SHIPWRECKED in their Adelaide classroom, 11 high school students were performing a scene from The Tempest with a cameo appearance by Peter Garrett, all directed from the Opera House by Bell Shakespeare's James Evans.
The School Education Minister threw himself convincingly into the role of Prospero, arguing with daughter Miranda and her potential lover Ferdinand (students from Willunga High School), with only a couple of cameras and an internet connection to bridge the distance of several thousand kilometres from one end of the stage to the other.
The minister's dramatic turn yesterday was to illustrate the online interactive opportunities the National Broadband Network will deliver, and to announce $27million for educational and skills projects using the new technology.
Health and education were the two areas that stood to benefit most from the NBN, Mr Garrett said. And among the 12 projects that won government funding is the Biomedical Education, Skills and Training (BEST) Network.
Using its $3.3million grant, tech company Smart Sparrow will operate the BEST e-learning platform that will incorporate laboratory learning, online lectures and diagnostic technology in conjunction with the University of NSW.
Founder Dror Ben-Naim said he was delighted to be given the resources to pursue an area that would have a direct effect on people.
"You can do something you are passionate about and you get to impact lives and address something really important, which is healthcare – that's really privileged," he said.
Being able to diagnose illnesses was one obvious medical area that would benefit from shared and interactive technology. A GP without experience of a specific complaint, for example, could connect with the best experts around the country to help identify a condition and therefore treat it more quickly and effectively than having to refer the patient to a possible field of experts.
But the network of virtual labs, virtual microscopy, adaptive tutorials and virtual patients would not remove the importance of real interaction between experts and students, Dr Ben-Naim said.
Beneficiaries of the government funding ranged from the Opera House itself, with its From Bennelong Point to the Nation project of virtual classes in the arts for students in remote and regional areas, to Gordon Institute of TAFE's online delivery of traineeships, also in far-reaching areas.
The 12 projects were chosen from more than 150 applicants who were, said the minister, of the highest calibre.