Category Archives: Advanced Networks

N4L website launched

One of the first people to address the crowd at the ULearn12 conference was Helen Robinson, Chair of the Board of N4L, the entity that is now charged with delivering what schools need in terms of connectivity, content and dynamic “learning-to-learn” online services that are safe, easy, relevant and affordable across the Ultrafast broadband that is being implemented in NZ.

While it is early days yet (still another six positions to fill as advertised on this site), schools should be encouraged to see progress continuing to be made at a national level to support them in this way. 

Superloop Forum Website Launched

At last – after months of bringing together the information from a variety of sources, the Superloop Forum website has been made live 😉

The Superloop Forum was formed in 2007, following the allocation of funding to five regions in New Zealand from the Broadband Initiative Fund (BIF). The forum exists as an informal affiliation of those associated with and representing the emerging networks of schools being connected by UFB infrastructure. Their mission is to facilitate cooperation and collaboration between clusters of schools in deploying and using UFB networks to enhance learning.

The link titled 'building regional capacity' contains the text of the submission that the Superloop forum made to the parliamentary select committee on 21st century learning environments and digital literacy.  

This website presents an overview of the activity that is occurring in various regional areas of New Zealand, both urban and rural, in terms of schools and clusters making use of the connections they have to ultra-fast broadband. It is really pleasing to note that the VLN is a part of this network – representing over 200 schools alone! By clicking on any of the circles surrounding the NZ map on the front page you can view more details about each cluster, including the numbers of schools involved and links to the cluster website (where it exists). 

In addition to the website, there is now a group on the VLN for the Superloop Forum, which anyone who has subscribed to the VLN can join. this is where those involved in the Superloop forum can share ideas and resources as the community grows and develops. 


The Broadband Imperative

Following on from the videos I posted in my previous posts, here's a useful report for those involved in planning for and thinking about the roll-out of fibre to NZ schools through the UFBiS programme, and what the impact of that might be.

The Broadband Imperative is published by the State Educational Technology Director's Association (SETDA) in the US. It provides an up-to-date assessment of access to broadband by students and teachers (in and out of schools); current trends driving the need for more broadband in teaching, learning and school operations; and specific recommendations for the broadband capacity needed to ensure all students have access to the tools and resources they need to be college and career ready by 2014-15 and beyond.

The issues and concerns outlined in the report are very familiar to those of us working in this space in NZ – access speed, volume charging, remote area access etc. 

What I really like about the approach this report suggests is the emphasis on building…

"…a comprehensive infrastructure for learning that inclused broadband access to the internet and adequate wireless connectivity both in and out of school"

We could well do with this sort of vision driving our development in NZ. Instead, the current focus is limited to connecting to schools (a worthwile and necessary step), but without a clearly articulated vision and understanding of where this will lead and how it might fundamentally change our notion of school and learning for the future. 

The notion of ubiquity must underpin our thinking here – as I've repeated in numerous blog posts in the past and have spoken about frequently. Learning in the future will not be constrained by the four walls of the classroom, nor the fences of the school boundary, but must be enabled to occurr from anywhere, at any time and through any device. The SETDA report highlights this by recommending that out-of-school access must be a priority for learning, stating …

"To accomplish truly ubiquitous learning, students must be able to connect outside the school walls"

Sometimes I fear that our NZ approach is so tightly focused on getting the fibre to schools (which is the goal of the programme as indicated by its very name – Ultra Fast Broadband in Schools – UFBiS!) that we aren't really being driven by a larger scale vision of what may be achieved here. 

in assessing what the trends driving broadband are it is interesting to me that the SETDA report highlights a range of things like digital resources, streaming video, digital textbooks, downloading content etc., which are all 'consumption' activities, with little discussion of the more collaborative or contributory activity that may be engaged in. I completely understand that the use of the fibre as a deliver channel will inevitably be a driver initially, but like social media use, once in place, I'd suggest the participatory dimension will be a significant driver. (Thus the need to ensure the architecture is built around full symetry.)

The table above (from recommendations section on page 25 of the SETDA report) shows the targets for acces speed in the US context – which is interesting to compare with the NZ targets where the UFB policy is to offer services of at least 100/50Mbps (100 Megabits per second Downstream, 50 Megabits per second Upstream), with 30/10 plans being offered at the entry level.

Some good reading here – would be useful to see a similar report done for the NZ context. 

NfL4 – Teaching and Learning

This is the fourth and final video clip developed by my colleagues at CORE to illustrate what the potential of the Network for Learning may be, and how services provided across the Network for Learning will enable us to re-think our ideas about how programmes of learning are developed and delivered, how assessment occurs, how we facilitate collaborative activity, how we personalise the learning experience, and how we develop both global and cyber-citizenship within these programmes.

NfL3 – Services

Part 3 of the series created by my colleagues at CORE regarding a vision for the Network for Learning – focusing on the service layer that involves the local equipment and last mile connectivity that allows end users to access local and remote applications. The overarching aim of provision at this layer is to provide a seamless, end-to-end user experience, enabling access to and use of the various applications and systems required to support learning.

NfL2 – Infrastructure

Following the introductory video about the Network for Learning that I blogged about earlier, here's the first of three videos created by my colleagues at CORE that illustrates each of the three layers in the diagram in more detail. This one focuses on infrastructure and the promise of a robust, well designed infrastructure layer is that it will provide greater speed of traffic across the network, greater capacity, and more reliability.

N4L ecosystem

My colleagues and I at CORE have been putting a lot of thought into the prospect of the Network for Learning that is currently under consideration by the Ministry of Education. According to the plan, by 2016, 97.7 per cent of schools will receive ultra-fast broadband connections enabling speeds of 100 Mbps. The remaining schools, which are in the most remote locations, will receive a high speed wireless or satellite connection.

I believe this represents a huge opportunity for NZ schools, and a chance to do some catching up with our counterparts in other parts of the world in terms of providing a high quality, realiable and robust connection to the online world – and with that, a suite of services that will truly benefit learners and their learning, not to mention teachers!

As part of the work we've beend doing to support this thinking, we've developed a series of videos to help try and explain what we see as the potential of this network, and why it needs to be developed in a manner that can best be described as an 'ecosystem' – building on the combined efforts of a variety of contributors across three key areas that make up this network. 

The first of the videos to be completed is embedded above – and references a diagram I blogged about over a year ago that was developed to help explain to schools how things fit together. I'd be interested in feedback on how useful you find this…

The ubiquitous age is upon us.

A video report from the IFA consumer electronics show in Berlin (featured in the NZ Herald today) confirms what we've all suspected – tablet technology is taking over. From the perspective of education, this heralds new challenges and new opportunities for those seeking to integrate ICTs into life at school. Firstly there's the whole issue of shifting thinking from the use of the keyboard to touch as a primary way of interacting with the device. Secondly there's the big issue of 'who owns the device'?, with increasing numbers of schools moving towards a BYOD policy. 

Certainly, the combination of (a) tablet-style, portable, internet capable devices, (b) personal ownership of these devices by students, and (c) access via high speek broadband networks is driving a very different paradigm of ubiquitous computer use that we need to be planning for in our schools and tertiary insititutions. 

In several school ICT reviews I've completed recently a similar pattern of concern has emerged – that despite the very best efforts of the school and its community to increase access to computers through increasing the numbers of labs, COWS, laptops etc., staff feel they're disadvantaged because they don't always have access to them for their classes when they want/need them.

Solutions such as increasing the number of labs, adding more pods, more COWS, more loan-out laptops etc are all suggested – but the real issue is that we're now facing a situation where nothing less than complete ubiquity will satisfy, and this will require a complete shift in thinking from school-owned, school-managed devices located in school-determined settings – to personally-owned, portable, accessible-on-demand devices that are carried by students wherever they are learning. 

The tablet developments illustrated in the video above are just another step in this direction – and we need to be taking notice. 

The ubiquity imperative

My blog has been unattended for a few weeks now as I took time out to have a completely non-work related holiday with my wife and my sister and her husband in the North-west of the USA. During that time we travelled by car from Vancouver down to San Francisco, taking a very zig-sag route to include everything from the coastal sites, the Redwood forests and the splendour of the Cascade mountains. 

During my time away I wasn't completely off-line – maintaining a regular update of my facebook page to keep friends and family appraised of what we were doing. Doing this was no problem, for, unlike travelling in NZ, getting connected to the internet was not a problem from wherever we were. Travelling on a budget we stayed in two or three star accommodation mostly, yet from our hotels in the cities to motels in smaller towns, and even in a yurt in the backblocks of Oregon, we found wireless connectivity with unlimited downloads was a part of the package – people simply assumed that's what you'd want. Further, I didn't have to pay 'extra' for my internet connectivity anywhere during the entire trip, nor did I have to worry about download limits. Just like the provision of electricity and sewage, it was a 'part of the package' of services.

Not only did we find accessing the internet easy from our accommodation, but also from most museums and art galleries, cafes and malls, – walking through the Westfield mall in San Francisco I picked up wireless access points from at least three of the major department stores there which I could access for free. This is ubuiquity at its best. Wherever we were it seems we were able to use our mobile devices to search for more information about what we were looking at, check maps to determine where to go next, or book our accommodation for the following night. 

And we weren't alone. It wasn't uncommon wheverver we were to see others checking their devices also – whether for information of some sort, simply checking emails or sending tweets, it was clear that the expectation of 'being connected' was well established in the psyche of this population. 

Of course, being connected isn't possible without a device, and this is where I also found things interesting. The extremely large range of internet capable devices available in a range of places, from the sorts of places you'd expect such as Radio Shack, through to supermarkets and malls. In a Macey's store in Seattle I went looking for the electronics section to see what they had available, only to find that the section I was looking for turned out to be a vending machine, where I could simply insert cash and take possession of the device I was after. Such is the commodification of these sorts of things. 

My reflection here is really about the imperative of ubiquity. For the past few years now I've emphasised ubiquity as a significant trend in education, opening up a whole new experience for both teachers and learners – and my visit to the US reminded me again of how much ground we have to cover here in NZ before we can really experience this for ourselves and our students. The current focus on the foll-out of UFB to all schools, and the increasing competition among ISPs that is bringing pricing down is a start – but we must do more here I believe.

We must take on board the fact that ubiquitous access is actually an imperative in terms of NZ remaining competitive in the global economy, and that experience of this is an imperative in the lives of our learners. Sadly, we are hamstrung at the moment through the lack of access, the restrictions of download volumes and the pricing schedules – all of which mitigate against the true experience of ubiquity. We're also hamstrung by many of our leaders in different positions within our education system who still see internet access as an 'extra', an 'option' to consider after the library is stocked and the sports teams are equipped, and by some who demand to see how it all impacts on learning before committing to suppport. Now I'm not knocking libraries or sports teams, nor am I saying we oughtn't focus on how anything we do impacts on learning – what I am saying is that we need to aspire to a bigger picture here of the imparatives behind achieving the sort of environment where we can experience ubiquitous access to the internet that will in turn support the things we do as confident, capable, life-long learners. 

Pedagogically Driven..#2

I presented the model shown in the slideshow above to a group of teachers representing most of the secondary schools in Christchurch yesterday. The event was held by the GCSN, focusing on our strategic planning for the year as we look at the possibilities of working together in a fibre-enabled network, with video conferencing facilities now available in each of their schools. 

The concept of how we make pedagogically driven decisions about technology investment is a question I encounter regularly in the work I do – and I shared this framework in a blog post last year after it had been developed in conjunction with schools I've worked with. That post provides an explanation of the framework which I won't repeat here. 

The slides towards the end of the show above have lines connecting the various parts of the diagram, which, working from the top, reflect how you can use the framework to represent, in a simple way, how you can arrive at a technology investment decision based on a pedagogical need. 

For example, the need to enable students to access information as a part of an inquiry programme when and where they need to links LEARN with UBIQUITY, which in turn links to MOBILE DEVICES as distinct from desktops as this allows access to the information at their desks or wherever the inquiry is being carried out – which in turn requires WIRELESS connectivity to ensure these devices can connect to the WWW without requiring wires etc. 

And so similar 'stories' can be mapped onto the framework – it's value is in providing a map for articulating such stories in order to clarify and justify technology investment decisions.