Top-flight biology students in rural and less well-endowed schools can now tap into the latest research to help them with their scholarship exams, via an innovative interactive satellite TV project.
The brainchild of Auckland University’s Liggins Institute and telco Kordia, which provided the technology, the pilot project also neatly side-steps the problem of limited broadband access — often little more than dial-up speed in rural areas.
The Liggins Education Network for Science (LENS) and the university’s IT division, with Kordia’s help, put together a seminar series designed to help students prepare for the biology scholarship exam by putting them in touch with leading NZ scientists and teachers — and their peers at other schools. Such students can often be one-and-onlys at their own schools.
The seminars were broadcast to five schools, in West Auckland, Gisborne, Tauranga and Kaitaia, and, via the KAREN network, to schools in Wellington. Topics covered were very topical indeed — they included the impact of biotechnology advances on breast cancer treatment, and “Feast or Fame”, which looks at how the environment can affect gene expression and evolution.
LENS director Jacqui Bay says the seminars are great “if you’re the only kid in class working at that level”. They provide a link into real science research in New Zealand for able Year 13 students. The satellite TV-delivered seminars were backed up with conference calls, a Skype chatroom and a wiki which allowed students to type in questions.
“Using satellite TV technology, students can engage with scientists and join with like-minded students across the country who are interested in excelling at science too.”
Bay says the project also taps into the reality that it will be years before schools have broadband access, and using satellite TV means a school doesn’t have shut its computers down for an hour.
This year’s pilot is being followed up with a bigger project next year that will run from May to November. There are also plans to package up the seminar series for free-to-air television. Inspiration for the project came from the healthy response there was to a blog set up last year when Human Body series host, biologist Robert Winston, visited Auckland University.
Kordia CEO Geoff Hunt says the regions often played second fiddle to metropolitan areas but Kordia’s technology could help bridge the broadband gap. He adds that other initiatives it is involved in, such as the planned new trans-Tasman submarine cable, would also help deliver broadband to Kiwis at lower cost.