by KATELYN BARNEY and HAYLEY WILLIAMS
University outreach camps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander school students have an important role in raising students’ aspirations to attend university. These camps generally bring students onto university campuses with the aim of demystifying university culture and cultivating a sense of belonging, to build and sustain students’ engagement with higher education.
As COVID-19 continues, university outreach staff are innovating, to move face-to-face outreach camps on-line. These shifts range from developing on-line activities, such as Q&A sessions and new websites for prospective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, to whole camps re-developed and delivered entirely on-line or in blended approaches (with students participating either face-to-face or on-line). With these shifts, it is important to ensure on-line initiatives achieve effective engagement with students.
Can the important connections usually made between students at outreach camps be achieved in this new online space? Much can be learnt from other contexts. Fredericks et al. found a flexible, on-line version of an enabling programme for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students did, in fact, help “to address geographical and social isolation to improve successful outcomes for Indigenous Australians .”
However, there is a need for greater understanding of how effective this shift to online is in relation to outreach camps for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students.
Further collaboration between outreach practitioners and academics is needed to “enhance the relationship between equity and widening participation practitioners and academics” and strengthen the evidence of effective strategies for on-line outreach programmes and their iterative improvement. Certainly, evaluation in the Indigenous higher education context “is important now, more than ever” as the higher education sector responds to and innovates in this socially distanced environment.
Improving the evidence base for “what works” in effective outreach camps during COVID-19 will highlight the strengths of these programmes and assist in improving and implementing these critical strategies to support the transition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students into higher education.
Dr Katelyn Barney, Equity Fellow 2019/2020, National Centre for Student Equity in Higher Education (NCSEHE), Curtin University Senior Lecturer, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, University of Queensland firstname.lastname@example.org
Ms Hayley Williams, Research Assistant, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies Unit, University of Queensland PhD student, Child Health Research Centre, University of Queensland email@example.com