By Olivia Bunter
An innovative award winning online learning program, launched by Catholic Education Western Australia, is providing students with an alternative to the traditional in-classroom learning.
The Virtual School Network (ViSN) is a collaborative, online learning approach provided to Catholic Schools in WA and aims to help increase diversity in course offerings for students in metropolitan and rural areas.
In recent years, ViSN has won the United States Distance Learning Association award for innovation.
According to the Rural and Remote School Education Survey conducted by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, online learning is the fasted growing trend in Australian education.
Online learning programs have since increased in popularity throughout Australia and are aimed at giving young people in less-populated, rural areas an equal opportunity to access high-quality education.
Meredith Rowe, CEWA Virtual School Program Manager, spoke with The Record about the development and implementation of the program over the past three years.
She explained that CEWA is committed to delivering, diverse, and engaged learning environments for all young people throughout the state.
“ViSN has enabled us to deliver quality online learning for students, and provides training for teachers from schools which register to participate,” Ms Rowe said.
“The idea is that we’re providing inclusive access to quality online learning for all our 162 schools throughout the state.”
Whilst the WA Department of Education has a similar program, CEWA’s ViSN program offers it at a lower cost for students and has a strong focus on pastoral care.
The program’s foundation was inspired by a similar digital model in New Zealand and was first trialed at Nagle Catholic College in the state’s mid-west region, taking some two to three years to develop.
However, despite the programs humble beginnings in rural WA, metropolitan schools have also benefitted greatly from the program, having seen the value of one of their teachers participate in the training run by CEWA.
According to the Mitchel Institute at Victoria University, students living in remote areas of the country have reduced access to education services compared to metropolitan students. These students have demonstrated to attend school less frequently, are less likely to go to university, and are more likely to drop out if they enrol.
Ms Rowe said ViSN uses Office365, allowing for an inclusive learning environment where students and teachers are able to interact using the same technology, ensuring easy rollout of the learning program.
“The teacher and the student all work in the same learning environment, using predominantly Teams and OneNote,” she explained.
“It allows students and teachers to message, connect online, share files and access other resources, making the class environment inclusive.”
To find out more about ViSN, visit https://leadinglights.cewa.edu.au/visn