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Internet connected-toys and science teaching under spotlight with $700,000 in research funding

Friday, 10 November 2017

Tags: Homepage; Research

WA researchers will examine the risks and benefits posed by internet connected children’s toys and study how science teachers can better engage their students thanks to more than $700,000 in funding from the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Federal Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham announced the latest round of ARC grants today (10 November 2017) with Edith Cowan University (ECU) receiving two grants.

Internet of toys

Researchers from ECU’s School of Arts and Humanities were awarded $349,700 in Discovery Project funding to investigate how toys equipped with cameras, recorders and internet connections impact children’s privacy and safety.

The project’s chief investigator, Dr Donnell Holloway, said with an increasing number of internet-enabled toys coming on to the market there is a need for new policies to protect children’s privacy.

“Children only see these as just another toy, perhaps with some special or extra abilities. But they are not necessarily thinking of privacy,” she said.

“We need regulations that clearly define who owns the huge amounts of children’s data that is being collected and work out how we can ensure that children and their parents can control and hopefully retain ownership of their data.”

Dr Holloway said the project would also examine the potential benefits of internet-enabled toys.

“It’s not all doom and gloom. There are plenty of positives to these toys. But the toy industry has moved along fairly quickly without pausing to think through some of these issues.”

Putting science into the classroom

ECU School of Education researcher Dr Michael Fitzgerald received a $384,996 Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to investigate whether providing high school science teachers with authentic science research experience improve outcomes for both teachers and students.

“One of the big challenges we face in Australia is that as the demand for workers with STEM skills is increasing, the performance and engagement of our students in science and maths is falling,” Dr Fitzgerald said.

“This project will follow science teachers through real astronomy research experiences in collaboration with scientist mentors as part of their professional development.

“We will then assess the impact this experience has on the teachers’ understanding of the nature of science and how this impacts on classroom practice.

“By understanding how we can take science teachers and turn them into scientist teachers we will hopefully be able to improve the way science is taught in Australian high schools.”

The grants are the latest in federal government funding ECU has received in 2017. Other major awards include:

  • $1.6 million from the Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) initiative to build a greenhouse that produces its own power from solar glass panels
  • $716,000 from the NHMRC to develop an early warning blood test for Alzheimer’s disease
  • A share of $1.9 million to establish one of only two Academic Centres of Cyber Security Excellence in Australia, and the only one in WA.
  • Named a lead partner in the $50 million Cyber Security Cooperative Research Centre (CRC), which will leverage a further $89 million in industry funding.

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