Last week, I travelled to Longreach to help facilitate professional learning workshops for home tutors from the Longreach School of Distance Education (LSODE). This was the result of an amazing project that crowd sourced funds to provide practical assistance to some Australian families and teachers who deliver a first rate education to their kids despite the tyranny of distance, isolation and drought.
This project was the result of the vision and hard work of Vanessa Miller, an educator currently undertaking her Doctoral studies in Education. Vanessa’s connection with the Outback goes back to when she worked at LSODE as a young teacher. Keenly aware of the catastrophic impacts of drought on families in the west, Vanessa personally raised funds to make a difference to the lives of these people. After much discussion with Rowena Arthur, the Principal of the school, it was identified that there was a great need for training to increase the digital literacy of home tutors who have had little, if any, opportunity to attend professional learning with a technology focus. In order to provide this opportunity, Vanessa planned to take three teachers, myself, Jen Graham and Nyree Buchanan, to Longreach to facilitate a series of introductory iPad workshops.
“Imagine a classroom more than twice the size of Victoria, where the playground is as vast as the outback and the partnership between home and school is legendary.” (LSODE, 2016)
The LSODE is a P-12 school catering for children who live in Central Western Queensland. Learning via Distance Education is a very different way of schooling to the classrooms most of us are used to. A Distance Education teacher only sees her students face-to-face a couple of times each year and delivers his/her curriculum using a combination of the post, telephone and internet.
The teacher conducts a daily lesson from a studio in town and students partake in the lesson from their school rooms out on the family property. The student is helped by a home tutor, who is mostly a parent or occasionally, a governess. During our time at LSODE, we discovered that a governess is affectionately termed the “govie”.
The ‘Longreach School of Distance Education’ (Formerly the Longreach School of the Air or School of the Air) is one of sixteen schools in the country; and only one of seven in the state.
As explained by Vanessa, “it was identified that technology training for the home tutors was a priority because the use of computers and associated Information and Communication Technology is integral to the delivery of Distance Education programs through physical and virtual learning spaces.
As a result of the long running drought which is having catastrophic impacts on the students who attend the school, a digital divide exists due to the resultant technical and financial barriers. Through drought relief funding, all students received an iPad by the end of 2015. The central goal of the school’s 1:1 iPad program is to enable students to remain connected with their educational program as they travel with their families around their properties carting water and checking food for what stock remains.
The primary aim of the two-day professional learning program was to assist the school achieve this goal by equipping home tutors of students enrolled in the school with the digital skills necessary to integrate iPads into their teaching and learning program.”
Collaboration in action
Up to seventy-five home tutors travelled long distances to attend the workshops held on Tuesday, 23rd February and Wednesday 24th February. The interaction and learning over the two days was extraordinary and everyone engaged in the sessions with much enthusiasm and energy. The learning was certainly a two-way process, and as a facilitator, I learned just as much as I taught.
The program included an introductory address that highlighted the skills and mindsets needed to be a learner in the digital age. This was followed by an overview of the functions and accessibility of the iPad. The program went on to include a number of breakout sessions that looked at audio tools, brainstorming apps, and using the Prezie, iMovie and Keynote Apps for creating, learning, and presenting. Participants were also given the opportunity to explore a range of learning Apps in an “Experimedia” session.
On the second day of workshops, three of the home tutors shared how they use the iPad at home. These were very informative and the conversations generated during this session provided much insight into the challenges of life and teaching in remote areas.
It was an absolute privilege to be invited to take part in this project and I return home with a new appreciation for the challenges of learning in the Australian Outback. The connections made with the teachers and home tutors from the LSODE and the shared learning that resulted will also find its way into my practice as a teacher-librarian. A huge thank you to Vanessa Miller, whose passion for learning and generosity has resulted in benefits for both city kids and country kids.