Physics in the Far North - the video solution

August 2015


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With modern technology there is no reason why students in the Far North can’t have access to a physics teacher on the North Shore. ELAINE SHUCK discusses how video helps to deliver a collaborative learning culture within Northcote and Kaitaia Colleges.

Physics videoIt is an exciting time to be in the education sector, given the countless ways that collaboration technology is changing the way teachers teach and students learn. The biggest issues for teachers when introducing video and collaborative learning for the first time is often the change management process – the steps and planning required to ensure a successful integration of technology into the learning environment.

Northcote College is a Polycom customer and a member of HarbourNet, a geographic cluster of schools within New Zealand’s Virtual Learning Network (VLN). Working closely with Kaitaia College, also a Polycom customer and part of the VLN via the FarNet geographic cluster, a unique partnership has evolved.

While both schools are experienced in using video collaboration to defy distance, this is the first time they are sharing teaching resources.

Northcote teacher Tony Zaloum is delivering physics Level 3 to a group of Kaitaia College students who would otherwise miss out. Here, he answers some questions about how video collaboration is transforming teaching and learning.

Q&A with Tony Zaloum, Physics Teacher, Northcote College

Q How has video collaboration changed teaching practices within your school?
A: At Northcote, we are able to offer courses that we would not normally be able to offer due to small class sizes, thanks to HarbourNet.

This demonstrates that students can and do learn outside of the traditional teacher and student classroom paradigm. We also find that learning continues when the teacher is not present through online student collaboration.

Teachers also start thinking about their evolving role as ‘teacher’ and how they could do things differently, and better, for the students who are with them in the classroom.

Q How has this collaboration between Northcote and Kaitaia Colleges enabled the creation of a new, virtual physics class?
A: We are initially running two short video collaboration sessions per week: 30 minutes on Mondays and 45 minutes on Tuesdays. If timetables allow, there is an option to extend.

One of the challenges in sharing resources across Northcote and Kaitaia Colleges has been matching timetables. To address this, we are using intervals and lunchtime overlaps.

In addition to video, we make extensive use of a private Google Community where students pose questions and I provide input that benefits the whole class (rather than a one-to-one approach).

If questions are emailed individually, I post responses into the forum for the benefit of the whole class. Students are encouraged to make their learning transparent and to support each other, which is easily accomplished with a class of 13 students.

Course work is delivered through LAMS (learning activity management system), a resource hosted by the Ministry of Education. It steps the students through material that includes interactives, links, notes to read, worked examples and questions to test understanding.

I then check the students’ levels of understanding during the video sessions. Beyond this, traditional text books and a workbook are also used.

Q What benefits from using video technology are you seeing for students and teachers?
A: The benefits for students are clear. The Kaitaia students now have a physics teacher. The students learn very important skills by working in a blended learning environment, as opposed to the sometimes more passive learning approach that can be adopted within a traditional classroom.

With distance learning, supported by a range of technologies including video collaboration, the students take a far more proactive role in their learning, much like how they will operate in tertiary study.

The benefit to me as a teacher? I enjoy it. I love teaching and I love my 13 physics students. It means a lot to me that these students are not missing out, especially having now met them.

I enjoy the questions the kids come up with, especially the left-field ones! I travelled up to Kaitaia soon after picking up the class to spend a day with my new students and their families. It is very important to establish a good relationship with the class as soon as possible.

Q Where to from here?
A: While it is early days for Northcote and Kaitaia Colleges, it is fair to say that this is one example of how video collaboration is changing the way students learn, while also creating a collaborative learning culture among schools. Distance learning can provide students with access to experts and experiences across geographic distances while minimising the limitations of cost, time, and travel.

New Zealand is too small a country not to be sharing teaching resources and it is wonderful to see this shift towards a more collaborative environment.



Tips for first-time collaborators

The aim is to make defying distance easy for everyone. For teachers new to video collaboration, here are some common challenges and tips:

1. Content sharing. With the right video conferencing solution (e.g. high-definition) you can see all the participants clearly, plus share content with them anytime, anywhere – all in real time.

2. Can I have your attention please? Video collaboration features eye contact and non-verbal cues, encouraging everyone to collaborate and contribute as if they are in the same room.

3. All eyes on the board. Choose a video collaboration solution that allows everyone in your meeting to brainstorm and annotate directly on your content in real time.

4. Being a good host. Full participation is easier when you use video collaboration and content sharing technology that lets you see everyone you’ve invited to a learning experience, while also viewing and annotating on the content.

Elaine Shuck is the director of education and industry solutions for multinational collaborative telecommunications company Polycom, and United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA) chairman.

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