K-12 Schools

Winners of AARNet Excellence Awards 2014 announced at QUESTnet 2014

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AARNet Excellence Awards 2014 First Prize Mars Yard

The winners of the second annual AARNet Excellence Awards were announced last night at the QUESTnet 2014 gala dinner.

The awards recognise the innovative leadership and expertise of the Australian Research & Education community for using AARNet’s high-speed network and services in new ways to support collaboration, online learning or interactive teaching environments.

Chris Hancock, AARNet CEO said, “The scope and quality of projects entered was impressive, making the outcome of the judging a close call. It is very rewarding to see our network and services supporting innovation within our community.”

First Prize

The Mars Yard project

A University of New South Wales-led partnership with the Powerhouse Museum and the University of Sydney

With the goal of engaging Years 9 and 10 students in Science Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) and funding from the federal government, a 140 square metre scientifically accurate replica of Martian landscape was created in the Powerhouse Museum, featuring research quality experimental Mars rovers, a research lab, scientists and a high speed AARNet connection.

In the Mars Yard, students can drive the Experimental Mars Rover from their classrooms on missions they have planned. They use Mawson’s virtual instrument ChemCam to collect rock chemistry data for analysis and interpretation in the same way scientists would on the Curiosity Mars rover mission currently on Mars.

The AARNet connection enables students to engage with scientists and engineers nationally and internationally via telepresence, and has given classrooms around Australia access to the Mars Yard via the Internet.

In the first seven months of delivery of the new Mars Lab project, more than 1,700 students in 35 schools have used the AARNet connection to access the Mars Yard and/or have participated in international videoconferences with leading scientists and engineers, or have used the telepresence for related STEM digital education opportunities.

“The Mars Yard project is an exemplar of what can be achieved in transforming teaching and learning. The partnership between two universities, a museum and schools has created a living lab in a public space in which to transfer the nature of cutting edge university STEM research to authentic research opportunities for high school students,” said Carol Oliver, Associate Director, Australian Centre for Astrobiology, University of New South Wales.

Second Prize

Virtual Composer-in-Residence program

Abbotsleigh School, Sydney

Abbotsleigh School has been a pioneer in the use of videoconferencing in the classroom since connecting to AARNet several years ago, and the virtual composer-in-residence program is a stand-out example of what’s possible.

Dr Keith Fitch, a world-renowned musician based at the Cleveland Institute of Music in the USA teaches year 11 and 12 girls composition classes via HD videoconferencing.

In some sessions, the whole group works together to compose a piece and discuss elements that make up a composition, in other sessions, individuals workshop their compositions with Dr Fitch while he sits at the piano playing the music they have prepared and sent him via email.

“This program is unique because the relationship between Abbotsleigh and the Cleveland School of Music is ongoing. Through the program students have access to a level of expertise unconstrained by geographical boundaries, expertise that is not usually available to students at a secondary level, ” said Warwick Noble, Director of Technology at Abbotsleigh School.


Third Prize

Asia ConneXions program

University of New England (UNE)

The Asia ConneXions program connects Australian schools with schools in Korea, Japan, China, and Indonesia using High Definition (HD) videoconferencing for Asian languages and cultural exchanges.

Videoconferencing, especially HD videoconferencing, facilitates interaction and engagement between very different cultures, and at this time there are few language programs in Australia using HD videoconferencing.

For the Asia ConneXions program,  AARNet provided a solution for firewall issues in Australian school systems networks by providing HD virtual meeting rooms for the Asia ConneXions program, which enabled a high quality experience in the classroom.

“When integrating technology into teaching languages, the technology should not get in the way. HD videoconferencing makes students’ interaction highly engaging, and motivates Australian students to study Asian languages. The versatility of the AARNet network enabled us to develop this program,” said Myung Suk Auh, Program Director for Asia ConneXions and Senior Lecturer at UNE.


For more information, please contact:

Jane Gifford  media@aarnet.edu.au

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