Students show research and presentation skills at Top Talks

For the first time, the VCE Season of Excellence began with Top Talks, a showcase of four outstanding research studies by 2018 Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) Extended Investigation students.

Top Talks
Top Talks presenters talk to Maxine McKew

​​​VCE Extended investigation is a relatively new study that began in 2013. It gives students the task of researching, collecting data and presenting a subject of their choice. Extended Investigation encourages students to investigate something they are interested in, how to ask questions and communicate complex ideas to other people, preparing them for highly sought-after employability skills.

Journalist and former politician Maxine McKew led the event at the State Library Victoria. 'I do a fair bit of public speaking, it's not something that comes easily,' Ms McKew says. 'But it can be an extraordinary tool for advocacy and for change.'

The presentations

Mornington Secondary College student Kailyn O'Connor spoke about the impact of educating and communicating recycling to her school. By adding a recycling bin and signage next to the garbage bins, Kailyn noticed that recycling increased at school. After consultation and recommendations with staff, she set up a school recycling program. Kailyn says her teachers played a part in guiding her topic choice.

Top Talks group
Left to right: Kailyn, Luca, Stephanie and Ryan

'When I first started, I had big ideas that were unachievable,' Kailyn says. 'My teachers really helped me scope it down to something definite, shaping the question so I'd go down one path.'

She used a combination of existing research on recycling and observations on her own activities.

'You can use the existing research to help reinforce your own answer to check if it matches up, or contrasts it,' Kailyn says.

Stephanie Barito from University High School presented her research on the effects of ultraviolet irradiation on diseased canola seeds. With an interest in engineering and other STEM subjects, Stephanie wanted to do a science experiment. Her experiment yielded some unexpected results, but she says it prompted her to research more into why it happened. 

'It was a struggle, but it turned out to be a good way to have a discussion about my results,' Stephanie says. 'No matter what goes wrong, there's a strength and a weakness.'

She described her experience of Top Talks as 'really rewarding'.

'I think the most valuable thing was meeting all these people, networking and talking to them about their research and meeting the future students,' she says.

Stephanie says her teachers and other staff at school helped her with ideas, and logistics like finding fungi for her experiment. 'The most important role that my teachers played was pushing me to keep researching,' Stephanie says. 'You have more resources than you think. Use your teachers.'

Luca Irmici of Fitzroy High School presented his research on the national identity of East Timor. He spoke to Timor Leste students to better understand their perspective. He says Top Talks was his first time public speaking.

'It's been a great experience, which has helped me to gain more confidence when presenting in front of people,' Luca says.

'To be able to share the extensive research that took me nine months to do, with so much stress and also enjoyment, has been rewarding. Hopefully, other students will learn from it.'

Ryan Walker from Melbourne High School spoke on how families with children on the autism spectrum access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). 

'I have an autistic brother and we're quite involved in the NDIS, and I felt like this was an advantage [to my topic],' Ryan says. 'So I was really invested in finding out more about the NDIS.'

'In our class, they say that if you can Google the answer, you shouldn't be doing it,' he says. 'The whole point is to go out in an area that hasn't been researched before and try to add to the body of work.'

VCE and beyond

VCE Extended Investigation alumni and Monash law student Madison Schenck came to speak about how the subject has benefited her university studies.

'It encourages you to step out of your comfort zone,' Madison says. 'Through these challenges, my skills developed. I could approach my other Year 12 subjects with a unique perspective, and it made the transition between VCE and university easier.'

Madison explained that the subject teaches important employable skills to school students.

'When you're applying for jobs where 300 p​eople are also applying for it, it's important to find something about yourself that's a bit different from everyone else who is applying for the same job and has the same degree,' Madison says.

'For me, doing Extended Investigation played a big role in that.'

The VCE Season of Excellence 2019

The VCE Season of Excellence is the VCAA's annual five-month festival showcasing outstanding VCE student work in the fields of research, visual and performing arts, design and technologies.

Coming up:

  • Top Screen: 7 March to 7 May
  • Top Designs: 30 March to 14 July
  • Top Arts: 22 March to 14 July
  • Top Class: 21 February to 19 March
  • Top Acts: 10 May