I convene three fully online courses: BEES6800 The Science of Science Communication (third level, T1 and T3 and will be offered to ASU students in a new fully online astronomy degree from 2020, taught here at UNSW); BEES 2741 Introduction to Astrobiology: Life in the Universe (second level, T2); and BEES6741 Astrobiology: Life in the Universe (T3 and will also be offered to ASU students from 2020). BEES2741 - being run for the first time this year - will incorporate some of HabWorlds (www.habworlds.org), a highly innovative adaptive e-learning course built by the ETX centre at ASU, and freely available to use as part of my PLuS Alliance education collaboration with ASU to benefit UNSW students.
I employ essays, multimedia, an interactive adaptive e-learning Virtual Lab and an interactive Virtual Field Trip (VFT) for my assignments. This year I am going to include online animation tool H5P to allow students to fit rock descriptions to the relevant picture in the astrobiology courses. The VFT was made in association with iCinema as part of a Scientia Innovation Fund grant. It allows students to explore an area of the Pilbara in Western Australia, where the best earliest evidence of life on Earth exists, dated at around 3.5 billion years old. Students can select photo evidence from 10 field locations and to later analyse that evidence with other students (all online).
Engagement is a word widely used but not well-defined. I have come to define it as (a) the number of views and posts in Moodle, and (b) that a high percentage of students who continue to view course material months after the courses have ended. Student feedback is consistent with long term learning gains - commonly students report they have learned and retained that learning, and are encouraged to keep learning. Data from Moodle also allows failing students to be identified and then for help to be offered. For example, one failing student admitted he was not understanding the course material. After three online tutorials and some email conversations, the student turned in one of the top final assignments.
It feels to me as if I opened a door for students when I see the final assignments. Students achieve results consistent with postgraduate level even though the courses are undergraduate. For example, in the final assignment of BEES6741 students devise a simple but original research question related to the search for life on Mars, together with a simple way of testing the question. This requires thinking like a scientist. In 2017 a student made the case for searching for a liquid lake under the south pole of Mars based on the analogue of Lake Vostok under our south polar cap. Last year, researchers located what appears to be a liquid lake under the south pole of Mars.
Other related impacts: The Mars Lab won Australia's Academic and Research Network (AARNet) 2014 award for Excellence in Education; The Mars Lab was also a finalist in The Australian Innovation Challenge in 2013; The VFTs I partnered on with ASU won a US$1m innovation prize in 2014.
The Conversation articles:
September, 2017, Australia’s new national space agency will help students in STEM reach for the stars, https://theconversation.com/australias-new-national-space-agency-will-help-students-reach-for-the-stars-in-stem-84702
December, 2013, To launch Australia into space, we need inspiration, http://theconversation.com/to-launch-australia-into-space-we-need-inspiration-20722
Related papers, refereed conference papers, plenary and invited speaker events
- Oliver, C.A. (2017) Moving beyond rote learning for tests: A novel approach to cheat proof assessments in the online environment, Refereed proceedings of the Social Learning Conference, University of New South Wales, November 27-28.
- Oliver, C.A. (2017) Australia’s role in the search for life on Mars, Australian Academy of Science, Shine Dome, invited public presentation for Academy series, December. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFVAP6BZbGU&t=2361s
- Oliver, C.A. (2016) New opportunities for teaching and learning in universities and high schools: Moving from the field to museums and into the digital space, Plenary speaker, Australian National University 5th Australasian University Geoscience Educators Network (AUGEN) conference, January.
- Oliver, C.A. (2016) Transforming a face-to-face course to fully online, Australasian Astrobiology Conference, Curtin University, Perth July 5-8.
- Oliver, C.A. (2016) Transforming a face to face course to fully online, invited TELT seminar https://thebox.unsw.edu.au/video/transforming-a-face-to-face-unsw-course-to-fully-online
- Oliver, C.A., Fergusson, J., Kingsley, I., Oliver, J., Mahony, P., and Browne, C. (2015) The Mars Lab – Connecting authentic science with the classroom, Scan Journal (Department of Education NSW).
- Oliver, C.A., Fergusson, J. and Dougherty, K. (2012) Pathways to Space and student outcome: Does a day on ‘Mars” make a difference? Refereed conference proceedings of the 12th Australian Space Science Conference, Melbourne, Victoria, 24-26 Sept