Project-Based Learning and STEM education in Australia

Project-Based Learning and STEM education in Australia

During the K-12 Showcase: STEM Education and Project Based Learning, Malyn Mawby and Nikki Shires, department heads and veteran teachers at Roseville College, share their experiences with recent innovation in STEM and their thoughts on STEM in the coming years.

The event brought together industry leaders to discuss the state of STEM in education, in students’ and girls’ lives, and in the future at large as the field develops.

Delvene Neilson, Head of Customer Success at ClickView, was joined by two veteran teachers and authorities on STEM from Roseville College in Sydney:

  • Malyn Mawby, Teacher and Head of Personal Learning
  • Nikki Shires, Head of Digital Technologies and STEAM Club Coordinator

EduGrowth’s STEM Showcase in March 2021 heard from these two experts on education innovation in their field, particularly in light of the digital learning landscape ushered in by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here are the highlights of the discussion followed by the full transcript.

What is Project-based Learning (PBL)?

Malyn Mawby introduces project-based learning:

Project-based learning is a student-centered teaching framework that involves developing students’ knowledge or skills through projects rather than through rote memorization or teacher-led instruction. Project-Based Learning requires clear planning, involving an explicit start point, end point, tools, processes, and skills.

She adds that, for successful project-based Learning, a teacher should:

  • Plan, plan, plan. Planning backwards from the end goal is a way to ensure that learning outcomes are achieved.
  • Aim toward a public audience. Projects with broad appeal can be published on public platforms like GitHub, brought to the attention of industry experts, and included in students’ portfolios.
“We know that when you’re using digital technologies then plan A may not necessarily be enough, so always have a back-up plan.”
Malyn Mawby, Roseville College

Nikki echoes the value of expanding Project-Based Learning outside of the classroom and toward a public audience, adding that:

  • Showcasing projects in the community empowers students and builds their confidence.
  • Project-based learning gives students a chance to be leaders.

A single project can incorporate multiple disciplines and invite contributions from various experts.

Integrating PBL into the classroom

For teachers who are about to start their first project-based learning in the classroom, Malyn offers two key points to keep in mind:

  • Remember that projects are a learning tool, not an assessment tool.
  • Project-based learning is also an exercise in relationship building.
“It does take a lot of relationship building so that they can trust you, that they will come out of the whole project-based learning stuff successful in the sense that they have built something, they have learnt something.”
Malyn Mawby, Roseville College

Nikki Shires builds on these points, noting that:

  • Without assessment looming over their heads, students feel more free and open to engage with the material in projects.
  • Teachers can trial project-based learning in extra-curricular activities to gain insight into its classroom uses.

Nikki also acknowledges the role that relationships play in the learning process, pointing out that a strong relationship and buy-in from parents improves student performance and involvement.

“Parents […] have trusted us as educators to take them on their learning journey. So it always comes back to getting that buy-in and that investment with the students.”
Nikki Shires, Roseville College
EduGrowth K12 Stem Showcase: Nikki Shires

Adapting project-based learning to digital learning

The conditions of e learning are new to many teachers and students who have had to move online this year due to the Covid-19 Pandemic. Nikki encourages us not to fret since:

  • Teaching technology and e learning actually suit project-based learning by involving a range of skills, and can easily link similar subjects, like Math and Engineering, together.

And Malyn points out that:

  • Digital education technology lends itself to breaking up projects into synchronous and asynchronous work quite naturally. Teachers can use this to their advantage.

Teaching technology such as shared documentation space, collaboration rooms, and instantaneous feedback make collaborating in virtual teams less demanding.

“The pandemic has forced us to work as if we were in virtual teams.”
Malyn Mawby, Roseville College

Student motivation

Malyn and Nikki both stress the importance of student motivation to project-based learning and agree that:

  • Student buy-in is crucial to project-based learning success.
  • In e learning, student engagement is more critical than ever due to the constraints teachers and students are under in interfacing with each other.

Non-assessment projects reduce the pressure on students and improve their enthusiasm for the work.

“There was no pressure from the students to have an assessment mark at the end of it, so they could be really open to collaborative learning, and to all of the soft skills that you learn from project-based learning.”
Nikki Shires, Roseville College

Nikki says that since projects are not tests, parental and institutional pressure is reduced, students feel less stressed and more engaged, and the end result is improved learning outcomes.

Malyn adds that, not only are they less stressed, but:

Accountability to a public audience as well as the possibility of adding the project to their portfolio can instill pride and motivation in students during project-based learning.

Girls in STEM

As women leaders in STEM education, both Malyn and Nikki are strident advocates of girls entering into the industry. Nikki has observed in her own classes that:

  • Girls may feel more comfortable in a learning space where they are not expected to compete with boys.

Nonetheless, populations in STEM fields across the world still skew male. Malyn argues that the issue of retention may not be as simple as it is often presented:

  • The proportion of girls in STEM may be less a “pipeline” problem, and more a “leaky pipe” or “leaky bucket” problem. That is, the issue may lie less in attracting women to STEM, but more in retaining them.
  • If girls do not see STEM as a long term career option, then they may not stick with it despite their interest.

Malyn encourages girls to enter STEM if that is where their interests lie. She stresses that the diversity of the field cannot change without more girls entering it, and uses herself as an example, being an Asian woman in a male dominated field.

“You cannot fix something by being out of it, but by being in it.”
Malyn Mawby, Roseville College
EduGrowth K12 Stem Showcase: Malyn Mawby

The role of teachers in PBL

As a student-centered approach to learning, teachers must be cognizant of their role in the classroom. Once planning is finished, teachers work to:

  • Help students manage their expectations.
  • Coordinate an outside audience and bring in experts to contribute.
  • Provide feedback.
  • Motivate and guide students through the project.

In the end, project-based learning is about empowering students to take ownership of their own learning, building a sense of pride and accomplishment, reducing academic pressures, and giving all students an opportunity to contribute to the community and the world.

“For me, [it is] really important for them to know that they can be creators, not just consumers, and starting [that] from the very onset of their learning journey.”
Nikki Shires, Roseville College
 

Full Transcript

Delvene Neilson:

We have Malyn Mawby. Before coming to Roseville College, Malyn had a successful career in the corporate IT space in banking, finance, and manufacturing systems, and she brings a wealth of experience and wisdom into her present career as an educator, so we’re really excited to have you on board.

Joining us is her colleague, Nikki Shires, who’s Head of Digital Technologies, and also STEAM Club Coordinator at Roseville College. Nikki teaches technology and applied science studies and leads the digital technologies at Roseville College. With over 15 years of teaching experience, there’s a lot of accumulative skills and knowledge in that digital technologies and STEM-related learning which has helped to guide this digital technology experience. I’m very excited to have both of you joining part of our conversation today on a very interesting topic, and obviously, a wonderful opportunity to explore the great things happening at Roseville.

Malyn, if I can begin with you, can you give us some tips for successfully implementing project-based learning in a digital environment?

Malyn Mawby:

Firstly, what is project-based learning? Project-based learning is a way of putting everything together within a project, and a project meaning you have a goal, and you have a start, and you have an end, essentially, the very simplistic way of defining what a project is. And it is a pedagogical approach in terms of teaching content, and integrating process, tools, skills, et cetera.

My tips in making it successful is to really plan. Plan, plan, plan. Particularly if you’re involving technology. We know that when you’re using digital technologies then plan A may not necessarily be enough, so always have a back-up plan. As a teacher, we have to connect whatever we do with the syllabus because we are quite time-poor in the classroom, so whatever we do in the classroom has to somehow be justified by the fact that it is part of the syllabus, or an extension, or an enrichment. But ultimately, it needs to connect to what we have to teach.

It’s also a good idea, particularly with the digital technology platform, to leverage our options in terms of multimodal not just delivery, but also for kids to be able to create their product in a multimodal way. What else? Oh, and probably one of the last lessons I’ve learnt with PBL, people have always said the proponents of PBL said that you’ve got to have a public audience, meaning you’ve got to have an audience bigger than the classroom, bigger than the teacher and the other students, and I find that that has actually helped with engagement and authenticity of projects. So, having a public audience bigger than the classroom or beyond the classroom is another thing to kind of think about.

Delvene Neilson:

Malyn, when you talk about the audience being bigger than the classroom itself, can you talk about what that means? 

 

Malyn Mawby:

I’ve had different options. Some, for example, in my dataset science unit with my Year 10s last year, modeling and simulations, we used one of our school data sets which is the Moresby dataset which look at student skills and interests, and so as part of our audience for their data visualizations, I invited the careers professional here so that she can see how we have used the data, and even more interestingly, is for her to see that having different people look at her dataset, we actually see other things as well. So, it’s not just us winning, she was also winning.

Another option is, because I teach computing, I try to get the digital product out there somehow. For example, one of the things that I’ve started exploring is using GitHub to publish websites. And another one, once you start making things public, people do find you, and one of the stories that is when my students did a case study on artificial intelligence and the impact of artificial intelligence on society, so the students extrapolated their findings or their analysis, I should say, in a sci-fi environment, the Marvel Universe, in fact, and DT Tech Hub, so Digital Technologies Hub found our story and featured us. So, if you’re ever interested in what Year 10s could do, for example, then going into the Digital Tech Hubs and our story is there, you can see the products that they have seen.

Delvene Neilson:

Nikki, we have a question through the chat panel which is kind of going back and understanding what PBL actually is. Give us a rundown from your perspective, and then I’m keen to hear what your successful tips are, in addition to hearing what Malyn’s shared with us?

Nikki Shires:

I’m looking at it from a whole school’s perspective. I’m looking at it from the junior school, senior school, and from co-curricular, and I would say that speaking specifically of co-curricular, that is a really good place that we have found to trial PBL and anything that is something that might be something that we can integrate into the classroom, just like Malyn has said, we have to stick to the curriculum and it’s really important that everything we do has value in the classroom. Using our co-curricular space like the Steam Club, we’ve been able to sort of trial lots of different digital technology specifically, but also, project-based learning projects. And I think that’s been really successful. 

The other thing I would mention is I have an example in project-based learning in the junior school. I think with project-based learning, I didn’t actually see the question that was put up there, but just in my understanding of project-based learning is to be incorporating more than just your topic into one area of learning into a project, and also, to bring that authenticity to it. And so, I think everything that I try to co-create with the teachers at school, it does have that authenticity. And one of the examples we did last year in Year 3 was to try to play with coding. We would do Lego robots to design something and to try to integrate it into something that they already had going, and so we brought it into an art space, and we made art spinners. And we did that, myself and a teacher together. We sort of team-taught together. And that is one of the really important things about the project-based learning and using digital technologies in schools is to try to bring in more than just one expert, and to teach it together so then you can start to build on those skills for future so everyone who starts to work there feels more empowered and able to use that in a deeper way.

Delvene Neilson:

Can I just ask one deeper question, just around the way that you are doing it at Roseville, which is that sort of co-curricular space, can you just talk a little bit more about that? It’s obviously not part of the core learning of that classroom, and so just give us a little bit of a rundown on what co-curricular [work] looks like at Roseville?

Nikki Shires:

Well, it’s shaped really by the students. We have had different cohorts come through and every year I’ve tried to shape it with the students who are part of that club, and we design projects that are relevant for themselves, but also, things that one might be interested in trying out in a classroom setting, and so, it’s an after-school activity. Speaking to Malyn’s topic about bringing authenticity into it and having an audience, one of the audiences that we have is the local community, and so we tried to bring in what we do into the local community. So, using the newsletter, for example, we’re currently doing a robotics program that is for juniors from five and six, and seven, but our senior students, Years 8, 9, and 10 are the mentors and they’re actually running the program. And so, giving them that platform to be leaders, to showcase their own learning, and also deepen their own learning, and then putting that into the school community newsletter to share that with the community, all of those things are wins for us and showing that not only robotics and coding can be done with girls, but also that it’s a safe space for them and they’re really empowered there.

 

Delvene Neilson:

Malyn, you both talk about the importance of embedding this within the curriculum, and a very crowded curriculum and time-poor, so can you talk to us about the outcomes, and then the key considerations when assessing project-based learning? What assessment homework do you use and how does that kind of meet the core outcomes of project-based learning?

Malyn Mawby:

I’ve also seen a couple of questions there about what project-based learning is? Now, there is no definitive description or explanation of what it really is, and if you google what’s the difference between PBL, and inquiry, and problem-based learning which is typical in mathematics, for example, how are they all different? The main important thing about PBL is the L part. It is about learning. We don’t do projects as evidence of what they already know, but rather you do the project-based learning as, literally, you’re learning as you’re doing the project. Certainly from my experience in computing, in the industry, we did projects where we were learning as we go because as technology evolves, “Okay, well here’s the next programming language. Oh, we better learn that one now because we need it right now.” And it’s like that in  project-based learning. The things that you want the kids to learn are embedded within the activities of the project. As part of planning the project, you’ve got to think about how will I know that the students are actually learning the skills or the concepts that are part of the syllabus.

In terms of planning a PBL, I actually start from the end. There is a nice framework for that from how PBL works, and it’s called the gold standard of project-based learning, and they’re very much outcomes-based. They’re saying, “Well, what are the outcomes you want? Okay, so for these outcomes, then how can the kids show that they have hit those outcomes, and if they can show it that way, what do you need to teach them so that they can then do that as well.”

It’s not unlike what we used to do in IT with our project management processes. We’ll say, “well, what’s the end deliverable?” And for us to develop this bit of software, “what are the components of that software?” And for us to develop those components, “how do we then build that?” And, “do we need to do any training so that we can do that?” It’s very, very similar. For me, doing PBL is like doing what I used to do in the industry. So, to wrap up again, doing PBL is really planning what you want to assess at the end? What do you want the kids to learn? How do you know that they have learnt it? And how do you build in your teaching activities so that the learning activities that happen will then create this product that shows that the kids have, in fact, learnt something?

Delvene Neilson:

Malyn, I know we talk a lot about empowering our learners and our students to be part of that process, to what degree do you actually empower your students in that?

 

Malyn Mawby:

It’s actually quite interesting because students have become so complicit in terms of what they need to do, and so what Nikki was saying earlier is that it’s student-driven. We can do it in extracurricular, so we’re giving them that opportunity. In the classroom, I try to do that by asking the students, what are you interested in, and then let’s go for that. So, say, for example, last year in Year nine, in STEAM when we’re doing microcontrollers, we were using Adafruit’s Circuit Playground Express, and then I said, “What sort of applications might we use this for?” And we did just a brainstorm. And ultimately, we went for: to help with disabilities. And in our study of disabilities or accessibility when we’re studying web design, for example, we have learnt, or the kids have learnt, that disability is not just physical disability, you’re also talking about cognitive disability as well. So, that kind of came into the theme of the project itself.

But for us to get to that point of getting students to be confident enough that they can work with something that they’re interested in, it does take a lot of relationship-building so that they can trust you, that they will come out of the whole project-based learning stuff successful in the sense that they have built something, they have learnt something.

Delvene Neilson:

Nikki, I’m keen to hear your insights around that assessment framework. I know you’re looking at it from a junior through to senior school, and a whole-school approach. Do you want to just share a couple of your insights in addition to Malyn’s?

Nikki Shires:

I look at them building frameworks around the skills that they can start to build. So, sort of linking to what Malyn had said about really knowing what you’re assessing when you’re going into the PBL projects, you need to really be clear on what you’re actually aiming to get out. Something I’ve actually learned working with Malyn is to try to build frameworks into our development of all of our programs is to know where we’re actually aiming to hit by Year 12 or beyond. And so starting all the way back to kindy, and really highlighting what we’re actually trying to attain as we go through. I’m starting to build a digital literacy framework for the whole school. I also have a built-in robotic and coding framework. We sort of align the EdTech that we use with those different age groups and we tried to make sure that they are aligning with the skills that they’re trying to eventually achieve. And so, by doing that, then we start knowing those skills, and I mean I definitely think that you have to incorporate your student perspective, but not all classes have that flexibility. Year 7 and 8, there’s a lot of students, and you don’t have as much time to sort of open those doors, so we have to sort of build in those things for them, and using those frameworks really helps. 

An example that Malyn and I have actually worked on was using exactly those things, to build a technology unit that is in its nature. Because technology is basically project-based learning, which is why both Malyn and I love it, I think, it really incorporates such a range of skills and we wanted to make sure that we were really highlighting to the students that they were doing that. They were learning multiple things at the same time, and so they could start making those links. So, as we started to develop that program, we started to use a visual language to actually show when there were links to the maths curriculum, or there was links to the science, or technology, or engineering, whatever it was, and digital technology, all of those incorporated into that one, and so that, for us, really helped us shape that program that was already a pretty good program, but really starting to draw out those other things, and really enrich that learning for the students.

Delvene Neilson:

It definitely sounds like the programs are around student insights, and creating student agency and interest in the end result as well as the process or the journey. Can you talk to me about how we encourage collaboration between students digitally when they’re working on these projects and especially in light of COVID?

Malyn Mawby:

Collaboration, particularly assessment, is problematic in the sense that some students feel like, as we do as adults, that not everyone pulls their weight or that some people who are more talented or more skilled end up doing more of the work. Now, some teachers would shy away from that and say, “Well, you’re right, and marking group work is extremely difficult.” However, I know from experience that if you’re not exposed to a problem, then you wouldn’t know how you would react if you’re given that problem in the first place. So, one of the things that I designed for my Year 11 software students was to have a team project where they have to analyze existing modules or existing commercial systems out there and try to reverse engineer what it does. Now, this is what I planned in 2020, and, of course, COVID hit. Now, what COVID has done is make it a lot more complex for me to run a group activity that is complex in itself already, and then you have this like, oh, no, now they can’t see each other. But what it did make me think was that well, hold on, this is what I used to do working on global teams. If I could do it back then, way back then, surely we can do it now. Surely we have the tools.

And so, I did set up a Microsoft Teams site for my class and created little channels for all the different project teams, and within those channels they were able to collaborate, meaning they could meet face-to-face, and I could join in on those meetings, and they could do it synchronously, meaning when we’re scheduled to be on, and asynchronously, when they feel like it, and then also, all there, within Teams, because they had their own channels, they had their own document space where they can work on their documentation. Yeah, software design requires a lot of documentation. Where they can work on their documentation with built-in version control and I could go in and give them feedback. So essentially, what I have done without necessarily thinking about it too much when I first designed it was create a little case, a contact that was very, very much true to industry, by virtue of the pandemic. The pandemic has forced us to work as if we were in virtual teams.

Delvene Neilson:

Are there any other surprise outcomes that you found during COVID in getting students to collaborate and interact? What are some other surprises that came out of that?

Malyn Mawby:

A lot of my students actually said that was one of their highlights in 2020, in terms of their learning experiences, but a few of them said, “So this is what my dad does.” I think there’s still quite a few parents who are still working from home, and I think now they have a little bit more empathy for their parents who are working from home knowing what the challenges were in terms of being challenged with just seeing them on audiocations, and then you only see this little fraction of a body instead of the whole thing, so you miss out on the whole body language kind of thing. And a whole lot of other missing cues because we’re limited by the screen, so I think that one. The fact that they really enjoyed it because they felt that it made the syllabus come alive, but then, also the fact that they have more empathy for the adults, and having a sense of what it might be like to work remotely is really fantastic.

In fact, last year was the first time ever in my computing teaching career that I’ve never had to explain what teleconferencing or video conferencing was. They all knew. In the past it was this obscure little thing in the syllabus.

 

Delvene Neilson:

That leads nicely into an interesting question where we’ve talked a lot about student agency and students championing these projects, you’ve just kind of looked at and kind of shared with us a bit of a surprise outcome which is that parental impact at home and the working from home. Can you talk a little bit about how parents are on board and how you actually go about engaging the parents as equally as you do the students?

Malyn Mawby:

Curricularly, for me, I’ve found particularly with my senior students, I think most of their parents are actually working in IT, so yay, the parents are encouraging their daughters to actually do software. But other ways that I have engaged parents to invite industry experts to actually come into my classroom. I haven’t done it yet here in Roseville College, but previously, when I was in ARC College, I met a parent who happened to work at Google and I said, “Oh, can I take my class?” And he goes, “Yeah” So, that was a really good opportunity for us to then have an excursion to Google that he arranged. But I’d like Nikki to add onto that with the way she solves engaging parents.

Nikki Shires:

I think I put a few notes on this because this is an interesting question for me. I think like the gentlemen were talking about earlier, it was a big shock to a lot of the parents, having everything kind of come home and them seeing what was happening, and then all of a sudden they’re very engaged in the learning, and as a parent, I know that was challenging and really interesting. But, I guess, I think what’s really most important to do is when we start designing things for students is to start with the students to get their sort of buy-in and their acceptance, and generally, the rest will follow. I know that the parents, like one of the gentlemen said, that parents hardly know what’s happening at school, and so, for us, we obviously do care about what the parents want for the students, but they have trusted us as educators to sort of take them on their learning journey, and I think, for me, it always comes back to getting that buy-in and that investment with the students. And so that’s what both Malyn and I have both been talking about already through all of our designing of our assessments.

I also think we’ve done something different. At the end of last year we did a combination with science and technology, sort of a project-based learning, non-assessment project, and that was something we thought we could successfully do because it was non-assessable, and I think parents are much more on board with that. Because I think sometimes with project-based learning and students, not just parents, they get worried, like where are my marks going to go and how are these other people going to affect my marks, and so this is more for the senior students, of course. And so. we ran this engineering science fair which was very time-poor in the time that we did just because of COVID, but it was hugely successful for the time that we gave it, and that is mainly because there was no pressure from the students to have an assessment mark at the end of it, so they could be really open to that collaborative learning, and to all of the soft skills that you learn from that project-based-type learning. And, of course, we used the newsletter and all the kind of media outlets for the parents to see that kind of learning happening, and I think that, for me, is a way to get that buy-in from the parents, but that’s not the one-stop solution, but that is one way that we’ve done it.

Malyn Mawby:

If I could just add to that, you’ve just highlighted with that particular project, in fact, that we had a bigger audience because at the end of the engineering unit if you like, we had a showcase. So, essentially, just going back to what I said earlier about having an audience that’s bigger than just the classroom, that was exactly one of them, and also, being able to share through other platforms such as the newsletter, so it gives them another audience. And I think the kids like being accountable to people other than themselves and a teacher. So, when you tell them, and I do, with a PBL if it’s going to be public, I tell them right from the beginning, so they know straight away that the audience is beyond just me and the marks. It’s beyond that, and they can use it, and more and more I say this to the kids, that they can use it as part of their portfolio. This is something that they should work towards being proud of because it’s going to be out there, so it’s not just parents, it’s beyond parents too.

Delvene Neilson:

One of the questions coming through the chat panel is very much around, “should we move away from assessment to data gathering”. Could you comment on that and your insights there?

Malyn Mawby:

I’m a data nerd. I love data, but I also know the limitations of data, and the limitations, the constraints of the school. Whether we like it or not, schools are accountable in terms of what we teach and how we assess what we teach, and unfortunately, unless we change the entire education structure, I don’t think there’s any running away from assessments and collecting those data.

Now, being a data nerd, however, I do know that there are other ways of collecting data other than assessments, and you should not be limited by an assessment to make whatever you do meaningful. And the way I see it is that data is just data unless you build a story around it and we, teachers and students alike, we have an opportunity to shape that story, and we can either just say, “Well, this is just an assessment.” Or, we can say, “You know what? This is one way to prove that I can do this, this, and that.” And I think it’s a reframing, I’d like to say. You reframe this. We have to do the assessment. Well, yeah, okay fine. Now, do you take that as a limitation or do you take that as a springboard for other things, enrich what we’re currently doing?

Delvene Neilson:

In that reframing that you talk about, who do you have to convince more? Principal? Parent? Students?

Malyn Mawby:

Myself. I have to convince myself every time.

Nikki Shires:

But I think it’s a whole school shift. I don’t have an answer for that, but I know it is definitely trending at schools at the moment, and it takes more than just the principal to decide that. You have to get everyone on board because the teachers are expected to shift a lot of the way they gather their data for assessment or understanding of their students. But I am not the expert in data, Malyn is.

Delvene Neilson:

There have been some questions through the chat around girls in STEM, but in terms of the overall success in STEM, is that the focus, or what are the high level considerations we need to make to engage all in STEM and these project-based approaches?

Nikki Shires:

I can start with my thoughts on that. Being at an all-girls school has been a completely interesting experience to see how STEM or STEM-related subjects are taken in by girls. Definitely, when you’re in an all-girls space there is more space for them to feel that they can achieve in those without the competition of the boys. But my lens, I don’t know if that’s the right word for it, but I don’t look at it like that. I look at it how do I get my students to be interested in what I’m teaching them? And if it’s robotics or coding, I say, okay, what is it going to take to get their buy-in? And, for me, with girls, it is sometimes different to what boys want, and that could be the subject. Like, for example, Malyn has said they chose to do gadgets for people with disabilities, and that’s what they chose, but for the way I would definitely frame it is it’s not a girl thing, it’s just a how do you get them to buy-in?

And, what I have found from my personal experience at Roseville College is to angle it in different ways, not to always put it with the oh, coding and this and that, but to bring in other aspects and let them enjoy that experience. and usually, creativity comes. And really, creativity is one of the soft skill sets we need anyway, and so if you can get them to go in that door, all the rest will come.

Malyn Mawby:

This is something that I’m very, very passionate about because I work in the industry, and for a very long time the narrative has been talking about it’s a pipeline problem. We need more kids, more girls going in, but I see it as there’s loads of problems. There’s a pipeline problem which is not as bad, I think, as the leaky pipe problem. We’re losing people. Or the leaky bucket, and I think that’s one of the biggest problems. Girls, I think, are quite long term in their thinking, and so if they don’t see themselves being in a STEM career for a very long time they might not stay. They might be interested now, but they may not even go there if they can’t see their future in there. So, I think if we are really going to address this.

And I look at this not just from a gender perspective, but really from an inclusivity perspective, this is what I talk about when we talk about ethics, social-ethical impacts within my courses is that the issue of diversity and inclusion, and gender is certainly the most important … Well, not the most important, but it’s probably the most visible manifestation of it, but it’s beyond that, and every time I can make a point of that within my classrooms I tell them that. And I tell them that you cannot fix something by being out of it, but by being in it. So, that’s kind of how I try to encourage the girls to say, if you’re finding injustices in the world and you know now that computing allows you to scale, can you imagine what you can do if you’re part of it?

So, it’s sort of like helping them imagine what they can do if they just attempt and not give up straight away, and not kind of like be swayed too much about what they see, but really more about imagining what they can be and what they can do by creating technology, by being empowered by technology. And I really, my mantra, is make technology more humane, and I think we can only do that by really accepting the differences that we have, whether it’s by gender, or by ability, or skin color, I mean look at me, I’m Asian, then the more diversity there is, the richer we are and we can only do that if we all participate.

Delvene Neilson:

You have talked a lot about creativity, keeping that engagement for particularly the girls long term. We’ve got consumers versus creators of these sort of digital technologies, it might be a nice opportunity for you to share your lens through the creating mode versus the consumer mode and how you build that long-term involvement in STEM programs?

Nikki Shires:

I’ll start in the junior school. I have noticed that ever since the digital technologies and science curriculum has come into K to 6, there’s a lot of new language to learn, and so what we’ve done is we’ve taken that language and we’ve made that common. And so, I think, for us, that’s the way we have started that journey with the girls, to shift from consumer to creator is to immediately empower them with the language. And so, when they start to design something, maybe two years ago it would have been very similar to just a gamification of something, but now they’re using the language and they’re going, “Actually, I could be a creator for this.” And that just shift in their mind is such a lovely thing to see in the junior levels. And I’ve been at Roseville College for a few years now, I’m starting to see that coming through, and I think it takes time; that kind of thing does take time to shift. But, for me, absolutely, really important for them to know that they can be creators not just consumers and starting from the very onset of their learning journey.

Malyn Mawby:

I think because as Nikki said, we teach technology, so that’s our faculty, and we definitely teach them to be consumers of technology, as well as creators of technology. I think one of the challenges that I’m not sure many non-technology teachers are aware of is that it’s actually very difficult to manage the expectations of students. So, if you’re, for example, you’ve got a gamer student, and then you say, “All right, for this one, we’re going to create games.” It’s very difficult for them to realize that what they can do may not necessarily even approximate the games that they play, that have been developed by professional developers. So I think just a word of caution, certainly encourage students to realize that they are creators, but I think as adults, as the teachers in the room, it is our job to help them manage their expectations to what they can create within a particular timeframe. And they will get there. I have no doubt that they will get there if they choose to, but they may not get there in the four weeks that we have our PBL on.

Delvene Neilson:

I think that’s really realistic insights for all of us to learn, particularly the students we’re working with in that classroom. Malyn and Nikki, we could go on for another hour I’m sure. It’s an area that I love speaking about. I really thank you on behalf of all of us for your time and your really valuable insights around project-based learning in that digital environment, particularly, at Roseville. So, thank you so much for your time. I wish we had more opportunity to discuss those further questions, but thank you again, really, really appreciate your time.