STEM Education Research Group

The Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Education Research Group (STEM Group), formerly SMEC, operates within the School of Education in the Faculty of Humanities.

It offers postgraduate studies in the STEM areas, and has a national and international reputation for excellence in research and development.

Supervising one of the largest concentrations of postgraduate students specifically in the STEM education disciplines in the world, the STEM Group has Master of Philosophy (MPhil), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and Doctor of Education students from all Australian states and territories and many overseas countries.

STEM teacher sitting with table of students using microscopes

Our research structure

The STEM Education Group is structured to comprise a number of clusters of education researchers in the key relevant areas of:

  • Technology and engineering
  • Science
  • Mathematics
  • Digital technologies
  • Integrated STEM

We invite inquiries and suggested collaborations from national and international researchers and students working in any of the STEM areas.

Our history

The Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC) was founded by John de Laeter in the late 1970s with David Boud as its first Director. The establishment of the Centre was a response to the need for science teachers to keep up to date in both their disciplinary and pedagogical knowledge.

As the West Australian Institute of Technology (WAIT) developed into Curtin University, SMEC also developed in national and international influence and increased its higher degree offerings. From 1988-1997, SMEC was funded by the ARC as a National Centre for Teaching and Research in School Science and Mathematics. The Centre has over 1500 graduates who are employed in over 20 different countries.

The Centre has recently changed its name to the STEM Education Research Group, reflecting its position now within the School of Education, and its expanded focus on supporting both the integrity of the independent STEM disciplines, and also their integration.

Vision, mission and goals


To be an international leader in science, technology and mathematics education research.


To provide leadership, innovation and excellence in science, technology and mathematics education research and learning, and digital technologies applied to these areas.


Goal 1: Conduct research that informs and influences the education sector.
Goal 2: Provide research informed teaching and supervision.
Goal 3: Provide national and international leadership in the STEM education professions.

Objective and strategies

People and Culture
Be linked with national and international partners.
  • Align with faculty and university initiatives to develop national and international partners.

  • Establish nodes in response to cohorts of students.
  • Integrate aspects of the Centre, the School of Education, and other Schools.
  • Develop a structure which integrates with the School.

  • Recognize links with other schools.

  • Promote the colloquium as a school activity.
  • Exhibit strong research capacity in key areas.
  • Develop a succession plan.

  • Build capacity in the school for HDR supervision through mentoring.
  • Provide an engaging experience for students.
  • Foster a sense of community for all HDR students.

  • Encourage colloquium attendance and participation.

  • Organize regular social activities.

  • Involve distance students in Centre activities.

  • Establish social media networks.
  • Research and Innovation
    Support excellent research.
  • Maintain a database of STEM education research related activity in the school.

  • Consolidate research project support to develop economies of scale.
  • Achieve externally funded research projects.• Support the development of research proposals through a peer network.
  • Establish a review structure for proposal development.

  • Broadcast funding opportunities.
  • Be recognized for influential research.
  • Conduct and supervise culturally sensitive research.

  • Conduct research which is characterized by engagement with the community.

  • Disseminate research through professional journals, conferences and media.

  • Produce an annual summary of research related activities and outcomes.
  • Have a high number of research outputs.
  • Develop expectations re joint publications between supervisors and students.

  • Mentor staff publication preparation.
  • Be a hub for visiting academics.
  • Invite visiting scholars and support visiting researchers.

  • Develop a visiting scholar program.
  • Learning and Teaching
    Provide STEM education support to the School and university.
  • Contribute to the Professional Learning Hub in STEM areas.

  • Contribute in STEM and research areas to the School’s suite of higher degrees.

  • Support university initiatives.
  • Supervise an appropriate number of international and domestic HDR students according to workload guidelines.
  • Engage with the Faculty and University in strategic HDR student recruitment.

  • Facilitate timely HDR completions.

  • Maintain a sustainable number of HDR students.
  • Engagement and Impact
    Have strong networks with a range of partners.
  • Be active in professional organizations.

  • Develop links with industry related to STEM education issues.

  • Foster industry partners.
  • Have an engaged reputation.
  • Encourage membership of editorial boards of academic journals.

  • Participate as presenters and organizers in national and international conferences.

  • Organize with an international partner a biannual STEM conference.

  • • Represent the Group on national and international bodies.
    Have a significant profile
  • Develop branding for the Group.

  • Maintain an up to date website.

  • Work with central marketing to develop a marketing plan

  • Develop and regularly communicate with alumni through a database.
  • Overseas and interstate nodes

    The STEM Group operates nodes, which are communities of learners who meet regularly for mutual support and face-to-face contact with Curtin-based staff and local Adjunct staff, interstate and around the world.

    Recently, groups of students met on a regular basis in Singapore, New Zealand, Miami, New York, Fullerton (California), Dallas, Abu Dhabi, Adelaide and Tasmania. Specific information on each of these nodes is available from the STEM Group.

    Please contact us for more information.

    What is STEM?

    The meaning of STEM varies depending on the context in which it is used. It originated as an acronym politicians and workforce planners used to label a group of professions upon which economic developed depended, and in which some countries were having difficulty attracting people.

    This focus led to a range of initiatives, including streamlining pathways into university, the provision of scholarships, programs to support gender equity, attempts at the social popularisation of science, and many others.

    STEM as an education focus

    Recognition developed that attitudes toward the STEM areas were formulated throughout a child’s schooling, and so STEM education became a focus.

    The initial (and continuing in some contexts) goal of STEM education was to develop positive attitudes toward these areas so students would be more likely to pursue careers in STEM.

    This of course was not enough for educators, who need rationales related to improved learning outcomes in order to embrace an integrated approach to these curriculum subjects. And so developed STEM goals related to literacy and 21st Century skill development.

    Integrating STEM

    Through project, design and inquiry based activities, the hypothesis is that students will develop an integrated and sophisticated literacy of the world around them, while also developing skills related to creativity, innovation, critique and communication that all citizens need.

    However, it is unrealistic to think that all school education, even within the STEM areas, will be integrated; there will always be a need for education, research and practice in independent disciplines.

    So rather than representing the mission of the STEM Education Research Group, the STEM acronym represents what the group does: it respects the integrity of, and consequently engages in, research into the individual STEM education disciplines, but it also recognises there is a place for their integration, so accommodates research into integrated STEM education.

    There are many variations of the STEM acronym, developed to include the arts, or the humanities, or medicine, or society, for example. The STEM Education Research Group does not deny the validity of these various approaches in other contexts, but at this point in time, in the School of Education, this represents what we do, as a development from the former Science and Mathematics Education Centre (SMEC).

    Research projects

    Drawing science diagrams to enhance students’ scientific creativity
    Chief Investigators: Dr Mihye Won, Prof David F. Treagust, & Dr Kok-Sing Tang.
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Project

    Drawing students’ ideas of science in Australian and Korean schools
    Chief Investigators: Dr Mihye Won, Prof David F. Treagust, & Ms Felicity McLure at Curtin University, in collaboration with Associate Professor Hyunju Lee, Dr Kongju Mun, and Ms Yeonjoo Ko at Ewha University, Seoul, Korea.
    Funded by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT); Australia-Korea Foundation (AKF)

    Learn more

    Multiliteracies for addressing disadvantage in senior school science
    Chief Investigators: Professor Len Unsworth (ACU), Professor Russell Tytler (Deakin), Associate Professor Kay O’Halloran (Curtin), Dr Sally Humphrey (ACU) and Professor Kristina Love (ACU)
    Partner Investigators (in schools): Anne Lynzaat, Sarah Moss-Holland, Emmaleen Oakley and Robert Dullard
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage).

    Using online teaching threshold concepts in transformative professional learning curricula for novice online educators
    Investigators: Associate  Maria Northcote, Dr Kevin Gosselin, Dr Daniel Reynaud, Dr Peter Kilgour, Mr Chris Boddey, Associate Professor Catherine McLoughlin, Dr Tony Rickards (Curtin).
    Partners: Avondale College of Higher Education, Texas A&M Health Science Centre, Australian Catholic University, Murdoch University.
    Funded by the OLT Seed Projects Funding Grant.

    The online future of science and engineering education: The essential elements of laboratory-based learning for remote-access implementation
    Investigators: John Curtin Distinguished Professor David Treagust, Dr Tony Lucey, Dr Mauro Mocerino, Dr Mario Zadnik, Dr Euan Lindsay, Dr Sven Esche
    Partners: Charles Sturt University; Steven Institute of Technology, New Jersey
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery)

    Developing a language and literacy needs analysis model for Indigenous vocational education students who speak English as a second language/dialect
    Investigators: Professor Rhonda Oliver
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage), the Association of Independent Schools of WA

    The efficacy and cultural transferability of student inquiry learning approaches in foundation chemistry: improving conceptual understanding and confidence
    Investigators: John Curtin Distinguished Professor David Treagust, Dr Daniel Southam, Associate Professor Mauro Mocerino, Dr Dr Venkat Vishnumolakala, Dr Sheila Qureshi, Dr Venkat Vishnumolakala, Mr Joseph Ojeil (Qatar)
    Partners: Weill Cornell Medical College 
    Funded by Qatar’s National Research Priority Program

    Einsteinian Physics: A new paradigm for school science
    Investigators: John Curtin Distinguished Professor David Treagust, Professor David Blair, Professor Grady Venville, Dr Nancy Longnecker, Associate Professor Marjan Zadnik, Professor Gary Partington, Professor Francis Chun, Dr Brian Hewitt, Neil Jarvis
    Partners: The University of Western Australia
    Funded by the Australian Research Council

    Keeping Cool: Embedding resiliency in the initial teacher education curriculum
    Investigators: Dr Caroline Mansfield, Associate Professor Susan Beltman (Curtin), Dr Andrew McConney, Dr Anne Price, Associate Professor Lina Pelliccionne (Curtin), Professor/Dr Marold Wosnitza
    Partners: Murdoch University, RWTH Aachen University 
    Funded by the Australian Learning & Teaching Council 

    Keeping Cool: ENhancing Teacher Resilience in Europe/ENTREE
    Investigators: Dr Caroline Mansfield, Associate Professor Susan Beltman (Curtin), Professor/Dr Marold Wosnitza
    Partners: Murdoch University, RWTH Aachen University
    Funded by the European Union’s Lifelong Learning Program

    The transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into higher education
    Investigators: Professor Rhonda Oliver, Dr Judith Rochecouste, Dr Ellen Grote
    Partners: Charles Darwin University, Monash University, University of New England 
    Funded by the Office of Learning & Teaching 

    Learn more

    BRiTE: Keeping Cool by Building Resilience in Teacher Education 
    Investigators: Dr Caroline Mansfield, Associate Professor Susan Beltman (Curtin), Dr Tania Broadley (Curtin), NoeleneWeatherby-Fell
    Partners: Murdoch University, University of Woollongong  
    Funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching 

    Learn more

    Effectiveness of a whole-school intercultural approach aimed at removing barriers to learning for students from non-mainstream backgrounds
    Investigators: John Curtin Distinguished Professor Barry Fraser, Associate Professor Farida Fozda, Associate Professor Jill Aldridge
    Partners: The University of Western Australia
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage)

    Western Australian rural and remote schooling: The influence of learning environments on student participation and retention
    Investigators: Professor Dr Graham Dellar, Professor Robert Cavanagh, Mr David Neil Ansell, Dr Peter Reynolds, Ms Linda Moore
    Funded by Australian Research Council (Linkage)

    Building professional learning communities in a large Australian school district: School leadership within an information and communications technology (ICT) environment
    Investigators: Professor Robert Cavanagh, Professor Graham Dellar, Associate Professor Geoffrey Giddings, Ms Pamela Moss, Mr Keith Newton
    Funded by the Australian Research Council and industry partner

    Igniting interest and promoting understanding in engineering and technology among primary-school students through engaging learning environments
    Investigators: John Curtin Distinguished Professor Barry Fraser, Professor Moses Tade, Dr Rekha Koul, Dr Nicoleta Maynard
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Linkage)

    National partnerships for improving teacher quality: training schools project
    Investigators: Dr Tania Broadley, Dr Susan Ledger, Elaine Sharplin
    Partners: Murdoch University 
    Funded by the Department of Education and Murdoch University

    Degrees of Proficiency: building a strategic approach to university students’ English language assessment and development
    Investigators: Dr Catherine Dunworth, Associate Professor, Cynthia Kralik, Helen Drury, Dr Rowena Harper, Dr Tim Moore, Denise Mulligan
    Partners: RMIT University, Swinburne University, University of Sydney 
    Funded by the Australian Learning & Teaching Council

    Website, online and social networking texts: literacy and language learning for Indigenous students
    Investigators: Professor Rhonda Oliver
    Funded by The Kate Mullin Association

    Building the ICTE capacity of pre-service teachers in Australian universities
    Investigators: Associate Professor Lina Pelliccione
    Partners: The Australian Council of Deans of ICT

    Exploring retention of Aboriginal students at Curtin University
    Investigators: Professor Rhonda Oliver
    Funded by National Centre for Student Equity in High Education (NCSEHE)

    Mentoring Relationships Project
    Investigators: Associate Professor Judy MacCallum, Associate Professor Trudi Cooper, Dr Anne Coffey, Associate Professor Susan Beltman (Curtin)
    Partners: Murdoch University, Edith Cowan University, The University of Notre Dame 
    Funded by the Western Australian Department for Communities

    Touching scenes: Intelligent haptic guidance for supporting learning with complex graphic displays
    Investigators: Professor Ric Lowe, Dr Madeleine Keehner
    Partners: University of Dundee
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery)

    English as a spoken lingua franca in ASEAN: A study of its linguistic and socio-cultural features
    Investigators: Associate Professor Grace Zhang, Professor Graham Dellar, Professor Andy Kirkpatrick
    Partners: Griffith University
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery)

    Graphics, Learning and Dynamics
    Investigators: Professor Ric Lowe, Professor Wolfgang Schnotz
    Partners: University of Koblenz-Mandau
    Funded by the Australian Research Council (Discovery)

    Learning from animations: theory-driven alignment of animation design and learning strategies 
    Investigators: Professor Ric Lowe, Professor Rolf Plotzner
    Partners: Universite des Sciences de l’Education: Padogische Hoschule Freiburg