With platforms such as the E-NablingNT 2008 Road Show supported by Charles Darwin University, cyber-based learning or e-learning is fast gaining recognition as a key player in the education of remote Australian Indigenous people.
Virtual classrooms can be created where geography separates teacher and student. Using video-conferencing software, the teacher is still able to guide the student through packaging and presenting material gathered in their own environment about their own environment for assessment and qualification.
One of CDU’s advocates for e-learning is Ruth Wallace, a researcher from the Faculty of Education, Health and Science. She has worked with Indigenous people across a number of projects that have explored the use of e-learning to improve educational outcomes for Indigenous people.
“Traditionally, Indigenous learners would have to start with a written text not in their first language. But now with e-learning, they can actually start with something that looks more relevant. Their own world and their own lives become the centre of learning where they can represent all the things they already know about, so it becomes a way of sharing who they are."
Ms Wallace said that by including intuitive technologies that allowed people to share their ideas through images, sound and text and removing the reliance on text-based learning tools, Indigenous learners’ confidence to participate in formal learning was boosted as it helped to break down the language barriers and involved Indigenous people in co-producing knowledge and skills.
It also allowed the teacher to better engage with the student as the material they were working with together was a refection of the student’s real life.
“By talking about a subject they are passionate about and getting to see them represent their knowledge visually using their own landscape, the teacher gets to see the whole person and all the things they can do,” Ms Wallace said.
E-learning technologies open up channels of communication and allow “local” information to be valued in an educational setting. It’s about bringing in content that’s relevant to the Indigenous learner’s world and connecting them with other worlds that may be similar or of relevance to them.
Ms Wallace said she believed the Indigenous learner has a higher engagement when e-learning technology was involved because it was in this technology that people could see ideas and places relevant to themselves and their learning.