Panasonic wires Japan, NSW schools for distance education

130 Sydney students to collaborate with counterparts in Japan through HD videoconferencing, interactive whiteboards

Up to 130 Year Three students at a Northern Beaches primary school in Sydney will be able to communicate and learn with their counterparts in Japan from October.

The distance education program, dubbed the Global Classroom and set up as part of Panasonic’s Education Foundation, will see students from Cromer Public School and Kansai University Elementary School in Osaka take part, cooperating in 15 minute classes each morning as well as a full joint class each week. Through videoconferencing and interactive whiteboards the students will be able to swap schoolwork and ask questions to teachers in the other classroom.

“They’ll discuss things like what they had for breakfast, what’s your dog like, what sort of pets you’ve got, what’s good about your culture, what’s good about our culture,” Cromer Public School’s principal, Greg Jones, told Computerworld Australia.

The videoconferencing facility will follow the students, currently in Year Three, through the next three years, followed by homestay excursions for both the Australian and Japanese students in their respective countries in 2012 and 2013.

Once the three-year trial is completed, Panasonic expects to open the capability to more students within Cromer Public School as well as other schools, ultimately connecting 150 institutions by 2018.

“The purpose is to immerse students in a different culture in a way that we would not have been able to do before without the high definition capability of the new Panasonic equipment,” Jones said.

“It’s an opportunity to build global citizenship and an understanding of other cultures through a high definition approach rather than just having videos or DVDs.”

The distance education program with the Osaka-based school will also enable the 850-student Cromer Public School to institute a bilingual program for the first time.

“We don’t have a language and that’s one of the exciting things about it,” Jones said. “We were looking to do a language in the school and in the primary schools it’s very difficult to get a language provision.

“So this was an opportunity to give students a language option but in a very cost effective way and to use technology to provide that cost effective mechanism.”

The joint classroom equipment will ultimately be set up in the school’s two new classrooms in a building part of the Gillard Government’s Building the Education Revolution (BER) program from the first term of 2011. In the meantime, Panasonic has established a mobile connection that will enable the students to partake in the connected classroom activity when term 4 begins on 11 October.

The videoconferencing equipment comprises Panasonic high definition video cameras and plasma televisions as well as interactive whiteboards, connected by a 10 gigabit link. However, Jones said he didn’t anticipate the videoconferencing to consume more than a gigabit of the school’s bandwidth, which is scalable due to compression technology. The capability won’t strain the school’s computers either, which are connected to the same pipe at a 100 megabits per second.

The school’s infrastructure is managed remotely by IT staff at the NSW Department of Education and Training’s Northern Sydney region department, but Panasonic equipment is supplied and maintained by the consumer electronics company.

“Panasonic use this school as a testbed for the products that can be used in an educational setting,” Jones said. “In a sense we’re Panasonic’s partner school in Australia for design and development of educational products.

“We offer advice on the sort of equipment that we would like as teachers to have in classrooms.”

Staff at Cromer Primary School have already collaborated with Panasonic on developing the company’s Panaboard interactive whiteboard, and Jones said the school was currently contemplating a trial run of the Toughbook CF-52 Mk2 semi rugged notebooks for students.

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