James Riggall awarded a Fulbright scholarship

EXCITED: James Riggall in a meeting with Bruce Wolcott who he will connect with in the US. Picture: Scott Gelston
EXCITED: James Riggall in a meeting with Bruce Wolcott who he will connect with in the US. Picture: Scott Gelston

One northern Tasmanian man will join the ranks of presidents, Nobel prize laureates, Pulitzer prize winners and prime ministers.

James Riggall has been selected for a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, which will see him travel to the United States for seven months for an exchange of knowledge and ideas.

The Fulbright program boasts such alumni as Sylvia Plath and Henry Kissinger.

The Fulbright program is a foreign exchange program whereby international scholars, academics and professionals travel to the US to study, teach or conduct research, bringing back their experiences to their own country and vice versa. 

It was started following World War II, as a way to promote peace and collaboration between countries and was funded with the proceeds of the sale of surplus US armaments at the end of the war.

“It began in as a vision from American senator [William Fulbright] from Arkansaw back in 1946,” Australian-American Fulbright Commission communications officer Alexander Mclaurin said. 

“His idea was to use the funds generated through the sale of those armaments to fund a two-way exchange program.

The idea was once the world knew more about America and America knew more about the wider world then the chances for peace and prosperity would be lifted and the chances of conflict erupting through misunderstandings would be decreased.

Alexander Mclaurin

“The idea was once the world knew more about America and America knew more about the wider world then the chances for peace and prosperity would be lifted and the chances of conflict erupting through misunderstandings would be decreased.”

In the following 70 years the program has become a highly prestigious bilateral exchange, and the Fulbright alumni reads like a list of the world’s successful and influential.

Known as something of a powerhouse in the tech, innovation and start-up space, Riggall use the opportunity to explore technology as a means of opening up the education space and developing cross-continental connections. 

He will travel to the United States in September where he will work with Bellevue College to help them develop collaborative spaces, similar to those he has created in Launceston, and to establish a collaborative education project connecting students from Bellevue and Launceston. 

Riggall’s connection to Bellevue began many years ago when he connected with Bellevue College instructor Bruce Wolcott when creating the University of Tasmania Human Interface Technology laboratory seven years ago.

“The big interest that Bruce and I have is how do you do teaching collaboratively over distance? But it’s actually a bit broader than that, it’s how do you do education collaboratively over distance,” Riggall said. 

“Bruce and I were working more closely together than I was with just about anyone else in the university so my closest colleague at the University of Tasmania was a sessional teacher on the other side of the planet.”

Wolcott is excited by the possibilities technology opens in education. 

“Now that we have the internet we’re out of this closed four walls of the classroom; it’s like one of the walls of the classroom are gone, maybe all of the walls have gone, and we are ... communicating with people all over the planet,” he said. 

“A big part of what we’re working on [with the Fulbright scholarship] is this notion of a long-distance learning lab, we want to create a model of how we communicate with each other, how we use virtual worlds, how we use hackathons [or] online projects to connect between Seattle and Launceston.

“If we can get a working model ... we can broaden the walls of our education experience and make them more large interactive worlds.

It’s really revamping an antiquated approach to [education] … and integrating new possibilities to how we can teach.

Bruce Wolcott

“It’s really revamping an antiquated approach to [education] … and integrating new possibilities to how we can teach.”

Riggall is hoping to establish a collaborative project between students in Seattle and Launceston during his scholarship. 

He wants to explore what the future of education could look like if it was facilitated through technology. 

“What if we could get students working together over vast distance? Part of this project is working with the Pacific Science Centre in Seattle and working with QVMAG here and the Battery Shed here and trying to get some kind of collaborative project happening where we have young people in Tasmania and young people in Seattle working together,” he said. 

Riggall has always had a strong emphasis on building community, and making global connections is just the next step for him. 

“Bruce and I are both very interested in technology, but not necessarily just from an engineer's perspective but actually from a humanitarian perspective and from a creative perspective as well,” Riggall said.

“Bellevue wants to look at technology in a holistic way and they see some of the stuff that we’re doing here and they think, ‘Wow, there's some interesting things going on and we could learn something’.” 

Riggall is excited to showcase what Launceston and Tasmania has achieved in the startup space.

We think because Microsoft’s from Seattle and because Boeing is from Seattle ... we think that we can't offer anything to a place like that, but actually Bellevue is looking to what’s going on here.

James Riggall

“We think because Microsoft’s from Seattle and because Boeing is from Seattle ... we think that we can't offer anything to a place like that, but actually Bellevue is looking to what’s going on here,” he said. 

The Fulbright scholarship is all about sharing knowledge, which is something Riggall is looking forward to while in the US.

“Everything we’re doing is very much in that [Fulbright] spirit, I want to go to Seattle and share a lot of the great stuff that we’ve been doing,” he said. 

“But also to soak up as much knowledge as I can, and to make connections and bring them back to Tasmania.”

Riggall hopes other Tasmanians will realise the possibilities open to people with the Fulbright scholarship. 

Mclaurin said Fulbright welcomes anyone who shows exceptional passion. 

“A lot of people may disqualify themselves by thinking we are only looking for university award winners or Nobel prize candidates, we are really looking for people, like James, who are passionate about what they're doing and have made the most of their opportunities,” he said.