Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Digital Hub Showcases Impact of High-Speed Broadband on Irish Schools

High-speed broadband can help Irish schools save money and improve student outcomes. That’s according to the Digital Hub Development Agency, which today (09.09.14) held a showcase event to promote the findings of its Schools Broadband Exemplar Project.

The project – developed by The Digital Hub with support from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources – ran at Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount in Dublin’s south-west inner city over the past two years. Its aim was to pilot and test learning, teaching and management solutions made possible due to the school’s high-speed broadband connection.

The Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, Alex White TD, was the guest of honour at today’s showcase event marking the project’s completion. At the event, Gwen Brennan, Principal of Presentation Secondary School Warrenmount, said the project had transformed the school.

“In 2009, we were one of the first schools in the country to get a 100 Mbps connection under the Government’s schools broadband scheme,” she said. “However, we didn’t have the internal capacity and know-how to fully avail of the opportunities this presented. So we began working with The Digital Hub – our neighbours in Dublin 8 – to explore how high-speed broadband could enhance our school.

“This project has completely transformed our school. The majority of staff have now embedded technology in their teaching methods. Because technology is being used proactively in the classroom, this has helped our students to become more engaged in learning and further motivated to achieve their very best. Our school retention rates have improved as a result and, this year, we had the highest ever proportion of our Leaving Cert students going on to third-level education.

“For schools with scarce resources, an initiative such as this also leads to significant efficiencies and cost-savings. All our staff and pupils now have their own school email account, access to shared folders and significant cloud storage facilities. We are moving to becoming a paperless school, which is proving to be more time-efficient, less costly and environmentally more sustainable. In the longer-term, I believe technology may also present us with opportunities to make savings on utilities bills and in other areas.

“We have trialled and continue to experiment with students bringing their own devices to school and using them to connect to the internet (BYOD). We are hoping to roll this project out on a trial basis in the coming years. We are also hoping to work more closely with other secondary schools in Dublin 8 in the future, to explore how – through collaboration – we can ensure young people in this area have access to the full range of Leaving Certificate subjects and the best possible learning opportunities.”

‘Connected Classroom’ – Video Link-Up with Clondalkin

One of the most innovative aspects of the Schools Broadband Exemplar Project was the establishment of a ‘Connected Classroom’ at Warrenmount, whereby the school offered a dedicated higher-level Leaving Certificate Maths class through a video link-up with its sister school, Coláiste Bríde in Clondalkin.

“Due to constrained resources and the fact that a small number of students wished to study higher-level Maths, we were not in a position to have a dedicated class for that subject during the 2012-2014 Leaving Cert cycle,” said Gwen Brennan. “So, working with The Digital Hub, we developed a tech-focused solution: we established a video link with Coláiste Bríde, and four of our students participated remotely in the higher-level Maths class offered there. The students were also supported by Maths teachers here in the school who provided additional classes in their own time. All of those students completed their Leaving Certificate earlier this year, and one of them has gone on to study Science at Trinity College Dublin, so her higher-level Maths will be of great support in that regard.

“We are currently exploring further opportunities for collaboration with Coláiste Bríde, and we are also working to embed various initiatives in the school that we piloted during the Exemplar Project.”

Influencing National Policy

At today’s event, Gerry Macken, CEO of the Digital Hub Development Agency, said learnings from the Warrenmount project were being used to inform national policy.

“Everyone agrees technology can transform our education system for the good, and more emphasis needs to be placed on digital skills in schools,” he said. “However, it is not possible to transform an entire education system overnight: schools must be supported to embrace digital tools; new learning solutions must be tested so we can demonstrate that they achieve enhanced results; and industry must adapt the products and services they deliver to ensure they meet the specific requirements of the education sector.

“The Warrenmount project allowed us to test innovative digital solutions in a real-life school setting, and see what opportunities and challenges are presented when high-speed broadband is available in schools. Not every teacher will feel comfortable using technology in the classroom, and not every school will have the expertise or equipment to avail of the opportunities presented by high-speed broadband. These were all factors we bore in mind in developing the Exemplar Project.

“We secured the support of a number of industry partners for the project, including Microsoft Ireland, HEAnet and – on the Coláiste Bríde side – O2. Lessons from the project have now been collated and shared with both the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, and the Department of Education and Skills. They have informed, for example, the ‘Switch On’ digital skills workshops for teachers being rolled out under the National Digital Strategy, and they are feeding into the new digital strategy currently being developed by the Department of Education and Skills. This is one of a number of learning-focused projects in which The Digital Hub is involved, all of which aim to pilot digital innovations and inform national policy.”

Speaking at today’s event, Alex White, Minister for Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, said: “The Government has invested heavily in the rollout of high quality broadband connectivity to all post-primary schools, and by the end of 2014 every second-level school in Ireland will have 100Mbps broadband connectivity. This major ICT investment is aimed at ensuring that our current and future generations of second-level pupils have the skills they need to embrace the opportunities of the digital age.

The Schools Broadband Exemplar Project has been invaluable in terms of demonstrating exactly how schools can utilise high-speed broadband and really benefit from it. My Department will draw on the project’s findings in our future work.”

For more information about The Digital Hub, visit