Thursday, February 11, 2010

My E-learning journey in the vintage years!

It was very reflective reading about the vintage years of e-learning in New Zealand schools by Nola Campbell and Murray Browns article on the use of computers in New Zealand schools. Campbell's article looks back into the 1980s and 1990s into the early pioneering days of e-learning in our schools where ICTs in the classrooms were utilised for communication through electronic mail prior to Internet. Brown's article also looks back at the history of computer use in our schools and aligns this history with his own experiences with computers and significant world events. Brown offers a critique of what makes a good ICT educator - one "who uses ICT will have a well developed philosophy of teaching which is based on a contempory understanding of educational theory". (98:7) Well these articles took me back to where I was in these vintage years of computing in New Zealand Schools, what the issues were that we were dealing with then and their relationship with todays e-learning issues. In 1989 I was appointed to my first principal appointment position by the Hawkes Bay Education Board, prior to Tomorrows Schools. This school was Ruakituri, which is nestled between two sheep stations on the edge of the Urawera National Park, not far from Lake Waikaremoana. We had four Commodore 64 computers, bought from fundraising efforts from the parents. The school had plenty of money in the bank account as the parents donated free labour doing the crutching of the sheep for the local sheep stations and the school got paid the fee. However money in the bank, did nothing to offset isolation and flaky technology. Often the phones did not work and we had party lines. They also did the docking - (removal of the lamb tails). This was done up in the paddocks and everyone joined in. Big sacks of poopie lambs tails were put in special freezers at school and we had BBQ lambs tails for weeks - which the big boys chopped the wood for and did the cooking over an open fire. (Just a bit of contextualising here) Anyway in the second week of my tenure, there was a big snow storm and all the telephone poles and power poles on the ridge fell like dominoes and we had no power or communication for two weeks - except for radio telephone through the local civil defence. Even when the power and phone was OK it was very flaky - so no electronic mail for us. We had to utilise the fourth Commodore 64 for parts for the the other three, so that we had three that worked. I racked my brain trying to remember what we used these for. I know we developed a spreadsheet for the school budgeting system, and wrote several school policies with the introduction of Tomorrow's Schools Boards of Trustees system. The children played games on the computers, but there was no linking to the curriculum. The game "Bombjack" was particularly popular - especially since we had colour computers, we did not let our isolation in the country hold us back! The focus for us was getting the gear and then getting more - it was not related to how it was going to be used in teaching and learning - just that it would be good to have. In 1991 I was appointed to my second position as principal to another remote school called Kohukohu which is on the inner reaches of the Hokianga Harbour. At this school we really got into computers in education and yes, we did link ICT to the curriculum. I enjoyed giving students the opportunities to utilise ICTs in their individual learning research projects and we did use electronic mail to mail experts. They had to do this in the school office of course where we had a PC. In the classrooms we used our "Apple" computers for word processing, drawing and research off specialised floppy discs. The computers in the classroom were integrated into our inquiry learning programme. The students still continued to play computer games whenever they could!We purchased our first digital camera and that was considered really magic! My daughter remembers doing a research project on Antarctica, and emailing the scientists at Scott Base. We also spoke to the scientists via a speaker phone system - it was very exciting. However, though I was into this style of teaching and learning in my classroom, did not mean that this transferred to the other classrooms. It was seen as a senior class thing - and probably a result of having a quirky principal. I became the North Island Rural School Principal representative on NZEI Principals Council in the 1990s. The Principal Council had several consultation meetings with Carol Moffit, in her role as project leader developing strategy for ICT in schools. The resulting launch of the programme called Interactive Educational Strategies for Schools (Ministry of Education 1999) was considered seminal, as it meant the New Zealand Government now recognised the role that ICT could play in education. In 1998 I took on my third principal post at Mangonui School on the East Coast, Doubtless Bay, just north of Kaitaia. Like many schools we were able to increase the amount of hardware in our school, and we put in our first networked system. Each classroom had its own email address, and had access to the world wide web. However having the gear did not mean that ICT was being used effectively across the school for teaching and learning. The Education Reveiw Office Report (ERO, 2000:2) suggested that "many schools are unable to point to specific improvements in teaching and learning that have been brought about by the use of ICT" This report recognised that there was a need for specific professional development for teachers to successfully integrate ICT into their classrooms. At this stage, we recognised this need for professional development to integrate ICTs and learning in our classrooms of our small rural school in Mangonui - but how to access it was an issue. We actually ended up contracting Lane Clark, who was in New Zealand at the time working at Tahitai Coast School for a 3 day course. Lane's emphasis was on linking thinking and inquiry with ICTs and learning. We were using CD Rom, Websites, Internet and email for enquiry learning. The three day course did not really do it across the whole school either. Since 1998 as part of the "Interactive Education" strategy the Ministry of Education has been letting out ICTPD contracts to clusters of schools. I have been involved in two of these. One at Mangonui School - (but I have to say the funding mainly was used to set up the technical infrastructure) and one as principal of Glenbrae School in 2005 - where we were in the Point England ICTPD cluster, and was fortunate enough to have Dorothy Burt as facilitator. So I guess for me being able to reflect on the vintage years in these articles and parallel what I was doing in education during this time and up to today has given me food for thought. We are more than ever grappling today with the issue around maximising the technologies for learning. Given the recent development in Web 2.0 technologies, the role of the teacher in planning and managing the e-learning environment is even more critical in today's classrooms. Effective teaching still requires effective professional development to enable our teachers to engage in maximising the benefits for learning. Brown, M. E. (1998). The use of computers in New Zealand schools: A critical review. Computers in New Zealand Schools, 10(3), 3-9. Campbell, N. (2004). The vintage years of e-learning in New Zealand schools. The Journal of Distance Education, 8(1), 17-24. Education Review Office (2000). In-service training for teachers in New Zealand Schools. Available at Ministry of Education (1999). Interactive strategies for schools. Wellington. Ministry of Education


  1. WOW! What a stunning reflection on the 'vintage years' Sandy! Interesting how different our journeys can be and yet still bring us to the place of realising that it is about the kids and their learning and how we can best facilitate this. And prepare them for the world in which they currently live.

    I hope that when a biographer reflects on the journeys of NZ school leaders in the eighties, nineties and noughties in a hundred years time, they will acknowledge what a huge amount of learning we modelled in our own lives. We were born before digital technology, it wasn't part of our own schooling, and yet we pioneered introducing it into schools and making sure the children we teach were equipped for their futures.

    I sincerely hope that those of us who bothered will be treated kindly by history because we truly have travelled an untrodden path and achieved some pretty cool things. It was a pleasure to work with you back in the GB days. All the best for 2010.

  2. Hi Dorothy, Thankyou for your supportive comments. As you see this is a new experience for me setting up a "principal blog" as another way to connect with my school community and beyond. It will be interesting to see if we get any posts from others to share their experience either as a teacher or student during those vintage years. I do find your blog inspirational. Your leadership in the field of e-learning is a joy to follow.

    Come and visit me at Freemans Bay if you are in town and lets have a catch up!

    We are currently involved in designing a 2 story 10 classroom block for 21 century learning. Great fun! Its coming together really nicely - Lots of negotiating to get what we want.

    The reason for the building is that the school is built on fill and we have a large junior block of 5 rooms subsiding and the building is now been written off - plus roll growth.

    So an awesome opportunity for us to develop something special in the way of learning environments for 21 Century learning.

    Will post something about that soon.