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10 April 2017

'We have the technology': remote school

Yandeyarra – a remote Pilbara community 1600 kilometres north of Perth and 146 kilometres from the nearest town of Port Hedland – has no phone or internet service.

But the little school in the community has harnessed satellite technology to support student learning.

With just three teachers and 33 students, Yandeyarra Remote Community School is one of 76 public schools in WA doing NAPLAN testing online next month. We talk tech with teacher Jessica Albers.

Teacher Jessica Albers with Yandeyarra Remote Community School students.

Teacher Jessica Albers is excited about providing remote students with great learning opportunities.

Q. Why were you keen for your students to be among the first to do NAPLAN online?

Information and communications technology is a focus for us so NAPLAN online fits well. Our experience is that students find online environments more interesting, and they seem to be able to maintain their focus longer than with the paper tests.

As our school runs off satellite internet, being part of a NAPLAN online trial last year was a good test to see it is was technically feasible for us to do testing online – and it is.

Q. How has your school been preparing on a technical basis to do NAPLAN online? What type of devices will your students do the testing on?

Our students will use desktop computers and laptops to complete the testing. We have received significant support from the Department’s NAPLAN online team, particularly Marc French who has provided exceptional assistance throughout the trial.

We’ve also had network infrastructure upgrades, most significantly to our WiFi, which means we can use iPad apps and move around with our laptops. We’ve also been able to increase the number of students online at a time as we are no longer tied to network cables!

The Department’s ‘dashboard’ tool helps us identify peak times and strains on our bandwidth, and plan accordingly. We’ve also had a device installed – known as a SIG – which helps us prioritise internet traffic, and this will be important during the testing period.

Q. How have staff been preparing?

We have done training and our students have participated in a readiness test. We are a very small school with three teachers – one of us takes on the NAPLAN coordinator role. This also includes making sure devices are ready.

Q. How have your teachers been preparing students for taking the test in the online environment?

Our students already do number of online curriculum programs such as Mathletics, Reading Eggs and Wordflyers which use a similar format for content and assessment. So students feel comfortable and familiar with working online.

Technology is incorporated into all our learning areas, and we have renewed our focus on typing and composing, using programs such as Wordpad. We have also used ‘practice’ platforms to help our students become familiar with how questions are displayed and the different ways of responding, such as drag and drop, multiple choice selections.

Q. What has the response from the community been like so far – and have they expressed interest in the fact that NAPLAN will be done online?

Yandeyarra Remote Community School student with device.

Students enjoy learning online.

In 2016, our students completed both paper tests for NAPLAN and the NAPLAN online trial. Our students’ responses showed a clear preference for online testing. NAPLAN online also helps our Year 9 students prepare for the Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment from Year 10.

As Yandeyarra community does not have any phone or internet services, our school is one of the only locations where students can access the internet. As such, they really enjoy anything online and interactive.

Q. Do you have any comments to make more broadly about your school’s use of technology for your students’ education?

Access to the internet and gaining technology skills are essential for today’s world. Living in a remote community, this becomes even more important as technology is the link to services in the ‘outside world’ such as banking and Medicare which we do not have physically in our community.

I believe the tailored test design will make it more relevant to students’ individual needs. This means that questions will be at an appropriately challenging level for each student.

Our students’ experience with NAPLAN online so far has been positive, and they find the interactive format reflects tasks they do in school and in life.

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