Remote remote learning
If you think the headline is a typo, think again. Wesley College’s remote learning program across our Kimberley and Melbourne boarding sites has pivoted quickly to meet the needs of students, showing that authentic learning continues wherever our students are located, as Felicity Pearson explains.
With the onset of the pandemic, the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School needed to think differently and act rapidly to deliver our unique remote boarding program, remotely! We needed to be quick, agile, responsive and creative in redesigning and adapting spaces. The project was to provide culturally safe and meaningful engagement in real time across three states and time zones in Western Australia, Northern Territory and Victoria to support our students in the Kimberley, the Pilbara, Perth, Groote Eylandt, Elcho Island, Darwin, Arnhem Land, Alice Springs and Melbourne.
We also had to navigate the border closures, and regional and shire closures in the Kimberley designed to restrict movement and protect Aboriginal communities. Delivering online learning in remote communities is also impacted by low levels of device ownership and fragile and costly service networks. Addressing these complex issues presented enormous challenges.
Online and onsite, innovative practices have strengthened the existing relationships with our students and families
Some students were able to locate to our Kimberley or Melbourne sites, but for those who remained in their local communities, the significant need was access to suitable spaces for study and digital technologies and platforms for our students. Our students have participated in remote ballet lessons with the Australian Ballet, staff have connected digitally for team building and our families remain connected through social media.
Our goal was to maintain strong community connections and family engagement while our students were learning in a remote and digital environment until they could return to face-to-face interaction, but we’ve also found in the transition phase back to onsite learning that staff and students have maintained their engagement by integrating online and onsite learning, not just in the Kimberley and Melbourne, but more broadly across Australia.
We’ve also expanded our on-country program offerings at the Kimberley site to support our students in maintaining a strong sense of their aboriginal identity and cultural values. The program, developed through a collaborative process involving educators, Indigenous mentors and local Elders, provides further opportunity for students to engage in the two-way learning that strengthens their connection to country, family and community.
As is often the case, opportunity and strength are derived from adversity. Our innovative practices have strengthened the existing relationships with our students and families.
Felicity Pearson is the Director (Acting) of the Yiramalay/Wesley Studio School.
This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in Lights Out 13(2), the magazine of the Australian Boarding Schools Association, reproduced with kind permission. www.boarding.org.au