A COLLABORATIVE online learning tool is available to all New Zealand schools after a successful two-year pilot programme in 20 schools.
MindSpring is an integrated suite of web-based tools that is being used by 7,000 students in 60 schools under the current scheme.
The programme has been developed by the New Zealand Online Learning Community (NZOLC), Unisys and Microsoft, with funding from the Ministry of Education’s (MOE) DigiOps programme.
DigiOps project leader Gary Falloon says MindSpring enhances learning practices within schools using highly advanced technology.
“For example, a Northland school looked at using multimedia to help the social exposure of its disabled students. Now that technology can be used by others for the education of special needs students,” he says.
“The idea isn’t to put heaps of dough into schools; instead, the money is used to free-up teachers so they can run with their ideas.”
Falloon says funding from the MOE will develop a rich resource that allows knowledge to be shared and has funding for two salaries to assist implementation of the programme.
A portal gives teachers access to resources for lesson plans and support materials while providing a platform for collaboration on teaching practices.
Students have online access to course work that supplements face-to-face tea-ching by allowing them to complete school assignments and homework and get instant feedback.
Falloon says many students have discovered the benefits of planning their own workload while parents are enthusiastic about the opportunity to see their child’s records online.
“It means that parents can interact with their children’s progress and that’s especially valuable for the parents of overseas fee-paying students.”
Microsoft NZ MD Ross Peat says MindSpring has been a fantastic chance for the company to drive further opportunities and demonstrates Microsoft’s strong commitment to the education sector.
MindSpring uses Microsoft Class Server, Exchange Server and Windows Sharepoint Services.
“The more we can collaborate the more empowered people feel and that lifts learning. We want to see this available in all schools as it’s a healthy mix of education and technology,” he says.
Unisys marketing manager Andrew Wheelan says the company was approached by Microsoft to look at how the vision of MindSpring could be implemented.
Wheelan says Unisys provides project management and systems integration and hosts the virtual learning environment for MindSpring.
“The dream is to have this deployed in every school in New Zealand. We would like to see the take-up among secondary schools hit 20,000 end-users by the end of the year,” he says.