The Aboriginal Community Engagement (ACE) project at Curtin University is critical service-learning that provides the opportunity for students to work collaboratively with a Perth Aboriginal community organisation. Through ACE, a mixed cohort of Screen Arts and Journalism students advance their media production skills while at the same time developing relationships with Aboriginal people from within their own community. The projects are determined by the community participants in collaboration with the students.
Critical service-learning is distinguished from other experiential education by its intention to positively affect both the service recipient and the provider. ACE endeavors to build capacity for community partners while at the same time developing students’ knowledge of Aboriginal people, culture and history, and therefore their professional cross-cultural competence. The emphasis is on service and learning, on culture and on social justice.
The ACE program is further distinguished by its employment of participatory action research as a way of guiding our ways of working with community, and with cultural protocols. Action research is about creating change through action, and change that results in action. Action researchers never work alone, but with community participants, who participate not as subjects but as co-researchers. It is not research done on or for people, but rather research done with people, with community. It brings together action and reflection, theory and practice to come up with practical solutions.
ACE is a cross-cultural and cross-disciplinary initiative that enables students to develop their knowledge of Aboriginal people and culture through study and practice. It employs action research and critical service learning to guide students and staff in their engagement with community. Students work with an Aboriginal community organisation where they form relationships of trust and collaboration before producing respectful works that meet the professional requirements of their discipline.
Curtin has one of the highest Indigenous student populations of any university in Australia. ACE builds on the success of Curtin’s engagement and our existing work in the Humanities to enable development of Indigenous engagement across other areas of the university and to strengthen scholarship and community capacity. The project will research, document and share good practice in service learning and Aboriginal community engagement, contributing to Curtin’s Triple I curriculum and its statement of reconciliation and commitment.