Promoting engagement and success at university through strengthening the online learning of Indigenous students living and studying in remote communities

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Wilks, J, Wilson, K & Kinnane, S 2017, 'Promoting engagement and success at university through strengthening the online learning of Indigenous students living and studying in remote communities: from polcy to practice', in J Frawley, S Larkin & JA Smith (eds), Indigenous pathways, transitions and participation in higher education, Springer, Singapore, pp. 211-233. ISBN: 9789811040610


This chapter extends the findings of a four-year investigation (2012–2015) into the processes, the data, the issues, the enablers and constraints, the opportunities and the successes associated with the transition of Indigenous students into higher education across the nation (Kinnane et al. ‘Can’t be what you can’t see’: the transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into higher education: Final report 2014. Office for Learning and Teaching, Sydney, 2014). This research described exemplar thinking, principles of successful programs, and identified elements of leading practice in the context of current trends and overall policy shifts relating to Indigenous experiences of higher education in 26 universities across Australia. The research also outlined five models for Indigenous student transition, retention and graduation utilised by Australian universities. This foundational work was then used as a framework by which to conduct further research into online learning experiences for Indigenous students living and studying in remote communities. In this chapter, we examine particular elements within the identified models that afford maximum success and participation in higher education for Indigenous students studying in remote locations. It is noted that these models are also in transition, hybridised and dynamic, with the thinking, policy and programs that underpin them continually evolving. Based on interviews with educators in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia, we establish an informed and nuanced understanding of the experiences of Indigenous university students living and studying in remote, and very remote, locations of Australia and of what ‘success’ might look like in these particular geographical and cultural contexts. Further, we aim to contribute to the development of a culturally responsive approach in the higher education sector which seeks to (i) promote community and family awareness and engagement in these students’ learning experiences, (ii) strengthen student support and (iii) improve learning opportunities and enhance student engagement; the combined effect of all three being to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous higher education students studying online in remote and very remote communities. We argue that successful transition may actualise anywhere between enrolment in a university, retention in a course or successful completion, and that there are key areas where investment in success can be made. To this end, we identify online teaching and learning strategies based on the research findings, designed to enhance learning opportunities and promote family and community engagement.

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