Student surveys and focus groups confirm that aspirations and confidence levels of participating students are rising
La Trobe University received HEPPP funding in 2013 to expand and adapt the successful Curriculum Bridges pilot project, originally funded by the Victorian Government. Curriculum Bridges involves embedding ‘real-world’ context into the Year 10 and Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) curriculum through engaging and innovative learning tasks designed around a topical social theme. The students re-named the program ‘Uni Bridges’ themselves, and chose the theme of ‘preventing and curing disease’: this theme unites what is studied across a range of subjects, including English and mathematics as well as the sciences. Uni Bridges students who satisfactorily complete VCE and receive a positive recommendation from their school will receive a guaranteed place at La Trobe University via a special entry scheme.
The expanded Uni Bridges program is a collaborative partnership between La Trobe University, The Department of Education and Early Childhood Development (DEECD), the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, Quantum Victoria, the Koorie Academy of Excellence, and the Centre for Research on Education Systems at the University of Melbourne. You can view a video of the Uni Bridges program in Bendigo on YouTube.
Uni Bridges will cover all five public secondary schools in Bendigo in north-west Victoria, and seven schools in northern Melbourne that are members of the Koorie Academy of Excellence and/or LSES. The project targets some of the most resistant and complex profiles of educational disadvantage.
The Uni Bridges program is intended to:
- increase Year 10–12 student engagement with science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines
- improve student achievement in STEM subjects
- provide STEM teachers with additional professional development opportunities, and
- provide an alternative entry pathway to selected STEM-based courses at La Trobe.
Uni Bridges has four key elements:
- Curriculum – a thematic approach to STEM subjects, Professional Development (PD) for teachers, use of technology and science bloggers
- Outreach – curriculum-embedded activities, multiple student–university touchpoints throughout the year
- Admission – entry to selected degrees based on school recommendation, not Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), and
- Evaluation – evaluation against objectives to be completed in 2013.
The pilot program was primarily funded by DEECD, with additional HEPPP funding to support the appointment of a program coordinator. From 2013, competitive HEPPP funding has been used to expand the program and support:
- teacher release at participating schools to enable curriculum development
- teaching resources to enable La Trobe academic staff to participate in curriculum redesign and teaching classes and workshops
- PD for science teachers to be provided by Quantum Victoria and the Faculty of Science Technology and Engineering
- facilitated curriculum design workshops with schools
- project evaluation, and
- dissemination of outcomes.
Qualitative evidence suggests that the program is already succeeding in changing student attitudes and teacher capabilities. Student surveys and focus groups confirm that aspirations and confidence levels of participating students are rising. Interviews with teachers and other program stakeholders reveal strong support for the collaborative model and benefits from the PD undertaken. Curriculum reform has been documented and is substantial, with modules to be extended to new schools in the expanded model. Evidence of transition into higher education will be available from 2014 onward.
Uni Bridges could potentially have a transformative systemic impact in demonstrating how:
- science and mathematics can be made more relevant and engaging to students through developing cross-disciplinary and cross-sectoral curriculum bridges
- students can be reached, inspired, and supported to examine fulfilling professional careers through university participation, and
- universities and schools can partner to identify, promote, and support the academic preparedness of students.
This case study is one of a series of 39 presented in our case study publication, Access and Participation in Higher Education: Outreach – Access – Support.