Meet the Education finalists in the 2022 iTnews Benchmark Awards

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Building education communities in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.

The experience of remote schooling during the pandemic presented a rare window of opportunity for the uptake of high impact digital teaching, and new versions of campus accessibility and engagement systems. 

Our three education finalists in the 2022 iTnews Benchmark Awards used the pandemic limitations to re-create environments for students remotely and via digital tools to connect, collaborate and share resources. 

The three iTnews finalists for education are:

  • Rural Access Gap Program - Department of Education and Digital Restart Fund (NSW Department of Customer Service)
  • QUT (Queensland University of Technology), HiQ Digital Assistant Pilot
  • Victoria University App - “VU Explore - Augmented Reality Campus Tour 

Unifying the Digital Divide

Digital maturity across the education sector varies vastly across schools and higher learning institutions. 

While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of online learning, videoconferencing and remote solutions into the fabric of school lockdown life, this exposed a deep digital divide caused by accessibility issues.

The NSW Government's $2.1 billion Digital Restart Fund deployed by the Department of Customer Service and Department of Education was devised to address digital equity and access issues across regional Australia, for student’s teachers and communities.

The program director of the NSW Department of Education's Rural Access Gap program, Wayne Poole, said that while the program was already advanced in its plans, the lockdown worked as a digital accelerant, allowing the team to move on its regional digital ambitions far more quickly. 

The program brought thousands of staff and students into the digital age, with 1004 schools effectively digitised.

It also provided much needed high-speed broadband infrastructure (above 4 Mbps) to regional communities.  

Meanwhile, almost all teachers had to engage in formal or informal professional development to improve their own digital literacy and learn how to educate effectively using technology. 

Digital Campuses and Communities 

Two university projects, from QUT and Victoria University, are using technology to redesign student engagement, and extend the cohort community from real to virtual and back. 

At QUT, the university’s modernised student and outreach centre, HiQ, invested in a digital assistant pilot to enhance its multi-channel student service centre on a 24/7 basis.

Joey Lui, HiQ technology lead, said that the digital assistant pilot provided an entry point for the student contact centre to explore more pathways to digital engagement. 

The pilot started with around 1300 inquiries a month at launch, which coincided with lockdowns. In terms of staff and resource savings QUT found that demand for in-person chat reduced by around 33 percent when the chatbot went live. 

The problems posed by the pandemic led Victoria University’s Hive Lab, meanwhile, to devise an in-house digital solution that would entice new students to explore the campus digitally, in a bid to gain an understanding of the facilities, and familiarise themselves for orientation in a post lockdown environment. 

The augmented reality project, VU Explore, blended VR with interactive video gamification and tactile collectibles to create a unique experience that reflected the physical campus. 

Accessibility is also a key focus for the Hive Lab, which invests significant R&D into exploring new modes of digital interactivity to enhance student learning, and offer experiments to more than 40,000 active users.

Watch the mini-documentary series

We thank every organisation that entered the education award category – a highly competitive category with many innovative entries.

Watch the rest of the mini-documentaries about the 2022 iTnews Benchmark Awards finalists’ projects here throughout April.

On June 15, the award winners will be announced at a ceremony and dinner hosted by KPMG in Barangaroo, Sydney.

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