Reflecting on our first steps: Indigenisation of the curriculum in occupational therapy and physiotherapy

Caroline Robinson, Chontel Gibson, Barbara Hill, Brett Biles

Research output: Other contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


This paper explores the process of course review and curriculum design in two undergraduate courses at Charles Sturt University (CSU): the Bachelor of Occupational Therapy and the Bachelor of Physiotherapy. The broader context for these course reviews is a requirement to address the 2008 Indigenous Education Strategy (IES), as part of a whole-of-institution approach to Indigenous education founded upon the principles of cultural competence, social justice and reconciliation. The CSU Indigenous Australian Content in Courses Policy provides guiding principles for Indigenisation of curricula.
The course review process at CSU is enabled through ‘CourseSpace’ – a collaborative online environment which enables a backwards mapping process, to ensure constructive alignment of assessment tasks with course and subject level outcomes. In relation to Indigenous Australian content in these courses, a range of standards informed learning outcomes: discipline related cultural competency standards; the CSU Indigenous Cultural Competency Pedagogical Framework; CSU graduate learning outcomes; and the national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Curriculum Framework (ATSIHCF). The process involved the clarification of broad course level outcomes which comprised cultural competence, ethics, commitment to social justice and the processes of reconciliation based on understanding the culture, experiences, histories and contemporary issues of Indigenous Australian communities. These elements were extended and elaborated to develop subject level outcomes which mapped to the five cultural capability domains and associated key descriptors in the ATSIHCF.
Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal academics formed partnerships to embed Indigenous content in subjects with the purpose of diversifying learning and teaching activities, transforming allied health practices, and growing staff and students’ cultural competency journeys.
This cross-cultural collaboration informed the course mapping process but there are inherent challenges in scaffolding Indigenous content. Success was achieved in course and subject mapping to enable constructive alignment and the scaffolding of students’ learning through the course. Challenges in this process included resistance from some non-Indigenous academics who conceived the addition of learning outcomes and Indigenous content to subjects, as competition for existing discipline content. Non-Indigenous academics may also consider themselves to be ill-equipped to enable student learning in relation to Indigenous cultural competency. Additionally, the ownership of Indigenous knowledge and appropriate acknowledgement of the contributions of Indigenous academics to the process, needs to be considered very carefully. The Indigenisation of a course requires pedagogical and epistemological shifts across the entire curriculum. Racism, invisible whiteness, decolonisation, and cultural competence are central conversations in developing Indigenous curricula, facilitated through education and culturally competent leadership. Fear and anxieties relating to teaching Indigenous content are no longer excuses for non-engagement. Subject integrity and sustainability of subject delivery according to design, is dependent on the cultural competence capabilities of individual subject coordinators. It is therefore, important to retain oversight of the course as a whole and to undertake regular reviews to ensure that the constructive alignment of subject learning outcomes, assessment tasks and subject content, is maintained.
The process of course review is iterative and discussions are ongoing between the Occupational Therapy and the Physiotherapy course teams, and the School of Indigenous Australian Studies, as work proceeds towards approval of both courses by the Indigenous Board of Studies. Additionally, there is increased activity in the School of Community Health focused on developing existing collaborations and establishing new relationships with Indigenous community members and organisations. Authentic and genuine partnerships with Aboriginal communities are essential in developing and implementing Indigenous curricula but are not replacements for Indigenous academics. Governance structures require careful review and diversification, and this includes establishing positions for Indigenous academics within the School and disciplines. The allied health industry contributes to the mapping process by supporting and seeking evidence of culturally competent curricula from higher education providers. It is the responsibility of all academics and industry partners to engage with the Indigenous curriculum and to walk together on this journey.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2017
EventLIME Connection VII - Etihad Stadium, Docklands, Melbourne, Australia
Duration: 04 Apr 201707 Apr 2017


ConferenceLIME Connection VII
Abbreviated titleThe Future of Indigenous Health Education: Leadership, Collaboration, Curriculum
Internet address


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