Teleporting pupils make virtual STEM classrooms a unique experience

Published:04 June 2019

TOP: CQUni Chemistry lecturer Dr Aoife Power (top right) delivering education to remote school children through the Queensland Virtual STEM Academy. MID: Moura State School children engage in the lesson. BELOW: Dr Power (left) and Dr Daniel Cozzolino (right) engaging with students in a face to face setting during last year’s pilot program.

CQUniversity academics have been working with the Queensland Virtual STEM Academy (QVSA) to ensure schoolchildren across Queensland have a unique opportunity to engage with science, technology, engineering and maths.

The initiative has been a continuance of a 2018 pilot which saw Education Queensland partner with CQUni to deliver the experience.

Chemistry lecturer Dr Aoife Power says the experience of teaching up to 100 children across several remote schools can be exhilarating for both the students and teachers involved, thanks to innovative software.

"Although not in the same physical room as the students, I can interact in their virtual world and share their enthusiasm," Dr Power says.

QVSA’s dedicated software enables students to have virtual conversations in real-time, ‘see’ each other and be involved in dedicated ‘virtual’ learning spaces, allowing them to collaborate within teams and with the experts.

Dr Power says the key to success has been the inquiry-based learning, where students respond to 'grand challenges' based on specific themes.

"All students (from Rockhampton to outer regions) will work in teams to find information from scientific work and apply it to develop and apply transferable skills, particularly in critical thinking, problem solving and essential life skills," she says.

The success of the 2018 pilot which involved Associate Professor Daniel Cozzolino, Dr Shaneel Chandra and Dr Power, with a focus on Food Waste, has led to the expansion of the topics in 2019 to include Biomaterials (led by Dr Padraig Strappe), which covers aspects like hip replacements and prosthetics.

CQUni academics Dr Emma Jackson (Healthy Harbours and Habitats) and Dr Flavia Santamaria (Koala Chlamydia) are also contributing to the QVSA initiative.

Some of CQUniversity's Adelaide-based sleep researchers have been approached to lend their expertise on the effects of light pollution on circadian rhythms.

The Central Queensland roll-out of the QVSA is coordinated by Breeha Sinnamon, who is based at Rockhampton State High School, with assistance from CQUniversity Research Project Manager Desley Pidgeon, and CQUniversity STEM Hub Project Leader Dr Linda Pfeiffer.

Some students from the QVSA program schools will visit the STEM Central facility at CQUniversity Gladstone Marina next week for an excursion, which includes a side visit to the Coastal Marine Ecosystems Research Centre (CMERC) seagrass nursery and the marina, along with a virtual visit to a local seagrass meadow.