Learning Labs going from strength to strength, campus by campus

In an environment focused on delivering higher education to university students, the appetite for extending academia beyond the school yard is rapidly growing.

Established in 2011, the UOW Learning Labs school holiday program has grown from just 100 students attending the Wollongong Campus, to more than 3000 students each year for programs now extending to South Western Sydney, Southern Sydney and Batemans Bay campuses.

The UOW Learning Labs is an academic enrichment program aimed at primary and high school students from Years 1 to 10, with proven academic excellence and an established foundation of interest in an area of their choice.

The program runs every school holidays in the form of one or two-day workshops featuring a welcome ceremony and learning labs sessions. It is designed for students performing in the top 10 - 15 per cent in their area of interest within their peer group and are seeking a fun, challenging and creative experience during the school holidays.

The workshops are designed specifically by the Outreach and Pathways team within the Pro-Vice Chancellor (Students) portfolio to meet the needs and trends of three designated age groups.

For students from Years 1 and 2, the ‘Little Learning Labs’ allows them to meet like-minded students and participate in sessions in 3D printing, ancient history, Spanish, Minecraft, physics, painting and more. For those in Years 3 to 6, ‘Early Learning Labs’ offer sessions including; graphic design, forensics and music composition.

Learning Labs themselves are offered to students from Years 7 to 10 and cover topics such as robotics, virtual reality, debating, archaeology, 3D modeling and forensic arts.

Sarah Smith, Learning Labs Coordinator in the Outreach and Pathways Unit, is a strong advocate for providing young students with the opportunity to visit the University with their families for a fun, memorable experience.

“The best part about Learning Labs is watching the contagious smiles across a room of students who are learning, having fun and engaging with content in ways they might not be able to in a school environment,” Sarah says.

“It’s more than just an academic enrichment program, it’s an opportunity for all students from a variety of backgrounds and experiences to come together in a series of sessions and make connections which are often kept for years.

“For the students participating, it is an opportunity to engage with concepts they learn about at school in ways they could not even imagine possible. By combining maths with Minecraft, creative arts with video gaming and 3D printing with tic tacs, it allows the malleable minds of academic youth to exercise their talents in a language they understand more than anyone,” Sarah highlights.

The Outreach and Pathways team has designed the program to be inclusive, offering a series of equity-based sponsored places for students who identify as Indigenous or Torres Strait Islander, come from financial hardship or rural NSW or ACT.

“We are committed to giving all students the opportunity to come on campus and see what it would be like to exercise their interests in a university environment,” Sarah says.

The benefits of Learning Labs transcend the students who attend. It also acts as a professional development opportunity for current PhD students and academics to gain experience facilitating sessions with a diverse group of high achievers.

Current UOW students can also volunteer their time to help workshop presenters and contribute towards the student’s experiences, and are rewarded with hours toward their UOWx record or Education internship subject.

Learning Labs also helps to position the University as an accessible opportunity for children well before they are thinking about higher education options. It allows families and community groups to visit the campus, use the facilities and bridge the gap between knowledge of, and experiencing, UOW.

With Learning Labs available to students each school holiday, the team is eager to see the program grow even bigger, with plans to add new sessions and welcome facilitators who have a passion to combine fun, creativity and academia.

Learning Labs are always welcoming interest from potential Presenters, Academics and UOW Student Volunteers. To find out more about UOW Learning Labs or to get involved visit Learning Labs or email learning-labs@uow.edu.au.