UNE Discovery program
By Dr Kirsti Abbott
UNE Discovery is an initiative of the University of New England in Armidale to inspire learning, engagement, enjoyment and collaboration both within the University and between the University and the broader community. It will enable people to explore its collections, learn from its research, and access its artefacts and specimens, and engage our local, regional and national communities in a new way. Owing to the vision of The Abbott Foundation – to enhance childhood development and learning opportunities through play-based experiences – UNE Discovery is the impetus for an integrated, whole-of-University program of outreach, engagement and education activities for children as young as 2 years old through to mature learners.
There are three aspects to the program that will provide tangible ways to engage with the university from early childhood.
First, our mobile Discovery Voyager program that takes curriculum-aligned, interactive activities in STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Maths) to students from Kindergarten to Year 10 in schools across northern NSW. A 9-strong team of passionate scientists and educators facilitate play-based learning and exploratory discovery activities in ecology, physics, chemistry, Latin/biology, precision agriculture, sports science, palaeontology, and natural history. The philosophy values active learning and encourages creativity, collaboration, curiosity and the confidence to have a go.
In the 11 months of operation, our team have engaged with over 10,000 students at over 120 schools. Many of these schools are in low soci-economic areas, and nearly all have not had access to programs of this kind previously. Feedback has indicated that students remain engaged and motivated after visits, and perceive going to university more favourably than before contact with our team.
Second, we will begin to use the University’s extensive collections in natural history, art, antiquities, education and more, in new ways to ignite curiosity of significant objects and material. Our collections are a library of life; and our spaces for them being imagined and developed as interactive and exploratory. Both the material and spaces serve as a reminder that there is no surrogate for real things, and the sense of wonder that comes with viewing the still remains of real animals in all their extraordinary variety, or the ancient artefacts of far flung civilisations, inspires both young and old.
Third, we are repurposing an old, architectural award-winning, disused boilerhouse into an iconic regional destination and children’s discovery space, the second of its kind in Australia. The UNE Boilerhouse Discovery Space will provide a community hub on campus that values and promotes creative and collaborative play-based experiences that accelerate the learning process and connects early childhood research, our early learning centre on campus and informal learning through play.
UNE is imagining the regional university of the future, helping people transform their lives in a rapidly changing world, from when it matters most.
For more information on all these initiatives, please see www.une.edu.au/discovery