For those who were at ULearn13 in Hamilton in the school holidays there was a treat in store at the N4L presentation. The N4L team outlined the two key things that they have set up to deliver to New Zealand schools – their managed network and the N4L portal.
The portal is without doubt a fantastic concept – designed to “provide New Zealand educators with a safe collaborative environment where trusted educational content and services are discovered, new knowledge is created and shared, and critical thinking is rewarded” (to quote from the ULearn breakout summary).
The core of it is the way in which it provides access to a vast world of content and services. It is forecast that it will act as a central hub for discovery and for participation. It is certainly a collaborative environment as it provides enormous opportunities for New Zealand teachers to develop and share resources, have them peer reviewed and in exchange be able to access educational content developed by others – especially for the New Zealand environment.
So what is the essence of what the portal will bring to our educators and our students? There are a number of clever components within the portal, clever in themselves and clever in the way they are brought together.
The essential element is the way the search engine enables access to content. The search brings up a page which is arranged much like the Tweetdeck format, with columns across the page which contain different streams of content. The first column contains the familiar Google search results, the second column is customisable from a range of resources which might be DigitalNZ, eTV, Maori TV, NZ Geographic, Clickview, Services for Schools, etc. The third column is N4L content – content created by New Zealand teachers for New Zealand teachers.
Of course this is only part of the portal. You have the opportunity to establish your own page and link relevant content to that so you can find things easily again; you can share your page with others. You can review what is available from each of the search result columns and pick out different parts and resources that suit you and post them on to your own page.
Now don’t imagine that the day the portal is available that there will be thousands of resources under the N4L heading. This is where our collaborative and sharing teacher community comes in. This is the essence of New Zealand’s high trust educational model and the strength of the New Zealand Curriculum.
This is where New Zealand’s teachers can start to add their content. This is where you can provide others with access to your teaching and learning developments and where you can share theirs.
There are also catalogues of resources and services that you can access directly from the portal. Providers can sign up to the portal and add services they think might be useful to schools.
The whole thing is designed to be open, fair and non-prescriptive. All users, teachers and students will have log on access through a suitable identity process so all online comments will be attributed to an identifiable person. This will ensure that the site is well moderated.
Most importantly the service is free to all schools (yes, all teachers and all students of all schools – not just state schools) and it is accessible even if a school is not using the N4L network services. It is also accessible from home along with some of the online services.
For those not at ULearn (or even those that were and want another look) everything you need to know about the N4L portal is up on the website – http://www.n4l.co.nz. See under Portal for an overview, highlights and some really key frequently asked questions. Take your time, start and stop the video frequently – it really is stunning.