Australian Science Innovations continues to discover and nurture young creative scientific minds amid the COVID-19 crisis

Australian Science Innovations

Since 2006, each May, Australian Science Innovations (ASI), has been offering the Big Science Competition to students in Years 7 to 10. The competition is designed to test students’ creative and critical-thinking skills, how they can apply those skills to solve real-world problems and to encourage them to go on to have science and technology engineering and maths (STEM)-based careers.

Amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, most schools, higher education institutions and universities are cancelling or delaying teaching and assessment events. But ASI has opted to forge ahead with this year’s Big Science Competition, using the Janison Insights platform.

“At this time, it’s never been more critical for students to consider the role that science plays in problem-solving – that’s exactly what the Big Science Competition does,” said ASI executive director Ruth Carr.

“[The COVID-19 restrictions] have been really tough for teachers. In the past few weeks their worlds have been turned upside down.

“We want to provide some sort of normality for them. This competition has run in May for the past 14 years. The Janison Insights platform means that teachers and students have flexibility and reliability – they can access it from home; from wherever they are. The only reason we can offer the competition this year is because of Janison Insights.”

The Brief

The key reason for ASI’s existence is to run the Australian Science Olympiads program, which targets high performers. ASI developed the Big Science Competition as an entry point to this. The competition is held Australia-wide and internationally, including at schools in New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. Overall, between 35,000 and 40,000 students take part each year.

In 2014, ASI had heard about the ground-breaking work that Janison was doing in delivering the annual VALID schools science exam for the NSW Department of Education. ASI asked Janison to provide the online platform to allow it to offer an online version of the Big Science Competition, alongside a pen-and-paper option.

The Challenge

At that time, online delivery of exams was still a relatively new development. “Back then, teachers were sceptical and reluctant about delivering online. So, we wanted a platform that had already gone into schools and was proven to work. That’s why we chose Janison.”

For ASI, providing an equitable experience to participants was also key. “Of course, we need to make sure that we’re equitable. Not all schools and not all kids have access to the internet nor to a device. So, that’s why we continue to offer a pen-and-paper version of the competition.”

Our Solution

The Janison Insights platform allows students to take part in the competition on their own device. “The ability to bring-your-own-device (BYOD) has been one of the reasons we started the online version. Before, kids would have to go to a PC workstation to do the competition, now they can just access it from home, from wherever they are,” said Ruth.

Quick results turnaround

“What the online system has allowed us to do is to provide teachers and students with a really quick turn-around of their results and see their performance on a national scale. Thanks to the online platform, we can turn around the results within 10 days – compared with eight weeks for the pen-and-paper version. It means teachers can then go back to their students and give them almost immediate feedback.

“That’s definitely one of the best outcomes of moving the competition to online.”

Flexibility for students; full control for teachers

The Janison Insights platform provides students with the flexibility they need to be able to participate safely from home, no matter where they’re located.

“One of the top features has been the teacher dashboard that allows the teachers to take control of the test, reset passwords and monitor progress. That’s been really useful and it takes a lot of pressure off our call centre. It’s very easy to use and teachers have been using it successfully.”

The students receive a unique school ID, log on and self-register. They then complete the competition and the teacher can monitor them via the teacher dashboard.

“So, it’s just like they’re sitting in a class for 50 minutes. However we’re going to have to be flexible in these current circumstances. If a student has to do it outside of the virtual classroom setting, we will allow that as well.”

The ability to bring-your-own-device (BYOD) has been one of the reasons we started the online version. Before, kids would have to go to a PC workstation to do the competition, now they can just access it from home, from wherever they are.

Ruth Carr
Executive Director, Australian Science Innovations

The Result

Since 2014, the take-up of the online option of the competition has grown steadily, said Ruth. “In 2019 we reached a tipping point, where more than 50 per cent of schools opted to go online rather than pen-and-paper.”

“Teachers are becoming more confident in online platforms and the delivery of it is becoming more reliable. Teachers are also much better at troubleshooting than they were seven years ago and the kids are as well. This is an entire generation that’s come through who are digital natives and are extremely comfortable with the online environment.”

Delivering the Big Science Competition amid COVID-19

“It was both a very tough and very easy decision to go ahead this year. We decided it was worth it. We wanted to provide some sort of normality for students. Students have been doing this in May for the past 14 years and we’d like to continue to provide teachers and students with this regular point in their calendar.

“Because it’s a low-stakes competition there’s nothing to win – that’s the reason we can do this. The questions ask students to digest information and then make a decision. It’s not something that you can cheat in. You can’t Google the answers.”

There’s never been a more critical time to nurture science skills. We also wanted to provide some sort of normality for students. The only reason we can offer the competition this year is because of Janison Insights.

Ruth Carr

The Roadmap

“There’s never been a more critical time to nurture science skills,” said Ruth. “Our mission is to ensure that the best and brightest students continue to pursue a career in STEM.

“Over the past six months Australia has dealt with the bushfires; now we’re dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic. By continuing to offer the competition, we’re directly ensuring that we’ve got the best brains available to go on to solve problems like these, and problems that we’re going to be faced with over the coming decades.”

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Statistics and Key Milestones

35,000+

students take part each year

50%+

of students have used the online option since 2019

10days

to receive online results vs 8 weeks for the pen-and-paper competition

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