Uni initiative programs students for careers in coding

19 October 2016
PhD students support STEM teaching

An edtech start-up jointly founded by PhD students and academics is teaching countless children computer programming, igniting vital interest in science, techology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Innovative approach: Several hundred thousand students have signed up to Grok Learning initiatives.

STEM is a critical driver of future productivity – the Australian Academy of Science has estimated that STEM fields already account for around 26 percent of economic activity, or $330 billion per year.

The perennial challenge is inspiring people to fill workforce gaps in these industries.

To help address this need and support schoolteachers’ computer science education, two of the University’s PhD students worked with our academics to create a low-cost computer programming education service for school students.

Students Nicky Ringland and Tim Dawborn teamed with Associate Professor James Curran and Associate Professor Tara Murphy to found Grok Learning, an edtech start-up that offers a range of online programming courses.

Associate Professors Curran and Murphy provided the benefits of their extensive experience – many years of teaching computing to professionals, school and university students.

For Ringland and Dawborn, the innovative approach of combining their PhD studies with founding a start-up has proved a master stroke. Several hundred thousand students have signed up to Grok Learning initiatives – courses and competitions, as well as thousands of teachers worldwide. The company has doubled their revenue in the last year, and has won a Queensland Department of Education tender to provide coding activities for all public school students in that state.

These initiatives should both boost the STEM workforce and give students a crucial competitive edge for careers in the digital economy. As Ringland points out, to solve problems that really matter to you, all you need is a computer. The first step is to show students the power of programming.

“When you introduce computer science and STEM in an engaging way, in a way that allows students see the relevance, they absolutely get hooked,” Ringland says.

“We need to make sure that every student realises that computing is more than just word processing, and that learning to code is a really important (and lucrative!) skill, whether you want to uncover the mysteries of the universe, solve global warming or cure cancer.

“From medical science to marine biology to robotics and beyond, every industry is becoming more and more impacted by technology.”