While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, and in some cases intensify, schools have collectively come to learn one thing about continuing the important tasks of teaching and learning crisis: where there is a will, there is a way.
The use of technology to provide remote teaching and learning at a national level has raised a myriad of new possibilities in terms of what the future of schooling might look like.
One program that offers a glimpse into that future is School of Now, which connects students with classmates and experienced Stage 6 Expert Teachers across various schools.
Using a blended approach to learning, School of Now includes lessons delivered to students in real time online, learning available on-demand and face-to-face classes.
To help support students in undertaking a School of Now course, Mentor Teachers are also allocated at their home school.
So far, the program is creating quite a buzz across the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, with 11 secondary schools already using it. And according to recent estimates, the program’s student numbers are expected to double in 2021.
‘A response to our times’
Greg Whitby, executive director of the Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, said School of Now “is a response to our times and makes the most of the virtual environment to liberate students from the constraints of conventional schooling”.
“As we continue to respond to COVID-19, concrete evidence that students are able to thrive in blended learning environments and agile and responsive in their learning is so relevant,” Whitby told The Educator.
He said the most powerful aspect of the program is that it “mobilises the great strengths of our Catholic system of schools”.
“The blended learning model opens up access to teacher expertise and diversity of courses across our 24 secondary schools, while maintaining the supportive community of the student's home school,” Whitby explained.
“It is the ideal balance of boundless opportunity and a safe and nurturing community”.
Whitby said School of Now also addresses equity dilemmas faced by many schools due to low candidature subjects not being offered and difficulty in providing access to experienced teachers especially in specialised subject areas.
“It provides a greater opportunity for student voice and choice in a more diverse curriculum being offered across all schools, as well as connecting students with different perspectives”.
Teacher Educator Steven Bauer said he particularly loves sharing his expertise in Information Processes and Technology with students through the School of Now.
“This terrific program is a chance to personalise pace, place and participation for students,” he said.
“It’s growing every year.”
Student Khyl Bautista said the most appealing aspect of the program was that it was fun learning with new students in a new environment.
Another student, Warren Rodgers, found the process of learning to be “quite relaxing”.
“I am controlling my own learning. It also has built in structures for reality checks for progress”.