Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 2, Meeting the Parliamentarian, (#smp2014 #AdelEd @KarenAndrewsMP

We had a midday meeting scheduled with Mrs Karen Andrews MP, Member for McPherson in Queensland, Liberal Party. Mrs Andrews gave an excellent speech on her role as Chair as the Parliamentary Friends of Science, a bipartisan (and very large) group of parliamentarians who support science and scientific endeavours. Given the current absence of a dedicated Federal Minister for Science, a group of 76 cross-party and bicameral representatives is a great start.

The Parliamentary Friends of Science has three primary goals:

  • To enable a meaningful dialogue between scientific leaders and parliamentarians about the science that underpins policy and to inform political debate.
  • To provide a forum for eminent Australian and visiting scientists to engage with parliamentarians.
  • To provide a mechanism for parliamentarians to seek expertise from scientists in relevant disciplines.

(All rather hard to argue with, really.)

The group going to Mrs Andrews included an Astrophysicist, a Radiation Specialist and your humble narrator, who is (if I may remind you) representing Computing Research and Education (CORE). The existence of the bipartisan committee focused on science, chaired by someone with a strong focus on education and early childhood education, was a fantastic start and our group happily complimented the member on her speech and the overall initiative. I then moved on to ask about the National Curriculum, currently under review, and whether the science, maths and digital technology aspects of that curriculum were on that group’s radar, as the near-future release and approval of the curriculum would be a great help to all of the bodies involved (ACARA, Schools, Teachers and resource providers like CSER Digital Technologies – of course). Mrs Andrews agreed that this was something that they should be worried about and, of course, there’re a lot of steps between that and the Federal Minister for Education releasing the curriculum but it’s a start. We don’t have enough STEM graduates because we don’t have enough people going to Uni because not enough people study the pre-requsities in Uni – a lot of which stems (ha ha) from a less than stellar experience early on and low overall support. Once again, this is never about the dedication or ability of teachers, it’s about having an appropriate skill set to be comfortable and confident with material. You can’t expect a junior primary teacher to suddenly become a computer skills teacher overnight and without help – more reinforcement that the National Curriculum is a great thing but support for it is essential.

Of course, my colleague the astrophysicist had a really big telescope to talk about and he leapt in with an invitation to visit. I always feel that computing is a little bit of a disadvantage here as the awesomeness of our endeavours can be seen on just about any screen, which can rob it a little of its majesty! My colleague in radiation (and there are lots of radiation people here, incidentally) talked about support for information resources and future developments.

I did have a chance to talk about the MOOC support in the CSER project and the whole group concurred on the importance of science education, from early stages all the way through to the end of university. Mrs Andrews was on a working group while in opposition that looked into on-line learning and MOOCs, before the explosion that we’re currently seeing, so was very well versed in it. This is both great and slightly a shame: great because it’s always good to have informed parliamentarians but a shame because I’m far less impressive when people know what I’m talking about. ( 🙂 ) Mrs Andrews welcomed the opportunity to get more information from our sector on those developments in computing education.

That was it, all done in 15 minutes as Parliamentarians are a very busy lot. Across the days I’ve been trying to represent both Computing Research and Education, but the fates decreed that my meeting would be far more involved with someone who is working across both through personal interest and chairing committees in the house. In terms of who I could have spoken to, it’s the best result I could have achieved in terms of possible impact and awareness.

This has been a great day so far, and we have question time yet to come! I cannot live blog that event as it is an electronics-free event, so my apologies. I may try to summarise it but, for once, I may yield to my humanity and just experience it.

Dr Falkner Goes to Canberra Day 1 “Inspiring Australia: how can we help you communicate your science?” (#smp2014 #AdelED #questacon @questacon)


The speaker is Simon France, Program Manager, Questacon (@questacon). Simon had recently returned from Chicago and was noting that we had here in terms of science engagement is unique and desirable from another country’s perspective, in terms of our strategy. If we were confident that parliamentarians were listening, science literate and, even when they differed, we knew that they were taking it seriously – that would be fantastic. It would be great if your neighbours were also taking science seriously. It would be great if every graduating student in Australia, whether in Science or not, understood enough science to take part in serious and well-fromed debate. This is part of the Inspiring Australia initiative. This, of course, requires scientists to be able to communicate in a way that facilitates this, another part of Inspiring Australia.

Simon then showed a short video talking about how we can match the interest of an audience to the message of a scientist – which led to the formation of the Inspiring Australia initiative. The groups formed as part of this is designed to provide leadership in scientific communications, supported by experts in the area, to work with media, evidence-based research, and indigenous strategic elements.

What can this offer us? Media training skills – are we able to work with media as we want to? What about social media? (I’ve probably got that covered but let’s see about that.) There’s a … three week … social media training program, as well as a science in newsroom program. (Three weeks???) We have to communicate science more effectively and Questacon have platforms and training – National Science Week (which I’ve done before) is one of these activities, with 1.6 million Australians involved. A number of other initiatives were discussed, including national hubs for regional science promotion, on the collective side. One group, the Science Sector Group, is trying to build up a strong message on one theme to drive change.  Questacon has a booth here and they want to know where to go next – I’ll have to think about that before morning tea! What training and tools do we need? How can we engage better with industry? How can we do citizen science better? Prizes? Clubs? Science and tourism? How do we communicate the value and importance of science in Australia?

When we communicate poorly, we might not get our real message across. What do our listeners miss when we confuse and mumble our message? (I have a lot more to say on this but will have to update after this event.) Have you tested your talk on someone out of your area or who is more critical before you present? Interesting…