NSW ‘virtual school’ unique locally, and globally

Aurora College’s virtual classrooms are not only the first of their kind in Australia but are also globally unique, says the school’s principal, Chris Robertson.

The college recently began conducting its first online lessons in a ground-breaking initiative designed to bridge the learning achievement gap between rural and city schools.

Robertson told The Educator that the school is providing great teaching and inspired learning in a whole new context by allowing students to “connect locally and learn globally”.

Sharing students with 49 schools across the state, Aurora links rural and remote students with the subjects they desire and allows them to collaborate over thousands of kilometres through the click of a button.

The schools range as far north as Mullumbimby, as far south as Eden and as far west as Broken Hill. The school consists of 35 teachers who remain in their home schools but with a reduced teaching load which allows them to teach subjects with Aurora College.

Robertson told The Educator that the classes are not just a first in Australia but also unique compared with what other countries around the world are doing.

“It’s a first for NSW, and we also make the claim that this is the first of its kind in Australia. There is a small program for gifted and talented students in Western Australia, but nothing of this scale,” Robertson said.

“I’d also have to say that we looked at other education providers across the world, and this one is quite unique.

“We’re offering subjects that students in, say Broken Hill, don’t have access to. So if I’m a student in that area who wants to study physics, I can do that at Aurora College.”

Despite being conducted online, the ‘virtual classes’ run similar to face-to-face classes.

“The students log in to a virtual classroom and see the teacher and their classmates on the screen. The teacher is able to deliver the lesson in much the same way as they do in physical classrooms,” Robertson explained.

“During presentations the teacher can hand the students a microphone so they can ask questions and make comment during the lesson.”

Robertson said that collaboration, not just communication, between students is a fundamental element of virtual learning. 

“The one thing that we are very mindful of is that our school can’t be just a conduit for the passive delivery of content.

“The success of virtual learning schools across the world really hinges on taking kids from being online communicators to online collaborators.”