Many Northland schools shut their doors to students yesterday, with teachers becoming the learners as they brought their digital nous up-to-scratch.

Northland Secondary School Principals Association president Carolyn Alexander-Bennett, organised the Digital Horizons Conference and said online-based learning was now the norm across all school deciles.

"Most schools that are here are dropping the 'e' from e-learning," she said. "It's no longer about 'Oh, are you doing e-learning?,' because it's all delivered online."

More than 600 Northland teachers converged on Whangarei Girls' High School to hear keynote speaker Derek Wenmoth of non-profit Core Education, before participating in an afternoon of workshops ranging from social media's effect on the lives on teens to how to harness "augmented reality" for use in class. Twenty-five schools including Whangarei Boys' and Girls', Bay of Islands College, Kaitaia College, Tikipunga High and Dargaville High had teacher-only days to free up staff for the event.


In the four years since the inaugural conference, Ms Alexander-Bennett said equity issues around technology had vastly improved.

"Once upon a time there was a huge difference in technology use between [deciles] 1 and 10. Not anymore - that bridge is disappearing."

She put this down to technology coming down in price, as well as a Government initiative to get fast fibre broadband into every school.

Teacher resistance to technology and screen-based learning was now extremely uncommon, she said.

"I think that's really disappearing. [Students] are not sitting in front of screens ... Students are out there with their devices, say, doing storyboards, taking photographs, not sitting in front of a screen. Gone are the days where schools said 'don't bring your cellphone'. It's now, 'bring your own device'."

Unitec's Mind Lab was running a postgraduate course in Whangarei helping teachers up-skill on digital technology. Its postgraduate directors, David Parsons and Karen Baker, were at Whangarei Girls' yesterday showing teachers how to harness "augmented reality" tools in the classroom.

As Mr Parsons pointed an iPhone camera at a piece of paper containing a sketch of a skeleton, a 3D image popped up, allowing students to display different aspects of the body including, arteries, organs and muscles, layer by layer.

"We're using applications including Aurasma - which does a 3D rendering of what's on the page. When you install the application, it knows about 'universal auras' that are stored in a database. It recognises the image, then downloads that information."

Mr Parsons said most apps of this type were free.