Full paper Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Higher education service learning with Australia’s first peoples (#29)

Dawn Bennett 1 , Naomi Sunderland 2 , Anne Power 3 , Brydie-Leigh Bartleet 2
  1. Curtin University, Perth, WA, Australia
  2. Griffith University, Brisbane, QLD, Australia
  3. University of Western Sydney, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

Australian higher education institutions are under increasing pressure to institute Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture at every level of activity. In this paper, which takes as its context a three-university service-learning initiative with Australia’s first peoples, we argue that service-learning opportunities develop students who are more responsive, adaptable and aware. In this instance we position service learning as a strategy through which Australian universities and colleges might promote Indigenous cultural content for students, faculty and the broader community. We report the experiences of a funded, arts-based service learning initiative in which creative arts students (n=70) and pre-service teachers (n=37) worked with over 290 Aboriginal community members in urban and rural areas of Australia. The study adopted an action research approach and we combined a range of conceptual-theoretical resources with the voices and experiences of the students, academic researchers and community members. Our study data confirmed the potential for service learning to build valuable intercultural competencies amongst higher education students, fostering critical engagement with racial politics and a shift in extant views of cultural diversity. Participating students developed a deeper awareness of their past experiences and a greater sensitivity towards forms of social and cultural oppression. Deeper critical engagement with the issues faced by Indigenous communities prompted students to be far more responsive in their critiques of the cultural politics of their own educational experiences. And as they gained confidence and self-assuredness, students learned to draw on their past experiences and perceptions to adapt to diverse expectations and contexts.

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

Unlike the traditional career pattern featuring a linear career trajectory and longer-term employment with a single employer, Australian graduates are increasingly likely to work in a non-linear pattern that features a self-managed patchwork of concurrent and overlapping employment arrangements. The negotiation of these complex careers requires graduates who are responsive, adaptable and aware. Drawing its context from service-learning initiatives with Australia’s first peoples, this paper explores the role of service learning in developing these traits. The paper draws attention to issues of critical engagement and self-confidence alongside preparation for diversity, complexity, and awareness of other voices and perspectives.

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