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Remote Learning: 27 years on

Jo Gibson, FreshAz Education's Director 'n Registered Educator - March 2023
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It was in 1997,  when I scored my first Remote Learning role as a 28 years old, New Zealand expat in Brunei.  Yussri's chauffeur rocked up at 8am seeking 4 months of work for the then 8 year old... His High Commissioner Dad needed to be in the UK and US. I was well allergic to both textbooks and the photocopier, but highly addicted to the online capabilities of business lounges in hotels and airports. So began Yussri's remote learning experience - with his teacher running entirely on the seat of her pants. At that point, there was no research to lean on. Google had only launched 6 months prior...

Coupled with an 80% ESOL factor within the class, there was nothing that held us back, 27 years ago, from pulling off Remote Learning. While granted, it was with one student to a degree (at first!), it was an engineering feat that kept him connected with his entire class.

Regular class work evolved along with massive humanitarian aid support for Kosovo. Together we ran a huge integrated learning - enterprise programme, scoring what it took to pull off the building of a new school in Kosovo - equipped with educational supplies and teacher salaries.

All simply as a mere team of 8-10 year olds...a fairly ill-equipped NZ teacher, albeit for a keen sense of connectivity and relationship hype - but in a school very keen to be the 'leading IT school in SEAsia - led by three NZers and an Australian. 

Fast forward to 2001, a shoulder-tap saw me return to New Zealand, to a life enabling even more of what cloud-based, virtual schooling could offer. The Correspondence School (thanks to Rod Browning - CEO of the time and former head of the school I enjoyed in Brunei), scored a R&D fund to introduce and embed eLearning. This time, I was treated to a class of 8-13 year old homeschoolers who lived in Vietnam, Romania, Tajikistan and NZ - and seemingly free reign educational scope!


With Derek Wenmoth leading the team - Blue Sky visions formed 'robust' future-focused, student-empowered learners and educators. Online learning was not the b-all, but blended learning, flipped and collaborative learning was. Online platforms were crucial, engaging with students and allowing them to take the lead evolved quickly. 

During the past 26 years, engaging students online has evolved hugely so. At the heart of solid examples, are the educators who allow themselves to be scaffolded by the experts, rather than assume they 'just know' - and who in turn scaffold their students and parents. There are the programmes that build a community with their online learners, rather than set work for individuals. The community of learners includes the educators - those who collaborate, are innovators with a high EQ and keep 'time factors' real.


What I interacted with - as NZ went into its COVID-19 lockdown, amounted to observations and experiences at a Cringe factor 10 level, to the almost misty eyed moments where true-blue 'n successful rich experiences are unfolding. 


But oh... There's Remote Learning and there's 'Remote Learning...'. What I experienced during the onset of the Covid era, with three students at home, while wearing 4 different 'remote learning' hats alongside, was something else. It was like going back 27 years



2020: COVID-19... The Lockdown...
In our home, it was like going way back in time one minute and into the future the next... It was thanking sheer good fortune that we have FIVE devices under our roof. It was FOUR individuals all dialling into FOUR live lessons or meetings AT ONCE, while 'Dad' contacted a nephew in Perth.


It was a bite the tongue day; a day where I ached to help scaffold, but had 'no authority' to do so in part. It was a day where GRACE was free-flowing and PATIENCE needed to be a virtue.  It was a day where co-leaders offshore grappled with family testing positive to COVID-19, while desperately trying to get four businesses 'online' before their country too went into lockdown. It was the day that 'FreshAz Ed' could not let lie. Taking our presence to another level is how we're going to roll with this.

So where to from here?
We need to understand and consider how we really need to work together - and by supporting each other, it's to be mindfully respectful of how differently we've all be resourced, equipped, enabled and positioned to adapt. Not gate-keep. 

  1. Find who's well versed in learning at home.  Someone who's into forming interactive teams who'll learn together and not in isolation. Virtual connectivity is now hugely important. Together, not silo'ed. 

  2. Remember, students are not likely to be the only one working from home - consider other kids and working-from-home parents. As telecom networks lift data caps, many with satellite links haven't. 

  3. Online learning is by definition awkward - it's not about 4-5-6 hours screen time - it's a tool, not the means for all. It's more than text, videos, and being told what to do... Beam in offline 'work' big time.

  4. Formative / diagnostic / co-constructed angles are critical - or else the work's just 'busy work'. Co-create the fun - not direct. Build in teams, discussions and interactivity. Light up communication.

  5. Feedback, reflections... Be giving it and be seeking it. Be not all about Google docs, Google Classrooms, SeeSaw or apps. Consider student-built virtual spaces - studios, clubrooms & competitions.

  6. Be kind to colleagues, parents and the learners. Scaffold support - be the learner that's even just one step ahead. Test run the student view; use a colleague as a student - learning together. Preempt.

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