Feature Story: ACC Distance Education Program

Aus­tralian Chris­t­ian Col­lege has recent­ly unveiled an excit­ing new Dis­tance Edu­ca­tion program.

Dis­tance edu­ca­tion offers stu­dents an alter­na­tive approach for edu­ca­tion that is flex­i­ble to their per­son­al cir­cum­stances. This pro­gram is one of many great pro­grams that look to facil­i­tate the abil­i­ty to learn remote­ly. We were for­tu­nate enough to talk with Mar­tin How­ell from Aus­tralian Chris­t­ian Col­lege Launce­s­ton about this program.
ACC Online Learning Science Video
ACC Online Learning Maths Video

Hel­lo Marty,

What has been the great­est chal­lenge in devel­op­ing a qual­i­ty dis­tance edu­ca­tion program?

Thank­ful­ly, ACC Launce­s­ton is part of a nation­al group of schools with sig­nif­i­cant expe­ri­ence and exper­tise in dis­tance edu­ca­tion. If we were an inde­pen­dent school that wasn’t part of a group, we would have had to devel­op an online cur­ricu­lum from scratch and work through a range of oth­er relat­ed con­sid­er­a­tions such as selec­tion of an LMS to ensur­ing decent inter­net speeds for our teach­ers. Fur­ther, we would have had to learn and then teach our dis­tance edu­ca­tion teach­ers how to adapt their ped­a­gogy for online deliv­ery. How­ev­er, in our case, this spe­cif­ic exper­tise already exist­ed in-house so it was only a mat­ter of edit­ing’ for state-spe­cif­ic changes.

What are you most excit­ed about, when it comes to the adop­tion of dis­tance edu­ca­tion pro­grams in education?

The adop­tion of dis­tance edu­ca­tion in Aus­tralia pro­vides par­ents with anoth­er school­ing option. Pro­vid­ing par­ents with greater choice is a good thing, because par­ents know their chil­dren best. While reg­u­lar school suits most chil­dren, it doesn’t suit them all. Dis­tance edu­ca­tion pro­vides an option between reg­u­lar school and home schooling.

Tech­nol­o­gy has advanced con­sid­er­ably over the past decade. Faster home inter­net speeds, more reli­able per­son­al com­put­ers and mobile devices, and more sophis­ti­cat­ed learn­ing man­age­ment sys­tems means that the dis­tance edu­ca­tion expe­ri­ence can be more learn­ing-cen­tric and less tech­nol­o­gy-cen­tric. The tech­nol­o­gy needs to serve the learn­ing, not the oth­er way around. 

I think the col­lec­tive expe­ri­ence that we shared dur­ing the covid lock­downs helped us to iden­ti­fy that Dis­tance Edu­ca­tion can real­ly work for cer­tain types of stu­dents. At the end of the day, we want a school sys­tem that is able to meet the needs of every stu­dent and Dis­tance Edu­ca­tion can def­i­nite­ly play a role.

What do you think is the great­est hur­dle in pro­vid­ing qual­i­ty dis­tance education?

The great­est hur­dle is in man­ag­ing expec­ta­tions around learn­ing. When a stu­dent starts in dis­tance edu­ca­tion, they come into a new com­mu­ni­ty and bring with them their atti­tudes and expec­ta­tions around learn­ing. Just because the learn­ing is deliv­ered online and at-home doesn’t mean stu­dents can take it easy. Dis­tance edu­ca­tion is rig­or­ous and teach­ers still have high learn­ing expec­ta­tions for their students.

At ACC, we spend a lot of time on the ini­tial induc­tion process and we have sys­tems in place to check for stu­dent engage­ment. It is crit­i­cal that the onsite super­vi­sor (com­mon­ly one of the par­ents) works in part­ner­ship with the school to ensure stu­dent learn­ing is occur­ring every school day. 

How has COVID-19 impact­ed the way you and your team teach? What did you learn from this time?

Thank­ful­ly, we didn’t expe­ri­ence in Tas­ma­nia what oth­er schools had to face across Aus­tralia. The key les­son for us has been around plan­ning for con­ti­nu­ity of learn­ing. Whether on-cam­pus or online we want our stu­dents ready and able to engage in learn­ing from the start of every school day. 

The oth­er key thing has been around the inten­tion­al start of the Dis­tance Edu­ca­tion pro­gram. We’ve recog­nised that there are some chil­dren who can ben­e­fit from online learn­ing as a part of their over­all school expe­ri­ence and we’re excit­ed to help them. 

How has tech­nol­o­gy shift­ed your approach in edu­ca­tion in recent years?

There’s lots of dif­fer­ent ways that tech­nol­o­gy has shift­ed our approach to edu­ca­tion. In the well­be­ing area, for exam­ple, stu­dents are able to com­mu­ni­cate well­be­ing issues through an app. There’s also the rise and rise of video con­tent as a mean­ing­ful way to share knowl­edge and skills and the new tools that are com­ing out in the online learn­ing space to help us build rela­tion­ships with the students. 

How do you sat­is­fy your­self about the pas­toral care and social well­be­ing of your dis­tance edu­ca­tion stu­dents and ensure that they are ready for atten­dance at a school or col­lege for their senior sec­ondary education?

Pas­toral care and social well­be­ing is very impor­tant in any school com­mu­ni­ty and it’s espe­cial­ly impor­tant for us as we work with stu­dents remote­ly. Our heart is cap­tured in our mot­to: well known, well taught, well loved.” On enrol­ment, we take time to under­stand where our stu­dents are com­ing from. A sig­nif­i­cant amount of our stu­dents suf­fer from anx­i­ety due to inci­dents that have occurred pri­or to their enrol­ment in dis­tance education.

Our pro­gram mir­rors what you would expect to find in school with pas­toral care groups, co-cur­ric­u­lar pro­grams, and the occa­sion­al region­al excur­sion where appro­pri­ate. Our stu­dents love to talk about Minecraft just as much as stu­dents at recess time. 

We also have inter­nal sys­tems for mon­i­tor­ing stu­dent well­be­ing and engage­ment that we use when check­ing in with stu­dents such as EI Pulse which is an app where stu­dents can tell us how they are feel­ing and we can respond where needed.

In terms of mov­ing back in to school, we’re thrilled when stu­dents can move back into a phys­i­cal school. The Dis­tance Edu­ca­tion pro­gram sup­ports stu­dent needs and choice — so we do our best to help stu­dents for as long as they need it. 

In terms of matric­u­la­tion to senior sec­ondary, we have found that our Dis­tance Edu­ca­tion stu­dents are well equipped for the tran­si­tion because they have been giv­en the same skill set as their class­mates and usu­al­ly their capac­i­ty to com­mu­ni­cate through dig­i­tal means is supe­ri­or due to their time in online learning.

Any fur­ther com­ments that you would like to add?

Thanks for the oppor­tu­ni­ty to talk with you today.

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