Teachers query new Correspondence School system

The troubled student management system at the NZ Correspondence School (Te Kura) is nearing completion. Teachers, however, say it will still be hard to use

The troubled student management system (SMS) at the NZ Correspondence School (Te Kura) is nearing completion, says its CEO. Teachers, however, say it will still be hard to use.

The new SMS went through two false starts in implementation, but the School still took the course of closing down the old systems before the new one was fully functioning. This has landed it with a non-functioning system and recourse to complex work-arounds.

The rationale for closing down the old system was to freeze the data so that a coherent snapshot could be transferred, without the disruptive effect of the old data still being updated, former chief executive Mike Hollings said in a statement for the school’s internal publication Link-Up last month. Hollings has since been seconded to Education Minister Hekia Parata’s office.

“Transferring information from these old systems to the new one is one of the last tasks to be performed in the changeover, because it is crucial that the information is up-to-date. For this reason, the four existing systems had to be shut down so the process of transferring data into the new system could begin,” Hollings wrote.

“On the day before the new SMS was due to be launched, it became obvious that the transfer of data into the system hadn’t gone as smoothly as planned. The data held in our existing systems was so complex and the volume so extensive, that a large amount of data had not been transferred successfully. We believed the problems could be resolved relatively quickly and that the best option was to press ahead and use the aspects of SMS that were functioning as they should while we worked to resolve the data transfer issues.”

The SMS is used to hold information about students from enrolment through to completion of their studies, as well as details of every learning resource available to students. Teachers use the SMS to record assessment information as well as to order resources to be sent to students.

The Post-Primary Teachers’ Association has complained that the system was not available when sorely needed for enrolment of new students and contends the data transfer should have been done earlier to ensure bugs were overcome before that major workload arrived. PPTA estimates the cost of developing the system, including the false starts, at $12m.

Moreover, the union says, even disregarding the data transfer problems, the system continues to be user-unfriendly, requiring more keystrokes to enter equivalent information than the old system did.

“SMS has impeded and slowed down [teachers’] work, coming between them and their teaching,” PPTA wrote to the chair of the school’s Board of Trustees, Trish McKelvey on June 29. “Even with teachers becoming more familiar with its workings, the experience is that it is much slower to use than previous systems and being non-intuitive, takes the attention away from normal teaching duties. Service to students is gravely and undoubtedly affected.

“Senior teachers, team leaders and curriculum leaders say SMS does not give them the tools to effectively manage the curriculum, pastoral care and teaching that are required of the school.

“The number of keystrokes for the simplest of tasks has increased dramatically, leading to an anticipated increase of OOS, which is already being manifested.” Te Kura’s acting CEO Robert Blucher says the problems with the system are now nearing full resolution.

“Data for all students has now been successfully migrated into the new system, with the exception of assessment data,” he says in a statement to Computerworld. “We are using the system for core activities such as student enrolments, allocation of teachers and subjects, stock control, financial management, and ordering/dispatch of work for students.

“The last remaining core functionality, related to recording assessments, is in the user testing stage and will be rolled out to teaching staff at the beginning of the term. This was a planned variation to the system that has been delayed while Te Kura and supplier iTS worked on resolving the data migration and other related issues.

“We are aware of and accept the concerns that have been expressed by staff around the usability of the system, and we thank them for their feedback,” says Blucher. “Some are valid concerns about the flexibility of the system to cater to Te Kura’s needs, and others are related to its ‘user-friendliness’, such as the number of keystrokes required to complete a task.

“We have initiated a process to consider the feedback from staff and look at how we could adapt the system to make it more workable for staff. Together with staff we will identify the priorities for any functionality changes and then work with iTS to determine what is feasible.

“A meeting has been set up with representatives from all levels of the teaching and administrative arms of the school at the beginning of term 3 so we can progress this work as soon as possible.”

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