9. Build relationships with, and connect students to community

Bringing students and community together is one aspect of what many university teachers already do when they take students out on field trips, or bring guest lecturers from the 'real world' into the classroom.

In Indigenous teaching the concept of 'community' has a special resonance and can be a pathway to deep and rich student learning. Establishing and/or building on personal relationships of trust is an important element of connecting students with community - to ensure safety and respect on both sides.


9.1 Take students to community

Taking students out of the classroom for field trips provides potentially rich learning opportunities - especially if linked to assessment - but must be carefully prepared and ethically handled.

Most of the academics quoted below have strong, existing community links (for example through family connections, or through research). Building new relationships is rewarding but will take time and patience. Funding also needs to be available to ensure appropriate remuneration for Indigenous communities and individuals involved.

9.1.1 'This course is hands-on; it includes field trips, where the students meet community people and learn about cultural heritage and land. Because of my contacts I can take them down to community. That really helps - the students can see I'm connected. And it is good for me because it means employment opportunities for my mob.' (UNSW)

9.1.2 'It was half archaeology, half history. It was done in a Block, an 18-day intensive, with a field trip of 3 days. We took them to Budja Budja Country at Halls Gap. The community took them to rock art sites, they gave them a bush tucker lunch, and then the Community Manager spoke to us about contemporary Aboriginal issues and problems… The liaison with the Budja Budja came out of my research - so it all bent back on that relationship - it was wonderful.' (La Trobe)

9.1.3 'We also go to Aboriginal organisations like the Koori Heritage Trust, and teach in their spaces. It's great to immerse the students in Aboriginal environments.' (Melbourne)

9.1.4 'Small groups, one-to-one mentoring - site visits, for example to the Aboriginal Tent Embassy, Aboriginal Art Centres, talking to Elders - it's community immersion… So it's not just about theory - it's also about the realities… They are powerful learning experiences, coupled with the classes. They amount to powerful, holistic learning experiences. Otherwise, students don't have those real-life exposures - and that would be a lost opportunity in Aboriginal Studies.' (Wollongong)

9.1.5 'In third year we negotiate an authentic research task…We don't really want our undergraduate students going out into Indigenous communities, so we negotiate with them that they can see the institution (and the campus) is itself a research site - and that students can also reflect on their own world, which is so close to them. The site is saturated with representations, for example they can see how, on this one campus, Aboriginal art is embedded in the fabric of our own representations.' (Macquarie)

9.1.6 'Getting the students who had come in for the course to address the issues of cultural identity… it was really important for us to do a walk with the people from Koori Heritage Trust, learning about cultural identity and how the cultural component is connected to Indigenous curatorial experiences.' (VCAM)

9.1.7 'With the Partnerships approach, the students have to go out and find out what the protocols are in that part of the country - like, Zane might say 'my sister' but she doesn't really mean her sister, it is just that she can't say the name of someone who has just passed away. The only way to find out these things is to go out into the community; that's why we have the Partnerships.' (Monash)

9.1.8 'I also focus a lot on art. Students generally think of Aboriginal culture as art, but I get them to read about art and land. I take them to the New South Wales Art Gallery, and the Indigenous curator walks them through and talks about art movements that ran in parallel with Indigenous activism. He talks about the political sub-text to the paintings.' (Sydney)

9.2 Bring community into the classroom

Guest lectures are a standard technique for bringing community knowledge, histories and perspectives into the classroom. There are courtesies and protocols to be observed when inviting Indigenous experts (including Elders) onto campus; or when requesting Indigenous colleagues to perform this role. Such courtesies include giving adequate notice; providing transport; introducing and thanking speakers appropriately; and offering suitable payment.

Film and multi-media can also be highly effective ways of bringing students into contact with authentic - and diverse - community voices and perspectives. Devising learning tasks in relation to a film will increase its effectiveness as a learning tool. Film is especially useful if funding for guest speakers is in short supply.

9.2.1 'In the first week it's an introduction to Aboriginal history, then archaeology, language, identity, arts, oral history … and then we move on to contemporary issues like Koori Courts. I bring in Elders, we do the politics of health and education, a range of issues. Students love the diversity… I try to show them the diversity of Aboriginal culture as a whole.' (La Trobe)

9.2.2 'The key is finding people as guest speakers who speak with passion about what they are doing, and who engage the students emotionally.' (Sydney)

9.2.3 'I organise a public forum - there might be a researcher, a service provider, policy makers, and a community member. They all come and speak to a particular issue; it might be the justice system, the Intervention, family violence. Two or three of the speakers are Aboriginal. The audience can ask questions. The students are in the audience too, and they come back later, after tea, and deconstruct everything they've heard. The students get a lot out of it. It's a way of bringing public servants, people in the field, into contact with people in the community. It also brings Aboriginal people into the University, it encourages access. There is always afternoon tea. It's comfortable for them because there are a bunch of other Aboriginal people there. ' (Melbourne)

9.2.4 'I introduce students to Aboriginal concepts; for example, I might refer to someone in a lecture as 'the late' and then I explain to students why I say that; because, for example: "The name has power, and you don't want to disturb them".' (Melbourne)

9.2.5 ' My class is a 3-hour lecture-seminar. The basic pattern is: 1 hour of teacher talk, 1 hour of film and 1 hour of interaction. I prepare them for the film by first giving the lecture; or, I give a lecture interspersed by film and discussion. In my classical kinship class, it's very interactive. People get lost, so I'm out there, in front of a blackboard, with people asking questions.' (La Trobe)

9.2.6 'I bring in multi-media to class so that the students get a "snippet" of Aboriginal people talking, singing, doing artwork. A lot of the best political comment is not in text - so if all you were doing was text… It's much more visual, engaging, emotive this way.' (Newcastle)

9.2.7 'With the mainstream students, I use film if it will reinforce what I have been teaching, like if I have been trying to show that Aboriginal people have not just been passive in the face of what has happened to them, I might show a documentary of activism, like the Freedom ride.' (Sydney)

9.2.8 'Broadly, in Aboriginal Studies - film is a really important driver to represent the diversity of Aboriginal voices, their geographical locations, their language groups… Film is a powerful pedagogical tool - but you need to cue it right, so it doesn't go on and they get bored… One Aboriginal voice [the teacher's] isn't enough.' (Wollongong)

9.2.9 'I give an hour lecture and then show a video. It may show Aboriginal people speaking, [so] it makes up for not having guest speakers, as my department provides limited funds for guest speakers. In my subject I use 8 or 9 videos with Aboriginal voices, so that is quite a lot.' (La Trobe)


 Back to list of Exemplars