit in the centre. They may have been researching a topic in Art History. Each student will have been responsible for researching an aspect. The Zoom meeting becomes a seminar session, where students teach other students about where they've got to with their research. Students will reflect on what next, what do we need to find out, what are we curious about, etc.

I keep persisting with this fine balance because experience tells me it is worth it.   It is useful and engaging for students. Students have reported when reflecting on their year in Art History they felt connected to a class despite being the only student studying it at their school. Also, I hear every year from students that collaborating with others and considering different viewpoints helps to clarify and expand their own thinking. 

My question to you is which way is the seesaw tilted most of the time? If it is weighted towards teacher presence how could you tilt it towards students more often? How can you optimise the 60 minutes you have in the class Zoom for students to participate as fully and as actively as possible? If your class is student centred I encourage you to share your practice with other NetNZ teachers. This could be a snapshot posted into the staff room, a task that was great for collaboration, or even a Hail article. Go on, you know you want to.


Garrison, D., Anderson, T., & Archer, W.R. (1999). Critical Inquiry in a Text-Based Environment: Computer Conferencing in Higher Education. Internet and Higher Education, 2, 87-105.

Lai, K. W., & Pratt, K. (2020). Affordances and Barriers of the VLN Classes User Experience and Perception.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Developing community - a sense of connection and belonging through our experiences

 At our recent NetNZ hui I facilitated a discussion group. The topic was around 'Whanaungatanga'. Now this is a word that has quite deep meanings in Te Ao Māori and we need to spend time unpacking this as an organisation. To my understanding, and I have much to learn in this area, it comes down to a sense of kinship and belonging developed through shared experiences. 

We spent some time discussing:

  • What does this idea mean and why is it important?
  • What are the strategies that we have tried?
  • How do we know when it's working?
  • Any other ideas we had.

Guiding questions
What are community, connections, and relationships about and why are they important?Strategies we use?How do we know when it's working?Issues/Questions/comments
Need to build trust and need to be connected to share ideas togetherMulti-modal ways of sharingThey keep showing up (this is a form of engagement)Community, how to sustain it?
Whanaungatanga is a special way of relating that has an important connection to te ao MāoriKnow when to intervene if a disconnection is arrivingAttendanceHow to balance modular courses and developing relationships
Know me before you teach meThe old e-learning days to connect face to faceThey talkCan be difficult to build a sense of belonging when you have multiple enrolments from one school, as these students can clump together
Humans = social creaturesStart with relationships and community as a central thing and keep circling back to this regularlyThey give feedbackLockdown. During this time there were different kinds of connections that developed. Often students were more engaged.
Learning happens in a positive social and emotional environment. In languages, there has to be a safe positive rapport for students to feel comfortable speaking and learning from mistakesTell us something about you that you want all of us to knowThey comeHaving no previous connections might make some students feel alienated at the beginning of the course
Learning that matters is always constructed with othersFlexible course design to allow room for relationship and assessment sits in the backgroundWhen you see the online sessions reflected in the work
Belonging to a course/community is building relationships and confidence in learningStudent feedback - seek it and use itWhen they ask questions
Relationships foundation to e-learning. Keep coming back to it.Begin with digital mihi connecting where fromWhen they interrupt to ask a question
Important as a source of motivation and accountabilityConnect with prior learning and celebrate thisUploading their own resources to the community
TrustSharing on a human levelTheir feedback (shows they care about the learning and the community
Even participationWork out who needs extra awhi and supportFeel that they can help each other. (Teacher as a facilitator rather than a dictator)
Belonging is important so that I 'students' know I am not alone.Humour - make it funThey'll turn up
Get to know me, don't judge me, work with me, talk with me not at me.Collaborative spacesThey'll participate
I belong, this is my community, I am connected.Get to know lots about them and who they areThey'll communicate
Learning as a community, acknowledging what they bring, their backgroundsKahoots about each otherStudents start connecting on a human level with each other and the teacher
Social/confidence, support/fight isolationUse Tuakana - Teina relationships to encourage studentsThey act on feedback (from the teacher and each other and seek it in an ongoing way
Supports, similar interestsStudents have to trust you. Shown through: Consistency, positivity, show you care through consistent regular communication, gratitude for the input, and interest in themThe way the students behave, e.g. students running the class when the teacher has technical difficulties
Seeing where you fit, connections, relationshipsUse break out rooms for small group discussion to put students at ease, providing a safe space to discuss ideasThey feel comfortable to contribute
Feel confident to share ideas, safety.First 5 minutes an icebreaker every VC
Trust, so that students feel comfortable. If they feel comfortable they are open to learningStudents leading a starter topic
Belonging and connection are important. Learning a new language requires some risk and vulnerability, it also requires students to communicate. Language is connected to culture -> can't be separated.Word games
Create collaborative docs, which increase visibility
Make video introductions show who you are
Checking in Checking out each VC
Remembering what's happening in their world
Connecting each week discussing topical things
Staying eternally positive
Don't overwhelm students, build up to the assessment through learning activities
Reinforce the development of student profiles and using these during the year
Using the support of the teacher and the e-dean to help engage
Be proactive
Encourage students to share whenever possible
In Social Studies students can plan social actions as a unique response to the needs of their community
Invest a lot of time in building community and relationships initially, continually build on this throughout the year
Students leading things like 'catch up questions'
Start with small silly things to get them comfortable to talk
Hit the answer with a question
Showing you are human and it is ok to make mistakes
Use jigsaw activities to distribute responsibility and encourage collaboration
Question time, everyone asks a question at the end

This is completely raw data. I would like to make a thematic analysis at some stage to make more sense of the common threads and key ideas.

I just loved the sharing of practice, across a number of learning areas I might add.
It seems that we already have many parallels with the concept of 'Networked Learning'.

What are your thoughts? Does this spur any thoughts? Can you build on these ideas?
Feel free to add these in the comments below.

Tuesday, 8 December 2020

‘Online learning’/‘Networked learning’?

When you hear the words 'online learning' what kind of images does that conjure up for you? What kind of things does it make you think of? Perhaps correspondence learning, distance learning, remote learning come to mind? You may have read the headline recently ‘Rural schools may be forced into online classes as they struggle to hire teachers’ (RNZ,) suggesting that online learning is a poor second. You may have taken a correspondence course in the late nineties or early two thousands and have this as your mental model of online learning.

I would argue that in fact rather than being cold and remote and a poor second to face to face learning, online learning can be incredibly dynamic, innovative, interpersonal, and even exciting. However, and this is a big however, this takes very intentional learning design, a shift in thinking, and a shift in how we define online learning.

Let’s be clear about what is meant by this. First and foremost, we need to acknowledge that learning is a sociocultural endeavour (Vygotsky, 1978). Students are so inextricably networked in their social lives and in their online lives, it would seem counter-intuitive and perhaps a backwards step to ignore this within their online learning. I firmly believe that learning is not just about the content. If that is the sole focus of teaching, it misses the point. To quote a colleague of mine who I greatly respect ‘jamming through content does not equal greater learning, it just equals content covered’. Deep learning does not happen when we try to cram ideas into our students, and this is doubly true in the online setting. NLEC propose the term ‘Networked Learning’ (NLEC, 2020), this comes from a philosophy of connection. That is connections between learners, between learners and teachers, and between learners and learning resources NLEC (2020, p6). The learning community has to be at the heart of the matter. I really like the way that NLEC (2020, p3, para. 3) set out the points of difference for networked learning.

An insistence on the importance of human relationships opens up questions about trust, power, identity, belonging, difference, affection, reciprocity, solidarity, commitment and time. 

An interest in how technologies shape and are shaped by human activity, with a recognition that tools, artefacts and infrastructure are assembled or reconfigured in complex ways, provokes questions about the socio-material, affordances, instruments, access, appropriation, ownership, etc. 

A commitment to collaborative inquiry and joint action in the face of shared challenges raises questions about knowledge, values and action, learning and doing, meaning-making, negotiation, shared projects and praxis, scale, scope, pace and duration and the capabilities needed to shape a world worth living in.

For those of you who teach for NetNZ, or maybe even have dabbled in Knowledge Building Communities this may be starting sound very familiar. For some of you this may be an aha moment. For me it affirms a pedagogy that has intuitively guided me for the past five years and will form the basis of my teaching inquiry heading into the future.

Within NetNZ community and connections have guide practice. NetNZ describes the advantages of being an e-learner amoungother things as ‘Access to a broad, flexible curriculum, anywhere, anytime; Learn to develop greater ownership of your learning; Connect and learn with students across the country’ (NetNZ, n.d.)

At a recent online teacher’s hui we spent some time unpacking some of these cornerstone ideas. I facilitated a group discussion around the connections and community side of things. It was really heartening to hear the kinds of things that teachers valued despite time restraints of online courses. As a whole teachers felt that developing relationships and connections between their learners to be highly important, ‘a foundation to learning’ and vital to establishing trust, safety and a sense of belonging within learners and in the teacher. The ability for students to share ideas, collaborate and work as a team, was highly valued, to the extent that teachers would devote considerable time to establish this at the start of the year and keep coming back to this each week, despite the time restraint of one or two Zoom calls a week. In general, this centred around people, getting to know students as whole people, allowing room to share on a human level, having a sense of humour, making space for student agency and ownership of the course and much, much, more. 1

Anecdotally students really respond to this kind of approach. My own course is highly collaborative and centres around a networked approach with students working as a community of art historian researchers. They are a team. The ideas are developed communally. Although this takes a lot of getting used to for many who are used to education in New Zealand as being highly individualised and somewhat competitive, this is soon valued by students. I have had students make comments like ‘I felt like I was a part of the class’, ‘I enjoyed being able to bounce my ideas off of fellow students’, 'my ideas were valued', the teacher is interested in all perspectives'. 

It is worth noting that within this approach, although the learners within the community are absolutely central, the teacher is an essential component. They enable and develop the kind of learning environment where students are able to connect. With each other, with their own learning, with the larger concepts in the course. This all takes very strategic and subtle design, which would be worthwhile unpacking on its' own.

1.  The ideas teachers come up with about why connections and community were so important and strategies they used to develop these are too numerous to mention here and will be posted separately.


Gerritson J.  (2020, December 07). Rural schools may be forced into online classes as they struggle to hire teachers, originally published by RNZ republished with permission on

Networked Learning Editorial Collective (NLEC). Networked Learning: Inviting Redefinition. Postdigit Sci Educ (2020).

NetNZ. (n.d.). Why NetNZ? Retrieved December 09, 2020, from

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Reflecting against inquiry goal: 'To develop reflective capabilities in visual art students'.

I can't believe how quickly a term has just flown by. I haven't worked on this goal as much as I would have liked to, as during the lockdown to an extent it was just about making learning work for the situation we were in, inquiry to an extent got pushed to the side.

However, what I have discovered is that my students can reflect well on their work, the important thing is a well-worded template or prompt that asks students to justify their work. If they are saying that their work was successful, they need to say why this was.

They also need to have a good understanding of our learning objectives - in short, where are we headed. When students understood what I wanted them to be doing (big picture wise) their reflections were deeper and more meaningful. For some students who think a bit more deeply it actually helped to have an authentic text to draw upon in their reflections. I recently experimented with giving students a text 'what makes a good artwork'. This was an interesting exercise but a bit rushed as this was at the end of time we were pushing to get artworks finished in time. Also I would need to search for a range of texts potentially so that this task was more accessible for different levels. 

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Reflecting against inquiry goals: 'To develop reflective capabilities in visual art students' & 'To use a knowledge building approach to engage online learners'

At the moment I am working on developing template that give students prompts for reflection, as I found students wrote well about their work when there were scaffolds around the reflection to guide them.
I think this is necessary, it is quite a skill to reflect about your thinking or your progress.
I know that I need guiding questions for inquiry.  My entire Master's thesis question and methodology set out the plan for my inquiry and gave me a set of criteria to reflect against. This took a large chunk of time and stress to develop and I am an educated adult.
I think inquiry and reflection need to be taught and supported. If I throw my students into an inquiry with no/little guidance, this is like putting a kid on a bike for the first time with no training wheels. They are going to fall over.

Ultimately I want my students to have epistemic agency - but there is a lot of learning and development to get to that stage. This is a goal that will sit over multiple years of inquiry.