Videoconferencing, a technology that has had a relatively slow uptake to date in the corporate world, is making good headway — in schools.
More than 20 schools throughout New Zealand are benefitting from Kaupapa Whakawhiti Matauranga (Kawm), a video-conferencing network set up by the Ministry of Education last year.
Set up on behalf of the ministry by Asnet Technologies, a subsidiary of network solution provider Asnet, Kawm uses US company Polycom’s video, audio and web conferencing products to serve schools, may of them in remote locations.
“From an educational point of view, there are hundreds of hours of curriculum and content per month on the network, and in the time it’s been installed and deployed we’ve only had one hour’s downtime,” says Asnet Technologies general manager Chris Stewart.
As its name suggests, Kawm is a Maori language initiative and the schools involved include Queen Victoria College in Auckland and Turakina Maori Girls’ Boarding School in the Manawatu.
The Kawm network also allows schools to link with non-networked schools and share learning experiences. An example is Turakina Maori Girls’ Boarding School, which recently linked up with an Australian aboriginal organisation, the Koorie Education Development Unit.
The technology behind Kawm is deployed to make the best use of less than state-of-the-art computers. In its project description, the Ministry of Education says “the cost of supplying new computers would not only be prohibitive, but would also require very costly ongoing technical support”.
Therefore, to keep costs down, thin-client networks of recycled computers are used, with all application software housed on a server.
One teacher, Hohepa Campbell, principal of Tamaki Nui a Rua school in Dannevirke, takes a class involving six schools by teleconference. He teaches computing, with the schools having pods of four recycled PCs and a server.
If the programme is deemed successful the Ministry of Education will look at extending it beyond the Maori language programme.