The Cube brings science alive in the ways young people best understand - through touch, and through giant two-storey screens that offer varied and immersive scientific experiences to 40,000 visitors a year. It is a physical demonstration of QUT's place as an ever-emerging home of technology and learning and introduces the public of all generations to a cutting-edge building that houses research across Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM) disciplines. It is a signboard that declares: Science Lives Here.
Learning happens on The Cube's screens, in schools and in public activities rooms, as well as across a wide spectrum of learning spaces. This hybrid environment provides a rich blend of technology, active and quiet places, and sensory experiences. The potential for blended learning arises from the mix of virtual and physical contexts that transforms learning from a virtual and physical place into a dynamic nexus. Learners may engage in an experience or experiment on the screens independently, be directed by facilitators, worksheets, or peers - all enabling the learning of others. It is often not just peers enabling each other but younger generations leading the older.
Since its public launch in 2013, people from all walks of life and all generations have learned and have been inspired by their Cube experience. By providing a stunning architectural structure, visualisation and engagement environment at the entry to the teaching and research environment, The Cube provides a hub to actively engage students and visitors with new technologies and STEM research. The Cube's touch-and-feel digital play, quiet surroundings and open public spaces, flexible classrooms, and science labs with glass walls open to public view all make STEM visible and accessible to all.
The central objective of The Cube is to showcase science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) to the general public. This goal includes outreach to schools and public programming. At its core, The Cube's role is as a public creative presentation and engagement space. QUT's Vice Chancellor, Professor Peter Coaldrake Officer of the Order of Australia, articulated this as The Cube's key objective in the design phase of the project.
The Cube also aims to:
- create a place where the public is welcome and that integrates the University environments of undergraduate students, staff and researcher,
- inspire and develop the next generation of learners for STEM and other fields of endeavour,
- offer learning and research opportunities to engage the community, especially young people, to nurture interest in STEM and see the future possibilities,
- encourage individual experimentation and collaborative teamwork,
- invite high schools to participate in a range of STEM workshops tailored to enhance and support the National Curriculum's STEM syllabus through practical application,
- host activities for the general public and primary schools titled public programs,
- develop applications for The Cube that support the school National Curriculum and include activities and virtual experiments that cannot take place in school classrooms,
- widen participation by young people in STEM related fields of study,
- research learning and engagement in the environment and sharing the findings,
- assist researchers and scientists to interpret complex research and showcase exciting developments to the world,
- provide learning opportunities for University students and faculty to showcase their work in a spectacular form,
- provide unique residency opportunities for artists to produce STEM-inspired digital art projects that will place The Cube at the forefront of public digital display and interactive environments.
The Cube development was explicitly aligned with the overall drivers described in the paper, "Science and Engineering for Whole of Life: Integrating Education, Research and Public Engagement in a Collaborative Environment". The Cube, as the entry point to the Science and Engineering Centre, was therefore purposefully designed as a hybrid learning space combining digital and physical infrastructure to enable innovative pedagogies. Chem World is an example of this approach. The application is the digital interactive chemistry textbook where learners may engage with the content, experiments in the physical space, and with each other. Extension work can be carried out in the activities room, and taken back to either class or home. Chem World was developed in partnership with hundreds of school students and teachers, all of whom provided ideas and content. Various academics and scientists assured quality and gave feedback. An interactive periodic table allows one to explore all elements, including many compounds. One can also experience virtual chemistry experiments too dangerous or difficult to run in a classroom - such as launching rockets into orbit or creating colourful fireworks. The approach to future application development will follow this style, integrating a variety of learning modes.
The Cube brings together groups of school students from kindergarten to the final years of high school, who explore The Cube screens or undertake curriculum aligned facilitated activities. The digital experience can be combined with related hands-on activity led by our undergraduate student ambassadors. QUTs STEM Teacher in Residence directs the development of applications and hybrid activities that link directly with the Australian high school curriculum.
Digital artists and researchers being supported through residencies to develop content that utilise The Cubes capabilities, interactive technologies and associated digital modalities in inventive and unique ways offer other examples of the dynamic nature of The Cube learning environment for engaging learners across all spectrums.
Wide community engagement is fundamental with focus on inspiring the young to explore and learn about STEM and see the relevance to the real world.
Regional and local engagement involves the community with programs supporting schools, and includes activities to increase participation from equity groups. High school students have also collaborated in development of applications championed by the STEM Teacher in Residence. Public programs on weekends and school holidays include activities such as the Lego Education Learning Programs, robotics, and computer programming. Robotronica is a highlight event which attracted about 14,000 visitors on one day in 2013 and will be held again in August 2015. The Brisbane Greeters program, an initiative of the Brisbane City Council, hosts tours to The Cube as part of their city highlights, while other interest groups such as University of the Third Age also form part of the senior cohort of visitors. Industry and government engage via activities such as the Emergency Services disaster response simulation exercises, technology showcase events, policy announcements and achievement ceremonies.
Of the many international and VIP engagements a highlight was the global G20 summit in Brisbane, where The Cube Globe application showcased Queensland, to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Governor Zhu Xiaodan of Chinas Guangdong province and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria.
Learning and research engagement through The Cube allows students to develop digital games, display and present their work and interact with academic staff through simulations and visualisation. Student events such as open days, orientation, and careers festivals feature content to inform and engage thousands of students. Academic researchers and higher degree research students engage with The Cube through experimenting with visualisation, simulation, big data, open access and spatial data with practitioners experimenting through artist-in-residence programs, such as the Ars Electronica (Austria) collaboration.
The Cubes impact/results since its launch in 2013 are clearly demonstrated by:
Measured against its key objective to showcase STEM to the general public and schools, The Cube is an outstanding success.
In the order of 12,000 students per year participate in facilitated activities that contribute not only to their learning but thinking about and developing learning approaches. Collaboration with schools and other organisations such as Brisbane City Council Libraries and Queensland Museum has supported an interdisciplinary approach and resulted in taking learnings back to schools, into libraries and other educational institutions.
Applications developed by resident artists such as Buildacode, Robot University, and Nomencluster offer evidence of The Cubes innovative capacity and results . The creator of Nomencluster, commented When your canvas is one of the largest digital interactive learning and display spaces in the world, it is hard not to be inspired. The Ars Electronica, Transmit3 resident commented, Its all about discovery, knowledge sharing and creative invention expanding our ideas of success at The Cube.
Research and development partnerships for example with the Queensland Government to build The Cube Globe which shows a vast amount of the States open datasets and satellite imagery for visitors to explore, discover and share and was a centrepiece for visitors during the G20 summit in Brisbane validates both an immediate result from collaboration and The CubeÂs capacity through the use of innovative technologies for impact on learning.
Awards of recognition including an AMX Innovation Award and AARNet Excellence Award in 2013 and the Global Gold Apex Award for Education & Healthcare in 2014 attest to The CubeÂs innovative contribution to education.
Testimonials and comments in Cube Chat (The Cube website) demonstrate wide reach and a typical comment from Pimpama State Secondary College speaks of the impact and positive outcomes for their students.
Next steps seek to continue alignment with national strategy for STEM set out in Australia by The Office of the Chief Scientist in the 2014 report Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics: Australia's Future. Specifically, in relation to education, the objective is that Australian education, formal and informal, will prepare a skilled and dynamic STEM workforce, and lay the foundations for lifelong STEM literacy in the community. The Cube project will continue to develop applications, activities and events with objectives aligning with the stated targets of a secure pipeline, inspirational teaching, inspired learning, skilled workforce, engaged community. Established collaborations, programs and experienced teams are well placed to respond to these challenges, increase the impact and share learning from this unique facility.
Continuing and new steps to build upon this include;
- hosting national and international events,
- exploring scalability of applications to other devices for wider access and engagement,
- user experience enhancement in new applications utilising interaction mechanisms such as motion capture and mobile device interfacing,
- researching interaction and engagement through sensing built into applications and the space,
- researching pedagogy and outcomes for learners in the hybrid environment,
- developing more specific learning opportunities for undergraduate students aligned with the University curriculum,
- supporting similar projects in Australia and internationally.