Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Australian report captures schools' broadband possibilities

A recent report from the Australian Government on the role and potential of its National Broadband Network provides an excellent summary on the potential broadband offers for education and the particular requirements of the sector.

Chapter 4 of the report is devoted to education and echoes the reports Delivering Personalised Learning and Building a Broadband Entitlement prepared by the UK National Education Network. A few quotes:
"...ubiquitous, high-speed broadband has the capacity to significantly extend the reach, availability and quality of educational services, particularly in regional areas and enable more intensive and immersive online interactions, resulting in higher quality outcomes for students."
"...educational institutions have ‘enterprise’ rather than ‘consumer’ requirements, meaning they need very high quality and scalable connections in order to maximise the potential of broadband for students and teachers...In general terms educational institutions are not like surrounding residential users. One educational enterprise connection may support 1000 or more users (students, teachers and administrative staff) capable of generating as much traffic as 1000 homes. Educational institutions also have different needs to residential consumers—educational institutions require high symmetry and high bandwidth, they have low latency and peaks in demand. Connectivity between institutions is important, in addition to connectivity to external sources such as the Internet. Educational needs require access to capacity at a reasonable price to enable permanent networks to be created and to cater for the potential increase in demand which is likely to result as innovations are more widely adopted."
The part about having enterprise rather than consumer requirements is spot on. The report groups the benefits the NBN can bring to education under the following headings:
  • Enhanced classroom-based education
  • More educational institutions connected
  • Richer online resources available
  • Remote linkage to experts and institution
  • Sharing and interacting with other schools and campuses
  • Access to more curriculum options
  • Increasing student and teacher retention in rural areas
  • Enhanced education outside the classroom
  • After hours home education 
  • Involvement of parents in children’s education
  • Participation by students who can’t make it to class 
  • Education in the workplace & the community
  • A more efficient education system
A pretty definitive list painting a very compelling picture. The report also identifies a number of issues in relation to broadband provision for education, particularly availability and affordability:
“...the main barriers to  bandwidth usage are restrictive pricing structures and contractual  arrangements in which schools, particularly in rural areas, are required to pay high rates for the volume of data that they use. While the  Government’s commitment to uniform national wholesale pricing for the NBN is likely to remove the disadvantage that rural schools face in this area, the nature of educational institutions is that they need to provide connectivity to many users simultaneously. Educational institutions therefore need access to high bandwidth connections within a pricing structure that allows for large volumes of data. Close attention will be required from the Federal Government and NBN Co during the NBN’s design and implementation to ensure educational institutions are able to access high capacity and highly scalable connections that meet their enterprise needs at affordable, predictable prices.”
Schools in rural areas of the UK face similar challenges. The report is well worth a read if you want to understand more about broadband's huge potential to transform teaching and learning.

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