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By Lionel Walters,  Guest Columnist

Some of the most compelling memories I have from my school years involve trips away to see amazing things, or special visits to the school by amazing people. I still have vivid memories of the sights, sounds and even smells of some of the fascinating places we went to, and I can still feel the butterflies in my stomach as I met my favourite author and had him personally autograph some of my most treasured books.

To me, what made these experiences successful was that they lifted my sights and gave me something to aspire to. Unfortunately for many students living in rural areas, these boundary-breaking experiences are few and far between, either because of funding constraints or simply the lack of appropriate people or places to see.

About two years after moving to Tasmania, my wife and I recognised this gap in our own children’s primary (elementary) school experience. They had enjoyed some quaint visits to local farms and neighbouring schools, and even enjoyed a visit from a local Tasmanian “celebrity”, but nothing that had really helped them to imagine their place in our increasingly connected world.

Setting Out to Find Someone “Amazing”

Our search led us to Dallas Clayton, an American children’s author with an “awesome” story of making dreams come true. True to his story, he gladly accepted an invitation to visit our school… and in this case, the way he would visit would be as boundary-breaking for the school as Dallas’ message was.

Leading up to the visit, copies of “An Awesome Book” were distributed and each class participated in activities related to the book’s story. Some younger students drew pictures about their dreams, while older students examined how Dallas was able to create, advertise and sell his book to a worldwide audience. Most classes brainstormed questions they wanted to pose to the author.

On the morning of the visit, all the students in the school gathered into their newly built hall. The supervising teachers made some preliminary comments, and then I was invited to share a little about where Dallas lives (that is, the other side of the world!) and how he would be visiting. Then the projector light switched on and Dallas appeared on the screen. He talked briefly about his book and how he came to write it, and then he read it to the students. The most inspiring part of the visit happened in the last 20 minutes as children took turns in front of the camera to ask their questions, and Dallas answered each one personally and in an “amazing” way.

Although it was far from high definition, it was definitely high impact for students and teachers at this rural school. And Dallas had some nice things to say about his experience as well.

This “amazing” experience was accomplished using a basic ADSL connection with very limited bandwidth. Cisco’s Visual Networking Index forecasts that the average broadband speed in Australia will grow 4.6-fold from 2011 to 2016, from 7.98 Mbps to 36Mpbs, and that mobile data capacity will also increase substantially. In the very near future, this rural school will be one of Australia’s first to be connected to the National Broadband Network, and will thus significantly beat the projected broadband speed average. Imagine the amazing experiences they will be able to have then!

What would you do with a 100/40 Mbps pipe to a rural school?

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