K-12 Distance Education in New Zealand

What is the state of distance education in K-12 Schools? Michael Barbour trawls through the literature to illuminate us…

In September I presented a video keynote to the to the annual meeting of the Society for the Provision of Education in Rural Australia entitled, “The promise and the reality: Exploring virtual schooling in rural jurisdictions.” About two months earlier, I provided the organizers of the conference a proceedings document of the same title. I began that proceedings with a table that I introduced by stating:

A quick examination of the last five years of the main distance education journals for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States revealed a total of 24 articles out of a total of 262 related to K-12 distance education (see Table 1).

The table was:

Table 1. Analysis of main distance education journals for K-12 focused articles

  Australia Canada New Zealand United States
American Journal of Distance Education (United States)       8
Distance Education (Australia) 2     4
Journal of Distance Education (Canada) 1 4    
Journal of Distance Learning (New Zealand)   1.5* 1 .5*
Total 3 5.5 1 12.5

* One article had a focus on both Canada and the United States

Immediately following the table, I wrote:

As indicated in Table 1, only 22 articles related to K-12 distance education in Australia, Canada, New Zealand or the United States (the remaining 2 articles focused on K-12 distance education in South Africa). However, 18 of those 22 articles were focused on K-12 distance education in Canada or the United States. It is for these reasons that I limit my discussion of K-12 distance education primarily to Canada and the United States.

While I was speaking to a group of rural educators in Australia about the use of K-12 online learning, and more broadly K-12 distance education, in rural jurisdictions, I was unable to speak specifically to their context because based on the body of research literature there was little information for me to draw upon.

Several months ago (probably more than I’d care to admit), Carol asked me to draft a guest blog entry on the topic of K-12 online learning, and more broadly K-12 distance education, for her blog – which I sense has primarily a New Zealand-based audience… And I have had the same struggles writing this blog entry as I had presenting to the rural educators in Australia; there is very little research literature focused on K-12 and online learning/distance education in New Zealand.

Then it came to me, that was what I would write about!

My introduction to K-12 distance education in New Zealand came by way of a professor at Memorial University of Newfoundland, Ken Stevens. A native New Zealander, he currently splits his time between Memorial and Victoria University in New Zealand. When I first met Dr. Stevens he was working on a district-based online learning program (see Stevens [1997]). As I began to know Ken and his work, he became the only academic I knew writing about K-12 distance education in New Zealand (see Stevens [1992, 1996, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2003); Stevens & Tate [1994]).

In all honesty, this is primarily all of the scholarship that I was aware of about K-12 distance education in New Zealand prior to being invited to be a keynote speaker at the 2008 Distance Education Association of New Zealand (DEANZ) conference in Wellington. However, even with exposure to a wider range of kiwis and being a little more on the look-out for this literature, it has still be difficult to locate (as the table above indicates). The New Zealand article referred to in Table 1 was Rachel Roberts’ 2009 article in Journal of Distance Learning entitled, “Video Conferencing in Distance Learning: A New Zealand Schools’ Perspective.” As the editor, Mark Nichols described:

Rachel Roberts of Stratford High School summarizes the development of video conferencing in New Zealand’s secondary school sector. Roberts gives insights into the rich availability and use of video conferencing, and she reveals the collaboration that is taking place across schools to make it all possible. Using synchronous video conferencing makes it easier to match teaching expertise with student needs across the country. However, synchronous video is not without its challenges, which range from operational to strategic.

Not to diminish the effort of Ms. Roberts or the quality of the article itself, but it is based upon the unsystematically collected experiences of one teacher and one school.

Similarly, there were two articles that referenced New Zealand included in the special issue of the Journal of Technology in Teacher Education that focused on virtual schooling. The first article was Compton, Davis and Mackey (2009), who wrote an article entitled “Field Experience in Virtual Schools—To Be There Virtually”. The article was described as:

Virtual Schooling (VS) for K-12 school students using distance technologies has increased rapidly in the 21st century with the growth of online learning and virtual schools in more than 44 states in the USA and as e-learning in over 20 clusters of rural schools in New Zealand. Although VS requires a special set of teaching methods, teacher preparation programs are only beginning to include this new mode of schooling and it is important to develop VS field experience. This article describes a pilot VS field experience within an initial teacher education program in the USA as part of a national project, including multimedia appendices. It enabled future teachers to observe how an exemplary VS school teacher taught her course using blended technologies. Future teachers’ reflections revealed that they had overcome concerns and misperceptions about VS. Key elements identified include mirroring the natural setting using similar technologies, external and internal information gathering, guided observations and engagement with the class. Plans to expand this provision across the USA and in New Zealand provide an international perspective on preparing future teachers for the increasing range of educational opportunities in the 21st first century.

As alluded to in this abstract, the article actually focused on research conducting in the United States and the only New Zealand content was a description of the extent of K-12 online learning at present, and then an interest in expanding the research to New Zealand contexts. In fact, the only citation of the 32 listed that focused upon New Zealand was Wenmoth (2005).

The other New Zealand article in this special issue of the Journal of Technology in Teacher Education was Lai and Pratt (2009). This article was focused upon research into K-12 distance education in New Zealand, specifically:

Nine New Zealand secondary schools participated in the OtagoNet project, using videoconferencing technologies to deliver courses to multiple sites. This article reports findings from a study conducted between 2001 and 2004 to evaluate the effectiveness of OtagoNet. It was found that videoconferencing technology had a significant impact on pedagogy and teaching styles. Also, the use of videoconferencing in and of itself did not necessarily increase teacher-student or student-student interaction. The importance of the teacher in implementing and integrating technology into the learning environment was highlighted in this project.

Of all of the citations I have discussed thus far (i.e., the Stevens work, the Roberts article, and the two Journal of Technology in Teacher Education articles), this is the only one that actually reports a research study. However, even in the 23 citations of this article, there were only two that focused on New Zealand and both were unpublished documents (e.g., Lai & Pratt [2004, 2005]).

In the same way that Rice (2006) lamented “paucity of research exists when examining high school students enrolled in virtual schools, and the research base is smaller still when the population of students is further narrowed to the elementary grades” (p. #). This blog entry is my long-winded way to say that this is particularly true of New Zealand. Little is known about the use of K-12 distance education in New Zealand based upon the literature, and even less is known based on the research literature.

This blog entry is also my long-winded call for researchers inside and outside of New Zealand to place a specific focus on distance education the primary and secondary environments.

Michael BarbourMichael Barbour is an Assistant Professor at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan, U.S.A.. He blogs about K-12 distance education and online learning at Virtual School Meanderings. Michael is a former keynote speaker at the Distance Education Association of New Zealand.


Compton, L.K.L., Davis, N. & Mackey, J. (2009). Field Experience in Virtual Schools—To Be There Virtually. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 17(4), 459-477.

Lai, K. W., & Pratt, K. (2004). e-Learning initiative: Evaluation of the OtagoNet project. Dunedin, New Zealand: University of Otago.

Lai, K. W., & Pratt, K. (2005, July). OtagoNet: A videoconferencing network for New Zealand secondary students. A paper presented at the 8th IFIP World Conference on Computers in Education. Stellenbosch, South Africa: CD-ROM.

Lai, K.W. & Pratt, K. (2009). Technological Constraints and Implementation Barriers of Using Videoconferencing for Virtual Teaching in New Zealand Secondary Schools. Journal of Technology and Teacher Education, 17(4), 505-522.

Rice, K. L. (2006). A comprehensive look at distance education in the K-12 context. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 38(4), 425-448.

Roberts, R. (2009). Video Conferencing in Distance Learning: A New Zealand Schools’ Perspective. Journal of Distance Learning, 13(1), 91-107

Stevens, K. (1992). Recent developments in rural and distance education in New Zealand and their implications. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 1, 160-172.

Stevens, K. (1996). The technological challenge to the notion of rurality in New Zealand education – Repositioning the small school. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 5, 93-102.

Stevens, K. (1997). The place of telelearning in the development of rural schools in Newfoundland and Labrador Prospects, 4(4). Retrieved from http://www.cdli.ca/Community/Prospects/v4n4/telelearning.htm

Stevens, K. (1999). Telecommunications technologies, telelearning and the development of virtual classes for rural New Zealanders. Open Praxis: The Bulletin of the International Council for Distance Education, 1, 12-14.

Stevens, K. (2000). The development of virtual classes in New Zealand and Canada – Some implications for administration and policy. A presentation to the annual meeting of the New Zealand Educational Administration Society. Waitangi, New Zealand.

Stevens, K. (2001). A four-step process for the development of knowledge-building communities in a digital intranet. Journal of Distance Learning, 6(1), 45-48.

Stevens, K. (2003). Open learning to sustain rural schools: The replication of a three-stage model. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 12, 127-140.

Stevens, K., & Tate, S. (1994). The changing nature of distance education in New Zealand 1992-93: Some strategic considerations. New Zealand Annual Review of Education, 3, 319-334.

Wenmoth, D. (2005, January). The New Zealand correspondence school and the video conferencing cluster schools network. A paper presented at the International Conference on Open Schooling, Goa, India.

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