Students say hola to Spain via video link

Spanish students at Ashton Comprehensive School have waved adios to CD players and pen pals, as technology is allowing them to talk live on video in class with students from Salou every week.

The broadband-enabled video link between the school on Cork’s Blackrock Road and students of English in Spain, is revolutionising the subject for teenagers here, according to Ashton’s Spanish teacher, Olan Geaney.

He set up the first conference call with his fifth-year class last Friday and plans to hand more control to students over the coming weeks.

“We started with myself and Julia, the teacher in Spain, telling each other’s classes about our schools. Then a few students from each school asked questions in the language they are learning, so my class asked questions in Spanish and they were answered in Spanish.

“This week, a few of my students will speak to the students in Spain about their school, their homes and their families, and vice-versa. It brings the subject to a whole different level of interest for students, it’s a far cry from pressing play on the tape deck and listening to a recorded conversation in Spanish.”

The system could not be simpler thanks to the computer and projector in the room, just like those given to every class in the country two years ago.

However, it is the school’s high-speed broadband that really makes the difference.

“We were on the video call for 40 minutes on Friday, with no glitches and no breaks. We just simply set up a video-call on our email systems and away you go,” said Mr Geaney.

“Having the internet for teaching is brilliant, I also use it in my Irish classes, it gets the students far more engaged. Just seeing text or pictures on the whiteboard is far less boring than in a book in front of them, it’s using the technology most of them have at home and they’re teaching me how to use it half the time.”

In next week’s class, Ashton students will tell their new Spanish friends about St Patrick’s Day, showing them badges and shamrock over the video link. It is planned to learn from the school in Valls next month about the Catalan holiday celebrating St Jordi.

The use of such technology is not possible in every school, but the Government is extending high-speed broadband to 200 schools in 14 counties by next September. Most are along the West coast, where Pat Rabbitte, the communications minister, said some of the weakest broadband speeds were currently available to schools. It is planned to have the same 100 megabytes-per-second broadband in all 730 secondary schools by 2014.

Ashton is celebrating the recent news that former student Michael Angland scored the best results in last year’s Leaving Certificate exam in higher level Spanish, for which he will soon be honoured at the Spanish embassy.

“It’s a remarkable achievement given that our students only take on Spanish from transition year. But the technology we’re using means students are likely to do much better, particularly in the spoken exam,” said Mr Geaney.

Hot spots

Citizens and visitors could have free internet on their phones and laptops throughout the centre of Cork City by the summer.

Cork City Council started a pilot scheme last summer offering free outdoor wifi on the plaza at the city library on Grand Parade, later extending it to the nearby Bishop Lucey Park. Fitzgerald Park was added last month, with Emmet Place in line for inclusion this month and Rory Gallagher Place in April.

However, the council’s tourism, events, arts, and marketing unit is in talks with a broadband operator about rolling it out across the city centre. It would allow tourists to access the internet, including local tourism information, without having to pay roaming costs.

Unit director Damien O’Mahony said recent figures showed the pilot wifi system was accessed 1,850 times in the past three months, or about 150 times a week.

“We’re hoping to have finalised negotiations by the summer. The idea is that users would see the broadband operator’s webpage but that a banner on the page would direct visitors to Cork to links with information about events, maps and nearby facilities,” said Mr O’Mahony.

The plans are being developed as Dublin City Council plans to roll out its own range of open-space wifi hot spots in a similar move.

— Niall Murray


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