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27 July 2022

Building an Indigenous Knowledges and Cultures Community of Practice

We recently spoke to Dr Helen Brown about the new Indigenous Knowledges and Cultures Community of Practice in the Faculty of Health. We learnt how Helen and her colleagues have brought together Deakin staff to build personal knowledge and support the implementation of GLO8 in teaching and learning.

Tell us about the Indigenous Knowledges and Cultures Community of Practice.

The community of practice is about recognising the enormous value of Indigenous knowledge and then building that knowledge across the whole Faculty of Health by providing a safe place for staff to share ideas, strategies and plans.

I work with Dr Kirsten Howlett and Kieva Richards to facilitate the community of practice, which was established by Professor Lynn Riddell and Susie Macfarlane.

The community reflects the strong peer learning approach to teaching and learning professional development in the Faculty of Health. We currently have 93 staff from across the faculty in the community of practice Microsoft Teams site. The staff involved are all passionate about teaching and place a lot of importance on making sure that we provide a learning environment that supports inclusion and diversity.

What are the goals of the community of practice?

The community has two main goals: to develop our understanding of Indigenous knowledges as individuals and to facilitate the implementation of GLO8 in our courses. Were interested in understanding Australia’s colonised history and reflecting on how this has impacted Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, including our students. We’re also interested in how an approach to learning and student support can either help or hinder engagement of First Nations peoples in higher education.

What were some highlights from the first meeting of the community of practice?

We wanted to make everyone feel safe and comfortable with sharing their ideas and experiences. We invited Danni McCarthy, Inclusive Education Project Lead from the Teaching Capabilities Team in Deakin Learning Futures to come to the first meeting and talk to us about providing a safe environment so people feel free to express their thoughts.

Dr Tyson Yunkaporta, Senior Lecturer, Indigenous Knowledges in the Faculty of Arts and Education also put together a short six-minute video where he posed a scenario for the group to wrangle, based on a section of his famous book Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World (available at the Deakin Library). We then went into break-out rooms to discuss. It was a really great way to start the conversation.

A summary of discussion points was provided to all staff in the community of practice to use as an additional resource to reflect and progress work in their specific courses.

Did you use any of the Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country resources supplied by the Office of Indigenous Strategy and Innovation?

Absolutely, we do an Acknowledgement of Country at each meeting. We’ve also kept Professor Mark Rose Pro Vice-Chancellor, Indigenous Strategy and Innovation, in the loop throughout the process of planning the community. We have shared the Welcome to Country and Acknowledgement of Country resources with staff in the Microsoft Teams site we use for the community. The library has also been very supportive, there are a number of library staff in the community of practice, they’ve shared a wealth of resources that we are working through as well.

What advice would you have for other academics looking to do something similar?

Professor Rose has been running on-Country experiences where students and staff are exposed to different ways of knowing and given an opportunity to reflect on Aboriginal culture, and most of our groups have attended. I couldn’t tell you how valuable they are! It’s one thing to read about Indigenous knowledges, but to actually stand on the ground and hear from Indigenous people about their culture is so important. My advice to reach out and start speaking to people and start building from there. One thing we have learnt is that so many people are interested and willing to learn and to support our students to learn too.

You can also read our article about how Deakin Learning Futures has updated the Acknowledgment of Country within CloudDeakin, our digital learning environment.

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