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Participants in a workshop

Aboriginal students find their own pathways to purpose

As we listened to the students and mapped their journeys out on the wall, their eyes opened. They become more comfortable in their voice. Some decided to go back and fill in some of the gaps - things they were not originally keen to talk about. They found their story. How do we empower students to understand their interests and strengths, find purpose for their learning and become naturally engaged in their education?
Participants in a workshop

The New England TAFE could see that Aboriginal students were experiencing long-term disengagement from their education, but had difficulty determining its causes. The TAFE’s Aboriginal Learning Circle asked ThinkPlace to work with them to understand this situation and find ways for students to become more connected with their learning.

The starting point for this challenge was to learn about the students so we know where they come from, have empathy with their experiences and gain insight into their interests and aspirations. 

The information TAFE typically collects is from surveys and questionnaires structured to meet the TAFE’s needs. It doesn’t help develop a trusted relationship with students or understand their place in the world and where to begin to connect them on an engaged path to learning 

The desired outcome of TAFE is for students to engage in education and training that will prepare them for sustainable employment. We sought to understand what that journey really looked like for people, who had found purposeful work. What barriers did they have to overcome? How did they find their way?  

We learnt the answer was not straightforward and that students had many logistic, financial and emotional barriers to learning. We came to understand that rather than being disengaged, these students could see not see a path to follow where they felt they could belong. They needed someone to believe in them and show them the way. 

We listened to students’ stories, finding their points of difficulty and confusion, and mapped these stories so they could see their own journey unfolding. Following them through these paths, we drew out insights about what motivated them, what caused them pain, what they talked positively about and the support they had or did not have.

A Student’s Story Map

We reflected on the questions raised by the students’ stories and imagined what a transformed experience for them could be. Together we came up with 16 projects to help students find their pathway to purpose and connect with it. We developed collaboration and design tools to help implement these projects.

This work is now leading towards a future where information about choices and reasons comes directly from the students, collected by someone who has a trusted relationship. The focus will be on the student’s story, owned and directed by them.

A design thinking approach put user experience at the heart of making sense of problems and opportunities for Aboriginal students. We designed solutions with the students, rather than for them, building shared understanding and aligning vision across the education system.

The result was a greater feeling of connection and engagement for students, and power to take more control of their learning outcomes.

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New England TAFE and Aboriginal Learning Circle Tamworth
Project Team
Cate Shaw's profile'

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