Virtual classes vital for rural schools

By Ashlea Witoslawski

As the students gather in the historical buildings of Harston Primary School, embracing the world of information technology has become more important than ever.

Located about 15km east of Tatura, the school is surrounded by farming land and their families.

Harston principal Owen Holleran said the school was investing in their children’s future with the assistance of virtual learning.

‘‘Virtual learning allows students to interact and learn with others outside of their classroom and school using virtual conferencing tools,’’ he said.

With dwindling classroom numbers at a number of rural schools across the region, Mr Holleran believed interconnectedness between the schools was the key to their survival.

‘‘As enrolments in rural schools have declined, the use of video conferencing is an excellent way for schools to expand their curriculum and for kids to interact and collaborate,’’ he said.

Mr Holleran said one of the tools available and in use at his school was video conferencing with ‘‘Cisco Webex Teams’’, an application being rolled out through the Department of Education for all devices.

Enthusiastic about using the technology, Harston PS has collaborated with Zeerust PS for weekly music lessons.

Through national not-for-profit organisation The Song Room, students at the schools spend Wednesday morning enjoying the DUET program.

The Song Room aims to engage children in their learning through music while also providing mentoring to staff.

Mr Holleran said Harston PS was lucky to have access to teaching artist Florence Burke and was keen ‘‘to extend the good fortune’’ with other small schools in the area when they created the partnership with Zeerust PS.

Mr Holleran is encouraging all small schools to make use of the equipment.

He hopes to create ‘‘virtual friends’’ for his students in the near future, linking his students with others of a similar age at different schools both locally and across the state.

‘‘We want to get more schools to collaborate in a virtual environment,’’ he said.

‘‘Children and teachers have developed great confidence in a range of activities and we plan to share these and other curriculum activities across a network of small schools.

‘‘The use of virtual interaction is limited only by imagination.’’

To learn more about virtual collaboration within the school environment, phone Owen Holleran on 5854 8317.