Seven years with the FLANZ Executive Committee

It’s a long time to serve with any group, but as a member of the FLANZ Executive Committee, the last seven years have been well worth it. And now that I’m stepping down, I’m not even prepared to go very far, as I continue to serve as Co-Editor of the FLANZ Flagship Journal, the Journal of Open, Flexible and Distance Learning

The highlights of this Committee are threefold as far as I can see – it runs a valued Professional Association, works in a resoundingly topical subject area, and there is much joy and camaraderie working with the other Committee members to achieve things of interest to our profession.  

If anyone was ever in any doubt over the value of flexible learning (distance learning, online learning, open learning, or any flexible application or combination of these) prior to COVID-19, there is no doubt about its value now. These most recent years have meant flexibility over flexible learning itself is also needed, and the field is constantly pivoting to deal with new issues and ways of working as they arise. The pandemic led to much Emergency Remote Teaching (ERT) and the FLANZ Executive responded with support for the transition not to ERT but to real flexible learning with its supporting theories, practical applications and nuanced deliveries. The more recent rise of ChatGPT and AI in educational settings has led again to leading professional discussions and webinars, and identifying quality resources to understand and harness the benefits of AI in education while minimising the downsides. Other things will be around the corner.

The FLANZ Executive Committee usually addresses issues head-on. And with a great team of energetic and passionate people, things just happen. It is the enthusiasm as well as the expertise of this group that makes it work. Everyone has the opportunity to take on a portfolio or a role, and we all get to play to our strengths to deliver a range of programmes, activities and resources to support the Flexible Learning communities in New Zealand and beyond. 

And with FLANZ’s biennial conference, a regular webinar series, an academic journal, blogs, newsletters, a professional pathways resource and other activities, there is always something happening and always a new way to connect with people working in online or flexible learning. 

To the FLANZ Executive Committee, it’s been great, and I’m genuinely sad to go. On the good side, it will leave room for someone else to step up to this role, and allows me to continue work with the Association’s Journal. It’s a win-win. For anyone reading this blog, this is your opportunity to be in for the win – consider joining in and being a part of the FLANZ Executive Committee. You can join a great team at a great time, and an AGM to make this all happen is just around the corner.

Note from the editor: It has been a pleasure working with you Alison. You contribution has been considerable and your work with JOFDL is invaluable.

Mama Mia: Let the substance shine through the language [Opinion]

The use of English is embedded in most learning and teaching practices. Even in flexible learning contexts, where learners are given autonomy on how, what, when and where they learn, the use of English is the primary medium for a learner to demonstrate their understanding and, ultimately, achieve academic success. 

Learners must use English in New Zealand (unless one chooses to do so in te reo Māori). So, what difference does it make if one is not a native speaker of English? Is it a disadvantage if one is not a native speaker in a flexible learning context?      

Hinted in the title of this blog, the answer is a big NO. I believe non-native English speakers/writers are not necessarily at a disadvantage because Normal English can convey one’s message perfectly.


All of us are on a learning journey towards Better English. For example, 

Normal English : Keep it as a secret.

Better English : Keep it under wraps. 

Terms adopted from Difference Between Normal English & Better English | – YouTube)

Words are so innocent and powerless, standing in a dictionary, but how potent they become is in the hands of one who knows how to combine them. This is the core of a writing/speaking component within education, especially when thoughts are mainly conveyed by words. As shown in the example above, there is nothing wrong with using Normal English when the focus of education is on more than the writing/speaking, at least not when the students or even the staff are in the learning process to be a better writer/speaker. After all, the core of flexible learning is never stop learning; the rate of change will never stop and neither should the learners.

As an academic developer for years and now an associate dean of learning and teaching, it seems like being a native speaker or not is always highlighted in daily learning and teaching circumstances/conversations, especially when using Normal English.

There is nothing right or wrong with focusing on the language aspect – good writing skills are necessary, but it has nothing to do with being a native speaker or not. Native speakers may know intuitively whether a sentence is grammatical or not, but they usually cannot specify exactly what is wrong and very possibly they make the same mistakes in their own speech or writing. In other words, Better English writing/speaking evolves from practices and perhaps experiences, especially when there are different sets of skills for different types of writing (e.g., a blog post is written differently from a journal article) or speaking (e.g., a daily conversation is quite different from a speech). This aligns with the notion of ‘being adaptable’ in flexible learning. This is particularly when learning is creation not consumption and knowledge is not something a learner absorbs but creates as time passes. Perhaps Normal English is the starting point for Better English.

So, whenever one doubts another person’s English writing/speaking abilities as a non-native speaker or when you receive comments because you are not a native speaker, do take it as a compliment (especially the latter) because:

  1. you clearly possess one or more than one other language and the people who comment may not;
  2. it seems like the only recommendation for your English is that you are not a native speaker.

Again, good writing/speaking skills are essential as they capture your thinking but do not let the notion of being a non-native put you down. Just like ABBA, they are Swedish, but their most famous songs are all in English, and their accents and the way they wrote their lyrics are not a detraction. Similarly, your writing/speaking will shine if you have brilliant ideas and scholarly contributions, even in Normal English. Better English is a bonus, but it is still meaningless without the substance.

A/P Kwong Nui Sim

Associate Dean Learning & Teaching

Sydney International School of Technology and Commerce

Workshop review: ‘Innovating Pedagogy 2022’

Thursday 8th September I had the privilege of running an online workshop to explore the potential of a range of different pedagogical approaches that might apply to different educational sectors in New Zealand and Australia.

See Transcript

The Innovating Pedagogy 2022 is the 10th annual report from the Open University (UK) exploring new forms in interactive and innovative practice of teaching, learning and assessment. These innovations already exist in pockets of practice but are not considered mainstream. This collaboration between the Institute of Educational Technology at The Open University, UK, and the Open University of Catalonia, Spain, is the result of a filtering process and is compiled, based on a review of published studies and other sources. Ten concepts or themes are identified.

Hybrid models
Maximising learning flexibility and opportunities. Beyond the strict curriculum delineations in Blended Learning models, Hybrid forms aim to empower the learner to optimise their own learner choices at to where, when, and how to learn. Providing flexible choices requires teachers and institutions to adjust their systemic approaches.
Influencer-led education
 Learning from education influencers on social media platforms. Acknowledging the growth of edu-influencers, who optimise their use of social media tools to share their knowledge, experience, and passion for a range of subjects from the highly specialised to the generic. Evaluating the veracity of the message is a challenge for the learner.
Dual learning scenarios
Connecting learning in classrooms and industrial workplaces. A step up from work-integrated learning models, the expectation is that course designers fully meld both formal classroom and work spaces into a coherent experience.
Pedagogies of the home
Understanding the home as a place for cultural learning. Not the same as home-schooling. Rather, it seeks to leverage the wider socio-cultural environment that the learner inhabits. Also recognises the burden on marginalised communities to fully participate.
Pedagogies of micro-credentials
Accredited short courses to develop workplace skills. Existing approaches, snippets taken from existing programmes, fail to create an effective learning ecosystem for learners who require support to develop a patchwork portfolio meshing formal, non-formal, and informal experiences together.
Pedagogy of discomfort  
Emotions as powerful tools for learning and for promoting social justice. A process
of self-examination that requires students to critically engage with their ideological traditions and ways of thinking about issues such as racism, oppression, and social injustice.
Pedagogy of autonomy
Building capacity for freedom and independent learning. Explores the notion of incorporating informal, non-formal, and formal learning patterns into the learner’s experience, creating self-regulated learners with an emphasis on their metacognitive development and allowing them to reflect their true selves..
Wellbeing education
Promoting wellbeing across all aspects of teaching and learning. Wellbeing education helps students to develop mental health ‘literacy’ by teaching them how to manage their own mental health, recognise possible disorders, and learn how, where, and when to seek help.
Watch parties
Watching videos together, whatever the time or place. Leveraging the increased connectivity prompted in response to covid-19, and the move of media providers to provide educational tools, this is the notion of structured engagement around a shared viewing (or listening) experience.
Combining movement and conversation to enhance learning. Not just used in service of those in need of emotional support, where the therapeutic benefits have been proven, but across a wide range of learning activities where reflection and thought would be best served by being away from the classroom and being outside and mobile.
10 Themes from the 2022 Innovating Pedagogy report

The workshop used Mentimeter as an online polling tool. Of the 25 participants, 20 regularly voted and made 659 submissions. The tertiary sector dominated, at 15, with fewer representatives from the Private Training Enterprise and Commercial L&D sectors and only one from compulsory education. Only 2 Australians participated.

Despite having laboured the point in all publicity materials that it would be valuable to read the report before participating, only 8 said they had read it (or the summary), with 11 admitting they had not.

Of the 17 that responded to the question about their approach to new educational technologies, 12 saw themselves as ‘progressive’, 2 as ‘radical’, and 3 as ‘pedestrian’.

To get participants involved in thinking about each pedagogic approach, we ran a 2×2 square exercise, asking what the relative effort versus impact might be. See the video for responses.

Following breakout groups we ranked the innovations in terms of the amount of attention participants would pay to them in the next 12 months in their personal practice (see screenshot above).

The general consensus was that whilst there was nothing exceptional or radical in any of these innovations, they provided a focus for reflection and were deemed stimulating. Thank you to all who participated.  

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson 

Kukulska-Hulme, A., (2022). Innovating Pedagogy 2022: Open University Innovation (No. 10). Open University.

FLANZ President’s Review of 2021

2021 may have proven to be only slightly less challenging than 2020. If only because some disruption and tumult were expected. All sectors of education continued to make adjustments to their practices, embed new processes and look to long-term solutions. FLANZ is also developing to handle future challenges. Continue reading “FLANZ President’s Review of 2021”

Realities of social media use in education: dangers and pitfalls

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Social Media Collage

My previous three blogs on the theme of social media use in education highlighted some of the benefits for educators and students. This blog will highlight some dangers and pitfalls.

These fall into the categories of access, digital literacy, privacy, data protection and social factors

Continue reading “Realities of social media use in education: dangers and pitfalls”

Social Media in Tertiary Education: moving outside the walled garden

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Image of adults looking at laptps in a busy coffeeshop

The second blog post in this series of four briefly outlined options for secondary school teachers to leverage the functionality of social media platforms. This third post examines in more depth the benefits for tertiary students. The same caveats still apply though; faculty need to be aware of their institutional policies and adhere to national legislation, particularly in the realm of privacy and data protection.

The Ubiquitous Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) 

The vast majority of tertiary providers, certainly the Universities and Polytechnics & Institutes of Technology (ITP) and Industry Training Organisations (ITO) host their own virtual learning environment (VLE). They do this to integrate the learning resources and articulated learner journey with backend enrolments, identity and payments systems. VLEs have become a common experience for most adult learners in formal education. Continue reading “Social Media in Tertiary Education: moving outside the walled garden”

Practical uses of Social Media in Secondary School: some important things to be aware of

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Screen showing social media apps

Given how acclimated most students are to some form of social media, it is worth exploring how such tools may benefit their learning journey. Each social media platform offers different opportunities, from simply making classroom announcements to having live synchronous sessions. Social media represents immediacy, or presence, that can make the student feel more in touch, more supported than the traditional discussion board.

Teachers thinking about making use of social media should always know both their institutions’ guidelines and national legislation. School policies may restrict the use of mobile devices in the classroom and national legislation around data protection and privacy needs to be considered.

My last blog outlined some of the broad opportunities and challenges represented by the use of social media in education. In this blog, I Want to focus on the potential benefits of social media for learners and teachers in formal compulsory schooling, particularly secondary. Continue reading “Practical uses of Social Media in Secondary School: some important things to be aware of”

Is the Future of Education Inevitably Going to be Digital First?


Is it wise to assume that technology should be the basis for future educational growth and development? How is it possible for us to envisage a future for education that is based on the inequitable distribution of social capital that is reflected in the uneven access to technology? How is it possible to foresee the impact of future social upheavals resulting from pandemics, climate change or cataclysms? We may be able to provide alternative channels of content delivery, but can we use technology to substitute a learning experience?

In 1996 two publications came to notice. One was entitled the ‘Search for the Virtual Class’ (Tiffin & Rajasingham, 1995) and the second called ‘Mega-universities and knowledge media: Technology strategies for higher education’ (Daniel, 1996). Both advocated for global policymakers to embrace the power of educational technologies to both individualise and globalise opportunity.

There are strong arguments for educational policymakers to embrace technology in developed economies, economies in transition and developing economies. Developed economies are increasingly reliant of technology sectors and service sector roles, the focus as much on the lifelong learner who will experience more than one career in adulthood (Susskind & Susskind, 2017). This requires easily accessible ‘just-in-time’ updating of skills which is often promised by ‘e-learning solutions’, ‘bite-sized’ learning and micro-credentials. The digitisation of education intends to allow anytime-anywhere education. The more visionary institutions are seeking to become more flexible, allowing students to construct courses for academic credit without following a prescribed curriculum, to enrol on-demand, to be assessed when they deem themselves able. This, in theory, allows the learner to customise their journey, personalise their experience and to take autonomy over their education. Those of us working in these countries are likely to find that our accreditation and validation systems, our technology platforms and the skills of leaders are the largest obstacles in realising that vision.

For economies in transition, the challenges are often poorly adjusted technology infrastructures which lag, poorly trained teachers and faculty, and a lack of coherent government planning and management. Some of these countries are wealthy but have very unevenly distributed social capital. In these countries, the digital divide is a problem, sometimes with expensive solutions. Curiously, developing economies can find themselves at an advantage. Without the need to establish complicated and expensive copper-wire or fibre-optic infrastructures they have adopted mobile telecommunications solutions, designed learning for hand-held devices, leap-frogging technologies (Goldemberg, 2011) and put these to good work in providing richer learning materials directly into their classrooms (West & Chew, 2014)./p>

The is an argument that ‘digital-first’ makes sense when there is no technological infrastructure. No one would expect to see West African countries replace blackboards, first with whiteboards, then interactive whiteboards, then establish a wired internet infrastructure in order to adopt virtual learning environments. The challenge of accessing quality learning materials may see students going straight from blackboards to hand-held devices.

For those of us in developed economies with deeply engrained teaching practices, embedded in the evolutionary nature of technology, it is harder to rationalise the ‘digital-first’ argument. The fact that technology has not disrupted education in the way that it has other economic sectors may say something more profound about human nature. Humans are quintessentially social animals; they build social capital in association with others; they define themselves as they are, and who they aspire to be, with reference to others, either individually or collectively. As useful as many educational technologies are, they do not substitute for the human interactive learning experience.

We have yet to see Tiffin and Rajasingham’s envisaged haptic virtual-reality suited teenager riding her virtual hoverbike to a Niagara Falls field trip. Neither have we witnessed Daniel’s ‘new mega-university’ opening every week leveraging the power of knowledge media. Is this because technology has failed to keep up with the pace of our ambitions? Is it because the technology infrastructure simply does not support the institutional growth required to satisfy global demand?”

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson


  • Daniel, J. (1996). Mega-universities and knowledge media: Technology strategies for higher education. Kogan Page.
  • Goldemberg, J. (2011). Technological leapfrogging in the developing world. Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, 12(1), 135–142.
  • Susskind, R., & Susskind, D. (2017). The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts (Reprint edition). OUP Oxford.
  • Tiffin, J., & Rajasingham, L. (1995). In search of the virtual class: Education in an information society. Routledge.
  • West, M., & Chew, H. E. (2014). Reading in the mobile era: A study of mobile reading in developing countries. UNESCO.