University of Wollongong
Faculty of Education - Papers (Archive) Faculty of Social Sciences
Literacy practitioners' perspectives on adult
learning needs and technology approaches in
University of Wollongong, email@example.com
University of Wollongong, firstname.lastname@example.org
University of Wollongong, email@example.com
Research Online is the open access institutional repository for the University of Wollongong. For further information contact the UOW Library:
Eady, M., Herrington, A. & Jones, C. (2010). Literacy practitioners' perspectives on adult learning needs and technology approaches
in Indigenous communities. Australian Journal of Adult Learning, 50 (2), 260-286.
Literacy Practitioners’ Perspectives on Adult Learning Needs
and Technology Approaches in Indigenous Communities
Michelle Eady, University of Wollongong, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Anthony Herrington, Curtin University of Technology, Australia, email@example.com
Caroline Jones, University of Wollongong, Australia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Current reports of literacy rates in Australia indicate an ongoing gap in literacy skills between Indigenous and non-
Indigenous Australian adults, at a time when the literacy demands of work and life are increasing. There are many
perspectives on what are the literacy needs of Indigenous adults, from the perspectives of community members
themselves to the relatively under researched perspective of literacy practitioners. This paper provides the insights,
experiences and recommendations from adult literacy practitioners who work with adult Indigenous learners in
communities across Australia. Focus group interviews using an online synchronous platform were use to elicit their
views about the literacy needs of Indigenous adults in communities and the successes and barriers to meeting those
needs. The practitioners also shared their views on the use of technology in literacy learning. Together, these views
can inform future directions in curriculum design and teaching approaches for community-based Indigenous adult
In 2006, the Australian Census indicated that 19.4% of Indigenous adults had completed high school (Year 12)
compared to 44.9% of non-Indigenous adults (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2006). For this statistic, adults are
defined as people aged 15 years or over in 2006. Since Year 12 attainment is now considerably more common
among young Australian adults than a decade or two ago, and since Australia’s non-Indigenous population is aging
much faster than the Indigenous population, data on younger adults are also relevant. The results of recent rounds of
the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) point out the continuing over-representation of Indigenous
15 year olds among Australian 15 year olds with the lowest literacy levels. The PISA data also point to the
importance of taking into account socioeconomic status and home location in understanding educational attainment
among young Indigenous adults in Australia. As noted by Masters (2007) in his analysis of the 2006 PISA results,
“approximately 40 per cent of Indigenous students, 26 per cent of students living in remote parts of Australia and 23
per cent of students from the lowest socioeconomic quartile are considered by the OECD to be ‘at risk’.”
Disparities between educational outcomes for Indigenous compared to non-Indigenous people are not
confined to Australia. In international data, there is a greater disparity in educational attainment between indigenous
and non-indigenous people than between males and females, or between locations of residence (UNESCO-
OREALC, 2007, cited in UNESCO, 2008, p. 62). To sharpen awareness of the need for increased adult literacy,
UNESCO called in 2000 at the World Education Forum in Dakar for a 50 per cent increase in adult literacy levels by
2015, particularly to improve the position of women and to allow access to basic and continuing education for
adults. This goal may now not be met following the impacts of the current global recession on developing countries
The gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults in Australia, in educational attainment and in
literacy, is lived out within contexts that lack appropriate employment and training opportunities for many
Indigenous people. This employment and training issue has been discussed by Kral and Schwab (2003), Eady
(2004), and Greenall (2005), and has prompted government officials and agencies to seek solutions or
improvements. In the literature, however, the views of a key partner in the literacy movement, the literacy
practitioner, have not generally been a focus of research.
The view of many Indigenous groups is that they should be included at the onset of any discussions around literacy
concerns and should be asked what literacy means to their community and what aspects of literacy are important to
their language group. Indigenous communities tend to place an intrinsic and collective value on education which is
woven into the present and future needs of their people. Battiste (2008) writes: “Aboriginal scholars and writers
have recognized that education is the key matrix of all disciplinary and professional knowledge and central to
alleviating poverty in Aboriginal communities” (p. 176).
Congruent with Indigenous learning perspectives, literacy in Indigenous communities tends to be viewed as
a process and not as a final outcome. Incorporating various learning styles, Indigenous literacy is viewed as a multi-
faceted progression which develops throughout an individual’s lifespan (Antone et al., 2002; Donovan, 2007;
George, 1997; McMullen & Rohrbach, 2003; NADC, 2002). In Indigenous communities, increasing one’s literacy
skills tends to be recognized as more than a means to increasing one’s education and obtaining viable employment.
Indigenous perspectives on literacy encompass a broader perspective which includes the objective of striving to
maintain cultural identity, preserving language and achieving self-determination (Antone et al., 2002; Battiste, 2008;
Kral & Schawb, 2004; NADC, 2002; Paulsen, 2003). For many Indigenous people, “your embodiment in time and
place, and your language – your stories, place names and species names, songs, designs, dances, gestures etc –
together produce your identity” (Christie, 2005, p. 2). All these aspects Christie (2005) refers to reflect a wholistic
interpretation of literacy.
Well respected and recognized Indigenous Elders and teachers have attempted to define Indigenous
literacy. Seen as more than acquiring skills to get a better job or to obtain higher education, literacy is recognized by
some in Indigenous communities as a multi-faceted process, which is essential to maintaining culture and language
(Antone et al., 2002). Priscilla George/Ningwakwe describes Indigenous literacy:
Indigenous literacy is a tool, which empowers the spirit of Indigenous people. Indigenous literacy services
recognize and affirm the unique cultures of Indigenous Peoples and the interconnectedness of all aspects
of creation. As part of a life-long path of learning, Indigenous literacy contributes to the development of
self-knowledge and critical thinking. It is a continuum of skills that encompasses reading, writing,
numeracy, speaking, good study habits and communication in other forms of language as needed. Based
on the experience, abilities and goals of learners, Indigenous literacy fosters and promotes achievement
and a sense of purpose, which are both central to self-determination (George, 1997, p.6).
Similarly, ways in which Indigenous literacy has been supported, reflect culturally influenced assumptions.
For example, current models of distance education being implemented for Indigenous learners are largely
representative of the technology, heritage and scholastic traditions of the developed Western nations, and lack
culturally appropriate learning components which have been proven a factor to the success of adult learning (AISR,
2006; Ramanujam, 2002; Sawyer, 2004; Young et al., 2005). Ramanujam (2002) cautions against blindly copying
Western models of distance education rather than recreating Indigenous models which, “will have greater relevance
and strength than the copied or adopted models” (Ramanujam, 2002, p. 37). Prototypes based on Western middle-
class ideals and standards where the curriculum and learning objectives emphasize the acquisition of workplace
skills and appropriate literacy levels related to personal success and status in mainstream society are often rejected in
Indigenous communities (Taylor, 1997).
While community views of Indigenous literacy are in evidence in the research literature, representation of
the views of adult literacy practitioners is scant (George, 1997). As part of a wider study into the use of synchronous
learning technologies to support literacy needs of adult Indigenous learners (Eady, Herrington & Jones, 2009), the
researchers sought to determine this perspective. That is, to answer the questions: What do literacy practitioners
perceive to be the literacy needs in Indigenous communities? How might the use of computer and information
technology assist in meeting these needs?
In addressing the problem of the under-representation of the perspective of literacy practitioners who work with
Indigenous communities, the researchers thought it important to consult with literacy practitioners who have a
common thread of working with Indigenous adult literacy learners and who work in various locations around
Australia. The questions to participants were:
1. These first questions are related to your career:
a. What is your job title?
b. How many years have you been in this capacity?
c. What are your qualifications?
d. What are your main interests in working with Indigenous communities?
2. What do you perceive to be some of the literacy needs in Indigenous communities?
3. What are some of the ways that you have been able to work with community members to meet
4. Have you ever used computer technology to work with your learners?
a. If so, what technology and how successful was it and would you use it again?
5. How do you feel that computer technology can change the way we support Indigenous learners?
An online focus group methodology was selected for initial consultation as it suits the involvement of
individuals from many different geographical areas (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003). The internet also enables such
research to be done in a cost effective manner. Asynchronous and synchronous tools are available and because of the
variability of the tools themselves it is difficult to make generalizations about them (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003).
The predominant forms of focus groups have been text based (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003), meaning that
the discussion takes place by means of entering text. This happens over time where one participant posts an entry
and hours, or days later other participants will respond (asynchronously) or in a forum where live time discussion
through text based means takes place with immediate feedback and real time exchange (synchronously).
However, now with the ever-growing internet and capacity for high speed broadband, there are increasing
opportunities for natural forms of communication over the internet (Anderson & Kanuka, 2003). Programs that can
be used in these situations allow for audio- and video-based opportunities that can be accessed by the participant in
the form of down-streamed past events that have been recorded and can be replayed (asynchronous), or interactive
sessions, where participants can converse with one another, receive immediate feedback and also see each other in
real time during the online sessions (synchronous).
For the purpose of the online collaboration with literacy practitioners, the researchers opted to use
iVocalize. iVocalize was used as a synchronous platform tool, however, sessions can be recorded for asynchronous
use as well. The online focus group lasted approximately 90 minutes. The participants were asked a variety of
questions and took turns responding to each other’s comments. These questions were presented on PowerPoint
slides for the participants, within the online session. The online focus group was recorded and then transcribed. The
transcriptions were then read through and a research journal created, using coding to identify common categories
between and amongst the participant responses and observations (Marlow, 2005; Ryan & Bernard, 2000; Stake,
2000). The relationships between the identified categories resulted in the formation of themes, which when
combined and placed in order of predominance, lead to categories. These categories were reflected upon in
combination with the reviewed literature, and Indigenous community members’ views (see Eady, in prep.), which
together provided the guiding principles of the research.
The primary goal in the analysis was to make sense of the data and find commonalities of meaning behind
the data collected as a thorough and organized system of analyzing the data collected is important to ensure validity
of the study (Marlow, 2005; Ryan & Bernard, 2000; Stake, 2000). The transcription of data collected was shared
with participants to ensure accuracy, and reviews of the analysis ensured minimal researcher bias.
Results and Discussion
The results for each focus group question are discussed below each question and transcribed interview data are
provided where relevant to highlight particular aspects. The interview data has been coded. Each of the participants
were given a pseudonym and the online group was coded OPFG (Online Practitioner Focus Group). The date was
also recorded behind each entry in a day/month format.
1. Career-related questions (job title, years in this capacity, qualifications, main interests in working with
In discussing career-related issues, practitioners held various positions in literacy based areas. The average
number of years working in the field was 11 years, 6 months, varying from 2 years experience to a 25 year veteran.
The volunteer practitioner focus group was located across various areas of Australia depicted on the map below:
The practitioners involved in the online focus group came with a variety of backgrounds and skill sets. As a group,
the practitioners' qualifications included, among others:
· Advance diploma in Fine Arts, Cert IV Training and Assessment, Masters of Education
· Bachelor of Arts, Dip Ed Secondary, CELTA
· Bachelor of Science, Grad Dip Ed,, Adv Dip LLN in Vocational Education
· Grad Dip Adult Education, Grad Dip Aboriginal and intercultural studies
· Bachelor of Education
· Masters of Professional Education and Training
· Ph D in Education, Bed, CGEd and Dip Workplace assessment and training
· Social work degree, communication studies and post graduate social work
· Diploma of Community development
Participants’ main interests in Indigenous communities varied. Some (like Amy, below) expressed a main interest in
helping community members prepare for the future while keeping culture strong today. Others (like Ruby, below)
expressed a main interest in improving vocational education and employment outcomes:
· I love working with the community, I want to assist in self-dependence and empowerment for the next
generation – whilst working with community members now to keep the Aboriginal culture healthy and
strong for the next generation to inherit and have the skills to keep their country healthy.
Amy_OPFG_24/09 [pseudonyms used throughout]
· My main interests are about developing and implementing better approaches in vocational education
and link them to workforce outcomes. My current interest is about enterprise development and
approaches that engage Indigenous peoples in being trainers, leading Indigenous content and
informing future developments of vocational training. Ruby_OPFG_24/09
These differences in main interests are perhaps not surprising given the practitioners’ varied backgrounds and skill
sets, and the geographical, economic and cultural diversity of the communities in which they work.
2. Literacy needs in Indigenous communities as perceived by the practitioners:
The practitioners’ perceived literacy needs in Indigenous communities centred around four main needs:
(i) Need for a better understanding of the complexities of the Indigenous learner from both a language and a
(ii) Need for improvement of all literacy skills.
(iii) Need to help to better support the children in the community.
(iv) Need for literacy to provide a voice for the community.
Each of these is discussed in more detail below:
Need for a better understanding of the complexities of the Indigenous learner from both a language and a personal
Many of the practitioners agreed that before literacy needs can even start to be addressed in Indigenous
communities, one must understand the complex nature of the language and underlying layers of personal
experiences and barriers that are faced by the Indigenous learners in communities. In most cases, literacy
practitioners are teaching literacy in a Western literacy framework, from a Eurocentric perspective, using the
English language. For many Indigenous people in Australia, there are many different dialects of their first language
to master (including traditional languages, creoles, mixed languages, and/or non-standard English), before standard
English is even introduced:
For some of the communities we need to recognize that English is their fifth language and to realize the
sophistication of their knowledge for knowing and for being so bilingual speaks to many different
Aboriginal languages, so I think that that's something that a lot of practitioners face. OPFG_Kelvin_24/09
This is not to say, however, that Indigenous learners are not able to function in their own language. The
practitioners agree that it is not a matter of learners not having the capabilities to embrace the expected literacy tasks
and all they entail. For example, one respondent pointed out that it is still all too easy for Indigenous people whose
first language is not Standard English to be misjudged and underestimated for their ideas and views:
There's no doubt that people can communicate and communicate successfully and they can negotiate and
they can do all of those high-level thinking things in their own language and then when it gets transferred
to English it makes people look like, you know… they don't know what they're doing or that they're not
intelligent which I think is quite deceiving. OPFG_Amy_24/09
A concern of the practitioners is that there is not a strong link between the Indigenous literacies, with second
language issues and standard Australian English coupled with Western literacy expectations. Another component of
this category was an understanding of personal experiences and barriers that Indigenous learners have faced that
have impeded and will continue to impact their literacy skills. Many of these learners have started out with negative
early schooling experiences which have led them to leave school without graduating or completing their education.
For some Indigenous learners, there seems to be a lack of motivation and a lack of confidence when resuming their
education. One practitioner explained:
It’s a lot to do with inter-cultural confidence for understanding how to relate to the mainstream white system.
Many practitioners also agree that Indigenous learners do not see enough reason for continuing with their
education through literacy upgrading or employment up-skilling. Acknowledging the linguistic complexities and
incorporating a level of empathy and understanding of a learner’s personal history is not to be overlooked when
working with Indigenous learners. The practitioners agreed that these factors combined should be carefully
considered by a practitioner when proceeding with a literacy program in an Indigenous community.
Need for improvement of all literacy skills.
The next category of results that emerged from the data collected was an overall need to improve
the literacy skills in Indigenous communities. The literacy skills of these learners are often very low and
insufficient to be successful at current learning tasks such as completing Year 11 or a Year 12 certificate.
These skills are required for success on everyday tasks such as learning how to fill out forms and
negotiating with service providers or corporations from outside the community. There is also a need for
digital literacies, i.e., learning how to use computers and become proficient with the language of
technology and the tasks associated with such technology.
For many of the learners that these practitioners work alongside, it is a combination of the linguistic
complexities, personal schooling experiences and a lack of early literacy strategies that has resulted in these low
literacy skills. These practitioners would like their learners to have the ability to access any learning program, any
employment opportunity and fulfill any personal learning goals with confidence and strong literacy skills.
Need to help to better support the children in the community.
The third category that emerged focused on the children of the learners in Indigenous communities. The
practitioners have identified a direct connection between the adult’s learning experiences and strengthening the
interactions with children in communities. For many of the adults who attend literacy classes and up-skilling
programs, a large part of their participation directly relates to their desire to increase their parenting skills and help
their children with schoolwork.
This emerging theme is linked to the data presented earlier that relates to adult learners’ own past
experiences and poor early literacy strategies. Perhaps strengthening the skills of adult learners in Indigenous
communities will have a flow-on effect, preventing the same deficit in skills for the children of these learners.
As one practitioner stated:
Many programs work in a positive way from adults to kids. OPFG_Ruby_24/09
Need for literacy to provide a voice for the community.
In the final category the literacy practitioners felt that a literacy need for Indigenous communities today
was a need for literacy skills to be able to provide a voice for the community. The communities in question face a
need for English language and Westernized terminology so that the community and its members are able to
negotiate for their community and represent the community’s stance on issues that they feel important to the well-
being of their people and society:
It’s about inter-cultural confidence for understanding how to relate to the mainstream white system for
which you need language skills basically and an understanding of how that system functions and that’s
what literacy is actually in that context. OPFG_Jette_24/09
3. Ways in which practitioners have worked with community members to meet their needs:
While the previous question focused on the literacy needs in Indigenous communities and resulted in four
categories of needs as seen by the literacy practitioners, the next question asked the practitioners to share some of
the ways that they have been able to help learners meet these identified needs. The practitioners identified three
categories of approaches that they have taken:
(i) Using culturally relevant approaches and materials.
(ii) Community/learner ownership and community development focus.
(iii) Facilitating a mentorship program.
Using culturally relevant approaches and materials.
The practitioners suggested that the best approach to take when working with Indigenous learners is to use
culturally relevant approaches and culturally relevant materials when facilitating literacy programs for Indigenous
communities. Some of these approaches include: Oral language, talking, read-alouds and storytelling, music and
song, learning through nature, using visual language and seeking Elders’ advice.
One practitioner in particular noted that an important aspect of literacy learning in the communities is involving
the respected Elders. The programs that are negotiated include the Elders who offer advice about how the programs
should evolve and how those involved in the program; practitioner and learner, should work together. No matter
what approach a practitioner decides to take, it was agreed that it is very important to use culturally relevant material
with Indigenous learners. One practitioner described the process best in saying:
…the other thing is keeping the material really relevant to the culture so that you may be using English
but about subject and content that is to do with caring for country things that are of great interest to those
Aboriginal people. OPFG_Kelvin_24/09
Community /learner ownership and community development focus.
The second category that arose was community/learner ownership and community development. One
practitioner, who runs several different programs in many regions of Australia, described one starting point, an
assessment tool for learners and communities:
We have developed a literacy assessment tool that gets people thinking about what they need and want
and negotiate the program, this gets more buy in and connection than just the idea that you will lose your
dole (if you don’t participate in the literacy lessons). OPFG_Ruby_24/09
Focusing on the topics that are relevant to the needs and interests of the learners and the community
is important for the success of the learner. It is important to help a learner or a community figure out what
they are trying to achieve with their literacy learning, and then help people go in the direction that they have
identified. By embedding the literacy and numeracy skills into content that is of interest and relevance to the
learner and or community, the results are more encouraging then when forcing material that has no relevance
to the learners.
Literacy learning can also focus on community development and representation of community
views. The practitioners offered several pertinent examples of how literacy learning can be designed to
support community enterprise:
We have identified programs in the communities for literacy that are a local priority. For example, in a
community there was a catering program, in another a shop, in another an elders care program and we
get people to actually work in these programs and then all literacy support is about these activities and
therefore is place and context specific/situated. OPFG_Rowena_24/09
The practitioners interviewed agreed that using curricula or programs that are learner focused, where
there is a sense of ownership in a context in which the community benefits and develops as a result, are far
superior to other learning approaches.
Facilitating a mentorship program.
The third approach suggested was facilitating a mentorship program, not just for learners but for
practitioners as well. For practitioners, it is important to be mentored when first arriving to work with Indigenous
learners and equally important is a mentoring program for learners. A mentoring program enables a monitoring of
learners as they go through their learning process:
Community members are in that program and they’re getting mentored while they’re in that so they’re
learning (course material) but they’re also learning…to address kind of life issues really while they’re
doing that. So it is sort of employment, service delivery learning and what we call case work, you know,
but in an integrated way. This provides platforms for people rather than feeling like they’re a receiver of
literacy teaching, they’re actually part of a core service delivery and alongside that by the way they’re
getting literacy teaching, they’re getting support with family relationship issues, they’re getting
whatever but they don’t have to be seen as a client of a service. OPFG_Jette_24/09
4. Practitioners’ previous use of computer technology with learners (which technology, was it successful,
would they use it again):
This question involved computer technology experiences with the communities and learners in those
communities. Ten of the 11 practitioners reported using technology with learners in some form. Some
practitioners brought their own computer to share with learners, explaining:
In my present job most of the communities I work with, the training rooms didn't have ability to put in
any computers even if I had computers but I used to take my own computer. OPFG_Robert_24/09
Some other hardware accessories that were mentioned were data projectors and digital cameras. In the case
of software applications, however, the practitioners have employed several different types of software for various
purposes. For example, blogging, Facebook, email, Skype and Elluminate were used for social networking;
Powerpoint and Publisher for presentations, Online pinball machine for playing games, and Photo Story and Movie
Maker for digital storytelling.
The practitioners also reported that these computer applications incorporated literacy skill-building
opportunities such as:
· Language skills
· Word processing
· Driver’s licence preparation
· Oral presentation
· Communication skills
· Mentoring opportunities
· Tax filing skills
· Digital photography
· Job searching
· Opportunity for higher education courses
Some of the skills listed are very practically based and when the technology was seen by the learner and
community as ‘useful’ the learners readily became proficient in the use of that application. One practitioner
described the women in one particular community learning online banking skills:
… I didn't teach them this but it was so successful because they could pay their bills and all sorts of stuff and not
have any cash in their hands. They are amongst the best internet bankers that I've seen anywhere. So I was really
impressed with when the technology is useful how quickly it was grabbed on in the communities.
While there were clear indications that the learners enjoyed using the technology, the practitioners also
shared some frustrations when using technology with learners in Indigenous communities. The recurring themes in
the discussion included the lack of computers and the absence of internet services in many of the communities
where the practitioners work. Despite some of the barriers to using computer technology in Indigenous
communities, there is much evidence to suggest that computers are being incorporated in many aspects of literacy
learning in these communities.
5. How practitioners felt computer technologies could change the way they support Indigenous learners:
Computer technologies have afforded flexible communication and learning applications. While many
mainstream and urban city centres have enjoyed these privileges for many years, some more remote and isolated
communities in Australia have yet to experience easy access to computers, the internet and other computer
applications. The practitioners were asked how they felt that computer technology could change the way they
support their Indigenous learners.
The most prominent answers revealed how practitioners felt that through computer technologies they could
better meet the needs of their learners while implementing learning activities that build on both cultural and learner
strengths. Computer technologies mean that visual literacies, oral memory and spatial relations can be brought to the
forefront and used to advantage. In working with technology, people can also work in culturally appropriate and
supportive transgenerational groups and focus on sharing their knowledge.
Computer technology could also help to provide literacy and learning services in a learner’s own
environment and lessen the isolation that many learners feel:
It would be great if they could access that sitting in their own, familiar, comfortable space where they feel
confident and powerful, they can have their kids around their legs or whatever needs to happen but they can
still be part of that. I would really, really love that to happen. I think that would be hugely beneficial.
A second focus the practitioners identified was that computer technology can provide more
accessibility to higher education opportunities and job/work readiness training programs for learners. The
easy access that computers can provide to courses, lectures, and workshops opens so many doors for isolated
Indigenous learners. This does not take away from the face-to-face support and the physical community
learning space, in fact, the technology can strengthen these programs by drawing in more learners but with
less demand on the practitioner. Computer technology can also provide a platform for learners to receive
individual support, perhaps one-to-one tutoring to assist with the literacy and numeracy aspects of their
vocational training. Strength in this area is the availability of job/work readiness training programs. Using
computers as a means to train for positions where there are jobs but under-skilled potential employees is
another strong argument for better services and more access to computers for these communities.
The third benefit was the improved social networking and communication opportunities that will arise from
using computer technology. A practitioner gave an example where family members who had moved away from
close knit communities now would have a way of keeping in better touch with friends and family members and “stay
connected” to their home community.
A final topic of interest for the focus group around how computer technology could change the way we
support learners, was a discussion of the opportunities for professional development of practitioners who work in
similar fields but are separated by distance. Professional development opportunities for remote practitioners are
often few and far between, however, with computer technologies, the practitioners could have access to workshops,
conferences, and online sharing circles.
These four ways in which practitioners can potentially better support learners through technology are both
promising and exciting. Practitioners realize, however, the realities of working with computer technology and
highlighted some concerns. A major consideration when attempting to use computers in Indigenous communities is
access, and for the majority of these communities there are logistic challenges in finding a workspace, purchasing
equipment, connecting to the internet, and that is just the beginning. The cost factor is always an issue, especially
when it comes to literacy projects, so access becomes a barrier to the computer technology. Second is the need for
technical support once the problem of gaining access has been solved. The third potential barrier to using computers
to effectively support learners that was identified by the practitioners was effective training opportunities. Training
opportunities would be needed for the practitioners who would be using the technology with learners. Competent
and confident online instructors lead to students with similar attributes. The topic of effective training also includes
the training that would be provided to the learners:
The next thing we have to do is to make it effective training so we have to find a way of making the training work
in the communities. If we are giving training to six or seven different communities using online training at the
same time, which is what one assumes that we'll be doing, we also have to make sure that what we're saying has
relevance to each community. And I reckon that would take a whole lot of relevant research in that area.
Although the practitioners identified these three potential barriers, they also shared hope for future
applications as well. Despite the obvious concerns of implementation, costs, maintenance and training, the positive
implications for effectively supporting technology use by Indigenous learners was summarized beautifully by one
I feel as though that the experience that you can have through computers is that there is incredible mediacy (active
and creative products of media)…and that it's a little bit like drawing, that you have that sort of impact… and
even though it never…it won't replace being in front of a person and hearing the vibrations and the sound of their
voice and looking into someone's eyes, it enables to cut through a lot of layers that you know…through books or
through distance can isolate people. So using computers and technology can spark creativity and a sense of hope
that starts a little kindling of fire within people that they want to go and meet those people that they want to go to
those places and actually move towards exposing themselves to something new. So I think you know this is what
the technology can do. OPFG_Kelvin_24/09
There is a wealth of knowledge, expertise and opinions to be gained from providing a forum for literacy
practitioners to come together and share their experiences. Fahy and Twiss (2010) accessed these valuable insights
through a study which looked at how Canadian literacy practitioners view the use of online technology for their own
professional development. The findings of their study suggest that many of these practitioners recognize the
potential of using online technologies particularly because it saved time and money and increased access to
opportunities for training and interaction.
While reflecting on the training issues for literacy practitioners is important, too often the adult literacy
practitioner, the front-line worker, has been overlooked in research and policy designed to improve the generally
low literacy levels among many Indigenous people in Australia. This study has shown that literacy practitioners
develop, through their work experiences, very specific and strongly held views on the literacy needs of the
Indigenous community in which they are employed. These views of practitioners are very likely shaped by their own
backgrounds and the specific geographical, economic and cultural situation in the communities they are familiar
with. Practitioners’ views are not necessarily ‘correct’ in any sense, and may differ somewhat from community
members’ views (Eady, in prep.), but they tend to be held passionately, as seen here and in the study by Batell et al.,
(2004). It is practitioners’ views about what the needs are, that lead them to try out specific educational strategies. A
number of such teaching approaches were described by practitioners in this study, including using culturally relevant
approaches, working towards community development, and developing mentoring arrangements. Computer
technology had been used with Indigenous learners by all but one of the practitioners, often to support real-life
literacy skills. Despite typical current inadequacies in hardware, software, technical support in communities,
practitioners were generally optimistic and open-minded about the potential for computer technology, including
synchronous technology, to improve literacy skills, access to training, and social cohesion. It is worth remembering
that this last finding may or may not be generally true of literacy practitioners working in Indigenous communities,
since the focus group participants in this study were volunteers willing and interested to take part in an online focus
In this study, and in a recent Canadian project (Getting Online Project, 2008), many literacy practitioners
have identified a place for online learning in their future work in the literacy field. Literacy practitioners have a
voice that needs to be heard in the negotiations and decision making around curricula and approaches to literacy
learning and technology in their own field. The shared knowledge of these practitioners has the influence to allow us
to move towards lessening the literacy gap in positive, constructive and meaningful ways.
Anderson, T., & Kanuka, H. (2003). E-research: Methods, strategies, and issues. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
Antone, E., Gamlin, P., Sinclair, M., Turchetti, L., Robbins, J., & Paulsen, R. (2002). What is Native Literacy? Retrieved March
01, 2008 from http://www.oise.utoronto.ca/CASAE/cnf2002/2002_Papers/sym-antone&etal2002w.pdf.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2006), Australia: Highest year of school completed by Indigenous status by sex.
Retrieved April 16, 2009 from http://www.censusdata.abs.gov.au.
Australian Institute for Social Research (AISR) (2006) The digital divide – Barriers to e-learning. Retrieved March 10, 2008
Battell, E., Gesser, L., Rose, J., Sawyer, J.,& Twiss, D. (2004). Hardwired for Hope: Effective ABE/Literacy Instructors.
Nanaimo, BC: Malaspina Univeristy-College. Retrieved April 17, 2010 from http://www.nald.ca/ripal
Battiste, M. (2008). The decolonization of Aboriginal education: Dialogue, reflection, and action in Canada. In P. R. Dasen &
A. Akkari (Eds.), Educational Theories and Practices from the Majority World (pp. 168 – 195). New Delhi: Sage
Christie, M. (2005). Aboriginal knowledge on the Internet. Researching Our Practice Conference. Batchelor Institute. Retrieved
November 12, 2008 from http://www.cdu.edu.au/centres/ik/pdf/AbKnowInternet.pdf
Donovan, M. (2007). Can information communication technological tools be used to suit Aboriginal learning pedagogies? In L.
E. Dyson, M. Hendricks, & S. Grant (Eds.), Information technology and Indigenous people (pp. 93-104). Hershey, PA:
Information Science Publishing.
Eady, M. (2004). Building a solid framework: Online mentoring for adult literacy learners in Northwestern Ontario – An action
research study and recommendations for implementation. Unpublished Research, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, ON.
Eady, M. (in prep.). Using Synchronous Technologies to Support Self-Identified Literacy Needs of Indigenous Communities. PhD
thesis, University of Wollongong, Australia.
Eady, M., Herrington, A. & Jones, C. (2009). Establishing Design Principles for Online Synchronous Literacy Learning for
Indigenous Learners. In Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and
Telecommunications 2009 (pp. 1049-1054). Chesapeake, VA: AACE. Retrieved September, 25 2009 from
Fahy, P.J., & Twiss, D. (2010). Adult literacy practitioners’ uses of and experiences with online technologies for
professional development. Journal of Applied Research on Learning, 3, 1-18.
George, P. (1997) Vision: Guiding Indigenous Literacy. Owen Sound, ON: Ningwakwe Learning Press.
Getting Online Project. (2008). Getting online: A research report on online learning for Canadian literacy practitioners.
Retrieved April 15 2010 from www.nald.ca/gettingonline
Greenall, D. (2005). Formative evaluation of the Sunchild E-Learning Community. Ottawa, ON: The Conference Board of
Ivocalize web conference (2002). Seattle, WA: iVocalize LLC.
Kral, I., & Schwab, R. (2003). The Realities of Aboriginal Adult Literacy Acquisition and Practice: Implications for Remote
Community Capacity Building. Retrieved March 18, 2008 from
Marlow, C. (2005). Research methods for generalist social work. Belmont, CA: Thomson, Brooks/Cole.
Masters, G. (2007). A world class education system? Evidence from PISA 2006. ACER eNews. Retrieved May 10, 2010 from
McMullen, B. and A. Rohrbach (2003). Distance education in remote aboriginal communities: Barriers, learning styles and best
practices. Prince George, BC: College of Caledonia Press.
National Aboriginal Design Committee (NADC). (2002). Position paper on Aboriginal literacy. Retrieved March 8, 2008, from
Paulsen, R. (2003). Native literacy: A living language. Canadian Journal of Native Education, 27(1), 23 - 28.
Ramanujam, P. (2002). Distance open learning - Challenges to developing countries. Delhi: Shipra Publications.
Ryan, G., & Bernard, H. (2000). Data management and analysis methods. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of
qualitative research 2nd ed., (pp. 768-802). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Sawyer, G. (2004). Closing the digital divide: Increasing education and training opportunities for Indigenous students in
remote areas. Retrieved March 9, 2008 from
Stake, R. (2000). Case studies. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 435-454). Thousand
Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc.
Taylor, A. (1997). Literacy and the new workplace: The fit between employment-oriented literacy and Aboriginal language-use.
British Journal of Sociology of Education 18(1), 63-80.
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2008). Education For All by 2015: Will We Make
It? Retrieved 10 May 2010, from http://www.unesco.org/en/efareport/reports/2008-mid-term-review/
United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). (2010). Education For All – Global Monitoring
Report: Reaching the Marginalized. Retrieved 10 May, 2010 from http://www.unesco.org/en/efareport/reports/2010-
Young, M., Robertson, P., Sawyer G., & Guenther, J. (2005). Desert disconnections: Desert learning and remote Indigenous
peoples. Australia Flexible Learning Network. Retrieved November 10, 2008 from:
This research is supported in part by a generous grant from the Digital Bridge Unit, Department of Further Education,
Employment Science and Technology, Government of South Australia. The researchers would also like to acknowledge the
Australian Council for Adult Learning, Debbie Soccio, Sioux Hudson Literacy Council, Contact North/Contact Nord, and
practitioners and Indigenous community members involved in this project. Ethics number HE08/195.