The virtual classroom - opening up our eyes
When self-confessed idealist Stephen Crump started a teaching degree at Macquarie University, he thought he could change the world. Nearly four decades on, his drive to do something to change people's lives remains strong.
Professor Crump's motivation behind becoming a teacher was fairly simple - he wanted to get out there and do something. "It was the end of the 1960s so there was a feeling that our generation would change the world. The only way to do that was through education."
Despite swapping the classroom for a career in research, educating young people remains Crump's passion, as is clear in his current venture. The Australian Research Council Linkage project 'Opening Our Eyes' is based on the premise that all children have a right to a good education.
The project has revolutionised the way teaching is delivered by bringing the radio-based School of the Air into the 21st Century using satellite technology to create web-based, interactive 'classrooms'. This approach has had a particular impact on rural and remote communities.
Crump says, "The communities we work with told us that the project was opening their eyes - and from this we coined the project title. They were not only seeing each other for the first time, but also the rest of the world.
"Whether they are 300 or 800 kilometres from the nearest town or school, through 'Opening Our Eyes' students can now see their teachers. They are receiving instantaneous feedback as they work with up to a dozen other classmates who could be anywhere in Australia. They are all doing the same task, from filling in a maths table to doing a drawing together."
Thousands of students across parts of NSW and the Northern Territory are benefiting from the project, and it has been piloted in Fiji and South-East Asia.
The strength of Crump's determination to improve education was born out of his early experiences as a teacher at tough, but rewarding, high schools in western Sydney.
"Disadvantage was obvious, but it was a dynamic environment, and the students valued and cared about education. They saw it as a vehicle to change and improve their lives."
Crump, who is also Pro Vice-Chancellor and Director of the University of Newcastle Central Coast campus, spent some 10 years teaching before starting his research career. His research focus has been on curriculum, policy and leadership, and its relevance to the social, political and cultural issues in education.
In addition to his latest Australian Research Council project, Crump's teaching and research expertise drove the re-shaping of the NSW Higher School Certificate; and the development of Time to Teach, Time to Learn, a curriculum testing and reporting system in NSW primary schools.
Today, Crump's idealism may be more tempered than when he started his career but it is a trait that continues to inspire his work. "Every day, as a teacher, you have the potential to change and hopefully improve students' lives. I believe that education is the key to creating opportunities and helping people shape their future."