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International Student Collaboration Enabled by Cisco WebEx Technologies

Supplier: CONCENTRIC Asia Pacific
15 September, 2009

Fl in Schools 2009 - The Australian/Canadian Collaboration Experience of AC Racing.

September 3 2009. Sydney. Sitting on one side of the world in the heat of a summer's day in February sat four boys from Noosa District State High School, Queensland. Staring back at them, shivering in the cold were three students from Miles MacDonnell Collegiate, Winnipeg in the central Canadian Provence of Manitoba.

The 14,000km distance between them may have been a physical separation, but to the smiling group of students who could see and speak to each other with ease, it was the great day in their tremendous collaborative journey.

Both schools are involved in the Fl in Schools Technology Challenge, an international competition that revolves around the design and manufacture of a model Formula 1 racing car, with the bigger picture of introducing students to professions and careers in engineering, design, manufacturing and technology through the important (but declining in student numbers) subjects of mathematics and the sciences.

Students compete at local and regional level, progressing to state and then national finals. Their ultimate goal is to compete at the World Championships. With more than 20 countries competing, the standard of work is exceptionally high and the pinnacle of the Fl in Schools challenge.

In Australia, Fl in Schools is managed and supported by Re-Engineering Australia Foundation (REA), a not for profit organisation. Because of the vast distances between schools, industry and tertiary institutions in Australia - who all need to be working together for the successful outcome of the Fl project - REA needed a collaborative tool that could assist in connecting all these people together. However, simple video conferencing was not enough, and the Cisco WebEx solutions helped to transform communications within the REA Fl community.

Students from across Australia have been using Cisco WebEx solutions for several years. These collaboration technologies have helped enable students from across Australia to communicate with each other, share ideas, manipulate data and express themselves in real time with the suite of tools available to them; and even state and national finals have been webcast to connect interested parties from across the world.

The collaboration between seven school kids in Australia and Canada has been so greatly enhanced by Cisco WebEx technology, that they have been able to work at a heightened and accelerated level, and have a very real chance of achieving winning results at the World Championships.

Prior to the first team link up with the Cisco WebEx solutions, communicating had been via e-mail only. The two lead teachers began the initial exchange of ideas, and the best way for Mark Presling, Senior Industrial Technology Teacher and project coordinator in Noosa, to introduce his Canadian teaching counterpart, David Woitowicz to CATIA (Computer Aided Design software used on the project) was through a Cisco WebEx Webinar.

"One Wednesday morning I was able to sit at my desk at home and run CATIA on my laptop computer with David watching via a Cisco WebEx online meeting at his home in Winnipeg. David was able to watch me design and machine a virtual F1 car using all of the techniques that my students and I had developed over five years. There was this eerie feeling that David was just sitting in another room in my house while we discussed technique and procedure of using tools like the Imagine and Shape workbench in CATIA," said Mark Presling.

A week later, a meeting was scheduled between all seven members of the newly formed Australian/Canadian collaboration team.

"I rushed out and purchased a webcam, weaseled a disused classroom with a phone and data connection and set up my laptop with a speaker phone balanced on some books near a hastily arranged set of chairs," he continued.

From the initial meeting where the teams waved to each other and discussed the weather, (freezing rain in Canada, bushfires and floods in Australia) and when really important details were thrashed out like the team name and colours, the Cisco WebEx online meeting allowed for everyone to be involved, to be heard and seen, in a seamless process that was to be repeated for months.

AC Racing as the team became known (inspired from the classic AC/DC rock song 'High Voltage', as well as the Australia/Canada connection) used Cisco WebEx Meeting Center, which allowed for virtual meetings to be scheduled which utilised conference style voice communication, video conferencing and desktop application sharing.

Although the distance and time differences were a challenge, an even greater challenge was the transferring and sharing of knowledge and data. The Noosa team were veterans and the Winnipeg students were rookies to the competition. The need was to fast-track the sharing of knowledge, and Cisco WebEx Meeting Center allowed for meetings to be regularly scheduled, and the process of transferring the both knowledge and data began.

The Noosa team had a unique opportunity to pass on thousands of hours of collective knowledge to their Canadian counterparts.

"It was time to share what we had learned", said Mark Presling, "In just six weeks the Canadian team learned how to use CATIA, and how to make use of some of the materials and techniques that we had found to be effective in shedding car weight and improving performance of wheels and bearings."

The teams have been moving forward with new design innovations and testing of ideas. The 'tyranny of distance' (and time) dictated by the collaboration project was difficult to overcome, but enhanced greatly by the use of Cisco WebEx technologies, and the fantastic opportunity to share in a cultural and engineering exchange - the benefits of which are independent of any success in the competition.

A/C Racing will be travelling to the UK to compete in the World Championships in September 2009. There the seven students from Noosa, QLD and Winnipeg, Manitoba will meet up for the first time, to present a project that has been collaborated, developed, refined and finalised remotely from each other.

Their successful participation in the Fuin Schools Technology Challenge World Championships would not be possible without the use of Cisco WebEx applications.