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To what extent does spatial inequality, the uneven distribution of resources and services based on geographical location, determine Indigenous Australian higher education outcomes? In 2011 Indigenous Australian adults living in urban areas were three times as likely to have attained a Bachelor degree or above than those living in remote or regional areas (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2011). Digital education may provide an opportunity to resolve access to education where distance is the primary barrier by mitigating some of the impediments to Indigenous education such as travelling long distances or living away from home. Recent trends in Indigenous higher education have indicated that online courses are succeeding in attracting and retaining Indigenous students particularly in regional areas (Darwin Sun, 2014). However, little is known of how socio-technological barriers (such as internet connectivity, ownership/sharing of devices, digital literacy) relate to and interact with other social and educational barriers. In this paper we draw on Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach to discuss how digital inclusion impediments may be impacting on higher education qualifications. The Indigenous Futures Program (IFP) aims to develop a new way of delivering higher education and pathway programs to regional and remote Indigenous communities by developing a new approach to integrated digitally-enabled learning. The IFP is prototyping this concept by focussing on collaborative course designs, moving towards mobile and life integrated learning, digital enabled mentoring and the exploitation of culturally accepted social media and informed by Indigenous ways of learning and knowledge. The project involves three demonstrator projects, conducted in partnership with organisations working with Indigenous individuals and communities in regional and remote areas. The research that accompanies the IFP aims to determine the extent to which online education can improve pathways to higher education and to identify the social and technological limits and challenges. This paper discusses each of the three demonstrator projects and the pathway courses that they are delivering online; and describes the process of establishing partnerships with Indigenous organisations to develop and deliver these pathway programs.
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Higher Education, Participation and Partnerships Program National Forum, Engagement at the interface: indigenous pathways and transitions into higher education, Charles Darwin University, Australia, 22-23 October 2015
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