Virtual knowledge building
Developing a virtual classroom where children from different parts of the country work collaboratively as knowledge builders is one of the key aims of a project headed by Professor Kwok-Wing Lai, director of the Centre for Distance Education and Learning Technologies (College of Education).
Videoconferencing and online education has, of course, been used for teaching before. But this two-year Teaching and Learning Research Initiative project, funded by the Ministry of Education, is the first time it has been done using the knowledge-building approach in online classes – and meeting NCEA requirements.
Knowledge building encourages students to work extensively in whole class or small groups, developing ideas by doing research – through the internet, in books or by conducting experiments. Students are active learners.
"The key thing is to develop students as knowledge builders in the knowledge society. They create and build on ideas and knowledge within the class community and engage in progressive problem solving."
Technology comes into it through software called Knowledge Forum which supports the discussion and provides a scaffolding for building ideas.
"It forces you to focus your discussion. Then, after you have posted your idea, the whole community will work on it and eventually come up with a solution or a theory."
He has nine senior secondary-school classes, working with teachers from the New Zealand Virutal Learning Network. Five are purely online classes. Students meet weekly by videoconferencing and also work together online with Knowledge Forum.
University funding has been secured to link five primary and intermediate classes in 2013.