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Empowering STEM Talent by Making the STEM Olympiades Inclusive and Accessible

Learn how the STEM Olympiades made STEM assessments inclusive and accessible with text to speech.

January 29, 2024 by Amy Foxwell
Two women sitting in front of a table where a computer is placed

STEM Olympiades’ educational initiative empowers students with disabilities, particularly those with dyslexia, to actively participate in a STEM Olympiade. Faced with the challenges of traditional assessments, their commitment to inclusivity led them to create a level playing field for all students.

Engaging 27,873 pupils in the Junior Group and 34,226 pupils in the Youth Group across 712 schools in Flanders, the STEM Olympiade aimed to foster an inclusive learning environment.

Collaborating with ReadSpeaker and Eummena, they ensured an effective and inclusive learning experience.

We spoke with Rik Hostyn from the STEM Olympiades to learn more about their decisions to leverage technology for a diverse and inclusive learning and how they worked with ReadSpeaker to achieve their goals.

Background

Our educational initiative, driven by our commitment to inclusivity, aimed to empower students with disabilities to participate in the STEM Olympiade, especially those with dyslexia. Recognizing the challenges posed by traditional assessments, we sought to create a level playing field for all students to showcase their true potential.

In the academic year 2023-2024, across 712 schools in Flanders, we engaged 27,873 pupils in the Junior Group (5th and 6th grade) and 34,226 pupils in the Youth Group (1st and 2nd year Secondary School). The STEM Olympiade, a highlight of our initiative, featured preliminary rounds from November 27th to December 8th, leading to a grand final on March 9th, 2024.

Technology and Platform

Opting for the Moodle LMS and quiz questions facilitated the seamless integration of text to speech, contributing to the creation of an inclusive learning environment. This integration into the e-assessment platform played a pivotal role in our mission to make STEM education accessible to all.

Integration and Training

The integration of text to speech into our curriculum was effortlessly achieved, requiring no additional training for teachers or students. Clear notification also accompanied its inclusion in the online application process, ensuring a smooth transition.

Why Text to Speech?

Our motivation to integrate text to speech was grounded in the aspiration to offer visually impaired students, and those with learning disabilities, an equal opportunity to participate in the STEM Olympiade, thereby championing equity in educational opportunities.

Design and Student Experience

Employing multiple-choice assessment formats, we had an overwhelmingly positive response from learners. Visual evidence, such as pictures of students using earphones during assessments, underscored the widespread adoption of this innovative feature.

Teachers’ Reactions

Teachers exhibited enthusiastic support for the technology, with over 96.7% expressing satisfaction. This positive attitude toward text to speech remains unwavering over the years, showcasing its enduring impact on the teaching community. In addition, anecdotal evidence, including uplifting emails from teachers, suggested a positive influence of text to speech on student engagement and motivation.

Challenges and Future Plans

The implementation within Moodle was seamless and quick working together with Eummena a premium Moodle partner in Belgium and the EMEA region, who provide the hosting and technical support of the STEM Olympiade platform.

Collaborating with the ReadSpeaker team consistently ensures a swift process and delivers an effective learning experience!

Jad Najjar – Co-Founder Eummena

ReadSpeaker’s technical support proved exemplary, swiftly addressing challenges. The ability to correct pronunciations and the proactive approach in adjusting STEM terminology pronunciation by the dedicated team were instrumental in the initiative’s success.

Costs and Return on Investment

Additional costs were minimal compared to the substantial benefits of offering speech technology. The positive return on investment reflected our unwavering commitment to inclusivity and the overall enhancement of the educational experience.

Future Plans and Recommendations

The success of text to speech in promoting inclusivity means that we will continue its integration in future STEM assessments. Our ambitious goal is to achieve 100% online participation, ensuring accessibility for all participants in both the Junior and Youth Groups. Our commitment to leveraging technology to foster a diverse and inclusive learning environment remains steadfast.

About STEM Olympiades

STEM Olympiade logo

www.stemolympiade.be

Junior

The Flemish STEM Olympiade Junior wants to help young people discover their technological talent, stimulate interest in technology, increase appreciation for the field, adjust the social image of technology, demonstrate the social relevance of technology, and encourage students from primary and secondary education to receive training in technology.

During the preliminary round, students are presented with a series of challenging and socially relevant multiple-choice questions. This happens in school, under the watchful eye of a responsible teacher. The 64 students with the highest score and the ten best teachers are selected to compete against each other in the finals. In addition to multiple choice questions, this final also includes four practical tests.

The final round takes place at a central location in Flanders. The multiple-choice questions come from different domains that can be linked to technology. The questions ask about technological insight, more than about professional knowledge.

The domains covered are biotechnology, construction, chemistry, electricity, electronics, computer science, mechanics, and technical drawing. No single course of study in primary education covers all these domains, which is why everyone with some common sense and an affinity with science and technology has a chance to succeed!  

Youth

The Flemish STEM Olympiade Youth wants to help young people discover their technological talent, adjust the social image of technology, and encourage secondary education students to pursue higher education in technology.

During the preliminary round, students are presented with a series of challenging multiple-choice questions. This happens inschool, under the watchful eye of a responsible teacher. The 64 students with the highest score are selected to compete against each other in the finals.

In addition to multiple choice questions, there are also some engineering assignments in this round. The multiple-choice questions come from different domains that can be linked to technology.

The questions ask about the technological insight of the young people, more than about professional knowledge. The domains covered are biotechnology, construction, chemistry, electricity, electronics, computer science, mechanics, and technical drawing. No single course of study in secondary education covers all these domains, which is why anyone with some common sense and an affinity with science and technology has a chance to succeed!

Rik Hostyn

Picture of Rik Hostyn

Rik attended General Secondary Education at the age of 12, but he did not get what he wanted there because Rik was crazy about all kinds of technology.

He had also designed some small inventions such as an automatic cuckoo clock weight lifter, a lawn machine with lights, and a Christmas tree with hundreds of variations of lights (this did not exist at the time). This gave him the itch to switch to Technical Secondary Education, elective Electronics.

There were 90 students at the time. Rik then studied to become a Technical Engineer in Electronics. His desire to share this technical knowledge with young people ensured that Rik taught TSO education. There were still 60 students in the same TSO school at the time. Rik soon switched to Higher Technical Education as a lecturer for the Bachelor of Electronics-ICT, where he taught digital techniques and computer technology.

Once again, Rik was one of the first to make a monoboard with the 68,000 microprocessor or to create digital projects with PLD. Then Rik saw, after 20 years, that the aforementioned study program TSO Electronics course had been abolished due to a shortage of students.

Unbelievable, because in the meantime the world had become ‘digital’ and electronics are needed everywhere. That is why Rik switched to the world of Science Communication so that Rik could let people – especially young people – know how beautiful and important technology is.

He organized all kinds of technology and robot competitions (e.g. FLL, the Technology Academy). But the Flemish STEM Olympiade in particular, in analogy with, for example, the Mathematics Olympiad and Science Olympiad) was a hit. 64,000 participants are immersed in the world of STEM and technology every year.

About Eummena

Eummena Logo

Eummena, the innovative EdTech enterprise is Moodle’s Certified Premium Partner in Belgium and EMEA region. Putting the human factor first, we strive to empower you to get the most out of your Moodle platform, with hosting, implementation, training, and bespoke development services, bundled with premium support and coaching. To learn more about our full spectrum of services on digital transformation, EdTech strategies, our engagement in large-scale nation-wide initiatives, and innovative solutions based on open-source software, visit www.eummena.org

Eummena is ISO 27001 certified for our commitment to information security. As a leading EdTech provider, we prioritize the protection of our clients’ data, and this certification is a testament to our efforts.

Jad Najjar

Picture of Jad Najjar

Jad Najjar is the Co-Founder and CEO of Eummena, a leading EdTech enterprise and Premium Moodle partner with a strong presence in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. An alumnus of Katholieke Universiteit Leuven (K.U. Leuven), Belgium, Dr. Najjar earned his PhD in Computer Engineering, specializing in Educational Technologies (EdTech) and User Experience.

At Eummena, he is pivotal in driving customer engagement, business development, and advisory services. His acumen extends to developing innovative strategies, curricula, training programs, and industry engagement initiatives, all aimed at fostering digital economies. Jad’s hands-on involvement in managing Eummena’s key projects is instrumental in maintaining the highest standards of quality, user experience, and societal impact.

Proud Global Ambassador for VOKA (Flanders/Belgium Chamber of Commerce and Industry), Jad continuously strives to bridge the gap between education and industry on a global scale.

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