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The Literacy Links Projects

Interactive videoconferencing

The context | Project activities | The outcomes

The context

The Literacy Links Projects originated several years ago as Commonwealth funded IESIP SRPs and have been continued by the Victorian Department of Education, Employment and Training (DEET) with support from the Victorian Aboriginal Education Association (VAEAI) and the Catholic Education Commission of Victoria (CECV).

There are actually two distinct projects: For primary students, there is the Koorie Literacy Links Project. For secondary students in Years 7-9, there is the Middle Years Links Project. Both are coordinated by DEET personnel and each involves 14 government, Catholic systemic and Independent schools.

Among other activities, the Literacy Links Projects use interactive videoconferencing to link students across the schools, as a component of their literacy programs. The videoconferencing equipment also includes a 'whiteboard' facility, so that students can interact through writing and drawing as well as visually and verbally.

Although some of the schools involved have quite large numbers of Aboriginal students, in others the Aboriginal students are in a minority. The Literacy Links Projects allow for productive engagement between the different groups of Aboriginal students across the state.

Project activities

Each school community has a project team consisting of

  • teachers, particularly those involved in literacy programs;
  • Koorie Educators (often known as Aboriginal Education Workers in other States/Territories);
  • the Koorie Education Development Officer; and
  • a representative of the local Aboriginal Education Consultative Group (LAECG).

The school communities involved receive the hardware, software and training required to operate the videoconferencing equipment. Each agrees to develop and implement an action plan, which involves Koorie community members and is aimed at integrating the use of videoconferencing into a larger plan for improving literacy outcomes for participating Koorie students.

People working in the Projects come together at a conference at least once every year.

At Northland Secondary College

Amanda Williams, Literacy Coordinator at Northland Secondary College in Melbourne, came to the school in 1995 and has been involved in the Middle Years Links Project since the beginning. She explains how videoconferencing fits in to the school's literacy program.

We're oriented towards a creative approach to literacy learning, exploring texts by Indigenous authors or texts which have relevant themes to Aboriginal Australians.

The videoconferencing is a tool. We don't develop curriculum around videoconferencing but it is a very useful tool in the curriculum. There are some things you can't do otherwise. It's a way of sharing ideas and strategies.

We find people in the cohort of schools who are doing the same sort of text that we are studying. And then we fax across some ideas about what discussion the kids could have in a videoconference and arrange it like that. But first I try to spend some time preparing the kids for what's going to happen. In one session we had, the kids were writing a story about spirits, because they had read My Girragundji by Boori Pryor. It's the whole idea of the hairy man coming through and they wanted to tell their own stories. So they started telling them around the table and then they started writing their own story and then we videoconferenced with Mildura and the kids actually shared their ideas and discussed how the story could continue.

I just see if we're going to work with Koorie kids and we want them to engage, then we've got to offer them something that's a bit different to the mainstream classroom. Sometimes they sit there and at first they say 'I'm not gonna say it. It's really shameful.' But once they sort of warm up to it and they've done it a few times they almost become experts and use the equipment themselves and are really happy to take part in it.

Students here often know kids at the other schools or even have relatives in the other schools. So it provides them with a broader network of Koorie students to relate to. Most Koorie kids [in Victoria] never go to a school where their numbers are greater than the numbers of other kids. So I suppose I see it just as a really good way of networking for Koori kids within a community.

Koorie Educator Deidre Baksh talks about how the Koorie students react to videoconferencing.

Koorie Educator, Deidre Baksh

Deidre Baksh

I find they enjoy it very much. When we first got it they were pretty slow and quiet and more shy than anything. But the honesty of it works. Because they can see people from all over the place and sometimes they see people they know. We get kids from the bush, from country areas and all over. So it's another opportunity for them to make the connection with family.

There's a particular Year 7 group and they're really motivated as a group of kids. I have been involved with every videoconference but this group seems to be taking the initiative and they're really interested in what they're doing and so they want to talk about it with other Koorie kids.

I think it's going to be really good for the kids to start working creating their own videoconferencing and taking more responsibility. So I think the Project is sort of opening up things for the kids to run with themselves. I can see them organising sessions at lunchtime to keep the project going.

At Corio South Primary School

Peter Pleasance is Technology Coordinator at Corio South Primary School in Geelong. He has been at the school for five years and has been responsible for getting computer technology up and running in the school, which has gone from having only five computers to a network of 160. He talks about the way students have reacted to using the technology.

From a Grade 1 videoconference

From a Grade 1 videoconference

We found that the kids could adapt to the technology and they were able to get themselves into the situation where they could talk to other kids, some of them relatives.

At first, there was the initial technology scariness, where they were shy and didn't like the camera but after a few lessons and a few training sessions they got over that. Immediately we saw a change in their attitude to speaking out and not being shy. We found that the kids could adapt to the technology and they were able to get themselves into the situation where they could talk to other kids, some of them relatives. We link with Heywood, Horsham North and Warrnambool East and a lot of them have relatives there who they can talk to. Once they got used to the technology it really assisted them. Whereas in the classroom situation they might sit in the background, when you put them in a videoconference there are changes and then those changes gradually go back into the classroom, where they become more outgoing. That's really positive.

And they've found the whiteboard technology great for sharing drawings and creating shared work as well.

There are no miracles, but I'll tell you about a particular kid. He's been involved in some videoconferences and the new cross-age tutoring program which we've started with the Koorie kids. In the videoconferencing, they've been reading books like The Barkindji Boy to each other. Before, he'd never have done it, he'd have stayed in the background. But this time he did it and the videoconferencing brought him out of his shell. And when I showed his reading teacher that video she was just astounded because he was reading out in a group at a higher level than he had done before. He's gone from being a kid who gives everyone a lot of trouble to a confident, self-controlled person. The difference is unbelievable. There are probably lots of factors in the change, but I'm sure the videoconferencing was one of them.

May Owen

May Owen

May Owen is a Grade 1 teacher who is trained in Reading Recovery.

I can talk about a little girl in my grade. She's six.

She's a very shy kid but after the first videoconference she came back really excited. When she saw there were other Koorie kids... that was all she needed. She is very into Aboriginal art and so is her father and her family so she's very aware of most Koorie things. She can recognise it and knows about it.

There was another one where the Horsham North kids held up their drawings and she was really involved in that. The next step is for her to show them her own drawings.

She is growing anyway in confidence, but I would like to think the videoconferencing has helped.

When she comes back to the grade she has copies of her work and the other kids are asking to look at what she's done. They're genuinely interested, and that helps her self esteem as well. That's a really good thing too, because it shows that they approve of what she's doing. If I compare it to when I went to school it was quite separate, I used to feel quite separate.

But in this school, if a Koorie person walks in and looks up, they see Koorie prints and Koorie things. It's something they identify with.

Donna Griffen

Donna Griffen

Her colleague, Grade 2 teacher Donna Griffen, also remembers the excitement.

The kids were excited. Although I only came in on two sessions I did get to speak to the Horsham mob and Heywood mobs and the children loved it because they had relatives down there as well and they were able to link up and talk to them.

They look forward to it [the videoconferencing] and they even wanted to start up at lunch time. When you got them in they never wanted to leave. Even when lunch time or recess came they didn't want to leave, they just wanted to stay and talk.

It gives them a sense of culture and being able to express themselves as Aboriginal kids, little Koorie kids.

The outcomes

Outcomes are in terms of improvements to Koorie students' literacy levels and are attributable to a variety of factors.

However, some of the more general outcomes or findings have been identified and include the following.

  • Videoconferencing can definitely be motivational for Koorie students.
  • The use of texts by Aboriginal or Torres Strait Island people can increase student self esteem when used as the basis of videoconferencing links.
  • At times (but not all the time) it is beneficial to include some non-Koorie students in videoconferencing because a deeper understanding of culture and sharing occurs.
  • Many students have learned to operate and fully utilise the technology.
  • The establishment of school community teams, including Koorie community representatives, ensures commitment from a range of stakeholders to improved literacy outcomes for Koorie students.

© Commonwealth of Australia 2020