Educational institutions have always had a central place in the online age. Before the advent of high-speed broadband, other communications technologies and services also played a big role in education.
University researchers were among the first Australian users of what became known as the Internet. When the domain name system was deployed in the mid-1980s, the .au domain was delegated to Robert Elz at the University of Melbourne. When the Australian Vice-Chancellor’s Committee decided to set up a national communications network to support research, Geoff Huston transferred to its payroll from ANU to work as technical manager for AARNet, whose current chief executive, Chris Hancock, is interviewed by Liz Fell in this issue. When a 56 kbps ARPANET link with Australia was made by NASA and the University of Hawaii via Intelsat in June 1989, the connection was established in Elz’s University of Melbourne laboratory. (Clarke 2004: 31)
In earlier times, the postal service made learning-at-a-distance possible by ‘correspondence’, particularly in remote areas of Australia. Advances in radio communications made it easier and the interactivity more immediate. Television sets and later video cassette and DVD players and recorders made it more visual. The telephone provided a tool of communication for teachers and learners; the best of them understood that most people were both at different times. Then simple low bandwidth tools like email and web browsing provided new ways for students, teachers and their institutions to communicate and distribute and share information. Learning management systems like Blackboard have been widely deployed through the education sector. Information that was once housed in libraries is now available online and social media platforms are providing new ways for students to collaborate. Ubiquitous, faster broadband and mobile access via smartphones and tablets promise further transformations.