Unified Communications Delivers Collaborative Education

By Lynnette Whitfield.

Technology in various guises is infiltrating every aspect of our social, professional and private lives. It is constantly advancing and evolving to meet the rapidly changing needs of businesses, organisations and society as a whole. In this era of communication, software-powered voice and video technology solutions can now be custom built to fit the specific needs of any industry sector and there is an enormous opportunity to embrace the range of additional capabilities this affords us. With investment in government initiatives including the National Broadband Network (NBN), and the Building the Education Revolution (BER) program, we are seeing a vast proliferation of new applications being made available in the Australian market especially in the area of unified communications (UC).

Unified Communications

Unified Communications describes a set of technologies and solutions that allow you to communicate and collaborate more effectively on any device, anytime and from anywhere.

In Australia, the education sector is one of the industry sectors that appear to be garnering the most success from the implementation of standards-based UC solutions for telepresence, video, and voice solutions to improve collaboration. All over the country, more and more schools are exploring ways in which UC solutions can be effectively leveraged to bridge the gap between teachers, instructors, students and content providers, regardless of location and time.

A country as vast as Australia presents unique challenges when it comes to offering world-class education services. UC solutions are not only being used to overcome these challenges, they are also being used to provide students with the most interactive, immersive and life-like educational experience available today.

Challenges In The Education Sector

Australian educators are increasingly looking at ways technological innovations can help them overcome some universal trends and challenges that impact the education sector on a global scale. These include:

  • Extended reach – in a world where smart phones and tablet devices have enabled the workforce to be  significantly more mobile, educational institutions are required to extend their reach beyond the classroom walls, to cater to dispersed communities and take advantage of global expertise and knowledge to prepare students for the global economy.
  • Shrinking budgets – schools and other educational institutions are constantly under pressure to deliver more with less. They are increasingly being challenged to provide the highest quality education with strict budgetary constraints.
  • Competition – standing out to attract the best students is a top priority for principals and educators. Likewise, there is competition between schools to offer differentiation through technology innovation.
  • Educational equity – there is a strong need to provide access to content and knowledge for all students, regardless of demographic profile or geographic location. Smaller facilities and campuses, or students in remote areas no longer should feel disadvantaged in their ability to receive the knowledge and skills they need to be successful.

A growing number of educational institutions are turning to unified communications to address some of these challenges, realizing the benefits of implementing visual e-learning practices.

Collaborative education brings teachers, instructors, lecturers, students and content providers together face-to-face, regardless of location and time, providing the richest educational experience available outside a classroom to enhance their curricula, stimulate interaction between instructors and students, and improve learning.

Outlined below are a number of scenarios, which demonstrate how UC solutions can be implemented to overcome some of the challenges faced by the education sector at present.

Scenario 1: Distance Learning And Remote Training

Every day, educators and trainers are expected to provide a wider range of content and services to students in order to prepare them as ‘global citizens’. Having a globally recognised world-class education system is one of the leading competitive advantages of any country in today’s economy. Subsequently, educators must be able to widen their reach and open up new education channels for students to explore and embrace from an early age, creating future ‘knowledge workers’.

Technology such as high definition video plays a pivotal role in facilitating this through increased collaboration. Educators and students can take advantage of the knowledge available anywhere in the world. Examples include joint seminars with participants from across the country or overseas; or students taking a virtual excursion or field trip.

An example of how UC solutions have been used is Abbotsleigh, a leading independent K-12 school in Sydney. Its goal was to add a new dimension to classroom learning by substituting traditional lectures with lessons from specialists located around the world. Abbotsleigh used a telepresence solution to conduct virtual trips, taking students to places such as Scott Base, Antarctica, enabling them to see and interact with New Zealand researchers without even having to leave the classroom. The virtual trips were highly effective in bringing experts directly to the classroom, in real-time and at minimal cost.

Scenario 2: Disaster Recovery

Over the last 12 to 18 months we have seen the significant damage natural disasters can have on local communities, cities and countries. From the horrific floods in Queensland earlier this year, to the devastating tsunami in Japan in March, as well as the horrendous earthquake in New Zealand in June, every facet of society is impacted by these tragic natural disasters.

In many instances, entire schools are damaged or destroyed. Given education plays such an important role in the social, emotional and intellectual development of a child, disruption in this area, for any length of time, can have a detrimental impact.

UC solutions can be implemented in these instances to ensure education services are reinstated with minimal downtime. In scenarios where schools are completely uninhabitable, students may be relocated temporarily at other schools and UC solutions can be used to take advantage of resources available elsewhere. Students can be linked to other classrooms in other schools throughout the country, or with schools in other places that have undergone similar experiences.

Students From Disaster Zones In Australia, New Zealand And Japan Connect, Share And Learn Over Video

Polycom recently hosted a virtual event called ‘Three Countries, Three Stories: Shooting for the Stars’ in collaboration with Green Cross Australia and Japan, as part of its Asia Pacific Special Events Programme for the Education sector. This event saw one hundred 5th and 6th grade students from disaster-affected regions in Australia, New Zealand and Japan come together over video to share their stories, aspirations for the future and how they plan to help create a greener planet.

The Schools Involved Included:

  • Milton State School: Queensland, Australia
  • Cashmere Primary School: Christchurch, New Zealand
  • Yasawa Elementary School: Fukushima, Japan

During the event, students from each school were able to interact with one another in real-time, over high definition video technology, despite being located thousands of miles apart. They shared their stories and experiences of the impact of natural disasters on their communities and discussed their ideas for a greener planet as part of Green Cross’s Green Lane Diaries initiative.

The event provided a wonderful opportunity to bring together students from different countries to share and learn from one another, bridging time and distance to enrich their learning experience.

“The ‘Three Countries, Three Stories’ video conferencing event is a wonderful example of how technology is enabling true collaboration for students and teachers beyond classrooms and borders. With the help of Polycom, the students here today have been able to share ideas and learning regardless of location and time with students from New Zealand and Japan, in what has been a truly interactive and life-like educational experience,” said one teacher at Milton Primary School in Queensland.


Lynnette Whitfield is the Director, Education Industry Solutions & Market Development, Polycom Asia Pacific. To find out more about Polycom in Education, please visit www.polycom.com.au

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Education Technology Solutions
Education Technology Solutions has been created to inspire and encourage the use of technology in education. Through its content, Education Technology Solutions seeks to showcase cutting edge products and practices with a view to expanding the boundaries and raising the standards of education curricula. It introduces teachers and IT staff to the latest products, services and developments in education technology with a view to providing practical how-to guidance designed to facilitate the integration of those products and services into the school environment in the most productive and beneficial manner possible.

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