Broadband partnership benefits students

A partnership between the Rainy River District School Board and the Northwest Catholic District School Board is helping bring their schools and students closer to the rest of the world.
The two boards have established a broadband link from Fort Frances to Thunder Bay which connects them to the Ontario Research and Innovation Optical Network (ORION) Point of Presence at Lakehead University.
ORION links various research and educational institutions through networks such as CANARIE’s CA*net4, Internet2, and the Internet.
“ORION’s just growing by leaps and bounds now,” said Stephen Danielson, the computer systems administrator for the RRDSB. “I don’t think there’s a university or college in Ontario that isn’t hooked to it.”
He said the boards had to petition ORION to get on the network. “They weren’t originally going to invite school boards,” Danielson noted. “Now they’re inviting them to join.”
In order to connect with the ORION project, the local school boards needed a better broadband connection than what they were using. So they teamed up to obtain Wide Area Network (WAN) links through Thunder Bay Telephone.
Danielson said the public board used to have what is called a T-1 connection to the Internet. But while a T-1 connection is very fast for home use, it wasn’t meeting the needs of the school board and its many schools.
Through ORION, the board now has a connection 25 times faster than the T-1. “Without that whole ORION infrastructure, we never could have gotten that,” he added.
What ORION offers students is “unlimited potential,” Danielson said, citing as an example the “Megaconference Jr.” which took place over 12 hours in May in about a dozen countries through videoconferencing.
Elementary and high school students from the U.S., Singapore, Chile, New Zealand, Costa Rica, Turkey, Iran, and China, among others, dialed in and made presentations to each other about their countries and cultures.
Students in Dana Kosowick’s Grade 6 class at Robert Moore School here participated in the conference through the ORION project.
“Without ORION, we’d never have been able to do that. And this is just the tip of the iceberg,” Danielson remarked.
His goal for this year is to establish a virtual field trip. For example, instead of sending a class to Toronto to visit the Ontario Science Centre, it would be possible to have someone there push a videoconferencing unit around the centre while a guide explained what they were looking at and answer questions from the students.
The same could be done not only in Canada, but in Australia, or London, or Paris, he said.
“Imaging taking a virtual field trip through the Louvre,” Danielson enthused. “It’s just so exciting.”
Danielson also said the connection is very cost-effective. “The big cost is from here to Thunder Bay,” he noted, adding the local connection costs about 10 times more than the ORION connection itself.
“But we’re working on that,” he pledged.
ORION also gives both local school boards one of the best connections among their counterparts across the province. “There’s only a few I know that have better,” Danielson said.
“This progressive partnership with the Northwest Catholic District School Board allows our students to benefit from the speed and bandwidth technology not available in other parts of the northwest region of Ontario,” noted Warren Hoshizaki, education director for the local public board.