Virtual lessons bring the world to country students

TEENAGE giggles and lively classroom chatter spilt into the hallway at University of NSW's museum of human disease.

But, behind the lecture room doors, was a surprisingly subdued scene. A lone teacher stood before a room of empty chairs. The classroom sounds were of a year 9 science class at PLC Armidale, more than five hours' drive north of Sydney.

Sixteen girls watched the museum's education officer, Bridget Murphy, dissect the lungs, heart and liver of a pig via high definition video conferencing.

The school was the first in Australia to be connected to the national broadband network and is using its high speed broadband to send its students on virtual excursions around the country and overseas.

The students gasped as Dr Murphy inflated the lungs with an air compressor.

''Lucky you don't have smell-o-vision on that end,'' she said. ''It smells pretty gross.'' The school has linked students with an astronomer in Perth, as well as school students in South Korea and the United States and music students have taken part in a rehearsal at the Sydney Opera House. This year, English students will be connected with the State Library, hospitality classes will enter the kitchen with a Sydney chef and design and technology students will link with the Powerhouse Museum.

Science teacher Dave Moffitt, whose class observed the dissection last week, said the high-speed internet was helping to close the gap between regional students and their peers in the city.

''There's a definite disadvantage to kids being so far away from Sydney when it comes to having real examples and resources at your finger tips,'' he said. ''If we can go on excursions that's great but you can't do half a dozen excursions a year to Sydney. It's way too disruptive and too expensive. I can get experts to come into my classroom and I can learn from them and be as blown away as the kids are. So I've got another tool in my tool bag to make my subject come alive.''

The assistant director of education think tank IdeasLAB, Richard Olsen, has been working with the NBN to trial new teaching and learning techniques.

He said schools such as PLC Armidale were using technology to fit naturally with, and improve, existing teaching models.

''They're really doing some interesting things by empowering students and making it more personalised to students' needs,'' he said. ''Schools are getting excited and saying this is the way we've always wanted to teach. We've always wanted students to be inquisitive but there were limitations. All that's gone now.''

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