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Authentic learning continues wherever our students are located

Student in school uniform studies at a desk with textbook and laptop

With our students back, it feels as though the life has returned to our school, writes Sean Cox.

At the end of Term 1, we farewelled our Learning in Residence boarding students as we normally would before a term break. At the time, we knew that part of Wesley College’s response to the global pandemic would be for students to learn from home, and we would take guidance from the government as to when students could safely return (which was Tuesday 26 May in Victoria).

Coby Burgiel, one of my Year 10 residents, would ordinarily walk the few metres from the College’s Learning in Residence boarding facility to classes in the Senior School at the Glen Waverley Campus. For the first half of Term 2, he walked the few metres from his bedroom to his ‘virtual classroom’, at home in Sale, logging in to the College’s internal SchoolBox portal and Microsoft Teams.

Remote learning at Wesley mirrored much of the typical on-campus learning program.  Students experienced a blend of synchronous live lessons over video, and self-paced asynchronous afternoon tasks and independent study.

The overarching principle guiding remote learning at Wesley? Ensuring that students and teachers were given the opportunity to collaborate and connect. As my colleague, Dean Pearman, Wesley’s Head of Digital Practice and Learning, said, ‘These are the normal things that teaching’s all about: social connections, discussing concepts, providing feedback on learning. It was about developing learning spaces to enable these connections to occur.’

Coby tells me that ‘Remote learning was very easy to figure out. I had lots of support, making it very easy to do.’ He’s been reflecting on what he most missed and was emphatic that it was the face-to-face interaction of living on-campus. ‘I missed a lot of things: Sundays when the mentors take us down to the stadium to play basketball, and being able to just walk down to the Wesley oval and do my own football program.’ It was a great pleasure, now that students are back, to look out my window and see Coby and some of his peers enjoying each other’s company on the oval again!

While our students were not physically on-campus, we implemented a remote pastoral care strategy to ensure our students were well supported and had opportunities to share their experiences and maintain friendships. This involved individual check-ins from Mentors, informal social channels and the continuation of our Residence meetings live via Microsoft teams. The engagement from students and feedback from parents was that these opportunities to interact via live video meetings was a highlight and something our students looked forward to during remote learning.

Creating a sense of community online was important, not only for boarders but all students. The College introduced a wellbeing program called Keep In Touch [KIT], and all students met regularly in small groups with teachers to discuss how everything was going. Students also came together to support community causes and participate in House competitions virtually.

Students were surprised by how much they missed the environment and structure of being at school. Ashley Farmer, a Year 10 student, loved being able to go on long runs around her home in Bright, but during remote learning said that, ‘I miss the people who I have formed amazing friendships with. It’s weird doing everything without them – from homework to making food. I miss being in Melbourne and being able to train with my athletics squad. The facilities are amazing and I felt so lucky to be there with all these amazing people. I can’t wait to get back!’

Likewise, Meika King, Year 11, missed the staff and her friends at Learning in Residence. She described them as ‘like a family to me’.

I commend our students on the enthusiasm and commitment they have shown, and the way they persisted with their studies through remote learning. They are flexible learners and the way they adapted to this new style of learning, and the confidence with which they are now coming back to on-campus learning, really showed me how much they have embraced the opportunities at Wesley and the very bright futures ahead of them.

With our students back, it feels as though the life has returned to our school.

Sean Cox is the Head of Learning in Residence

Next year, Wesley College will open up the Learning in Residence program to Year 9 students in addition to the current cohort of Years 10 to 12. Scholarships are available for Years 9, 10 and 11 rural and regional students.