New network gives students an internet boost

No more waiting for internet downloads with Next Generation Network

The spinning wheel of death, the blank screen, the loading document that takes forever to appear.

These are but a few of the tiresome hazards of working online.

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But at Riverside secondary school in Port Coquitlam — and, soon, at all 70 schools as well as the board of education offices in School District 43 — they will disappear.

It's all thanks to School District 43's switch to the Next Generation Network, the province's technology upgrade, which was initiated a year ago at a cost of $137.2 million to help B.C. schools evolve towards personalized learning using technology.

"We are providing them with reliable access to the internet, regardless of the devices they choose to learn on," Stephen Whiffin, School District 43

Instead of waiting for their internet connection, Riverside teachers and students are noticing that documents, YouTube videos and other files are uploaded or downloaded almost instantly, and glitches that used to stop videos from downloading have gone the way of floppy disks.

"We're able to do assignments faster, we're able to get on the internet more quickly and it's more reliable," said Brenda Shen, a Grade 11 student at Riverside.

Flipping open her tablet, Shen shows all the work she has on her Edublog, which is a publishable, shareable online portfolio.

Fellow Riverside student Lizzy Whitham displays on her laptop a social studies teacher's web page where she typically goes to get documents, such as texts that can be up to 500 pages, and worksheets.
"It's one thing to go and get a document by yourself, it's another when all 30 kids are downloading." Whitham said.

GROWING INTERNET USAGE

Imagine 10,000 SD43 high school students all trying to get on the internet at one time. While it's not yet a reality, it soon will be and the province had to replace its 17-year-old PLNet to keep up with demand.

It's part of a trend towards individualized or personalized learning, now enshrined in B.C.'s revised curriculum, but was impossible to envision without faster internet speeds provided by the Next Generation Network.

The transition to NGN, with all schools getting a direct connection to the internet and other efficiencies, is expected to be 95% complete in SD43 by mid-December, according to a provincial spokesperson, who said in an email that the older Provincial Learning Network was not built to "meet the demands of modern applications and the proliferation of mobile devices."

Prior to hooking up to NGN, every time a Riverside student had to download an assignment for class, they would have to wait, and sometimes the teacher ended up printing out the text to speed things up — a waste of both time and resources, principle Anthony Ciolfitto said.

"There's less frustration with the technology not working," said Ciolfitto, a necessary goal, he added, because three years ago, Riverside began to move students onto laptops and tablets they bring from home.

CHALLENGING STUDENTS

It's not just the ability to download a text quickly; students need faster internet connections to work on complex projects, something schools are obligated to provide, said Stephen Whiffin, the district's associate director of instruction for learning and information.

"If we are challenging them to go out and provide resources to support their ideas or explore their thoughts, then they need to know they can go to the internet and get that information," Whiffin said.

A case in point is Vlad Pomogaev, a Grade 12 student who is designing a weather station and software. For his project, he needs to be able to upgrade autoCAD, and is now able to without a lot of waiting and frustration.

Whiffin said when Riverside was hooked up about a week ago, the expectation was that the internet connection would be four to five times faster. But the efficiency has improved 10-fold for students.
"We are providing them with reliable access to the internet, regardless of the devices they choose to learn on."

Now that this considerable obstacle towards 21st century learning has been overcome, a new world, with expanding horizons is about to unfold for students and teachers in SD43, and across the province.

WHAT IS IT?

Next Generation Network replaces the B.C.'s old PLNet, or Provincial Learning Network. The three-year project to connect all schools in the province to the new, faster network will cost $137.2 million.

Who benefits? Teachers, support workers, administrators and School District 43's 30,000 students who now have almost instantaneous access to the internet for school work, email, data processing and teaching.

Download speeds are 200 Mbps for high schools because of the needs of students and teachers who are the heaviest internet users and have have the largest student and staff populations, but it's still 100 Mbps for middle schools and 30 Mbps for elementary schools. In comparison, download speeds for a residential internet service might range from 25 Mbps to 100 Mbps (in some plans). However, unlike household internet, where upload speeds are typically lower, the school district requires the same high speeds for both upload and download because of internal reporting and other needs.

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