Culturally Inclusive Learning for Indigenous Students in a Learning Management System

Written by Dr Neal Dreamson, Associate Professor Gary Thomas, Professor Anita Lee Hong and Ms Soyoung Kim (Queensland University of Technology)

A Learning Management System (LMS) such as Blackboard, Moodle and Web City has been utilised for enhancing the quality of learning and teaching in Australian universities. Yet there are no specific university policies and guidelines addressing the digital divide in the use of an LMS. In particular, Indigenous cultural values are rarely considered in LMS based learning design. As a result, the equity gap in terms of the quality of learning opportunities for Indigenous students remains unidentified. In this context, the project was aimed at identifying cultural needs of Indigenous students in the online learning environment and articulating culturally inclusive learning for Indigenous students in an LMS. Based on the literature review in the fields of culturally inclusive learning, online and blended learning, and Aboriginal pedagogies, we created a conceptual framework for culturally inclusive learning with four dimensions: communication, collaboration, community, and interculturality that was used in the following three stages: policy and guideline review, quantitative data analysis, and qualitative data analysis.

First, we reviewed the policies and guidelines of Australian universities on cultural diversity (n=30) and LMS learning and teaching (n=10). The review results indicated that the policies and guidelines are aimed at promoting cultural diversity, inclusive teaching, and student equity, but those on an LMS appear to be less important for promoting cultural inclusivity and focus more on facilitation and enhancement of individual students’ self-engagement and self-assessment and self-motivated learning. In the LMS policies, we identified that ‘communication’, ‘collaboration’ and ‘community’ are indistinctive, and ‘collaboration’ and ‘community’ are vaguely (or too broadly) recognised, and ‘cultural diversity and identity’ do not appear. Significantly, we failed to find any principles and strategies on an LMS for Indigenous students.

In the stage of quantitative data collection and analysis, second, we randomly selected QUT Blackboard units (n=50) across study areas and evaluated them against how the available functions, features, and tools of the Blackboard units are utilised for each dimension of the framework. The evaluation results indicated that the sites are not exclusive of communication and collaboration, but there is a lack of evidence that they promote holistic, collaborative and community driven learning. For example, only eight out of 50 sites used Discussion Boards, two used Wikis, and none of them used Groups, Blogs, and Journals. The results also indicated that there is a lack of evidence whether any other pedagogies for communication, collaboration, and community other than information dissemination are applied.

In the stage of qualitative data collection and analysis, third, we investigated Indigenous students’ and teachers’ perceptions and experiences of communication and collaboration in Blackboard units. In doing so, we undertook an online questionnaire with Indigenous students (n=100) and an interview with Indigenous students and staff (n=28, 9 students, 11 academic staff, and 8 professional staff). The analysis results indicated that there is a clear gap between Indigenous students’ cultural needs and the current utilisation of Blackboard. The majority of the students appeared to believe that they have not been given an opportunity to use interactive communication tools for human-to-human interaction and they have mostly been encouraged to download given resources and materials. In the interviews with academic staff, we identified that the dominant understanding of Blackboard is a tool for information dissemination and delivery. The interview data also revealed that academic staff tend to understand that: (a) their role in Blackboard is an information transmitter; (b) Blackboard is not the best place for culturally inclusive learning; (c) authentic and interactive learning occurs mostly in the classroom; and (d) a top-down approach and one-tomany communication are the most efficient way of using Blackboard.

In the conclusion of this report, we highlight the ten myths in using an LMS and propose an exemplary LMS design framework for culturally inclusive learning. The students’ feedback and the learning designers’ advice can be summarised as follows: Teachers’ active participation in an LMS is a pedagogical innovation that repositions students as active participants in and co-creators of interactive learning experience. The true benefit of using an LMS in higher education is: Culturally inclusive learning can be achieved by using multiple communication channels that support flexible learning, collaborative learning, and community based learning.

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Dreamson, N., Thomas, G., Lee Hong, A. & Kim, S. (2016) Culturally Inclusive Learning for Indigenous Students in a Learning Management System (LMS). Report submitted to the National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University: Perth.

Posted 7 October 2016 By ncsehe