Calrossy Anglican School in Tamworth, New South Wales, is an independent day and boarding school whose students span preschool to Year 12.
Calrossy has two campuses five kilometres apart. Four learning environments support a ‘diamond’ model that sees boys and girls taught together until Year 6, separately from Year 7 to Year 10, and together again for some classes in the senior years.
In the past, teaching and learning at Calrossy was hampered by the slower internet speeds that can be commonplace in regional areas. The school previously had several load-balanced ADSL connections and their service was “patchy”, explains Director of ICT, Amber Chase.
“On the main campus it was fairly good although not particularly fast,” Amber said.
“On the campus located out of town, the service was variable depending on if many students were uploading or downloading data; even the weather would affect how good internet speed was.”
As with many regional schools, Calrossy is also a long way from the experts and learning resources — such as museums and scientific instruments — that cluster in Australia’s major cities.
“Located in a regional area, we don’t always have access to experts or local places we can visit to enhance studies,” Amber said. “As such, travel to Sydney has been an expensive but necessary option at different times.”
In early 2016, Calrossy’s two campuses were connected to AARNet’s research and education network at a capacity of 1 Gbps.
In September 2017, a second connection to the AARNet network was implemented on a geographically separate path. This ensures uninterrupted internet access for Calrossy by serving as a back-up in case of any issues on the primary connection.
As well as fast broadband internet, connectivity to AARNet provides unlimited access to online material publicly available at research, education and cultural institutions connected to AARNet, as well as commercial providers that AARNet connects to directly such as Google, Microsoft, the ABC and many more.
Remote access to expertise
Today, reliable and high-bandwidth internet connectivity plays an important role in classroom activities at Calrossy. In particular, it underpins bandwidth-intensive video connectivity to the rest of Australia and the world.
“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,” Amber said.
“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.”
A diverse connection to AARNet has also helped with lesson planning, “Teachers no longer have to ‘have a plan B’ for when the Wi-Fi is down!”
Finally, Calrossy is 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,” Amber said.
Enhancing student learning
AARNet connectivity means seamless access to learning resources for students. In particular, many of Calrossy’s STEM activities — including its makerspace, where students get together and make things — rely on quality internet connection to work collaboratively with peers and industry experts.
“Students use good internet connectivity to learn about computational thinking and coding, to participate in webinars, and to watch YouTube tutorials to learn how to do certain things like build a robot or how to solder,” Amber said.
For a boarding school like Calrossy, the ability to reliably communicate with friends and family is important.
“Our students are increasingly using numerous devices to access data and communicate with friends and family via Skype, iMessage or FaceTime. It makes being away from home a little bit easier.”
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,” Amber 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.”