April 2002
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Communication Reaching New Heights
By: Jennifer Kelly, Roncalli Central High, Port Saunders, NF

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It's new, it's cool, and all the students love it. What is it you ask? It's a new way of communicating. It allows students and teachers at Roncalli and 11 other schools to communicate with students and teachers all over Canada, through a web-camera. Communication is education and it's taking on new heights at Roncalli and the other schools having fun strutting their stuff.

Grade 3 students, Fatima AcademyThe system uses a web-camera and a video conferencing unit to communicate with the other 11 schools across Canada who are connected by a two-way satellite. The Anik E2 satellite and the CANet3 fibre optic network allows for high speed internet access. There are 4 schools from Newfoundland, 4 from Ontario, and 5 from Québec, all rural communities, that were chosen to test this one year multi-media trial operated by Telesat Canada and SchoolNet for Industry Canada. Telesat Canada is the world's most experienced satellite operator.

Roncalli High School, Port Saunders Newfoundland, had its new satellite installed and connected on March 21, 2002. According to Aurele Beaupre, principal of Roncalli High School, "the new satellite speed is what allows video images to be transferred across the country without losing the quality of the video and audio. Telesat's technology will provide these rural schools with high speed internet access that would otherwise not be possible. This new satellite means better multimedia applications, including access to videoconferencing technology. Schools will also be able to use new Web caches that will allow them to store downloaded video files and films."

Beaupre also mentioned, "the school will also have a web server which will also serve to host the school's website and local video files. The system has already been used as a means of distance education." "It has already paid dividends to our students at Roncalli," explains Beaupre. This is good news for Roncalli and other schools is District #2: Northern Peninsula and Labrador South because this district is the biggest user of distance education in Newfoundland.

According to SchoolNet Magazine, Spring 2002 Edition, Jacques Drouin, manager of connectivity policy said "This project is right in line with SchoolNet's mandate to promote the use of new technology in schools. We're here to make sure teachers and students have the support to take full advantage of the new resources."

students using the new systemOn March 28th, Grade 3 students from Fatima Academy in St. Bride's, Newfoundland took advantage of the resources. The class did a presentation for Roncalli High's journalism students. The Fatima students had drawn pictures of what they thought technology would be like in the future. Zack Nache, one of the Grade 3 students, had a picture of a boat that could transform into a submarine. When asked where he would go in this "transformer", there was no hesitation. "To the moon" was his reply.

Mr. David Welshman, Grade 3 teacher at Fatima Academy is really excited about the new technology. "We brought parents in and showed them what we could do, and it completely blew them away. The possibilities are huge and it's amazing. My Grade 6 class are planning a project with one of the Grade 6 classes in Québec. We want to do a culture project. We also have plans to do videos on smoking and drugs and allow them to see the finished product."

Students at Roncalli are also amazed at what they can do. Many students come in to the computer lab, take one look at the new system and go "Cool!". Elizabeth Lowe, a Level 3 student who has used the video conferencing unit, said "It's new, it's cool, and it's different. That's what makes it so interesting and that's why so many people want to get involved in it. Everyone wants a chance to use the machine and see who they can talk to. This new satellite system is making learning fun and communication easier."

Roncalli is really taking advantage of this new system. Students have used it to meet new people in other parts of Canada, get help with a science project, even talk to a former teacher! Everyone has big plans for this new system and it will give the school new opportunities to advance technology even further. One obvious use for this system is for students to get help with projects. Melanie Gould and Jessica Goodland did just that. While trying to prepare for Roncalli's Annual Science Fair, they ran into some problems with their project. Their project was a device they designed to control the water temperature and amount of water in a bathtub. You can set the device for a certain water temperature and amount of water and leave it. When the tub is filled, an alarm will ring, turning the water off and letting the user know the tub is ready. The girls designed this project themselves along with writing a computer program.

When they had difficulties, they used the new satellite system to talk to Mr. Frank Shapleigh, STEM~Net training officer based in Gander, Newfoundland. By using the web camera and showing him their problems, he was able to see what the girls were doing wrong and give tips on how to fix it. This new satellite system allowed the girls to get help they otherwise would not have received at their local school. "I believe the satellite will bring new opportunities for the students and staff of the 4 schools in this province that are taking part in the trials. First, the higher speeds will permit better internet access for student projects, research and collaboration. For the teachers it will mean the same plus enhanced opportunity for professional development," says Mr. Shapleigh. "Second, the video conferencing equipment will give a whole new meaning to being able to conference in real time with other schools and facilities with similar equipment. To date, only one other school in the province, Holy Heart in St. John's, could do this. As already shown, this mode of interaction has brought a new richness to the experience. With the ability to do synchronous video, audio, white board and shared applications, this system can be used for collaborative work from science fair mentoring to distance education.

Thirdly, noted Shapleigh, the digital video capability of phase 2 (early May) will give the system the ability to store, share and deliver digital video to the desktop. Schools can search the various digital video repositories connected to CANet3 and can download and store for future use. This is an exciting addition to the traditional array of learning resources."

Everyone involved with this new two-way satellite is excited. It means new opportunities that would have otherwise not been available. Students and teachers alike are ecstatic. For Roncalli and the other schools that were chosen for this trial, it allows the teachers and students to change the way education is delivered and even thought about. These schools with time and support will keep pushing the boundaries of education and technology.

You can check out the National Website for the Two Way Communication Project at http://www.telesat.ca/schooltrials.

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