Regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students can be prevented from accessing higher education by geographical, academic, family and cultural factors. They have special logistical, academic and pastoral care requirements. Universities are finding ways to accommodate these needs to increase the participation and retention of students, through the application of new technologies, provision of decentralised student support and creation of defined pathways from regional VET programs.
10.2.1 Critical success factors
Critical success factors include:
- flexible delivery modes are accessible
- students’ financial, personal and academic needs are supported.
10.2.2 Key challenges
Key challenges include:
- ensuring that time and resources are made available to establish infrastructure in widespread locations
- accommodating the family responsibilities and limited capacity to travel of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
- gaining staff and student acceptance of technologies with which they are unfamiliar
- dealing with inadequate computer infrastructure, low levels of computer literacy and a lack of English language proficiency
- overcoming the shortage of accessible tutors with the knowledge and expertise in particular areas of study.
The University of Notre Dame – blended delivery model
The Broome campus of the University of Notre Dame first trialled online education software in a limited capacity between 2009 and 2010. This initiative led to the development of a blended delivery model between the Broome and Fremantle campuses in 2011 and includes traditional face-to-face teaching and online face-to-face teaching. Students in Broome and regional and remote students now have direct access to live lectures and tutorials from the Broome and Fremantle campuses. The blended delivery model offers students direct access to experienced staff and improved support regardless of where they live. This is particularly important for the Broome campus and its work on reconciliation, equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and regional students, and social justice.
The Broome campus has offered external studies since 1995, and has attempted to refine and enhance the learning experiences of external students. The blended delivery model was developed to further improve student access and support, diversify course offerings and make better use of financial and physical resources. The university met the financial costs of implementing the model.
The blended delivery model supports undergraduate and postgraduate students who live in towns and communities. Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students cannot travel to Broome to study because of family, community, cultural and work commitments. Learning online provides them with the opportunity to join other students, either in Broome or in Fremantle, in real-time lectures and tutorials without leaving home, a critical access issue for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students who are mothers. Because all teaching is automatically recorded, students can watch the lectures and tutorials outside of set teaching times or re-watch them for exam preparation. The blended delivery model aims to increase access, retention and completion rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students through its flexible approach to meeting individual student needs.
Curtin University – reverse block delivery
Curtin University’s reverse block program is delivered by academic staff from the Centre for Aboriginal Studies in the areas of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, community management and teacher education. It is funded by the Australian Government under the Away-from-Base program. Reverse block delivery is designed to increase access, relevance and participatory action learning by supporting students in their workplaces and communities. The centre’s role includes the administration of travel, documentation, debriefing and providing reports on student progress. Two blocks are delivered in semester one and one in semester two.
Block release lecturers are allocated a cohort of students to visit over a two-week period for three hours per student. An individualised learning program is developed for each student. The lecturer is responsible for managing the academic requirements of their cohort. Staff development is supported by the centre. Staff meet before and after each block to discuss individual students’ needs. The role of the lecturer is predominantly focused on teaching and learning, including linking content to student context, developing learning materials, providing advice on study techniques, problem solving and meeting assessment requirements, ensuring access to learning resources, and reinforcing course expectations. Lecturers are also responsible for supporting students during field practicums (for up to 10 weeks per year). This includes liaison with school principals, line managers and supervisors to ensure that students are supported within the working environment, and their competencies are monitored and assessed.
There is a strong focus on both academic and pastoral care. Reverse block delivery helps to maintain student motivation and overcome feelings of academic and professional isolation. Teaching is delivered in culturally appropriate ways to enhance students’ understanding of the materials that are presented. This is underpinned by Indigenous terms of reference that create an environment of cultural safety and sensitivity. Students from isolated or disadvantaged backgrounds need to overcome many obstacles to access university programs. Obstacles include inadequate computer infrastructure, low levels of computer literacy and a lack of English language proficiency. Support provided to these students includes assisting them to adapt to a new language and academic culture.
Charles Sturt University – Walgett Bachelor of Education project
In 2012, Charles Sturt University’s Faculty of Education will commence delivery of the Teacher Education in Community pilot project. The pilot allows Aboriginal people in regional communities, who are interested in a teaching career, the opportunity to study the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) degree at home, supported by Dubbo-based academic staff from the university’s School of Teacher Education. The internal mainstream course will be delivered through online and in-community teaching linking university communication networks with remote service delivery hubs at Walgett and Wilcannia. Students will attend block residential schools, link to fortnightly meetings via the connected classroom hubs, and be supported by local tutors who will be practising teachers in the local community. Additional support will be provided by a Mobile Learning Support team.
A total of 24 applications have been received for the pilot, drawn from a broad range of communities including Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, Narromine, Wilcannia and Dareton. Several applicants are Aboriginal education officers or Aboriginal education workers currently employed in schools, while others work in early childhood settings around the region.
In 2009, the Koori Interagency Network in Dubbo approached the university to find out how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in remote communities could access university studies in teacher education, without having to move to Sydney, Dubbo, Bathurst or Wagga Wagga. University staff attended conferences for Aboriginal workers and discussed the idea with the NSW Department of Education and Communities, Centrecare and other agencies. A survey was conducted to determine the viability of the mode of delivery. One hundred and twenty people from inland New South Wales indicated their interest in enrolling to study the Bachelor of Education (Early Childhood and Primary) degree at home, supported by a Dubbo-based academic. Support is being provided under the Australian Government’s Higher Education Participation and Partnerships Program. A working partnership has been maintained between the university, the NSW Department of Education and Communities – Western New South Wales Region and the Remote Service Delivery hubs in Walgett and Wilcannia. In-kind support has been pledged by local committees of the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, the NSW Aboriginal Land Council and the Macquarie Anglican Grammar School.