NBN Co Blog
Wed 30 MAYComment
Professor Stephen Heppell: what happens when every home and school has fast broadband?
Posted on Wednesday 30 May 2012 by Professor Stephen Heppell
The views and opinions expressed in the article are the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect those of NBN Co.
The very first time that I connected school students up to scientists in a volcano in Hawaii, through clunky old 1980s technology, their first question to the scientists was "how fast does lava flow?"
The second question, after a pause to reflect on the first answer, was "...and how fast can you run?"
I think we knew right then, three decades ago, that eventually, when the broadband connection was really good, the potential for learning to spill out of the classroom and into some really interesting places was considerable.
A decade after that and technology had made the school walls softer and lower.
For example, we connected up a community of primary school students, secondary school students and parents in the UK, with scientists working in a research laboratory in developing the fibre optic cables - similar to the ones that the National Broadband Network (NBN) uses today.
Then we sat back to see what happened when they started to work together online.
It was amazing - a community of common purpose emerged as the children taught the scientists about history and badgers, whilst the scientists patiently explained thermo-dynamics, and football.
Within a term, in most cases, you couldn't tell the scientists from the primary school children online - that's how far their collective knowledge had progressed.
Once again we confirmed that eventually, when the broadband connection was really good, the potential for learning would be remarkable.
And now thanks to the NBN, the connection IS really good and we are starting to really see that potential.
Helpfully, just at the same moment, learning is changing too and much of that change is coming from the bottom up, from teachers and their students.
This is probably a function of the increasing pace of new technologies as they hit the steep part of their exponential growth curve with speeds doubling and costs halving seemingly monthly.
The NBN is certainly a big part of this technological leap forward too.
The good news is that outstanding classroom teachers with their engaged students are leading the charge in innovation.
We see this in the rapidly spreading adoption of phones and tablets, the explosion of video and creative authoring, the ingenious projects in social media, the adoption of multiple flat panels on classroom walls, the growth of Skype to Skype classroom exchanges and projects, and more.
Over the last year I have particularly enjoyed watching children and teachers from schools in Australia linking up live with other schools around the world to swap ideas about how learning might be different, and better.
This growing habit of exchanging fresh ideas has the potential to produce a generation as adept at working and communicating with the world online, as the previous generation was at exploring it with their backpacks.
Now, the pace of change in online learning is so great, we need the combined intellect of every family, every teacher, every student - and schools are the place where they come together.
They are powerhouses of intellect and connecting them together, with people in their homes and other schools, is the key to unlocking Australia's collective ingenuity.
I can't wait to see what happens next, because one thing's for sure, it is going to be magnificent.
If you are interested in learning more about how services provided over the NBN can help open up better learning opportunities for all Australians visit our newly launched education site: www.nbnco.com.au/schools .
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When we talk about speeds delivered over the National Broadband Network, we are referring to the wholesale speed to telephone and internet service providers. The speed you can achieve, and services you can use, on your individual connection will depend on many factors including the services you subscribe to, the software and communication protocols you use, quality of your equipment and connection to your home/business, the broadband plans offered by your telephone or internet provider and how it designs its network to cater for multiple users.
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