Volume 9, Number 6
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Member Spotlight: NorthTec
Whangarei, New Zealand
Enhance Student Learning via NorthTec Learning Gateway
NorthTec is the largest tertiary education provider in the northern peninsula of New Zealand. With 15,000 students enrolled, NorthTec has 10 learning centers and about 60 community teaching locations, providing programs and courses from foundation to degree level. The institution offers students with high-quality, learning-focused vocational education with flexible learning options. As a key initiative of the institution’s 2006 information technology strategic plan, NorthTec Learning Gateway (NLG) has been developed to assist faculties and students seeking technologies for learning and teaching. NLG is a technology framework that integrates communication and learning management tools people already use to connect learners and facilitate access to information and processes they need more effectively.
There are three themes around NorthTec Learning Gateway: Communicate, Access, and Learn. “Communicate” enables students to communicate with fellow students and faculties in real time. This function has been used in virtual classroom teaching, online tutoring, and student virtual group discussions. “Access” enables students to access information anywhere, anytime, via any communication media (over LAN, WAN, wireless, mobile network, and internet). “Learn” provides a set of learning toolkits enabling and enhancing the students learning experience.
NorthTec Learning Gateway addresses specific problems unique to New Zealand northern region’s geography and social life, which include long travelling times and distances to reach learning centers for both staff and students, remotely located students isolated from participating in classroom discussions and accessing real-time information and interactive learning opportunities as students on campus.
With the NorthTec Learning Gateway initiative, NorthTec has made great progress to provide students and staff with the infrastructure required for communication, collaboration, information access by connecting learners, educators, and learning communities.
According to Chief Executive Terry Barnett, the NLG represents a radical improvement in access, affordability, and quality of education.
Supports new teaching and learning opportunities. The implementation of NorthTec Learning Gateway opens new opportunities for students and staff at NorthTec. Traveling long distances to get to classes or lectures will no longer be an issue. The new communication capability with its presence-awareness facility is integrated into the NLG portal and allows students to experience learning in new ways, including participating in collaborative classrooms and online group discussions, interacting with their lecturers or fellow students, and engaging in learning. Students and staff can communicate with each other via email, video and audio conferencing, and instant messaging.
“I’ve been using OCS to teach the Coastal Zone Management paper,” says Andrew Saunders, Manager of Environmental Sciences. “It’s a Level 6 paper and there aren’t enough students for a full class on one campus. By using OCS, I can deliver the content and engage with students scattered all over Northland. I can also do this from campus or from home. What makes it different from the phone is that you can see each other—you can pick up on the subliminal clues and read body language.”
The International Director, Moira Hagenson, sees huge opportunities for using the technology provided by the NorthTec Learning Gateway. OCS could be used to assess students’ spoken English before they arrive in New Zealand. “This would be enormously helpful as it would allow tutors to provide courses that are able to more specifically meet the students’ needs.” An example she gives is the student chefs who study at NorthTec from Guangzhou, China. One group of 14 is about to complete their studies and another has just arrived. “Being able to talk to individual students face to face before they get to New Zealand would allow them to have a familiar face when they arrive, and help us in planning the English language immersion course they study prior to taking up their cookery study.” The international office and the Business and Tourism Program plan to use OCS to deliver English and other courses to students before they arrive in New Zealand. This will greatly improve their learning outcome and experience.
Provides One-Stop Collaboration and Information Access. The NLG offers students seamless information access and real-time collaboration opportunities. Students can communicate with other students or faculties in real time using instant messaging and web conferencing, as well as access the information they require when they need it. Students can also access information from classrooms, library, student cafe, parks, work places, and homes. They can collaborate with each other and even share applications and screens without actually being in the classroom.
The Nursing Program was one of the early adopters of technology at NorthTec. Bonnie Schroyen, one of the pilot users of NLG talks of how she uses it: “What I like about the portal is that it helps link faculties wherever they are. It’s a good communication tool and an excellent way to make information accessible. The student portal provides advantages for students particularly when they are off campus. The institution benefits by having a reliable communication tool for all staff and students. I think OCS has much potential and we plan to use it a lot. We are just experimenting with using it during a classroom session and linking students in from their home computer or recording the session and having it available to students when they have the time to look at it. Live meeting provides a really good way to link in distance students to the classroom and provides opportunity for them to participate too. I think, for nursing, the NorthTec Learning Gateway will always be part of the teaching, learning, and communicating between faculties and students, as well as peers. These technologies offer a lot to complement the course and will increase access to the courses for students.”
Enables Cost-Effective and Efficient Teaching. With 10 campuses, some several hundred kilometers apart, NorthTec faces a great challenge in providing learning support to all its learning centers. Faculties may spend four hours travelling from one campus to another to teach. Some students have to travel more than a hundred kilometers to a learning center to study. The NLG offers an efficient and convenient avenue to conduct teaching sessions for staff and students who can now interact face to face in real time, without having to travel to distant campuses.
The Te Puna Te Matauranga program at NorthTec offers qualifications in Maori language and culture, and runs programs. Gary Leaf, the Program Manager, believes IT is about having a spontaneous up-to-date information source and seamless communications. “Regretfully, many of Te Puna Te Matauranga students avoid libraries and are not high academic achievers in their previous life. However, most are computer literate and are able to access the information they need through the Learning Gateway provided by NorthTec.”
Gary comments, “The Portal allows student access to course materials and also lets them know about events happening in the institute.” OCS videoconferencing is used for intercenter learning as well as regular meetings. “This is a cost-effective way of delivery and also allows staff and students to see each other face to face. For Maori, “Face-to-face communication is customary. OCS allows instantaneous face-to-face communication between Te Puna Te Matauranga staff at different Learning Centers.”