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University of Sydney awarded top honours at science education awards

20 December 2021
Sydney awarded gold at QS Wharton Reimagine Higher Education Awards
The Faculty of Science has won Gold in this year’s QS Wharton Reimagine Higher Education Awards for Sydney Science 2021, an online initiative that has revitalised first-year science units and engaged more than 4000 students.
Science students studying

The University of Sydney has won Gold in the Discipline category (Natural Sciences) of the QS Wharton Reimagine Higher Education Awards.

The award recognised the Faculty of Science’s online initiative – a re-thinking of first-year science units in Physics, Biology, Geosciences, Data Science, and the degree core.

The Reimagine Education Awards are the world’s largest awards program for innovative teaching, led by the Wharton SEI Center for Advanced Studies in Management at University of Pennsylvania and the World University Rankings.

The program aims to reward innovative approaches that enhance student learning outcomes and employability.

Professor Pauline Ross, Deputy Head of School, School of Life and Environmental Sciences (and immediate past Associate Dean, Education) was Learning Architect and lead for the Sydney Science 2021 initiative.

"Our aim was to create a transformational education experience for students, no matter where they were located and independent of their previous experience of learning science," said Professor Ross.

“When the COVID-19 pandemic closed national and international borders, our students found themselves unexpectedly at home and in many cases isolated and alone.

“In response, our staff designed a new learning architecture to connect our first-year students so they could make friends and learn first-year science concepts with their peers.”

Sydney Science 2021 was designed around the themes of Imagine, Discover, Challenge, Explore, Transfer and Evaluate.

More than 100 colleagues across the faculty collaborated on the program to create a new and exciting curriculum framework.

“First-year science can be daunting to both teach and learn. Students may wander from course to course finding different structures of curriculum dependent on the instructor and preference of the faculty,” said Professor Ross.

“Our program united mainstream first year science units involving over 100 staff to create a coherent approach, while enabling each course to maintain their unique and creative aspects.”

Feedback from students

More than 4000 domestic and international students have experienced the revitalised science units and student engagement with individual units has increased across a range of measures, such as viewing of lectures and participation in discussion platforms.

“We have never before experienced this level of engagement in first-year science courses which have been running for 50 years,” said Professor Ross.

Feedback from students included:

  • Data Science: “… the most organised unit I’ve ever taken… I absolutely loved how with every new learning topic there was a data story… it’s very engaging!”
  • Earth, Environment and Society: “I love the layout on Canvas, it is very clear and organised.”
  • Human Biology: “I have never been so impressed by the structure and organisation…. the Imagine is like a nice introduction… the Discover is content based, the Challenge is more hands-on, and the Transfer allows students to consolidate knowledge.”
  • Interdisciplinary Science: “… this unit has opened my eyes to the complex environment science operates in… an amazing, well-organised, insightful unit.”
  • Physics: “... the course content and teaching was excellent ... the learning resources are quite impressive.”

Although separated by thousands of kilometres in 33 cities across the globe, the success of Sydney Science 2021 has meant our students felt they were 'just next door’.

The approach to revitalising first-year science units will continue to grow in scale and effectiveness as we take the best of online aspects to engage students with their learning and merge these with face-to-face delivery. 

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