NBN 101: A broadband-driven education revolution?

Will the National Broadband Network change the face of education in Australia?

The great NBN button push: Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Senator Stephen Conroy and independent MP Tony Windsor (right) together with two local school students officially turn on the National Broadband Network in the city of Armidale, NSW. Armidale is the first city on the Australian mainland to switch on the fibre network.

The great NBN button push: Prime Minister Julia Gillard, Senator Stephen Conroy and independent MP Tony Windsor (right) together with two local school students officially turn on the National Broadband Network in the city of Armidale, NSW. Armidale is the first city on the Australian mainland to switch on the fibre network.

Hamilton's submission highlighted aspects of the NBN that would affect his institution, including speed; the widespread coverage that would be provided through the NBN, as well as equity of access; and the potential to deliver high quality multimedia, "including symmetric services such as high definition video-conferencing". It also noted one of the inherent strengths of a fibre-based network: No signal degradation over distance.

One of the first educational institutions given the opportunity to take advantage of the NBN is Circular Head Christian School in Smithton, Tasmania.

The location of the school — in the far north-west of Tasmania, some 380 kilometres from Hobart — meant principal Patrick Bakes could see the value in being involved in the NBN trials and approached NBN Co and the government about taking part in them.

Bates said the NBN rollout has already changed the way the schools’ teachers are able to educate students, with access to online teaching information becoming more readily available.

“Our teachers can now use online programs to teach the students. The school has subscribed to Intrepica, an online-based learning platform, and our students use this daily,” Bakes told Computerworld Australia. “The teachers also use other Web-based resources on our interactive whiteboards and projectors within all the home rooms of the school.”

Schools across New South Wales were recently promised that some 4300 interactive whiteboards will be rolled out across the state, and Bakes said that this technology needs to be backed up by adequate access to broadband services. An increase in the number of educational institutions connected to the NBN would also be beneficial for those schools that have already been connected.

“Once the NBN is completed, it will allow us as a school to connect to a great number of resources that we weren’t able to access due to speed issues with previous connections,” Bakes said.

“The NBN will show its true value once there are more schools to collaborate with, as at the moment we are limited by the lack of other schools on the network.”

IDC verticals analyst, Emilie Ditton, said that the NBN will have a slow and gradual impact on education. Ditton said that it won't immediately affect the type of technology used in education, "but rather the way it can be used through the greater bandwidth available”.

Part of the appeal of the NBN is near-ubiquitous connectivity, but Ditton said the network won't completely eliminate the digital divide between urban centres and regional Australia.

“The NBN is not promising to reach all students in regional Australia, but it certainly will deliver better Internet connectivity to more students in regional Australia, and a much higher quality service to those students in regional Australia who already have it,” she said. "I don’t think it will end the digital divide, but it will improve it.”

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Tags broadbandeducationNational Broadband Network (NBN)NBN 101

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