The real work of virtual teaching: Learnings from EESO Summer School 2021 development

McNamara, Greg1, Almberg, Leslie1 and Carr, Ruth1

1Australian Science Innovations, Australia

The Australian Earth and Environmental Science Olympiad (EESO) program selects 24 high-ability high school students from Years 9, 10 & 11 to attend a Sumer School program in each January.

The EESO Summer School program, delivered annually at RSES-ANU, provides a life-changing educational experience for the students. The residential camp is an intense two weeks of Earth & Environmental Science learning combined with the fun of spending time with like-minded peers and participating in associated social activities.

In 2020, the EESO Summer School was postponed due to the extreme smoke conditions on campus, with the majority of the theory progressively placed online through February and March. Students were given an opportunity to engage with teachers in a weekly Q&A session via SLACK. An on-campus practical session planned for April was cancelled due to COVID-19 concerns, with the final assessment – based on the online theory materials – delivered via Moodle to all students across the country.

Here we discuss the lessons learned from this rapid-response on-line teaching program and how we applied them to the 2021 EESO Summer School program to avoid the pitfalls of poor content quality, ineffective engagement and inadequate assessment. The aim of the 2021 program was to deliver the same content we provide in the face-to-face environment in an engaging, rewarding and socially beneficial manner. The additional aim is to utilise virtual teaching tools developed for the 2021 event in future face-to-face events.

Plans include: time-managed online delivery of synchronous and asynchronous theory content; limited, but essential, hands-on content based on materials supplied to each student; and supplementary online 3D simulations of materials and field locations. In addition to content, we plan to provide socially engaging opportunities via games, team challenges, and digital and physical rewards.

The Q&A during the AESC will provide an opportunity to discuss how these plans panned out within the context of the programme delivered in January 2021 to 30 students by a team of three senior staff and ~8 program alumni.


Greg is a qualified  geologist and teacher with 35+ years experience in education and outreach. He is also the Executive Officer of TESEP.

Leslie is volcanologist with a wealth of award-winning undergraduate geoscience teaching experience.

Ruth has over 15 years experience managing large-scale science awareness events  including National Science Week.

About the GSA

The Geological Society of Australia was established as a non-profit organisation in 1952 to promote, advance and support Earth sciences in Australia.

As a broadly based professional society that aims to represent all Earth Science disciplines, the GSA attracts a wide diversity of members working in a similarly broad range of industries.