Learner Re-Engagement in Higher Education at the Cultural Interface: An Autoethnography of an Indigenous Female Mature-Age Learner

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Over the past thirty years or so in Australia, Government policy has focused on providing resources to support the enrolment of Indigenous people in higher education institutions. Whilst enrolments have grown, completion rates have disproportionately reduced. Indigenous students enrolled in higher education are more likely to be both female and mature-age students, compared to their non-Indigenous counterparts, yet there is presently scant research into the lived learning experiences of Indigenous female mature-age higher education students. The goal of this critical-autoethnographic single-case study is to examine the nature of reengagement in learning at a higher education level from my perspective as an Aboriginal female mature-age student. It is a personal story containing representations of the discourses and practices arising from patterns of disengagement and re-engagement with learning over the course of my life. This research study uses the Indigenous methodology of the Cultural Interface (Nakata, 2007), and the Critical Incident Technique (Tripp, 2012), as mechanisms to analyse, evaluate, and explore the experiences and challenges offered by this autoethnographic study. Findings from this research suggest that an Indigenous methodology such as the Cultural Interface can offer three critical access points to learning for Indigenous female mature-age students. First, the Cultural Interface can enable engagement from a nuanced position with the competing and diverse ontologies and epistemologies they will encounter in higher education settings. Second, it has the potential to facilitate their agency in constructing an Indigenous standpoint from which they can contest a variety of positionings that implicate the hidden curriculum in the social production of knowledge domains. Last, it is at the Cultural Interface that Indigenous female mature-age students may develop the relational aspect between themselves and their learning environments, which is foundational for mediating and strengthening re-engagement in higher educational learning, and negotiating a validated learner identity.
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