Howick College became the first high school in Auckland to get connected to the government’s $1.5 billion Ultra Fast Broadband last week.
The decile 10 high school, which has around 1800 students on its roll, is also the first New Zealand school using Vodafone as its UFB retail service provider.
It now has a 100 Mbps down and up fibre connection, a far cry from the days of a single DSL connection maxing at 10 Mbps down and 0.5 Mbps up, says Howick College ICT director Robert Douglas.
Douglas says Howick College staff were frustrated by the slow speeds at the school which would hamper lesson plans involving video content or collaboration over the internet.
“The classic phrase ‘IT sucks’ used to be bandied around a bit,” he says.
When Computerworld visited, the school was only two and a half days into using the new speeds at the school, but Douglas says feedback from his teaching colleagues has been overwhelmingly positive.
Julia Breen is one such teacher. Her subjects are physical education and health. Last year Breen won Microsoft’s Innovative Educator Award for her use of green screen video technology and collaboration tools to help her students critique and evaluate each other during a leadership exercise.
She says increasingly teachers are using multimedia content to engage with students who have become used to a much higher level of technology at home. The emphasis on this new media technolgoy helps reflect the importance of technology in the workplace, but Breen says she often had to rely on her personal smartphone data plan to upload videos that her students could then download from home.
Breen says the increased upload speed with Howick College’s fibre connection has been the most beneficial improvement, as it allows her to spend more time teaching instead of waiting for uploads to finish.
She says this will encourage other teachers in the school to do more of their work online.
“This isn’t about creating isolated subjects because we now have a faster connection. We want this technology to be ingrained in every part of the curriculum because it’s ingrained in our students’ lives,” says Breen.
Howick College is one of several schools that was approached by Vodafone to trial UFB services free of charge until the end of June 2013. Vodafone says Papatoetoe High School will start installation of fibre on its campus in the next 10 days, and two high schools in Christchurch will begin later this year.
Of the two schools in Christchurch, one is part of the rural broadband initiative (RBI), which Vodafone won the contract for alongside Chorus. A Vodafone spokesperson says the school in question cannot be named until Chorus confirms the installation.