Coffee Break: Carol Oliver

Event type: 
25 October 2018
10am - 10:30am

Pioneer Theatre, AGSM

Dr Carol Oliver

Challenges and opportunities in online learning and teaching

Three things keep me awake at night: rote learning, final exams and marking. UNSW's Prof Richard Buckland likens these three things to herding cows. The most effective way to herd cows to the milking shed is to get them to associate a signal – like the ‘honk, honk' of the farmer's horn on his truck – with the time to go to the milking shed to feed on some sweet hay. 

Students know that by rote learning what they have been told to learn, they will get good marks on exams. Honk, honk.  A recent survey of 30 postgrads from multiple universities reflected the effects of these issues: None thought that by the end of their science undergraduate degree that they understood how science works. One said - spontaneously - she felt "betrayed" by her undergraduate degree because she could now locate everything she had learned in her degree on the internet.

This presentation shares a journey in struggling with these issues in creating three fully online BEES courses in astrobiology and science communication. It explores what happens when rote learning and final exams are removed. The way students learn online has profoundly influenced the course designs, content and delivery.


Bio: Dr Carol Oliver is a Senior Research Fellow with PANGEA, an education-focussed academic, a PLuS Alliance Fellow (2019-2020) and Postgraduate Coordinator (candidature) for the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences. She is primary supervisor for four PhD students – two in science communication and two in space-related degrees (policy and history). Her research interest is in science communication, and is passionate about effective fully online science and science communication education. She has considerable industry experience as a journalist in daily print, television and radio. She moved into the university environment in 1994, completing a research masters in science communication with Central Queensland University in 2003, and a doctorate in the same at UNSW in 2008. Between 2010 and 2015 she won three large grants, two of which created the Mars Lab at the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences in Sydney ( and the third providing the foundation for adaptive e-learning to be transferred from the university environment to Australian high schools, in partnership with the University of Western Australia, Flinders University, Arizona State University and UNSW spin-off company, Smart Sparrow. Carol produced the first astrobiology-related Virtual Field Trip in partnership with NASA Learning Technologies, and later worked on three other Australian astrobiology-related VFTs with Arizona State University and MIT.