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Emerging Challenges and Opportunities in Contemporary Education


Ricardo Fox - 8201 - Contemporary Teaching





The landscape of education is constantly changing. Technology has, and will continue, to change at a rapid rate and calls for many changes to contemporary education for our learners. The importance of technology is not lost on our previous National Government or the current Labour Government, as both are heavily invested in the implementation of the 2018 New Zealand Digital Curriculum. The government expects the Digital Curriculum to be embedded in New Zealand schools by 2020. Through the government's mouthpiece, the Ministry of Education, they state that “Technology uses intellectual and practical resources to create technological outcomes, which expand human possibilities by addressing needs and realising opportunities” (New Zealand Ministry of Education, 2019). The impact of technology is summed up by Hughes (2017) as, it does not matter what industry you are involved with, technology is restructuring our entire society.


Teachers who enable learning by modifying classrooms and teacher practice are optimising student agency at my school. We are seeing progress in student achievement and behaviour. Because of this practice, students are driving their learning. It is important for students to know and describe their own learning, to grow with that learning to increase personal knowledge, share that knowledge and improve it. Talbert and McLaughlin (1993) further support this evidence acknowledging that once student agency is accomplished they can make decisions in the face of the unknown. It is therefore my responsibility as the Principal to observe and implement changes to the learning environments and classrooms and challenge school based learning. Education in traditional classrooms set up in industrialised models are no longer the norm. This, in layman terms, is called school based learning. Four walls, a teacher at the front of the class and students set out in rows. There are opportunities to develop new educational school bases.


In this essay I will explore three emerging school based concepts; School in the Cloud, Online Schools and No Schools. I will describe each school based concept and its opportunities, the challenges they face, then conclude with why it is important to offer varied school based learning opportunities to learners. All three opportunities use the cloud.  Cha (2015) defines the cloud as not heavenly but metaphorical for data being stored on multiple servers that host your data, find what you need and delivers it to an internet connected device.


School in the Cloud


“S.O.L.E.s are models of learning in which students self-organise in groups and learn using a computer connected to the internet with minimal teacher support” (Dole et al, 2013). Mitra & Rana (2001) further explain that the school in the cloud does not require a trained teacher or adult, as observed in their “hole in the wall” project which saw children in the slums of India learning through the internet in a different language, without any adult assistance and minimal, if no, education. The school base can be anywhere with a connected digital device.


The School in the Cloud has two main points of delivery according to Dixon, Humble and Counihan (2015):


A Big Question - At the heart of S.O.L.E’s is the big question. A facilitator or learner asks a question that is a catalyst to light the fire of curiosity of all learners. The question is designed not to lead the learners in any particular direction or lead to an immediate answer. The question must be difficult to answer and requires collaboration and elicits deep and meaningful conversation between learners.  There may not even be an answer to the question.


Granny in the Cloud - The Granny Cloud is made up of real people at the end point of a digital device somewhere in the world. Using a range of face to face synchronous technological devices they connect with learners in S.O.L.E’s. The original people were retired grandmothers of which the name derives. The Grannies now transverse age and sex. Their main role is to work with groups of learners “once off” to teach new and unknown skills to engage the curiosity of learners and engage students to create their own big questions. Once the students have collaborated in learning and solved or not solved their big question they then report their findings to the Granny in the cloud.


Costa (2014) sees the opportunities of S.O.L.E’s as part of the future of child centred learning where learners truly become a part of their learning. The S.O.L.E’s approach to learning emcompases elements of andragogy (self directed learning) and heutagogy (self determined learning). Hase and Kenyon (2000) would consider S.O.L.E’s as a movement from andragogy to heutagogy. This means that S.O.L.E’s have the opportunity for learners to move away from contemporary pedagogy (teacher led learning) and keep learning in parallel to the impact of technology on education.


In 2017 Dr. Jeffrey McClellan led a multiple method of evaluation into the outcomes of S.O.L.E learners. The findings in the evaluation parallelled some of the needed improved outcomes for Maori learners in Bishop and Glynns Culture Counts (1999).  McClellan reported that students with this opportunity had:

  • increased engagement and enthusiasm.

  • improved academic, social, and self-management skills.

  • improved self-confidence.

  • improved presentation skills.

And that teachers had:

  • shifted their roles within the classroom.

  • shared S.O.L.E with other teachers organically.

  • grown a growth mindset.

(Agelio & McClellan, 2017)


Online Schools


Online schools are also known as virtual schools, e-schools or cyber schools. A school based online is hosted in the cloud and students only require a handheld device to access the school.  These schools are defined as an "education that uses one or more technologies to deliver instruction to students who are separated from the teacher and to support regular and substantive interaction between learners and the teacher synchronously (at the same time) or asynchronously (when you get time)" (Allan & Seaman, 2017).


In more recent times, particularly in my own learning as an adult, more and more learning is becoming asynchronous. This model allows for the learner to be set up with learning or key questions. Learners are then required to work at a pace that is self determined as long as the work is completed by a due date. Goos and Benson (2008) note that when learners engage within an online school based learning they naturally form communities of shared practice and understandings. The opportunity exists, like S.O.L.Es, to move from andragogy to heutagogy. Scardamalia and Bereiter (2006) see the emergence of online schools as a movement towards communities of learners who can engage in shared passions, who ask each other questions in order to grow knowledge in communities they call “knowledge forums”. The essence of knowledge forums is to use online learning to grow personal knowledge, then shared knowledge, then the emergence of new knowledge.


The emergence of online schools provides different opportunities for learners that they have not had before. Lynch (2017) sees this opportunity as self directed learning where students can work at their own pace and have access to complete all lessons and assessments when they want to. This opportunity negates the contemporary interaction between the teacher and the student and promotes a culture of only needing the teacher when they are required. In the same token, Kokemuller (2019) sees the emergence of online school based learning as an opportunity for both students and parents to monitor the work being completed by students and the grades that are being attained. Furthermore, Kokemuller (2019), sees the links between the advancement of technology connected with the online based schools as exams or assessments can provide instant feedback on scores rather than contemporarily waiting for the teacher to return assessments or grades.


An observed positive of online schools in comparison to my current practice is the cost of operation. A school in the cloud is economically viable and much less expensive to run than a contemporary physical school with 4 walls. While property money New Zealand school’s receive is varied, due to context and size of school, I recently undertook a roof replacement for leaking roofs at my school. The cost of this emergency project was just over $450,000. There is no ongoing maintenance for the online schools as there are no buildings therefore cutting costs and the ability to then redirect surplus cash.

No Schools


Students do not attend school. Students can learn what they want when they want. With the advancement of technology there is now unlimited access to knowledge rather than just the educated or wealthy. This means a student who wants to learn when they want to can. Sykes (2019) goes further to state those that are culturally oppressed with access to knowledge, like Maori, now have access to knowledge that was not available to the recent history of marginalised learners.


Online learning could be a naturally pure form of heutagogy, Costa’s (2014) vision of self determined learning. Sykes (2019) also sees the emergence of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as an exciting opportunity for learners who wish to access knowledge when they want and need it. I have had the opportunity to extend personal knowledge as a self determined learner to learn more about educational leadership using MOOC’s such as COURSERA and EdX. These MOOC’s connected me with the greatest minds of educational leadership from MIT, Harvard and Penn, knowledge previously only available to a privileged few.


No schools allows the opportunity to disestablish the teacher student relationship. For Maori students, Sykes (2019) sees this as a positive move away from contemporary based school to international learning communities. With knowledge becoming democratised comes the argument of the existence, or the extinction, of the teacher as educator. No school obliterates bricks and mortar, similarly to online schools.


Sykes (2019) sees endless opportunities for young learners to lead their own learning with the emergence of websites such as Khan Academy, Code, Codecadamy, Lessonpaths and Udemy. Salaman Khan, the founder of Khans Academy, best sums this in his self titled book “The One World Schoolhouse: Education Reimagined”.


Time management changes for the student as getting to school on time is transformed to getting knowledge on time. Attendance is of no issue as there is no need for a teacher to take the roll. Students can learn at a time that best suits them as an individual. Borderless learning means students can work in spaces they want to work in.


No school opportunities seem so vast and endless.




The challenges for the aforementioned opportunities are wide and varied. The following areas are challenges for all:


Connectivity - for the opportunities there must always be an ability to connect a device to the world wide web. In the first instance children need access to a device. Campus Explorer (2019) supports this by identifying that many students do not have devices at home or at school. The second issue is a reliable connection as a device without the connection means no learning.


Adult Mindset - For many teachers I have worked with in the past there is a hesitancy to change practice and learning environments. This is usually due to technology being new and unknown. I also see learners changing and transforming the learning environment themselves using technology in the classroom. It is important to be optimistic when engaging and transforming schools with technology. Fullan (1989) identifies that the teacher is at the heart of the success or failure of educational change. A negative mindset of a teacher towards technology poses a significant barrier to a change to school based learning. This also includes the principal. Parents want education to be like what they had at school and this is a significant brick wall for me as a leader and I have ongoing conversations with parents each year when we review our school or they are unhappy with a change to their ideals of contemporary or traditional education..


Relationships - A contemporary school base with four walls allows for learners to form interpersonal skills that are limited to the evaluated emerging school based opportunities. “One of the benefits of attending courses in a traditional bricks-and-mortar school is the peer-to-peer interaction” (Campus Explorer, 2019)


Attendance and Self Management - In New Zealand students are legally required to be in school from ages 5/6 to 16. They are monitored daily for attendance by schools. Bishop, 2005, identified that  student achievement is severely affected when learners are not at school. There is ongoing discussion in my school around the skills students need to improve to enhance student agency. What are the important skills students require to make the most of these opportunities?


Long Term Evidence of Success - Early Evidence from a triangulated report by the Association of Charter School Authorizers (2015) found that there was mixed performance of online schools in learner proficiency, growth and graduation. The report also identified that many areas were hard to measure due to the large learner attrition rates, evidence being was vast between states and the parametres in which data is collected across online schools. The outcome of no schools is only now being investigated since the publishing of Educated and Hillbilly-Elegy that focus on the connection between no early, middle and high school education and tertiary educational success.


Lack of Robust Research - In the critique of journals there was an identification of bias and research projects being funded by technology companies. Evidence from recent news media coming into staff rooms also have a politicised focus. Unfortunately there needs to be further research into Online Schools, SOLE’s and No School. There was no research or evidence in peer reviewed journals for these emerging school based opportunities in a New Zealand Context.




With the progression of technology there must be advancement in school based learning. With the invention of the television came classroom televisions and then interactive whiteboards, mimeographs were replaced dot matrix and then by inkjets and typewriters were replaced by computers and then handheld devices. Lynch, 2017, sees this natural progression has allowed for unique opportunities of learning that were not available before the advancement of technology. With this advancement school bases have unfortunately remained the same.


Every learner is different and therefore their learning is different. It could be taken further to state that their learning with technology will be different including their learning environment. Teachers in my school are looking at a variety of unique ways to teach and target learner strengths and engage them on a personal level to improve learner outcomes. Therefore there needs to be a variety of emerging school bases where teachers can extend learner agency.  At Mayfair School we are getting engagement with Maori and Pasifika students with the use of technology. Imagine if school bases were reimagined using an indigenous lens. The potential is improving educational outcomes for the most marginalised in a New Zealand context. Bishop (1999) believes Maori learners learn very differently from other learners and that changes in environment for Maori learners is a positive outcome for us all. This is thought provoking for currently unimagined school bases.


The internet has given the human race the opportunity to have access to infinite knowledge. This means that there exists an endless opportunity for a variety of school bases.




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