Tech-enabled teaching for hospital school students

Milan Trimmer, whose classmates cheered when he Skyped them from his hospital bed for the first time.
29 November 2019

Patient Wi-Fi powered by eHealth NSW is transforming the learning experience of thousands of children at The Hospital School at Westmead, connecting them with their classrooms back home and helping them to keep up their studies despite their illnesses.

The technology is helping patients like eight-year-old Milan Trimmer, whose classmates cheered when he Skyped them from his hospital bed for the first time, said his teacher Josie Hodge.

“It was such a beautiful moment,” Mrs Hodge recalls. “Milan’s friends hadn’t seen him for three months and so the reunion that was able to happen online was so wonderful for everyone and put the biggest smile on Milan’s face.”

Milan, a year-2 student from Narara Public School on the Central Coast, has been treated for acute myeloid leukaemia at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead since July.

“It was a very emotional moment when Milan zoomed in on his cheering classmates back home,” said his mother, Leanne. “He was so happy to have that contact with them.”

Milan has kept up his studies by attending The Hospital School at Westmead, the largest of its kind in the state and staffed by 14 NSW Department of Education teachers and supported by learning and support officers.

Before it was enabled with Patient Wi-Fi, The Hospital School used 4G dongles which were expensive and often unreliable. This restricted students to pre-prepared, paper-based lessons, resulting in a lack of spontaneity and variety in the classroom, said Principal Mercedes Wilkinson.

But today, the 100+ students from kindergarten to Year 12 who attend The Hospital School on any given day are able to connect to the internet wirelessly, supporting their lessons in maths, English, science, visual arts, geography, economics and music.

Many of the least mobile students are also now able to connect from their beds, with tablets mounted on robots letting them interact with other students in The Hospital School and/or learn alongside their friends at their enrolled school, as Milan has done on several occasions.

Each student’s period of enrolment varies from as little as 10 days to a longer stay, depending on the severity of their illness or injury.

“Our students attend one of our four classrooms and, where necessary, students receive one-on-one teaching at the bedside by our ward teachers,” Mrs Wilkinson said.

“Many of the students have multiple hospital admissions throughout the year and some have multiple admissions through their entire school life. And, for some students, this is the only school setting they will experience.”

Accommodating children and teens from all over NSW, Australia and overseas, The Hospital School’s mantra is that every student “is known, valued and cared for”. Mrs Wilkinson said the digital learning that Wi-Fi enables is “empowering our students, where they’re at”.

While eHealth NSW’s Patient Wi-Fi platform was already available at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead, the School’s laptops and desktops were connected to the NSW Department of Education’s infrastructure. Collaboration between Education and Health needed to happen to connect the school’s computers to eHealth NSW’s Wi-Fi platform.

Mrs Wilkinson said: “This is a great example of two government agencies working together to deliver the School ‘always-on’ Wi-Fi connectivity within the Westmead Hospital precinct.”

Implementation of Patient Wi-Fi for the school was achieved in a single day, with on-the-ground support provided by members of eHealth NSW’s Unified Conference, Collaboration and Wireless (UCCW) team and the Department of Education’s Information Technology team.

Jason Matthews, UCCW Program Manager for eHealth NSW, said: “This now sets a standard for how we set-up Patient Wi-Fi for other Hospital Schools in our state.”

Now live at 81 NSW Health facilities and entities, Patient Wi-Fi was made possible by a $20-million injection of State funds for Wi-Fi in hospitals and eHealth NSW’s work on building the Health Wide Area Network (HWAN).

HWAN is a communications platform that connects NSW Health facilities across the state. The network supports data exchange, multimedia such as presence, voice and video as well as real-time streaming of data, to support the connectivity of clinical and corporate programs.

For Mrs Wilkinson, access to eHealth NSW-powered Patient Wi-Fi is enhancing the care, education and support that she and her teaching staff are able to offer thousands of children every year.

“Our passionate teaching and learning team strive daily to ensure our students feel a sense of connection and continuity with their schooling, seeking to challenge and inspire our students as lifelong learners,” said Mrs Wilkinson.

Hospital School teachers
Some of the teaching staff at The Hospital School at Westmead (L-R): Tracey Walker, Mercedes Wilkinson (Principal), Josie Hodge, Cassie Beccari
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