Gigabit ethernet network is music to students’ ears

A colllective effort by municipal organizations and 3Com Canada has created of a gigabit ethernet network connecting 227 areas in Kitchener-Waterloo.

The completion of the project’s first phase was celebrated Friday at a special event where the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra broadcast a concert to the desktops of schools across the region. Students could see the musicians in one frame, ask questions on a chat board in a second, and view the sheet music in a third.

In total, the Waterloo Region Education and Public Network (WREPNet) connects three city goverments, the regional government, the Catholic and Public school boards, a college and three public libraries. Most of these sites are connected now; the rest will be finished by October.

The fibre-optic gigabit ethernet network is expected to offer considerable speed improvements to some 80,000 students.

Rachel O’Brien, a grade 11 music student at St. David Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener, Ont., said she enjoyed the opportunity to interact over the Web with the Orchestra players. “I asked them about how they practice,” she said. “It’s interesting to see whether they listen to it first and then play it, or whether they read it and break it down.”

Christine Girodat, the teacher who leads the arts program at St. David’s, said she’s seeing more computer use in the classroom every day. “I’ve had students download guitar tabs and then rewrite it for themselves,” she said. “Obviously you get into copyright issues there, but the access this gives them is just incredible.”

Nick Tidd, president of 3Com Canada, said the company has never worked on a public sector project of this kind anywhere in North America.

“Everybody put their agendas in check,” he said. “The private (school) guys, the Catholic schools, the public schools, the city guys and the libraries usually do their own thing. But I think they’ve come to realize they can be collectively stronger than if they stay on their own.”

Peggy Walshe, CEO Kitchener Public Library, said the various partners began talking to one another in 1998 when demand for broadband connectivity became acute.

“A lot of us were off in our own directions when there was money available from the province,” she said. “For a long time the work was being done the provincial levels . . . there’s tremendous desire to make it happen, but in order to do it, we’ve had to work together in ways we didn’t imagine.”

Tidd said the project serves as a case study that demonstrates the power of the network to other parts of the region, including other municipalities, hospitals and fire departments. “There’s no real end point to this,” he said.

In fact, Walshe said the schools and libraries are already examining new applications like videoconferencing as a way of enhancing distance education programs. “It doesn’t sound very exciting, but as someone who’s stood in long lineups to register my daughter for swimming lesson, I’d love to have access points, either at a city hall or in the community centre, where those sorts of things could be done,” she said.

Tidd said pooling resources offers the school boards some cost savings while ensuring they have an infrastructure that they can build upon as network needs increase.

“We’ve managed to try to do this at a time when there’s a lot of review work going on; we’ve been targeted for amalgamation,” said Walshe. “In spite of some of those things that have every opportunity to divert our attention we’ve achieved some pretty considerable goals.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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