Grants to improve students’ assessment and Indigenous knowledge

Seven projects proposed by staff at the Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Sciences were funded for almost $160,000 in the 2018 Learning and Teaching Initiatives (LTI) grants round at the University of Melbourne.

The focus of these grants is to support initiatives designed to improve the quality and effectiveness of students’ learning experiences at undergraduate and graduate levels.

The grants involving the Faculty are:

  • Improving holistic student assessment in DVM4
    Associate Professor Brett Tennent-Brown. $20,000
  • The roots of Australian agriculture: a new, old story
    Dr Sarah Frankland and Dr Lisa Godinho (Faculty of Science). $28,934.
  • Embedding peer feedback in collaborative activities for professional development Dr Natalie Courtman. $25,500.
  • Project Murnong: embedding Indigenous scientific knowledge through research laboratory-based practice  
    Dr Graham Mackay (Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences), Dr Sarah Frankland, Dr Lisa Godinho (Faculty of Science) and Dr Mick Moylan (Faculty of Science). $29,200.
  • Dog-people interactions in Australian Indigenous communities: historical, cultural and wellbeing considerations Associate Professor Elizabeth Tudor and Dr Cameron Raw. $29,000.
  • Use of ePortfolio for the learning and teaching of veterinary science students
    Associate Professor Abdul Jabbar, Dr Natali Krekeler and Associate Professor Wayne Kimpton. $15,920.
  • Breathe: Thinking it through. Wellbeing support for FVAS students
    Dr Sarah Frankland and Dr Laura Dooley. $10,000 partial funding.

Three of the funded grants examine the Faculty’s teaching and research areas in the context of Australian Indigenous history and culture.

Embedding indigenous agriculture into the science curriculum

Prior to the establishment of British colonies, Australian Indigenous communities constructed dams and channels to create fish-trapping systems in southwest Victoria and actively cultivated kangaroo grass and the murnong, also known as the yam daisy as food crops.

A murnong, or yam daisy.
The murnong, also known as the yam daisy or Microseris lanceolata grows in southern and eastern Australia. It was prepared by roasting or baking; its taste is described as sweet with a flavour of coconut. Photo: Kimberly Beattie, NSW Grassy Ecosystems.

This agriculture and land use has been overlooked in mainstream Australian history, but has gained increased attention in recent years, particularly since the publication of Dark Emu, Black Seeds: Agriculture or Accident, in which author Bruce Pascoe uses first-hand accounts of early explorers to challenge the narrative of Indigenous peoples as nomadic hunters.

Dr Sarah Frankland from the School of Agriculture and Food will work with Dr Lisa Godinho from the Faculty of Science and others to embed a richer and deeper knowledge of this agriculture and land use by Australia’s Indigenous peoples into STEM subjects across the University, commencing with the 220 students in the first year of the Bachelor of Agriculture.

University academic staff will work with Indigenous partners, drawing on their combined expertise to develop teaching plans modules, video resources and field visits to sites where Indigenous agriculture and land management is practiced today. The video resources will be co-designed to be an educational tool for use by partner Indigenous communities.

“From the perspective of broader Australian society, the presence and extent of Indigenous agriculture prior to colonisation in Australia is a largely untold and unrecognised story,” Dr Frankland says.

“Introducing first-year students to these aspects of Indigenous biocultural knowledge and current practices at the beginning of their degree will be the beginning of a pathway to meeting the attributes the University seeks it instil in its graduates, specifically an understanding of and deep respect for Indigenous knowledge, culture and values.”

Dr Frankland is also collaborating with Dr Godinho and other staff from the faculties of Science and Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences on ‘Project Murnong,’ a research project conducted by undergraduate students to explore the cultural relevance, cultivation, nutritional value and therapeutic properties of the murnong food crop.

The murnong featured prominently in Medicine’s Reconciliation Action Plan: A Progress Report.

The cross-disciplinary project aims to introduce awareness of Indigenous scientific knowledge and practices into the curriculum which emphasise its living value – rather than its historical context alone – to Science, Agriculture and Biomedicine students in first year via three subjects totalling around 4,200 enrolments.

Giving vet students knowledge of human-animal relationships in Indigenous communities

Dogs are important to Australian Indigenous communities, particularly in the northern parts of Australia.

Associate Professor Elizabeth Tudor and Dr Cameron Raw from the Melbourne Veterinary School will develop a suite of media rich learning activities that will enable students in the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) degree and breadth subjects Animals in Society and Our Planet, Our Health to develop an appreciation of this human-animal relationship.

Associate Professor Tudor has led annual field trips of 80 final-year DVM students to deliver veterinary programs in remote communities in the Northern Territory since 2005, and more recently established the East Arnhem One Health Residency. Dr Raw is the inaugural East Arnhem Veterinary Resident, and supervises DVM students on placement in Galiwin’ku on Elcho Island.

Communal dogs in Mutitjulu.
Communal dogs or camp dogs like these in Mutitjulu are common in Indigenous communities, but the remoteness of some communities can make maintaining animal health a challenge. Photo: Alex Cearns, Houndstooth Studio for AMRRIC (Animal Management in Rural and Remote Indigenous Communities), a not-for-profit organisation that uses a One Health approach to coordinate veterinary and education programs in rural and remote communities.

Associate Professor Tudor says dogs in Australian Indigenous communities can live very different lives to those in urban centres and can occupy many different roles in society.

“In more remote communities they are commonly free-roaming, may move between different communities and owners may have little to no access to veterinary services,” she says.

“These dogs can also present significant zoonotic and public safety risks through a variety of different pathways including risks of parasitic infections, bacterial infections as well as injuries from dog bites or other risks from the presence of dog waste.”

Associate Professor Tudor says the rich-media teaching resources developed with the grant will help graduates, particularly veterinarians working with Indigenous communities, to appreciate an underexplored area of human-animal interaction.

“Many people have little to no knowledge of Indigenous culture and may be unprepared for relationships which may be outside of westernised norms,” she says.

“Some may also feel poorly equipped to engage with Indigenous culture or simply be unable to access more remote communities.”

“Importantly, in exploring the human-animal bond in this context in Australian Indigenous communities, students will develop an appreciation of the diversity of worldviews and the importance of recognising and respecting the differing world views of people of different cultures.”

Learn more about the University’s support for excellence and innovation in learning and teaching here.

Story by Stuart Winthrope. Banner image:Kangaroo grass (Themeda triandra) in Wyndham Vale, Victoria, Australia. Photo: Rexness, Wikimedia Commons.