Q&A with Carol Nicoll, Executive Dean, Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education | MIT J-WEL

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Q&A with Carol Nicoll, Executive Dean, Queensland University of Technology Faculty of Education

Carol Nicoll

J-WEL recently spoke with Queensland University of Technology (QUT) Professor Carol Nicoll to discuss the transformational work her university is doing in pK-12 education, as well as her vision for the future of schooling for children everywhere. Located in the city of Brisbane, QUT is one of the fastest growing research universities in Australia. Nicoll serves as the Executive Dean of QUT's Faculty of Education. 

QUT is a member of J-WEL's pK-12 Collaborative


Professor Nicoll answered our questions below. 


What do you consider the biggest challenge(s) facing pK-12 education today? Are there any specific to Australia?

We have similar issues facing other countries including competing challenges on school curriculum, the pressure of standardized testing and the resulting impact on curriculum, and dealing with a broad range of diversity of student needs. Our work is informing Australia’s agenda to develop a national research evidence base for early childhood education and care and school education. We are leaders in the design and use of national databases (e.g., Longitudinal Study of Australian Children – 10,000 children) and our researchers and research students engage in data mining of existing large-scale data sets to inform curriculum design and implementation in school and prior-to-school settings.


What is your vision for the future of pK-12 education?

The future of pK-12 education is for the enhancement of enterprise capabilities for students and teachers so that creativity and personal confidence are foregrounded as educational outcomes for all learning areas. This involves understanding how enterprise capabilities in different learning areas may be generated via the interplay between learner emotions, social cognition and the production of localized knowledge.


How will collaborating with J-WEL help you/QUT realize this vision?

There is potential for QUT to build connections with key MIT researchers and thought leaders and other members of J-WEL. This potential may be realized in the research areas of social and emotional approaches to knowledge generation in the learning sciences, and ways to educate, empower and connect teachers to build capacity for the gamification of pedagogy as a routine practice. The research link on gamification is about connecting with local curriculum, and empowering teachers to become co-producers of educational games, rather than being consumers of decontextualized products. These are areas that would capitalize on the shared strengths of both MIT and QUT.


What has been the most valuable aspect of working with J-WEL so far?

QUT values the networking opportunities and has made a good connection with at least one J-WEL member that could lead to research programs. Dr James Davis’ recent meeting with Professor Alex Slocum from MIT was fruitful in developing an appreciation for the innovation and enterprise culture that pervades MIT. There would be strong potential to conduct research with J-WEL via future connections with Professor Eric Klopfer’s group as well. A connection has been made between Professor Laura Schulz and QUT’s Professor Susan Danby, which will be invaluable.


Who are important leaders in the field (or in areas of interest) whom you think the pK-12 community should know about? 

Beth Saggers and Suzanne Carrington – Autism   Susan Danby – The Digital Child   Linda Graham – Inclusive Education


Lyn English – Engineering Education

Kerryann Walsh - Child abuse and Child protection

Sue Walker - Executive Functioning


Professor Nicoll, can you describe some of the transformational work QUT is doing in pK-12 education?

QUT is making a bid for national funding (Australian) for a Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child. This would be the first centre of its kind dedicated to research about young children’s engagement with technology. It will integrate child health, education, and digital and social connectedness, innovating across disciplines to meet not only Australia’s but international ongoing challenges of supporting young children growing up in a rapidly changing digital age. The Centre will focus on three interconnected research programs: the Healthy Child, the Educated Child, and the Connected Child.

Autism Cooperative Research Centre – QUT is a partner in this Cooperative Research Centre which was established in 2013 and is the world’s first national, cooperative research effort focused on autism. It provides the national capacity to develop and deliver evidence-based outcomes through our unique collaboration with the autism community, research organisations, industry and government. Currently there are 53 participant organisations and other partners based around Australia and internationally. In Program 2: School Years, our research teams are researching the provision of autism-appropriate educational environments and programs that optimize students’ social, behavioural and academic success, and at the same time equipping teachers to manage even the most complex behaviours. Our work is the first nationwide collaboration to undertake evidence-based, quality research on appropriate education for autistic students. We are producing protocols across all school systems, to support children to succeed at school and beyond.
Challenging Curriculum and Assessment - As is the case in many education jurisdictions, high-definition curricula and reliance on standardised assessment both play significant roles in K-12 education in Australia and the state of Queensland. Consistency is promoted, potentially at the cost of constraining schools’ capacity to respond to the educational needs of their students. At QUT we are supporting school teams to use design thinking for the purpose of focused innovation within these constraints. Using a specifically developed professional learning model, we are assisting school leaders and teachers to nominate challenges and then use design thinking to identify key problems and develop solutions that are relevant to their context. A central feature of the model is the involvement of teams from multiple schools. As part of design thinking, school leaders and teachers use the experience of their colleagues to better engage with the stages of design thinking including gaining insight, problem validation, ideation, prototyping and testing. We encourage school leaders to add design thinking to their toolset for strategic leadership.
Engineering Education - As part of the STEM education research group, Professor Lyn English and Associate Professor Donna King have been implementing engineering across the primary and middle school years. Several state and private schools have participated in two longitudinal studies, in which students and their teachers engaged in a variety of STEM-integrated learning experiences. The activities and problems involved students in exploring different fields of engineering, together with the roles of engineers who solve problems of the type students investigated. Students applied engineering design processes as they solved a range of real-world problems involving the application of STEM knowledge. The problems drew upon a range of engineering fields including civil, aeronautical, materials, environmental, optical, and seismic engineering.

Outcomes from the project have illustrated how students developed an appreciation of engineering as a discipline and of how their learning in mathematics and science applied to solving engineering problems. Students developed competence in working with engineering design processes to solve a range of challenging problems, irrespective of their school achievement levels. Importantly, teachers continue to implement the program beyond their involvement in the research projects, together with schools who were not participants in the research. 
Robotics - Emerging technologies such as robotics are also a focus in the Faculty from research on the use of Humanoid Robots in schools to our Robotics@QUT outreach program, established in 2011. The Robotics@QUT program led by Dr Christina Chalmers assists primary and secondary schools engage in innovative robotics-based STEM activities. The program provides free teacher professional development workshops, access to resources, engages pre-service teachers as STEM ambassadors to local schools, and provides opportunities for school students and their families to participate in robotics-based exhibitions and competitions.
Research on the use of Humanoid Robots includes a project with the Autism CRC looking at using humanoid robots to assist students with autism with their story retelling skills and the Humanoid Robot Project, in partnership with a number of other universities and key stakeholders. The Humanoid Robot Project was a three-year study looking at the impact of humanoid robots on student learning. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) also selected one of the case studies from the project as an illustration of practice showing how the local Indigenous Narungga language was embedded into the Digital Technologies learning area: ‘What do a humanoid robot and the recently awakened Narungga language have in common?’
Child Protection in schools – We are national leaders in child protection and the prevention of child abuse and neglect. Professor Kerryann Walsh is the Academic Adviser to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse and has led several research projects including an Audit of School Policy and Curriculum and the Scoping Study for Research into the Prevalence of Child Sexual Abuse. Her interdisciplinary research program into child maltreatment prevention is impacting child protection policy, child-safe organizations, school-based child sexual abuse prevention programs and training interventions for mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect.

J-WEL thanks Professor Nicoll for sharing her insights into the state of pK-12 education. 


Learn more about becoming a member of pK-12 @ J-WEL.