WA - SIDE: The 764 kilometre workshop

The School of Isolated and Distance Education (SIDE) has teamed up with Meekatharra District High School (MDHS) in a ground-breaking virtual learning program that’s changing expectations of what can be achieved through distance education.

Meekatharra is a town of about 700 people situated 764 kilometres north-east of Perth in the Murchison region. It’s a hot, dry, remote place.

The K-12 school draws from a wider population of several thousand, and has just over 100 students enrolled. Like most schools of its size, it offers a range of activities, including art, and horticulture.

MDHS also has a fully-equipped Design and Technology workshop, which as you can imagine, is particularly relevant to a mining and pastoral region. There’s just one problem with the workshop - it’s been mothballed for years due to a lack of suitably qualified teaching staff.

The school has long wanted to reopen the workshop and that’s where SIDE and web technology came in. Multi-talented SIDE teacher Des Coles has been delivering lessons from the workshop in Leederville to the workshop in Meekatharra using web conferencing software and some nifty gadgets.

Left: Des delivering lessons from Leederville workshop. Right: Shannon and Des in MDHS D&T workshop.

It didn’t just happen overnight, of course. Constraints such as ensuring a safe workshop environment for students, proper in-room supervision and the logistics of tools and materials all had to be dealt with. SIDE and Meekatharra staff worked together to create a solution using a mix of Webex software, Bluetooth audio equipment and tracking cameras. Shannon Mongoo, an Aboriginal and Islander Education Officer (AIEO) at Meekatharra works with the students during the lessons and provides the hands-on learning when required.

Throughout the year SIDE staff members across disciplines have contributed to the success of the program. Two classes operate weekly and have worked towards developing traditional hand skills using technologies old and new. Student engagement has been enthusiastic - they are very keen and disappointed if there is an interruption to the schedule.

To end the semester with a bang (forgive the pun), the students designed a dragster that was powered by compressed gas. Using their knowledge and skills, they designed and created their concept car that would be raced against others. The car creators needed to consider factors such as mass, wind resistance, friction, velocity and strength in their designs. Like all great ideas, it attracted people. Community groups joined in, creating their own cars to race against the student cars in an “ultimate race-off”.

Staff from SIDE flew to Meekatharra for race day where all challengers and spectators enjoyed the laughs and triumphs of what had become an exciting community event. All students watched the D&T students race and primary students also participated by racing the cars of other students as well as starting the races. The winners were presented the inaugural MDHS - SIDE Dragster trophies followed by a well-deserved sausage sizzle.

The event has been more than a great learning experience for the students. It has seen SIDE and MDHS work closely together as a team to engage the students and community. The partnership and remote lesson delivery has caught the eyes of other regional schools who have visited MDHS and discussed with SIDE how this model of remote learning could be incorporated into their own school.