Virtual world opens new doors

Virtual classrooms break new learning ground

VIRTUAL LEARNING: Julia Williams, from Parkes High School, attends her online Aurora College lesson.

VIRTUAL LEARNING: Julia Williams, from Parkes High School, attends her online Aurora College lesson.

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NSW's first virtual school, Aurora College, is set to grow in 2016.

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For more see: Bush still lagging behind in online access

SPECTACULAR, world-first technologies in virtual learning are transforming the education opportunities for NSW country students, broadening career paths at the same time as keeping together farming families and communities.

Three dimensional, real time playgrounds and parent teacher nights and live feeds to the school office are the latest groundbreaking introductions to NSW’s first virtual school, Aurora College.

In its first year, the selective highschool has allowed 160 students from as far afield as Kyogle on the Queensland border to Eden on the Victorian border and west to Broken Hill to study selective streams and challenging subjects they would not otherwise have access to.

Next year, 63 students will start year seven while 100 more were turned away, such has been its popularity.

Designed to bridge the learning achievement gap between rural and city schools, Aurora College connects students with their teacher and classmates in time-tabled lessons through web conferencing software and a range of online communication tools.

They combine studies with those of their home school, which means they stay connected to their local communities while developing their passion for subjects and courses that link to their career plans, said Aurora Principal Chris Robertson.

From extension maths, history and English to physics, economics, agriculture and Japanese or Italian, the horizons have been extended exponentially.

Next year the number of partner schools involved with Aurora will jump from 40 to 65 and 35 teachers will be employed, two thirds of whom are from rural and remote areas, he said.

“One of the most pleasing aspects has been when parents call to say because of this we have been able to keep our family together,” Mr Robertson said.

It’s not just the cutting-edge technology that has put the NSW virtual school ahead of the pack but the fact Aurora is a world leader in the delivery of blended and online learning.

A major reason it stands out among other virtual schools around the world, Mr Robertson said, was its masterclass and mentor programs where people who were experts in their field deliver classes.

Aurora has partnered with the likes of the CSIRO, Microsoft, Bell Shakespeare, the European Centre for Nuclear Research and All-sky Astrophysics to do this.

Students are also linked with a mentor who is a leader in their area of interest, where insights into professional lives are given.

“The aim is to demonstrate to students the relevance of what they are learning,” Mr Robertson said.

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