On country – off country Web based engagement with indigenous communities

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David James O'Brien


Australia’s first nation people have suffered deep loss stemming from the colonisation of their lands and restrictions on cultural practises. Despite endemic disadvantage, many people maintain profound connections to traditional lands, their country, and retain a desire to share their cultural knowledge. This presents opportunities for design academics and tertiary students to establish partnerships with indigenous communities. This paper casts a reflective lens over an architecturally focused case study with a remotely located indigenous Australian community to differentiate learning outcomes that are site based on country and those conducted in classrooms off country. In the pre-COVID era, the Bower Studio program within the Melbourne School of Design at the University of Melbourne was taught with both on and off country learning opportunities. Bower Studio coordinates small groups of students travelling on country to meet community members in remote Australian communities and facilitates indigenous elders travelling to attend classes in Melbourne. While this combination was accepted as best-practise, the suspension of in-person gatherings due to COVID threatened the integrity of this program and forced significant change. Reliant upon video conferencing it would be reasonable to expect that the loss of on country experiences would significantly hamper the student/community engagement whilst simultaneously diminishing academic outcomes. This research reflects upon the project to confirm that on country learning remains best practise, however there were unexpected benefits from off country engagements facilitated through video conferencing.

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How to Cite
O'BRIEN, David James. On country – off country. Design and Technology Education: an International Journal, [S.l.], v. 26, n. 4, p. 10-19, dec. 2021. ISSN 1360-1431. Available at: <https://ojs.lboro.ac.uk/DATE/article/view/2997>. Date accessed: 07 dec. 2022.