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Education goes digital, where possible

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Education goes digital, where possible

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

There’s something a bit disturbing about youngsters bent over a smartphone frowning in concentration – shouldn’t they be out playing in the sunshine? Just what our parents used to say when they caught us with head buried in a book … But that was real education: something grabs the imagination and you discover a whole shelf of books on the subject in the public library and are lost for days.

In those terms, the Internet a wonderful resource – the world’s biggest reference library in the palm of your hand. The educational opportunities are limitless, but so are the opportunities for wasting time. Education has changed rapidly in the last five years as schools take up this challenge: how to integrate digital learning with the school curriculum so that it enhances rather than distracts from education.

Is this just a fad? Will the iPad on every child’s Christmas wants list this year be gathering dust next year? It is almost certain that the devices used to access the web will continue to evolve, but the huge educational potential of networking, and the limitless resources of the web, have barely been breached.

This year the NSW Government announced a "statewide collection of eBook resources", to be selected and managed by their School Library and Information Literacy team, and accessible to all 2243 public schools. BYOD is a key part of this project: the realisation that books should be accessible on iPads, laptops, Kindles or whatever device the pupil has, rather than be tied to a standard school workstation.

Not just the written word: audiobooks and podcasts mean you can now have your head “buried in a book” while running or exercising in the gym. Meanwhile Google’s YouTube for Schools offers hundreds of thousands of free educational videos and allows teachers to manage availability to material to ensure it really does enhance, rather than distract from, the syllabus.

Going beyond the “extended library”: metro and wide area networking means world-class lectures and discussions can be streamed to classrooms state or nation-wide. You could even field questions from those remote classrooms as a “webinar”. Early Internet adopters held inter-school debates, and have “twinned” with schools in other countries to enhance language teaching and broaden education.

Teacher training was what first inspired NSW’s Association of Independent Schools (AIS) to adopt videoconferencing. So far 14 schools from remote regions have now got links back to AIS HQ, keeping teachers up to date with new ideas and syllabus changes without wasting class time travelling. Those schools also gained links for integration with AARNet and the sort of high bandwidth applications and cloud services already mentioned.

Once decisions about BYOD management have been made, the single biggest challenge for schools seems to be erratic usage with sudden surges as a full class logs onto the same application or website. That’s where the flexibility of Carrier Ethernet wins out: it’s so easy to adjust capacity at short notice – even to allow a school debate or away match to be streamed in higher definition.

The educational opportunities are limitless, but only for those with a suitable access network. Remoteness need not be a problem: AIS reached out using Vertel’s high capacity microwave access, while enjoying the full cost and performance benefits of Carrier Ethernet.

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