Education Benefits


OUA’s chief executive, Stuart Hamilton

Open Universities Australia (OUA) is an organisation, which provides 43,000 students with access to university courses across Australia through correspondence. They are now focussed on what the NBN can do for education. OUA’s chief executive, Stuart Hamilton’s vision for the future of education is captured on a video. The transcript is quoted below.

“It’s extremely important to be able to give students the options of how they learn. For lots of people, yes, coming on campus is still the ideal, particularly when you’re leaving school. But for many students, it’s not possible. And it’s not even what they want, because they’ve got a full-time job to hold down, they’ve got a family to raise. They might be needing to change their jobs because of the changing economy. And distance education is the only way for them.”

“Up until the National Broadband, distance education had its limitations. Pre the internet, you know, great, whopping course packs or CD-ROMs. Now we’re being able to get online access, obviously, but without broadband it’s still a very passive experience. You download the content, and you wait for it to download, and you just sit there and the class moves on.”

“With high-speed broadband, you can get that download quickly. And, more importantly, you can upload your own content and share it with your classmates, so that learning is a really engaged experience, which means you’re interested in it, you’re motivated to continue, and you learn better.”

“Here at Open Universities Australia, we provide access to courses from 18 universities, and nearly a quarter of our students live outside the main cities. For them to have access to high-speed broadband means that they can take part and have the same opportunities as the rest of Australians, which enables them to stay in their communities, contribute to their communities, increase the skills base of those communities for the betterment of all parts of Australia.”

In a submission to the parliamentary inquiry around the role and potential benefits of the NBN, Hamilton wrote that the NBN could have a tremendous impact on education once the rollout is completed across Australia. Below is a quote from an article in Computerworld on this submission:(

Hamilton wrote that the NBN could have a tremendous impact on education once the rollout is completed across Australia. Hamilton’s submission rejected the idea that the “NBN will mainly provide access to entertainment and other purely private benefits”. “Recent communications and infrastructure changes have shown that innovations that may have originally focussed on private entertainment are quickly found to have wider social and economic uses,” the submission argued.

“The recent widening use in business and education of Facebook and YouTube on the applications side and the iPad on the hardware side are not going to be the last examples of that phenomenon. ”

Hamilton’s submission identified four areas where the services of a national broadband network are relevant to OUA’s students:

  • Access to learning materials in relevant media;
  • Equal educational opportunities for students regardless of where they live;
  • Access to ‘virtual classrooms’, including real time collaboration with classmates and teachers; and,
  • The chance “to take part in practical classes through simulations and online demonstrations”.

Professor Jim Barber, University of New England

Professor Jim Barber shares his vision for ubiquitous, high-quality education enabled by the NBN:

The University of New England has about 18,000 students. Many of them are part-time. Only a small minority of those actually are here on campus. The vast majority are in capital cities around Australia, and they tend to be mature-age, in-work students who have family commitments, work commitments, and they need an education provider that reaches out to them.

At present, we deliver our distance education using a mixture of methods, it’s fair to say. Increasingly online. We’re making use of online materials. But we still have some really quite dated technology.

So, high-speed broadband will enable us to do anything anywhere that we can do in class now. So, we can provide the same level of service to a student sitting at home in Parramatta in their living room that we can provide on campus.

We can provide the same level of interactivity, the same immediate response time from academic staff, and we can connect all those students with other students taking the same course.

The NBN will change the delivery of education fundamentally. It will enable us to customise education for individuals.

So, no longer will we have to drag students through a linear curriculum. We’ll be able to tailor it to their needs, to their learning needs, to their interests. We’ll make it specific to them.

The NBN will promote participation, of course, and it will promote collaboration, because it connects people and it reaches out to them. But I think, more than that, it will change fundamentally the role of universities.

I think it’s fair to say that, in the past, universities saw their role as imparting information, imparting knowledge. We don’t need that anymore.

The NBN connects us to an ocean of information that’s available out there in cyberspace. And so I think what universities will do in future is help students to navigate their way through that ocean, make sense of it, and apply that information to the problems that we pose, to the problems of daily life.


How the NBN will change education: Australia’s “Last Spike” moment

Adam Shoemaker

Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Education) at Monash University 

Adam Shoemaker is a Professor and Deputy Vice-Chancellor at Monash University. He has a strong interest in Indigenous and Digital Education issues–both domestically and globally. He is a director of Open Universities Australia and chairs the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

In this article, Prof. Shoemaker makes the following points:

There is already a huge “digital divide” in this country. It starts right outside our university campus gates – not hundreds of kilometres from them. Serious inequities already exist. The NBN will address them head-on – and it will solve them.

At the John Monash Science School students have suberb facilities provided by the internet. Amongst them, being able to  “download at 100 megabits per second — the gold standard for academic work”.

“But a school located just down the road – even one with students who are equally motivated and talented – has very few of these privileges. This has to change.”

“The genius of the NBN is that it will break down that divide all across Australia. Instead of a digital “rain shadow” the whole nation will have equitable access. Instead of the frustration of strangled speeds, poor image clarity and slow (or no) service, an NBN society will be fundamentally more fair and productive.”


 What cost the future? Education in the NBN

Prof. Peter Lockyear

Prof. Peter Lockyear

Professor Peter Goodyear is a professor of education at the University of Sydney. He is an Australian Laureate Fellow and a Senior Fellow of the Australian Teaching and Learning Council

Professor Goodyear makes the point that technology in itself does not make a significant difference in learning. It is how it is used and it’s the potential of the NBN that matters.

Professor Goodyear writes:

So how does broadband help learning when used wisely? There are five rock-solid benefits.

First, and most obvious, is access to a world of information. We shouldn’t take this for granted. My primary school’s library in the late ‘50s was a single, narrow cupboard. In a few months, you could read every book it contained. The first public libraries provided a lifeline for learning for the socially disadvantaged. The internet is filling this critical role today.

Secondly, the internet doesn’t just offer raw information, it’s also populated with explanations. Thirdly, the internet features recommendation systems that let you follow in other people’s footsteps and see what resources they found useful. Fourthly, you can network: you can find other people to learn from, learn with, or help you change the world. Finally, there are powerful tools to help you figure out complex issues – tools for visualising data, modelling systems and asking the big ‘what if?’ questions.

This is a snapshot of the benefits associated with digital technology today. But the NBN is not about the present, it’s about the future. Despite the fact that we know technological change is accelerating, it remains perversely difficult to frame a public debate about the future that’s not based on the delusion that it’ll be just like the present, only more shiny.