Regional universities are increasingly acting as “anchor tenants” for network infrastructure in their localities, enabling a growing number of nearby schools to take advantage of their proximity to powerful AARNet links running through their regions and connect to the network.
In 2017, three schools in Mt Gambier South Australia connected to the high-speed AARNet link to the University of South Australia’s Mt Gambier regional campus. These schools are all experiencing a significant improvement in their broadband speeds, which has opened new opportunities for teaching and learning while reducing the disadvantage that comes with being located a long way from experts and learning resources typically located in metropolitan areas.
Shayne Jellesma, Computer Systems Manager at St Martins Lutheran College, Mt Gambier, explained that the school is now able to use more cloud-based services and online media-rich content without worrying about congestion.
“Our IT teachers report that they don’t need backup lessons for when the Internet doesn’t work or is slow – it’s always available and fast,” Jellesma said.
“Students can also work much more independently as we don’t have to all focus on a screen out the front of a class for video.”
At Mt Gambier’s Grant High School, AARNet connectivity has helped enrich learning outcomes by providing access to content that was otherwise inaccessible, explains Computer Systems Manager Evan Dent.
“Students are now able to access more educational content quicker and more reliably, from streaming YouTube and other educational video content reliably in high quality to using cloud storage, without worrying about how such bandwidth intensive services will impact other users.
“Grant High School is now investigating the use of High Definition video conferencing to connect us to other locations whatever the distance.”
Likewise, in Geelong in regional Victoria where Deakin University has two campuses, AARNet-connected schools that would otherwise be restricted by their location or budget have accessed many of the country’s, and the world’s, top museums and experts remotely this year. They have leveraged their reliable broadband connectivity and the AARNet Zoom videoconference service to bring the curriculum to life in new and exciting ways.
North Geelong Secondary College hosted a Zoom video meeting with musicians in Nashville USA, bringing a taste of country music into the classroom.
At Sacred Heart College in Geelong, Zoom videoconferencing helps bring students and staff face to-face with external experts who would otherwise need to travel to Geelong.
“One example is our Language Learning Area, which uses Zoom regularly to collaborate with a language professor in Melbourne. This has enabled more face to-face time due to zero travel costs or time,” says Director of ICT, Mark Pleasance.
Zoom is also being used to stream parents’ evenings and teach students unable to attend school, for example due to illness. Sacred Heart shares classes with other local schools and, where the teaching program allows, Zoom is being used to provide remote access, significantly reducing the time spent travelling.
In regional New South Wales, a second 1 Gbps connection to the AARNet network was delivered for Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth this year. Calrossy is able to connect to AARNet via the fibre link running between Armidale and Narrabri via Tamworth, which also connects the University of New England.
This new link, implemented on a geographically separate path, ensures uninterrupted internet access for Calrossy by serving as a back-up in case of any issues on the primary connection.
Connectivity to AARNet underpins many classroom activities across Calrossy’s two campuses, in particular, bandwidth-intensive video connectivity to the rest of Australia and the world.
Reliable connectivity provides access to experts and learning resources — such as museums and scientific instruments — that cluster in Australia’s major cities, said Acting Director of ICT, Amber Chase.
“As a regional school, we use technology more and more to access experts within metropolitan hubs and from countries around the world as well as participate in webinars and virtual tours.
“Video conferencing has been the biggest thing to take off for us. With reliable connectivity, our students are regularly using Zoom or Skype to video conference with a variety of people.
“The Science Faculty, for instance, has had video conferences with specialist chemists and biologists and primary students have been involved in programs involving the Sydney Opera House.”
Calrossy is also currently implementing a new Learning Management System (LMS) that will be underpinned by reliable Internet connectivity.
“Students and teachers will expect to be able to access the LMS 24/7. Our AARNet connections mean we’ll be able to meet their needs,” Chase said.
Over the next 5-10 years, Calrossy expects its teachers to be using ICT in ever more meaningful ways. In particular, its AARNet connection means they are ready to support adoption of new technologies that help with teaching and learning.
“Good Internet connectivity has future-proofed our school,” Chase said. “Whatever new technologies are developed and whatever is available to allow us to connect with others from around Australia or internationally, we have the infrastructure to make that technology available to our teachers and students.”
Image: Creative use of technology plays at an important role in teaching and learning at The Armidale School in regional NSW.