AARNet test shows how NBN can bring industry into the classroom

Pilot program connected 20 Holmesglen TAFE students to real graphic designers via HD videoconferencing.

Fibre broadband connections have enabled 20 TAFE students at Holmesglen to learn graphic design from real industry practitioners over HD videoconferencing. The AARNet pilot project was a “proof of concept” that can be copied across Australia as quickly as the NBN is deployed, AARNet business development manager, Jamie Sunderland, told Computerworld Australia.

“Videoconferencing is not particularly new,” said Sunderland, but NBN fibre connections enable HD video and greater flexibility for schools seeking to connect students with industry. “What the TAFEs can start to do is plan into their coursework that they may be able to do connections to various other NBN-connected sites without necessarily having to bring those practitioners into the classroom,” he said.

Once deployed, the NBN will enable schools across Australia to participate, Sunderland said. “Currently, the bandwidth to most schools and TAFEs is borderline at best to be able to do that.”

ADSL and other existing copper services lack the upstream bandwidth required for an HD video call, Sunderland said. HD was critical for the graphic design class that participated in the pilot program, he said. In the program, people from the industry showed their work to the students and then asked students to create and share their own media, all through videoconferencing. “Without the really good, top quality videoconference, you wouldn’t be able to see the detail and the clarity of the media that they were producing, and be able to discuss it live.”

NBN provides more options for universities seeking to connect students and industry, Sunderland said. For example, schools like the TAFE can come to AARNet and request to use a fibre connection for a video conferencing series over a two-month period into a particular address. “We can very quickly, and with a good level of confidence, go to NBN” and satisfy the request, he said. “To do it currently, you’d have to go into an arrangement with Telstra to access the copper, and it would be a DSL circuit … and you would have to sign up for longer minimum terms.”

In the pilot program at Holmesglen, there were 20 students in a classroom on one end, and a couple of industry graphic designers on the other side, Sunderland said. In the first test, a dedicated HD videoconferencing system with 50-inch LCD screen and projector were used at both ends, allowing students to see the designers and their presentations at the same time.

In the second test, PCs and software-based videoconferencing was used. The third time used a mixed approach, with a PC at the designers’ end and a dedicated HD video system in the classroom.

Students stayed in their normal classroom during the tests. The graphic designers did it once from AARNet’s office in Carlton, Victoria, using the AARNet network, and a second time from their own office over the NBN. The tests worked just as well over NBN as they did on AARNet, he said. The system could have supported more than two locations, because AARNet operates a multipoint video conference bridge, he said.

Both sides do not have to be connected to NBN, but a fibre connection is best, he said. “You couldn’t do it with copper.” It also wouldn’t work well over wireless or satellite services, whether provided by NBN or otherwise, because their upload speeds are too slow, he said. Satellite also has “very long propagation delay,” which would result in the half-second delay frequently seen on TV newscasts, he said.

Follow Adam Bender on Twitter: @WatchAdam

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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