Cross-cultural Computer-supported Collaborative Learning for Student Capacity Building in Multifaceted Competencies through Astronomy Online Labs (C3AOL)

Capacity Building in Big Data and Technology Development through astronomy


Researchers’ profile

What is this project about?

C3AOL project addresses a timely and impactful goal and is certainly Official Development Assistance (ODA) compliant, given its strong commitment to supporting capacity building of young adults in Malaysia for their Big Data analysis skills and key 21st century competencies (communication, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking) through cross-cultural computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) activities enabled by technologically and pedagogically sound Astronomy online labs. It involves different stakeholders in Malaysia and the UK, including astronomy experts, technology-enhanced learning experts, university students, science centre staff, STEM teachers, and pupils in secondary and primary schools.

In developed and developing countries, technological advancement hinges crucially on quality STEM education for youth, leading to high productivity and economic growth, thanks to technologically inspired innovation (Chetty, 2012). According to the OECD (http://www.oecd.org/), economic growth results in new jobs and opportunities, reducing poverty and increasing quality of life. Astronomy is a special branch of STEM that pushes the boundaries of science and technology, and promotes social and economic development (IAU Astronomy for Development Strategic Plan 2010-2020). To utilize the potential of Astronomy as a promising tool in facilitating capacity building and education, it is essential to invest in creating quality and sustainable resources, including educational technologies and teaching staff. The scientific activities of C3AOL realise such an investment by encouraging students to create Astronomy online labs, based on their knowledge and skills gained by participating in the project, for their younger counterparts.

The proposed project will help Malaysia to meet Sustainable Development Goals (SDG): 4, 8 and 9 (United Nations, 2015). Specifically, participating Malaysian students will be given opportunities to have in-depth discussions on specific topics with Astronomy experts from the UK, who will draw on information about state-of-the-art scientific and technological development in Space and Earth Observation and other cutting-edge research areas. Furthermore, students will also gain practical experience in interacting with Astronomy online labs in collaboration with local and remote peers and in consultation with experts, getting inspired to create their own ones.

The ultimate achievement of the project is to promote national research and teaching programmes in Astronomy in Malaysia. Currently, there are only a handful of universities in Malaysia offering astronomy courses with UKM (the project partner) being one of them. This project aims to stimulate the growth of astronomy degree programmes in Malaysia through our research visits in different academic institutions in Malaysia and the MoHE, sharing the related practical experiences in running astronomy and other STEM degree programmes in the UK.


The view of Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) on STEM

In recent years, there have been various initiatives and research studies to identify visions and viable strategies for advancing STEM education in the UK (e.g., STEMNET (http://www.stemnet.org.uk/); Howes et al., 2014). One salient recommendation is to make STEM attractive to young people by applying student-centred, project-based approaches and by exploiting advanced technologies. Another is to address the issue of inclusiveness, especially gender differences. The University of Leicester supports these recommendations. It has one of the largest campus-based space science and astronomy groups in Europe, with over 100 scientists. The Department of Physics & Astronomy has a long-term track record of linking teaching and research, using innovative teaching methods, such as problem-based learning, digital tools and student-led projects linked to industry. The Department is consistently ranked by students as being one of the top five Physics departments in the UK for excellence in Physics teaching and learning activities. The Department also runs the College of Science and Engineering Foundation Year, which helps weaker candidates transition from school to University. Similarly, the Department of Informatics has actively been involved in technology-enhanced learning research and practice and in engaging students to undertake industry-oriented projects. Both Departments are actively involved in the Athens Swan scheme in promoting gender equality.

The Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education (MoHE) has anticipated several critical challenges in producing quality and balanced graduates in the 21st century. Hence, students aspirations in the Malaysian Education Blueprint 2015-2025 (Higher Education) are built around the vision of balanced education as stated in the National Education Philosophy which promotes six primary attributes: ethics and spirituality; leadership skills; national identity; language proficiency; thinking skills; and knowledge.

The MoHE imposes a greater emphasis on STEM as well as proficiency in English because the jobs of tomorrow will require STEM principles accentuated in the global lingua franca for the local graduates to compete globally. The development of a strong STEM workforce and STEM literate society are critical for Malaysia’s progress into a high-income nation. In this regards, the Ministry aspires to produce more graduates pursuing advanced degrees and careers in STEM fields; improved STEM literacy for all students; enhanced STEM content knowledge; and upgraded STEM pedagogical content knowledge.


Overview of proposed work

The overall goal of the interdisciplinary project C3AOL is to support capacity building of young adults for their Big Data analysis skills and key 21st century competencies – communication, collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking – through their participation in cross-cultural computer-supported collaborative learning (CSCL) activities enabled by technologically and pedagogically sound online laboratories in Astronomy. The goal will be achieved through three phases of scientific activities involving different stakeholders from the UK and Malaysia, including Astronomy experts, technology-enhanced learning (TEL) experts, university students, academic staff, school teachers and pupils, and science centre staff.

As a multifaceted discipline addressing science, technology and culture – the three core areas whose maturity and richness defining the development status of a nation – Astronomy is a unique and powerful means to engage and inspire people of all ages, who are fascinated by the infinity of the Universe and stark visual appeal of celestial events3. For learners at their late teen identifying a pathway to their future careers in STEM, exploring Astronomy is of particular relevance as they can be equipped with new competencies:

  • a good understanding of advanced developments in electronics, optics and IT;
  • knowledge and skills in applying sound scientific methods for Big Data handling and analysis;
  • ability to collaborate with international teams and to communicate complex results in accessible ways to general audience, especially school children

As the main outcome of this project, the participating students will acquire these competencies, which are not only deployable in Astronomy, but, more important, also transferable to different disciplines such as other STEM, management, finance and economics, contributing to growth and prosperity of their country.



To enable Astronomy experts from both countries to exchange knowledge and practical experience in Big Data analysis and technology development, identifying specific foci for research collaboration and, in collaboration with TEL experts, enhancing approaches to educating students in STEM;

  1. To inspire and enthuse students, through interacting with Astronomy experts and selected Astronomy Online Labs (AOL), to gain a deep understanding of knowledge and skills for handling Big Data;
  2. To enhance students’ transferable competencies in communicating and collaborating with peers in local and cross-cultural contexts;
  3. To support students to create new quality AOLs and disseminate them through outreach activities, consolidating their knowledge, creativity, and identity of STEM ambassadors.



The project is grounded in four methodological approaches – dialogical inquiry, participatory design, collaborative learning and multidimensional experience, which inform the selection of methods, tools and techniques for implementing scientific activities dedicated to support capability building of students in science and technology, innovation, leadership, collaboration, communication, and critical thinking.

  • Dialogical inquiry: Expert-student interactions involve a mix of authoritative talks and dialogic discourses with the former being more appropriate for experts to introduce new ideas to students and the latter being more suitable for students to share and discuss their views with experts14.
  • Participatory design: The basic principle of participatory design (PD) is to enable users to voice their needs, which are taken into account when designing a system/service15. Scientific activities of C3AOL will be co-designed with all stakeholders, especially students, through ongoing communications to identify viable means to address different preferences and constraints. This will strengthen student engagement.
  • Collaborative work: The positive effect of social interactions in enhancing learning, be it face-to-face or online, is firmly grounded in theoretical frameworks and empirical studies16. Experts from STEM, Technology-enhanced Learning (TEL), Human-computer Interaction (HCI), language and cultural studies will collaboratively design CSCL activities together with students.
  • Multidimensional experience: Through the project’s activities, students will be exposed to new social (cross-cultural interactions), intellectual (astrophysics concepts), and technological (Astronomy online labs) challenges. Students will gain multifaceted learning experiences at the cognitive and emotional level.



Milestones (MS)


MS1 April 2017 Completion of the UK expert-team research visit in Malaysia
MS2 June 2017 Launch of the collaborative application for CSCL studies
MS3 November 2017 Completion of CSCL Study 1
MS4 April 2018 Completion of CSCL Study 2 and Malaysia expert-team visit in UK
MS5 May 2018 Conclusion of UK student-team visit in Malaysia
MS6 June 2018 Conclusion of Malaysia student-team visit in UK
MS7 July 2018 Conclusion of the project with the Final Project Meeting for review and future plan