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SiMERR Victoria began its life at a launch that video linked schools and academics across Victoria, and representatives from the SiMERR national centre, as a symbol of the desire to overcome the tyranny of distance and communication that is held to be a defining feature of the lives of teachers and students in rural schools. At the meeting that accompanied that launch, held on Deakin’s Warrnambool campus, academics from Deakin, Latrobe, and Melbourne Universities, and the Australian Catholic University, resolved that the direction taken by SiMERR Victoria would be an examination of ways to create successful participation and learning pathways for teachers and students of science, ICT and mathematics in regional and rural locations, and ways to enrich the current and future lives of youth in regional and rural communities.
The major activities and organisation of SiMERR Victoria sit within the Re-imagining Futures in Science, Technology, Environmental and Mathematics Education (STEME) research group at Deakin University.
Subsequently, as calls for project proposals went out, we found that the research gathered under three major themes:
These projects include a significant study of the views of rural educators on professional learning pathways in rural schools and supports for, and barriers to, these, a feasibility study of PD approaches in early years mathematics education in rural settings, and specific studies of models of professional learning, including a supported ‘train the trainer’ initiative for ICT education, a regional conference involving university staff, teachers and students, a rural challenge initiative, network arrangements across diverse regions of Victoria, and ICT supported initiatives.
A number of projects explored links between schools and their local communities and industries, as a way of supporting significant student and teacher learning, particularly in rural settings. These projects included case studies of successful examples, linking these to the notion of innovation and exploring factors affecting their success and sustainability, a study of university – school partnerships leading to a conference, a study that explored the establishment of industry and government groupings to support such work, and the development of a PD package based around this research.
Three projects were centred on an exploration of sustainability as a theme for science education in rural schools, including a study of environmental education in coastal schools that responded to the ‘seachange’ phenomenon, a study of best practice sustainability education, and the use of sustainability as a theme to promote interest in science education in rural primary schools.
Running across these themes was the commitment to the opening up of pathways for rural teachers and students, as was resolved in the first meeting, implying a commitment to the future well being of these rural learning communities. This is aligned with commitments to equity and social justice, to the development of learning networks, and transforming pedagogies and educational environments, that are core features of the Educational Futures and Innovation research cluster at Deakin University, within which the STEME group sits.
In addition to the SiMERR projects, a number of large funded projects were undertaken by the group, focusing substantially on rural schools and communities. These included analysis and reporting of research into a model of ICT professional development funded by the Association for Independent Schools of Victoria, a report into Innovation Exemplars from the ASISTM initiative, funded by DEST, many of which were in rural settings, and an ARC linkage project, Improving Middle Years Mathematics and Science, which involved three clusters of rural schools alongside a metropolitan cluster. A number of seminars were conducted by the Deakin STEME research group (Re-imagining futures in science, environmental, technology and mathematics education) and in March 2008 a major forum was conducted which looked more deeply at the complex of factors affecting rural communities and education in science, ICT and mathematics in Victoria.