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Work in Progress: Virtual Outreach: Facilitating the Transition to University Study

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Computers in Education Poster Session

Tagged Division

Computers in Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.1708.1 - 22.1708.11



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Paper Authors


Chris Smaill University of Auckland

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Dr Chris Smaill holds a Ph.D. in engineering education from Curtin University of Technology, Australia, and degrees in physics, mathematics and philosophy from the University of Auckland. For 27 years, he taught physics and mathematics at high school level, most recently as Head of Physics at Rangitoto College, New Zealand's largest secondary school. This period also saw him setting and marking national examinations, and training high-school teachers. He has a successful, established and ongoing publication record where high-school physics texts are concerned, covering more than 20 years. Since the start of 2002, he has lectured in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering at the University of Auckland. The scholarship of teaching and learning provides his research interests, in particular: the conceptual understanding of students, the high-school to university interface, computer-assisted learning, and computer-based assessment.

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Colin Coghill University of Auckland

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Colin Coghill has been employed as a Senior Tutor in the Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering since 2000, and recently completed a M.E. in Software Engineering and a Certificate in University Teaching and Learning.

Main research interests include computer security and computer-assisted education, although recent focus has been on the teaching of software engineering and providing assistance with various IT projects.

He has spent several years creating the OASIS E-learning software application, a tool to assist with teaching which also provides a base for education related research.

Before joining the University, he worked as a consultant in the computer security industry.

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Virtual outreach: facilitating the transition to university studyGlobally, too few people are choosing engineering careers. Increasing the number ofengineering graduates is difficult since high-school enrollments in mathematics and physicsare declining. This problem is exacerbated by the shortage of appropriately-qualifiedteachers: students of senior physics are by no means guaranteed a teacher who majored inphysics. Such students are most likely disadvantaged in terms of both subject skills andinclination to further study. For these reasons, engineering faculties are becomingincreasingly aware of the importance of K-12 outreach programs. Ideally, an outreachprogram should have two positive outcomes: the participating students should be betterprepared for and better informed about engineering careers, with a consequent increase in thenumber of engineering undergraduates.This paper describes how a home-grown, Web-based software tool, already used successfullyfor skills practice and summative assessment in university-level engineering and physicscourses, is being modified and evaluated for high-school use. The software package, OASIS,comprises a large question database and server-side program that delivers individualizedtasks, marks student responses, supplies prompt feedback, and logs student activity. Becausethe Web server carries out all processing, students need only a computer with Internet accessand a standard browser, making OASIS well suited to student-centered and flexible learning.Action research undertaken at the University showed that instructors considered the softwareenhanced student engagement and learning. Students described OASIS as easy to use andhelpful in improving skills and understanding. Given this positive evidence, it was decided toprovide high-school students with their own version of OASIS (School OASIS), the aimsbeing to improve the physics skills of incoming engineering students and to promote theUniversity’s engineering courses. Additionally, since appropriate ethical requirements havebeen met, the wealth of data collected by School OASIS can be used in judging student-intake quality and for educational research.OASIS was designed for up to 5000 concurrent users. School OASIS potentially has tosupport far more students, so the system, servers, database, and related components were allre-architected to achieve this support reliably. The interface was also modified to appeal moreto high-school students and to provide access to questions via year level and topic area.High-school Physics was targeted for three reasons. First, physics is a key prerequisite forengineering. Second, physics is the high-school subject students find hardest to understand;often discouraging further study. Third, given the shortage of appropriately-qualifiedteachers, this is the subject area most needing support.An experienced high-school teacher is employed part-time to write physics questionsappropriate for senior high-school students. So far over 300 questions have been developed.These questions are designed to appeal to all students and allow students to monitor theiracademic progress whether they are struggling to pass or aiming for excellence. As well asworking on the School OASIS project, this teacher also advises high-school science teachersand teaches high-school physics. Thus he is ideally placed to develop, promote and receivefeedback about School OASIS. So far the feedback received from both teachers and studentshas been most positive.

Smaill, C., & Coghill, C. (2011, June), Work in Progress: Virtual Outreach: Facilitating the Transition to University Study Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--18422

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