Skilling Up: Providing Educational Opportunities for Aboriginal Education Workers through Technology-based Pedagogy
Technolog y-based Pedagog y for Aboriginal Education Workers through Skilling Up: Providing Educational Opportunities
Elizabeth M. Jackson-Barrett
Edith Cowan University
Anne E. Price
Skilling Up: Providing Educational Opportunities for Aboriginal
Education Workers through Technology-based
Pedagogy in Western Australia
Elizabeth M. Jackson-Barrett
Edith Cowan University
Anne E Price
Abstract: Over the past decade Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
studies and perspectives have been mandated across the Australian
national curriculum and all teachers are now required to demonstrate
strategies for teaching Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students
and have a broad knowledge of Aboriginal histories, cultures and
languages. This paper describes a project focused on enabling
Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs) to play a critical role in
transforming these initiatives into real and sustainable change
through authentic, technology-based pedagogy. Indigenous research
methodologies and design-based research (DBR) were used to
investigate the potential educational roles for AEWs enabled by
elearning and new technologies. The project, called Skilling Up:
Improving educational opportunities for AEWs through technology
based pedagogy was funded by the Office of Learning and Teaching.
This paper reports on the findings of the study conducted in Western
Australia, including pre-study survey results, together with a
description of a unit of study to provide opportunities for AEWs to use
technologies in their work, and to create authentic digital stories for
use in teacher education. The development of design principles for the
design of such environments is also discussed.
Aboriginal education, Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs), Indigenous research
methodologies, Design-based Research (DBR), Authentic learning, ICTs,
elearning design principles
Changes to the Australian educational context aimed at redressing inequitable
educational outcomes for Indigenous students have included the introduction of a new
mandated Australian Curriculum (ACARA), national standardised testing (NAPLAN),
professional standards for Australian teachers, and national accreditation for Initial
Teacher Education providers (AITSL). These initiatives provide the context for the
rationale of this project, principally because the Australian Professional Standards for
Teachers require that all educators across Australia engage with Aboriginal Australia in
significant ways?firstly by directing that all educators teach Aboriginal content and
perspectives throughout the Curriculum; and secondly by implementing standards that
require both pre-service and in-service teachers to demonstrate their teaching strategies,
broad knowledge and respect of Aboriginal Australia so that they have the capacity and
resolve for further Reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia.
It is within this educational context, that we argue that the interface of
Aboriginal education is on the cusp of a revolution. It is a revolution that was initiated
four decades ago, by Aboriginal educators who, through their resilience, have fought
long and hard to address issues of equity and opportunity within education for
Aboriginal students. This has come after a long history of exclusion and poor provision
of education for Aboriginal students which has resulted in ?intergenerational education
disadvantage? which continues to the present day
(Beresford, 2012, p. 85)
. Early policy
drivers, such as the United Nation?s Declaration on Human Rights (1948), and
statement on the right for everyone to education, have forced Governments to take
appropriate action. However, Beresford indicates that this became evident in Australia
from the 1970s (2012, p. 105).
Improving educational access, retention and outcomes for Indigenous
Australians through a concerted effort across state, territory and the national
governments has been enshrined in national policy agendas for almost three decades
. Yet today Indigenous Australians still lag behind the rest of the
country on all educational indicators, except for Year 12 attainment which has
continued to improve over the past decade
(Close the Gap, 2018)
The government?s current ?Close the Gap? agenda follows continued demands
by Aboriginal educators to improve outcomes for Indigenous Australians. Initially,
Tom Calma, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner,
focused the ?closing the gap? campaign on health initiatives, referring principally to the
life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The campaign
was soon extended to education (Social Justice Report, 2005). The Council of
Australian Government (COAG) was the vehicle in which ?close the gap? changes in
education for Aboriginal students were to be driven. Through the campaign, many
school initiatives were introduced, such as early childhood access and participation;
school readiness; school attendance and retention; school completion; early learning
programs; parenting in the early years; and strategies to improve employment
the Gap Clearing House, 2013)
. Significantly, among these initiatives, the Teacher and
school leader quality and sustainability initiative highlights that: ?Schools that employ
and value Indigenous staff provide ?ready? links between school, families and
communities which can enhance the transition to school for Indigenous children?
(Mulford, 2011, p. 2). Aboriginal Education Workers1 (AEWs) are key cultural brokers
in closing the gap in education for Aboriginal students and bringing forward such
1 The term Aboriginal Education Workers is used here to refer to Indigenous support workers/officers in schools, except
when a specific term is used within the source. We acknowledge that there are a variety of terms used across Australia
including Australian Indigenous Education Officers (AIEOs), Aboriginal Teacher Assistants (ATAs) and Aboriginal
Education Workers (AEWs). AIEWs ? Aboriginal and Islander Education Workers; ATSIEWs ? Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Education Workers). The term AIEO is used as generic and includes ATSIEWs.
Aboriginal Education Workers in Schools
In the 1970s the first AEWs or Aboriginal teacher aides as they were known at
the time, were employed in public schools to assist teachers in communicating with
students, parents and the Aboriginal community who spoke in the local vernacular
(Education Department of WA, Annual Report, 1974). The numbers of AEWs
increased significantly following the provision of prioritised funding programs for
Aboriginal Education that were introduced by the Whitlam Government between 1972
and 1975. For example, the newly formed Aboriginal Affairs Department provided
funding for salaries to boost the number of AEWs employed in schools throughout the
The need for training for AEWs was identified by the Commonwealth Schools
Commission in a report published in 1979. The report found that many AEWs who
were appointed in schools were unqualified and inexperienced for the role and as a
result, recommended funding for AEWs to assist them in performing their duties as
liaison officers between the school, parents and the community
Schools Commission, 1979)
. Furthermore, in 1979 the National Aboriginal Education
Committee identified both strengths and weaknesses of the current AEW program.
Strengths of the program included: home-school liaison, role models, team teaching,
individual instruction and cultural advisor. Weaknesses included: clarity of role
definition, teacher attitudes, security of tenure and the selection and appointment of
(National Aboriginal Education Committee, 1979, p.49)
. The weaknesses in
particular, further highlighted the need for training for AEWs as well as teachers, the
clarification of their roles, and improving the process of selection.
In Australia, educational leaders have had access to a plethora of reports that review
and recommend changes in education for Aboriginal students
20102014; COAG, 2008; Department of Education and Training Western Australia, Aboriginal
Education Plan for WA public schools 2011-2014; Western Australian Strategic Plan for
Aboriginal Education and Training 2011-2015)
. Many of these reports indicate that AEWs in
schools are of vital importance but that these workers have too often, and for far too long,
been relegated to the margins of schools and not utilised in ways that are conducive to
Aboriginal student success (Gower, Partington, Byrne, Galloway, Weissofner, Ferguson &
Kirov, 2011; COAG, 2008; Cunningham, 1998; MCEECDYA, 2010-2014).
also maintains that a key strategy for improving Indigenous student achievement and
engagement in schools and higher education institutions is the employment and meaningful
engagement of Indigenous staff. Students have been found to have a more positive sense of
self when either Indigenous teachers or Indigenous adults are present at school.
Currently, there are over 600 AEWs employed in the three educational sectors
in Western Australia. They comprise a committed presence in schools as long-term
participants in education and provide a stable and continuous part of the school
community, with Buckskin and Hignett (1994, p. 4) highlighting that ?AIEWs are the
largest body of education staff who work consistently with Aboriginal students for long
periods ?. and [they are] the most stable staff?, as teachers come and go. But few go on
to become fully qualified teachers, as they have a flat career trajectory with limited
prospects. Gower et al, (2011) noted that additional promotional opportunities could
lead to incentives to become fully qualified teachers, however, it was also reported that
many AIEOs who were surveyed indicated that they had no desire to become teachers.
In efforts to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
teachers, the Commonwealth Government provided funding between 2011 and 2015 for
the ?More Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Teachers Initiative (MATSITI). This
initiative provided a number of research projects to be undertaken, including strategies
to transition AEWs into careers as teachers (MATSITI, 2016). In a report submitted to
MATSITI in 2012, the Department of Education in Western Australia outlined its
commitment in providing opportunities and support for AIEOs to train as teachers. It
reported that between 2008 and 2010, 40 AIEOs had graduated as teachers under a
Department supported initiative
. The Department of Education (WA)
has continued to provide support to increase rates for pre-service AIEOs through
MATSITI in 2014 and 2015 and continues this initiative presently.
For those AEWs who do not wish to become teachers, the opportunity to access
professional learning programs to upskill and support their roles is currently
inadequate. For example, Gower, et al., (2011) highlighted that while it was widely
recognized that the role is vital for improving educational outcomes for Indigenous
students, a need for greater provision of professional learning opportunities and
improved recruitment and retention processes exists. Teachers surveyed identified lack
of skills and formal education among some AEWs as one of the barriers to effective
working relationships. AIEOs commented that their particular skills and roles were
often not understood by some teachers, and there was a need for greater awareness of
the nature of their work in communities and schools. Gower et al., (2011) also noted the
lack of career pathways for AIEOs, and that the current job description was
inappropriate for the range of work performed by them.
In this paper, we describe a study, funded by the Australian Government Office
of Learning and Teaching, which focused specifically on upskilling the role of
Aboriginal Education Workers as a sustainable way to improve educational outcomes
for Aboriginal students through technology- based pedagogy. Specifically, the research
investigated pedagogically and culturally appropriate ways to provide educational and
career opportunities for AEWs in their own communities in Western Australia, and to
open up pathways and opportunities to higher education. The study tapped into the
potential of AEWs to provide a key supporting role for teachers through enhanced
technological capability. This was done through a collaborative program in mobile
learning where AEWs developed their competence in new educational technologies
(using iPads) to provide a highly valuable role in modern classrooms, and potentially to
enable pathways into teaching degrees. In particular, this paper reports on the research
design that used Indigenous methodologies?within a design-based research
approach?to consult with practitioners (principals, teachers and AEWs) about issues
and challenges facing AEWs in schools in Western Australia.
Key Issues of Skills, Career Pathways and Professional Understanding
In researching the role of Aboriginal Education Workers, the project focused on
using technologies for research and development in three key areas encapsulated by the
themes of Enabling skills, Pathways in higher education and Understanding of AEW
roles (particularly for pre-service teachers):
This element comprised the collaborative creation of a professional learning program
for AEWs based on new technologies and their use in creating genuine and culturally
appropriate artefacts (stories). The rationale for this approach was to help to develop the
skills of AEWs so that they would be able to provide valuable knowledge and support
in classrooms in a critical area that is often not mastered by teachers themselves
(Jorgensen, 2012). Further, they would learn valuable professional skills in relation to
educational and communications technology, by engaging with mobile devices (iPads)
to not create stories in audio and visual formats, but also to edit and upload the stories
to a dedicated website. These digital stories could themselves be part of induction
programs for teachers providing them with an opportunity to develop an understanding
of the roles of AEWs and the communities they work with from the AEWs?
Pathways in Higher Education
Creation of a sustainable pathway for AEWs to access Bachelor of Education degrees
was the second element of the research. The contextualised skills required to: learn
appropriate mobile technologies (such as iPads), plan for collection of material, input
audio and visual images, edit material to create sharable stories?to name just a few
such skills? comprise significant achievement parallel to completion of an educational
technology unit in a first year initial teaching degree. Providing such a program and
pathway guidelines (including for Advanced Standing) would assist interested AEWs
transition into B.Ed. degrees. A key benefit of this approach is that AEWs could create
e-portfolios of the stories and products they create as they learn skills in educational
technology and pedagogy.
Understanding of AEW Roles
The third element was on the creation of a module for use in in- service professional
development and pre-service teacher education. Using the stories of AEWs and other
resources, a module has been developed to promote understanding of how to work
alongside AEWs?their roles in classrooms and schools, and how to work in
collaboration with them to enhance Indigenous students? learning and outcomes.
The development of these three areas of interest in the study was then
researched using Indigenous methodologies and a design-based research approach, as
described in detail below.
Incorporating Indigenous Ways of Knowing, Being and Doing in Research
Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing are practices that are as varied as
Aboriginal peoples, their community contexts and the ?Country? that ground them. The
term 'On Country' in this context refers to the land that is associated with a particular
Aboriginal language group and distinguishing them from over 250 other language
groups that existed prior to European occupation in 1788
The above mentioned practices enacted in this project were done so with
purpose ? to engage the issue of Indigenous knowledges and voices within the
institution of education for they have been silent for too long. For example, the work by
Rigney (2006) on ?Indigenist Research?, and
on the ?Cultural interface?
and Indigenous standpoint theory, provide key understandings of Indigenous research
methodologies for researchers who engage in this space. Rigney?s ?Indigenist research?
methodology refers to the ?de-colonising? of practices in research and Indigenous
control and ownership over research. Two of the four researchers in this project were
Indigenous. Indigenous participants were provided opportunities to express their views
in a culturally safe environment and through yarning. The project?s methodology is
characterised by the Aboriginal protocol of ?to sit and listen? (Jackson-Barrett, Price,
Stomski & Walker, 2015) that is, to listen to the voices of the AEWs in order to
establish the direction of the research. Rigney asserts that ?what is central to Indigenist
research is that Indigenous Australian ideals, values and philosophies are the core
research agenda, even if there is a difference about what constitutes such values and
ideals? (Rigney, 2006, p.41). In this research we have given voice to the AEWs
through presenting their words in full quotes in the latter part of the paper.
Nakata uses the term, ?cultural interface? to describe the contested space where
Western and Indigenous knowledges and discourses come together. ?It is a space of
many shifting and complex intersections between different people with different
histories, experiences, languages, agendas, aspirations and responses
(Nakata, 2007, p.
. In working in these contested spaces and when dealing with complex issues,
Nakata (2013, p. 290), pointed out that there will be ?tension? on how these issues are
thought through and how they are analysed by Indigenous communities and
individuals. A number of incidences occurred during the research project to highlight
issues that related to contested spaces involving the participants, the research team and
school administrators. For example, the principal at one school insisted that only school
owned iPads be used by the participants for the research project rather than allowing
them to receive a personal issued iPad that was made available by the Skilling Up
Project. By adopting this stance, the principal orchestrated a deficit position by
controlling when these devices could be used, and what apps or content could be loaded
and accessed by users. The use of individual passwords was not permitted which
resulted in participants having to share the same password when accessing the two apps
that were designated for the project. As a consequence, this incident caused tensions
among the participants, the research team and the principal as it raised issues relating to
the lack of trust, respect, privacy and opportunities to spend time on Project tasks. The
?contested space? in this example displays an unequal power relationship and relates to
a conflict of interest whereby the school was prepared to support the skilling up of
AEWs, but placed restrictions on how this could happen, despite the process being
presented by the research team as an educative tool that would engage AEWs in the
learning program at the school.
Indigenous methodological approaches lend themselves to ?situational
responsiveness? (Patton, 2002) and given the depth of the cultural diversity amongst
Aboriginal peoples, their communities and their working contexts, it is necessary and
culturally appropriate to draw on a number of inquiry methods. In this study,
Aboriginal communities from three different locations in Western Australia were
involved, and it was therefore necessary to keep in mind the Aboriginal protocols and
school regulations that needed to be negotiated throughout this whole project. Further,
while working in ?localised? spaces, it is important to acknowledge that these spaces are
grounded in ?the politics, circumstances and economies of a particular moment, a
particular time and place, a particular set of problems, struggles and desires ?. and
possibilities? (Denzin, Lincoln & Smith, 2008, p. 9). By understanding and
acknowledging the locality of space across three educational sectors it allowed the
research team to empower the project participants?all of whom were key cultural
brokers in their respective schools?to discuss the reality of their roles as AEWs on
their own terms, in their own contexts, and to develop their digital skills based on their
existing skill levels and context needs. A major element or central tenet of the project?s
methodology was the Aboriginal protocol of ?to sit and listen?? listen to the voices of
the AEWs all of whom have something worthwhile and important to say about the
space they occupy within Aboriginal education. This is a space that over the last four
decades has been continually acknowledged as having a key role for Aboriginal
students and their families.
As with any research, it is essential to develop an understanding of the context
and in this case the need to understand AEWs? roles on a daily basis, as well as the
context in which each was employed. By utilising Indigenous methodologies alongside
design-based research we were able to collaborate with the participants through
interconnected phases of survey, data collection through ?yarning? sessions that in turn
developed the Professional Development sessions and respective field trips
(Department of Education, Training & Employment, n.d.). It was also known from the
research team?s extensive research experiences that ?unknowns? often appear, and thus
the research needed to remain open and flexible, for it may be that the ?unknowns?
could revolutionise the direction and the methods of the research. Combining
Indigenous methodologies and design-based research readily allowed the space to
accommodate ?unknowns? if and when they appeared. Moreover, an interpretative
approach allowed the flexibility for the methodology to strategically match skills with
the digital technology needs for each of the AEWs? contexts?all of which lent an
authenticity (Herrington, Oliver & Reeves, 2010) to the research itself because it was
based on the breadth and depth of AEWs? experiences. The research adopted a
methodology of emancipation and empowerment
that encourages a
?shared approach? as participants were considered co-researchers. Such ?sharing?
required constant negotiation in order to ensure the research was equitable and
responsive to the needs and contexts of the AEWs.
Indigenous epistemological and axiological ways of conducting research is
through established relationships, for it cuts through the ?humbug? of unfamiliarity, and
given that this was an educational research project, it allows the researchers to
[re]connect at the cultural interface
, that is, the schools and classrooms
where AEWs were situated. It was these established relationships from previous
research that fostered the goodwill that began work on the research project, and it was
the hours of ?yarning? from these relationships that morphed the ideas for the Skilling
Up project. It is here that Indigenous research methods through ?local? epistemological
ways of knowing and doing were used to empower the participants in their roles as
AEWs. Additionally, the methods used add another branch to the Grounded In Country
methodological framework currently in development to assist researchers when
working on ?Country?, and in ?Country? alongside and with Aboriginal peoples and
their respective communities (Jackson-Barrett, et.al., 2015). This framework offers a
starting point and insights into specific approaches that work across borders, and that
engage and privilege Indigenous voices, knowledges and experiences within an
academy that was previously prescribed by Western institutions and the disciplines
contained within them.
Design-based research (DBR), incorporating Indigenous research methodologies described above, was also used as a framework for the conduct of the study. DBR is a relatively new approach that the authors considered to be particularly
appropriate for research in Indigenous settings because of its strongly consultative
focus, and because it addresses complex problems in real contexts in collaboration with
practitioners. It is also appropriate for development research, where an innovative
approach is implemented, and there is an emphasis on making a project work, rather
than simply researching whether it works or not.
The research involved four phases that aligned with
) model of
DBR, depicted in Figure 1 below.
Each phase, together with the three interwoven project elements, is described in
Phase 1 was guided by the question: What are the potential educational roles for
AEWs that are enabled by e-learning and mobile technologies? An investigation and
analysis of technology use in Indigenous educational settings was conducted through an
indepth literature review and an online survey, with an invitation sent to all AEWs working in
West Australian schools and their school principals. The views of Indigenous experts, and
sector advisors were also sought through meetings and discussions. Investigation and
analysis was also conducted to explore higher education pathways for non-typical entry,
together with means and methods universities have adopted to provide advanced standing
credit for university study
. In promoting understanding of the role of AEWs,
investigation and analysis of the current role of AEWs across different school sectors was
conducted through access to recent reports
(Gower et al., 2011, MATSITI, 2016; Nexus
Phase 2 focused on providing solutions or further opportunities, based on the
findings from Phase 1. This phase addressed the question: What are appropriate
strategies for professional learning for AEWs, pre-service and in-service teachers? A
professional learning course for AEWs was designed and created, based on design
principles derived from the literature review, the surveys and other consultations. A
course of activities comprising the equivalent of a semester unit of study was designed
and developed for up to 30 AEWs self-nominated through the survey, and from across
all school sectors (WA Department of Education, Catholic, and independent schools),
and remote and urban schools. The course focused on technology skills and
pedagogical strategies appropriate for use in primary and secondary classrooms, based
on mobile technologies (iPads) to facilitate the enabling skills of AEWs in their
classroom roles. These activities create pathways to higher education, as they can be
used in the development of an e-portfolio, and serve a dual role, also as assessable tasks
for a unit of study to be taken by AEWs over twelve months, comprising the equivalent
of advanced standing or RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) for one base unit in a
Bachelor of Education. Unit curriculum, workshop activities, e-learning and
communication strategies were planned and developed during this phase, ready for
implementation in Phase 3.
In addition to the course materials for AEWs, a 2-week PD module was also
planned and developed during Phase 2 for pre-service and in-service teachers, with the
goal of creating a means to promote understanding of the cultural significance of AEWs
and their role in the classroom. The module, entitled Building relationships with AEWs,
has been developed as a web-enabled learning environment, together with guidelines
for its use as an embedded topic within a foundation unit for a B.Ed. or as a stand-alone
in-service teacher PD module. The PD module is one that any university or institution
could use or adapt, either as an embedded task in an introductory teaching unit or as a
shorter stand-alone PD session.
Phase 3 comprised the implementation of the AEW program guided by the question:
What pedagogical strategies facilitate the use of e-learning and mobile learning devices in
Indigenous primary education settings? The authentic activities using mobile technologies
were implemented with 32 AEWs nominated from the surveys and consultations. A set of
iPads was purchased for use by AEWs to act as a communication device, cognitive learning
tool, and production and delivery instrument for products (such as digital stories). A series
of workshops were conducted in Perth and regional hubs to commence the unit and
associated activities. The workshop introduced AEWs to activities with iPads, brainstormed
the educational uses of iPads in classrooms and communities, provided instruction and
practice on the creation of digital stories, and demonstrated how the iPads could be used for
communication and learning in the completion of the educational technology unit through
subscription to a Moodle-based Learning Management System (LMS). The participating
AEWs completed embedded authentic tasks with online and in-school support.
Phase 4 consisted of a process of documenting and reflecting on all findings to
produce design principles, with the focus question: What pedagogical principles can
guide the use of mobile technology to empower AEWs? In order to reflect upon those
understandings, and to disseminate them in a freely accessible manner to educators. Ten
design principles were derived from the findings of the research.
The design principles, together with the analysis of an initial consultative survey
are described below, followed by discussion of the development of the unit of activities
for AEWs, the professional development modules research design, and the findings of
The Selection of Participants
Participant hubs were suggested based on principals? and AEWs? responses to
the request for Expressions of Interest (EOI) for the project. Three hubs were created
for more contextualised workshops and onsite visits: the metropolitan area of Perth, the
Gascoyne area, and the Kimberley. Schools with large numbers of AEWs were chosen.
Survey of AEW Roles and Responsibilities
In order to investigate the potential educational roles for AEWs that could be
enabled by e- learning and mobile technologies, a survey was developed to explore the
views of AEWs themselves and principals throughout Western Australia. The survey
comprised a mix of questions requiring answers in the form of multiple choice and
descriptive text. Questions varied slightly in content and form, but broadly focused on
the following areas for each group:
Principals: Demographic information (gender, age, sector, years teaching,
number of teaching staff and AEWs in school, etc), policy governing AEW role
in school, the extent of ICT use in the school, professional development
opportunities for teachers and AEWs in the school in relation to ICT, the
educational role of AEWs in relation to ICT use with students in the classroom,
and issues or problems identified in relation to ICT use by AEWs or the school
AEWs: Demographic information (gender, age, sector, working on or off
country, etc), roles performed as an AEW, induction and professional
development opportunities, professional development opportunities for ICT, the
access AEWs have to mobile technologies or other ICT in the school, the
educational role of AEWs in relation to ICT use in the classroom with students,
and issues or problems identified in their learning to use ICT or implementation
of ICT in the classroom.
The surveys were created in an online form (using Survey Monkey) and all
school principals in Western Australia were emailed and invited to participate.
Principals were also asked to advise AEWs in their schools of the survey, and
encourage them to participate. A reminder email was sent approximately three weeks
after the original request.
A total of 82 responses were received from the survey (51 principals and 31
AEWs). Of the 31 AEWs, 23 were female (79%) and 6 were male (21%). There were a
range of ages: 6 were 18-25, 8 were 41-45 years old, and 6 were 51 or over. 71%
worked in primary schools, and 87% were in the government sector. 73% had
permanent employment, and 81% were working on country. There was a close split
between full-time employment (52%) and part-time employment (41%); only 2 were
Of the 51 principals, 29 were female (57%) and 22 were male (43%). Most of
the responses were from principals of primary schools (75%) and 45 (90%) were in
government schools. More than half of the respondents had only 1 AEW working in the
school (52%) but 11 had 2 AEWs, 5 had 3 AEWS and 4 respondents each reported
having 4 AEWs or 5 or more AEWs working in their school. Approximately 88% of
principals had 6 or more years of experience working with AEWs (43 responses).
Of interest for the consultative phase of this research was an exploration of:
current roles performed in schools by AEWs, and how they use ICTs in their roles,
together with emerging issues and problems.
Positive Affordances and Benefits of Mobile Technologies for AEWS
All responses from AEWs and principals reflected their views that the use of
mobile devices in learning is a positive thing. Principals generally reported views that
the use of ICTs in learning was fundamental for 21st century learning and, as one
described it, that it was ?part of our staff charter?. Some pointed out that their
encouragement for the use of ICT was in response to Government curriculum
requirement, and that consequently there was: (all quotes are anonymous responses
from the survey) ?Full integration into all learning areas. This is a whole school
approach to learning that supports objectives of the Australian Curriculum.?
One principal acknowledged that encouragement of staff to use technology was
not necessary, as they already know the benefits. Another made this point more
forcefully by indicating that they are becoming ?a right? in education:
?We have an appointed ICT coordinator that works with teachers and students
to implement good programs that support learning. Laptops and iPads are not
used as ?rewards? - they are integrated into our everyday classroom learning.
They are a right not a privilege?.
Overall, there was acknowledgement that that use of technologies in learning was
inevitable and the way of the future:
?ICT is an important aspect of our society. Students need these technical skills to
function in this digital world. By up skilling AEWs, they become a resource and a
source of knowledge that will close the ?digital divide?.?
The positive reaction to the use of mobile devices was common across all
responses in the survey. However, it was also recognised by both AEWs and principals
that there were problems and impediments towards their successful implementation in
AEW work practices. These are discussed under the section Issues identified in the use
of ICTs below.
Roles of AEWs
When asked similar questions on the roles that AEWs performed, and given 12
options from which to choose (plus ?Other?), both groups agreed that most important
roles are education support (small group and individual work) (100% AEW/98%
principals) and cultural celebrations (97%/94%) such as NAIDOC week. Similar results
were also found for parent and community liaison (87%/96%), and teacher-student
communications (87%/78%). Notable differences relate to administrative tasks
(63%/35%), behaviour management (70%/55%) and professional development
(27%/53%). Nevertheless, it is evident that there is generally close alignment between
the AEWs? and principals? views of AEW roles in schools (see Figures 2 and 3).
What type of roles do you perform as an AEW?
How are AEWs utilised in your school?
Most of the AEWs received an induction (73%) and training to assist them in their role
(69%). Interestingly, the top two types of training given were in education support (62%) and
behaviour management (57%). However, only four respondents (19%) indicated that they had
received training in the use of ICT support for teaching. The use of ICTs, in particular,
computers and mobile devices, is discussed in the next section.
Use of ICTs in AEW Roles
Mobile devices, such as tablets and iPads, have a great deal of potential to be useful to
AEWs in their educational support roles, particularly for individual one-on-one and small group
work. Of the 31 AEW responses received, 28 stated they used mobile devices in their role
(93%). The three top tasks using ICTs were in education support (small group and individual
work) (81%), cultural celebrations (59%) and equal third were teacher-student liaison,
attendance, and administrative tasks (48% each) (see Figure 4).
Most principals (88%) indicated that their AEWs used mobile technologies in their role,
with only 6 (12%) answering that these devices were not used at all by AEWs. Most use of the
devices was reported in the education support role (small group and individual work) (86%)
which again reflects the key importance placed on this role by principals. (See Figure 5)
Do you use computers and mobile
devices in these roles?
Do AEWs utilise computers
And mobile devices in their role?
The high use of mobile devices by AEWs in their roles revealed in the survey is a
positive finding, particularly when the devices are used for educational and cultural purposes.
However, a few issues and problems were also revealed in the survey and these are discussed in
the next section.
Issues Identified in the Use of ICTs
Identifying opportunities for the use of mobile technologies was an essential aspect of
the study, but it was also important to explore problematic issues and impediments to the
educational use of the devices. Two major themes emerged in this regard: access and training.
Access to Mobile Devices
Not all AEWs were given access to the technologies that might be available to teachers. Two
of the AEWs responding to the survey, and six principals indicated that the AEWs had no access to
mobile devices. One respondent mentioned that AEWs are not allowed to use iPads:
?As [AEWs] we are not allowed iPads, as teachers have one each it makes it
This is not necessarily always a school decision on resource allocation. As one principal
pointed out, in remote and regional areas, problems can arise from poor internet connectivity:
?Computer connectivity has been absent for most of the year?.
Another principal noted that even when the devices are allocated throughout the school,
other factors affecting wifi connectivity can intervene to prevent their efficient use:
?Our location alone prevents use of internet and computers generally from time
to time (weather conditions, lack of constant links to servers, electrical power
outages, geography)...less mobile devices are able to be used because of
weakened signals from time to time. More would happen with regular and fast
internet speed and wifi consistency.?
None of the respondents commented on whether they had access to shared school-owned
devices, such as from a class set of iPads, but the personal nature of tablets means that they are
normally designed for use by a single user (e.g., no multiple log ins). It is likely then that shared
use would not be a satisfactory option for AEWs in any case, because of the inability to download
specific personalised apps or save progress.
Need For Training and Professional Development
The second area of concern was the need for training in technology. One AEW
respondent commented on the pace of change in educational technology-related fields, and how
this would impact on their ability to support students with fast changing tools:
?I think IT is moving too fast in schools ? Technology is changing before us
mere humans have caught up on how to use them to their best ability.?
It is apparent that AEWs were generally concerned about the need to be competent users of
mobile technologies in their roles assisting students. For example, one AEW recognised the
importance of the tool itself and the value in learning how to use it in assisting students:
?I think that they are a valuable tool that we should all learn to use, especially
when it comes to helping the students.?
In a similar way, one AEW expressed a desire to be able to assist when asked by a student,
and the feeling of helplessness if they were not able to provide this help:
?I am finding that the use of computers, iPads & iPhones are becoming more
popular in the classroom & they?re being used to do assignments or projects . I
would like to be able to help students in this area if they should ask for my help.
At the moment my knowledge of these tools are limited therefor I cannot give too
much help....it?s a learn as you go situation....so I feel helpless.?
The need for targeted professional development in ICTs was expressed by a number of
AEWs. For example one pointed out that teachers are given many more opportunities to access such
?I would value any support and training in these areas that would further my
skills. It is always the classroom teachers who get the training. We are busy
doing other roles that IT is sometimes forgotten about.?
A few principals commented on such PD being on a needs basis??as deemed necessary??
and one pointed out that when the AEW is already competent, such PD is not highly prioritised:
?I don?t as a rule provide my AEW with PD in ICT because she is self motivated
and is well abreast of ICT developments. But if a worthwhile PD came up would
support her in going, and have done so in the past.?
It is clear from this review of survey comments that professional learning is considered
one of the most important elements in preparation of AEWs for the use of iPads and other
mobile devices in education, particularly for their learning support roles and their engagement in
cultural events and celebrations. Access to a dedicated and personal device is also a key
imperative. These findings led into a set of draft design principles to inform the design of the
technology-based innovation, which were used to design the professional learning activities for
Each element of the design of the professional development (PD) and its implementation
is described below in more detail.
AEW Professional Development (PD) Program
The participating AEWs were required to undertake a task-based study that was designed
equivalent to a first year Bachelor of Education unit of study. A unit guide was developed including
three essential authentic tasks (Herrington, et al., 2010) that constituted a core semester unit in an
educational technology, requiring the design and creation of:
a. A website to be used as an ePortfolio
b. A digital story incorporating images and sound
c. A pedagogical strategy for individual students or small groups using iPads and
educations applications (apps).
All participants in this project were issued with iPads at their initial workshops. The
exception to this was the remote Kimberley regional hub, as the school principal requested that
iPads be provided by the school with apps pre-loaded by the school?s IT provider. Whilst this
was a generous offer, an unexpected outcome was that participants were limited to iPad use and
access only within the school hours and premises, and they were unable to take the devices
home for further exploration and incidental learning. A description and discussion of this cohort
is provided below, followed by the description of the Gascoyne and Metropolitan cohorts.
The Kimberley Remote School hub is located 280km south east of Broome in Western
Australia. The best option for travelling to the remote community is a 1-hour flight by light
aircraft from Broome as the road journey can take more than 10 hours. The current population is
approximately 360 people and is home to the Yungngora people. The School is an Aboriginal
Independent Community School employing 16 AEWs. The selection of this school provided the
opportunity for a large number of AEWs to participate in the project.
Under the provisions of the project, each participant was to have received a Murdoch
University-provided iPad; however, the Principal of the school preferred that the AEWs use the
school?s iPads (40 for staff and student use). The principal did approve the free Weebly and
EduCreations apps that were recommended for the development of the website and the digital
story (Tasks 1 and 2). Three visits by the research team were arranged for the group, and each
workshop ran for more than 2.5 hours.
Despite technical issues, restricted access to iPads and varying attendance numbers in
each of the three sessions, the outcomes at the Kimberley remote school proved to be very
The initial workshops for both the Gascoyne and Metropolitan hubs were conducted at
Murdoch University in Perth, and it was quickly established that all AEWs had very different
working contexts. The team felt that in order for the project to meet the needs of the participants
at future workshops, it was imperative to see the authentic contexts in which each participant
was working. Subsequently, two team members arranged two visits to all AEWs individually at
their respective schools, with further workshops in Geraldton (1) and Perth (2) held over the
duration of the project.
While not all site visits went entirely to plan, some proved to be worthwhile for both
participants and project team members. Project team members were able to yarn with the AEWs
about their roles and their future aspirations in the role. It was possible to problem-solve with
AEWs on issues they bought up in relation to education strategies that might assist their
particular needs. As an additional benefit to the on-site workshops, some sites (such as
Geraldton) were more than four hours? drive from the project base, and this time allowed the
team to debrief the sessions while travelling, and work through issues and problems where
The ability and willingness to adapt the format of the initial intentions of holding all PDs
in Perth was an integral part of the design-based research (DBR) approach, and in keeping with
respect for Indigenous methodologies and protocols. The ability to be so flexible is a strong
feature and clear strength of the DBR method employed (which seeks to adapt to circumstances
to make an innovation work rather than assess whether it does work). This gave the team the
ability to improvise to overcome obstacles, and to flexibly adapt to the needs of the participants.
Workshop Feedback and Evaluation by Participants
At each of the Professional Development workshops participants were given feedback
and evaluation sheets and discussion time to ?troubleshoot? any issues that they (or project team
members) were experiencing and also to have space to discuss issues around their roles with
All participants (Perth regional and Gascoyne hubs) indicated that the off-campus
workshops were useful and relevant to their roles, and that the networking with other AEWs was
excellent. Further feedback from participants included positive statements such as: ?There was
plenty of support and guidance?, ?Liked learning new skills and the relevance of information for
our roles?, ?Ability to take the iPads back to school?, ?Learning for the first time with an iPad
and everyone helping each other?.
When asked to suggest needs for upcoming workshops, participant responses included:
?Extras, like how to take pictures?, ?Find other apps and ways to use the iPad to help students?,
?Maths and reading apps that are in Aboriginal language?, ?Indigenous resources apps and
NAIDOC resources?. Importantly, in order to improve or adapt future workshops, AEWs were
asked to suggest changes to improve the workshops, and to indicate if they found any part of the
workshop irrelevant. Neither of these questions received a single reply. The feedback overall
was vital to the project for it guided project team members in their planning for the 1:1 visits to
participants in their respective schools and the ability to change the structure for future
workshops if this was indicated by the participants.
Constant revisions and adjustments to the professional learning program were conducted
throughout the year-long project, in keeping with both the Indigenous methodologies employed
and the design-based research approach that guided the conduct of the study. Revisions were
also made throughout to the design principles that were a major outcome of the research. The
final amended list of design principles are presented below.
Development of Design Principles
One of the most valuable aspects of a design-based research approach is the development
of design principles as an outcome of the research. They are first developed in draft form from
the literature review and consultations with practitioners, and in this research, the survey results.
Such principles are tested and revised in practice and form an important outcome as they can be
used by other practitioners in similar or parallel situations in the form of theoretically-based and
practically implementable guidelines. The core of this project was the professional development
program designed for the AEW participants, and the design of the learning environment was
based initially on the draft design principles, which were revised and refined throughout the
study as below:
Ten Design Principles for Professional Development in Indigenous Contexts
1. Enable work in partnerships with Indigenous community members
2. Adopt an epistemology that is consistent with, and supportive of constructivist learning and
multiple Indigenous perspectives (McLoughlin & Oliver, 2000)
3. Design authentic contexts, tasks and assessments (Herrington, Reeves & Oliver, 2010)
4. Provide ready access to technology, and professional learning and training (Project survey
5. Require problem solving in learners? own places, allowing time and space for the unexpected
6. Allow a culturally safe space for participants to network and yarn about their work, their
successes, challenges and other issues in their roles in schools and communities (Power, 2004)
7. Place the learner in full proximal and temporal control of the [mobile] device (Kim, 2009)
8. Scaffold digital literacy
9. Ensure flexible tutoring and mentoring roles that are responsive to learner needs (McLoughlin
& Oliver, 2000)
10. Require the creation of meaningful and worthwhile products (Herrington, Reeves & Oliver,
These principles were instantiated within the professional development program created
for the AEW participants, as shown in Table 1 below, where each principle is listed together
with a description of its implementation in the learning environment.
Enable work in partnerships with
Indigenous community members
Adopt an epistemology that is
consistent with, and supportive of
constructivist learning and multiple
Design authentic contexts,
tasks and assessments
Provide ready access to
technology, and professional
Implementation in the professional learning context
Consultation with Indigenous educators and Elders, and school and
community members was integral to the project
Indigenous perspectives were prioritised in the research and
implementation of the PD. Constructivist philosophies guided the design of
the flexible and contextualised professional learning activities and tasks
A course of task-based study was designed equivalent to a first year
Bachelor of Education unit of study. A unit guide was developed including
three essential authentic tasks that constituted a core semester unit in an
educational technology subject. The three tasks required the design and
? A website to be used as an ePortfolio
? A digital story incorporating images and sound
? A pedagogical strategy for individual students or small groups using
iPads and educations applications (app).
Participants were provided with iPads, and offered professional
learning workshops and support.
learning and training
Require problem solving in learners?
own places, allowing space and time
for the unexpected
Allow a culturally safe space for
participants to network and yarn
about their work, their successes,
challenges and other issues in their
roles in schools and communities
Place the learner in full proximal
and temporal control of the [mobile]
Scaffold digital literacy
Ensure flexible tutoring and
mentoring roles that are
responsive to learner needs
Require the creation of
meaningful and worthwhile
Implementation in the professional learning context
AEWs used the iPads to create a website, digital story and pedagogical
strategies in their own schools and communities, and the flexibility of the
requirements allowed changes as required
The workshops and in-school activities allowed participants to yarn and
share stories about their roles and responsibilities, together with strategies
for dealing with work-related issues and problems, in a safe and
In most sites, iPads were given to participants to be personalised and used
both in school and in private time as they wished. In one site, at the
Principal?s request, school iPads were used by AEWs only onsite.
As AEWs completed the authentic tasks on the iPads, scaffolding was
provided as and when required: in workshops on campus, in support
sessions in regional hubs, and at AEWs? own schools by team members who
travelled there. The project website also provided support, together with
other means (phone, email, etc).
Because each AEW approached the tasks differently, tutoring and support
were responsive to each learner?s needs in the creation of their unique
products, rather than through didactic instructional methods
The products created by AEWs included worthwhile and meaningful
products such as their own personal ePortfolio (website) that could be
used for personal and professional purposes, and digital stories that
enabled them to express their creativity by writing, illustrating and
speaking about their own people and places.
Table 1: Implementation of design principles
Research Findings and Recommendations
The overarching aim of this project was to investigate how iPad technology could
improve the educational opportunities and the roles of Aboriginal Education Workers (AEWs)
across the three educational sectors in Western Australia. The project endeavoured to take an
innovative approach to working alongside and with AEWs, not only in the context of their
individual roles within schools, but also in relation to developing the technological skills of each
of the participants. It was in some ways an ambitious project, however, perhaps in the context of
Aboriginal education one which was long overdue. The project developed a professional
development program and workshops for participants in three regional project hubs ?
Kimberley, Gascoyne and Perth Metropolitan area.
Participants initially responded that they required more professional development in the
following areas: technology, networking, resource development, literacy and numeracy to assist
them in their role. In addressing this need, the research findings indicate that the Skilling Up
professional development program, implemented in 2015 - 16 within the three hubs was a
successful program that resulted in enhanced technological and pedagogical skills for use with
Indigenous primary and secondary school students. The workshops, conducted in both a central
metropolitan area and at participants? own locations, provided important networking
opportunities and a space for AEWs to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of their roles.
Participants in two of the hubs expressed that the iPad (because they were able to take the device
home and use it for a range of activities beyond the scope of the immediate aims of the project)
had impacted beyond themselves as family members and individuals.
A number of challenges presented themselves throughout the Skilling Up project, such
as: the detailed and protracted problems in obtaining ethical approval to conduct the study
across multiple sectors; password and email issues for many of the participants through their
employer network accounts; issues of exclusion of internet access; lack of broadband access due
to remote locations; and lack of internet access at home. Most problems were accommodated by
abandoning the original plan and coming up with a better solution, by persistent effort, and by
and short term work-arounds on a one to one basis with individuals. Such solutions were
possible through the flexibility of the Indigenous methodologies employed and the design-based
research approach. A key strength of using design-based research is that the approach can be
adapted and changed ?on-the-go? to adjust the environment and potentially to improve learning
outcomes. This affordance was used to great effect in the project. Nevertheless, reflection on the
processes, procedures, and the overall approach, has revealed some insights into how the project
might have benefitted from more streamlined methods and more realistic timing allowances
from the beginning, such as: more streamlined device set-up, ensuring that participants come
prepared with account names and passwords; allowing sufficient time for obtaining ethics
approvals, particularly when working in schools and across sectors; and providing access to a
project website for all participants very early in the project as a central reference point
throughout the whole project.
The value of the Skilling Up project is most evident in the potential to develop the skills
of AEWs to add value to their contribution in the classroom, and to improve career progression
and participation of AEWs in higher education. Information and communication technologies
(ICTs) have long been regarded as motivational tools for students, but they have largely not
been used in convincing ways to support learning. Nevertheless, the research that has been done
indicates their potential, especially when used as part of a community of practice. Current
Federal Government initiatives such as the More Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander Teachers
Initiative (MATSITI), Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), and the
Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) are driving educational
reform in Australia. Each of these projects are aligned with the COAG National Indigenous
Reform Agreement and associated Closing the Gap targets to address Indigenous disadvantage.
This project has the potential to assist in these three major initiatives with important
benefits that will also be evident for pre-service teachers and in-service teachers who may work
in remote, regional or urban schools that employ AEWs to support teachers. Moreover, the skill
development of AEWs has the potential to address some of the inequities for Aboriginal
students and their communities in relation to school attendance and outcomes.
The analysis and findings of the study suggest several recommendations to improve the
educational outcomes and career prospects of AEWs in Australia, specifically:
? Further research and development is needed to investigate pedagogically and culturally
appropriate ways to provide educational and career opportunities for AEWs in their own
communities, and to open up pathways and opportunities to higher education beyond those
that currently exist. Such pathways should extend to recognising the important and possibly
under- valued skills of this group. Development of enrolment processes through
internshipstyled teaching degrees within the schools to which AEWs are currently employed is also
worthy of exploring. Such action may alleviate the need for block release, family anguish,
and teaching relief needs.
? Findings of the study demonstrate that AEWs can be upskilled to use technology for
classroom learning activities. However, fast -changing technology means that it can be
difficult for educators, including AEWs, to remain current and feel confident in using
them in their mentoring and advisory roles. More technology-based professional
development (PD), and access to devices and technologies, together with reliable internet
access and wifi where possible, would strengthen AEWs contribution to this important
21st century area of knowledge.
? Embed ?understanding the role of AEWs? or ?working with AEWs? in all pre-service
teacher, in-service teacher and school leader professional development. The literature review
highlighted that there was a gap in the knowledge of teachers and school leaders in the
current and potential role of AEWs in schools and communities.
AEWs contribute substantially to the cultural and educational wellbeing of Aboriginal
students. Yet cultural attitudes in some schools, combined with low wages and insecure
employment, add to the perceived lower status of AEWs in school communities. These
conditions serve to perpetuate the gap between Indigenous communities and the wider
Australian community and undermine the role of AEWs as Cultural Bridges, Cultural
Knowledge Workers and Role Models.
Undertakings such as the Skilling Up project help to provide deeper and more
meaningful insights into educational practice, and have the potential to ameliorate considerably
the gap that exists between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students in education. However,
such change requires policy development and action. The basis for such action exists, such as
the newly developed WA Aboriginal Cultural Framework ? AEWs (where possible) should
play a contributing role in the delivery to assist in achieving these standards. The widely used
and respected AITSL standards could also be reviewed to ensure such cultural change is front
and centre in teachers? roles and their endeavours to make a difference in classrooms and
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