The Education and Health Gap 1861: When Europeans died and Aboriginal People Thrived

A resource we use to introduce research skills to undergraduate and masters students.

A resource we use to introduce clinical reasoning skills and to characterise active cognitive engagement to undergraduate and masters students. Click to enlarge (& ‘cntrl +’)

For the past few years, Clinton Kempster (Oral health, University of Adelaide) and I (John Willison, School of Education, UoA) have been introducing the different sides, or facets, of cognitive engagement to First Year Oral Health students, and this year to undergraduate Education students. Clinton’s focus is on student clinical reasoning, and my focus is on active cognitive engagement, but we use the same conceptual framework on Research Skill Development.

As a stimulating way to do this in both disciplines we have used the death of the famous European Explorers, Burke and Wills, for their Health Gap (ie death) and their Education Gap (ie ignorance of how to survive) in the apparently inhospitable Cooper Creek region of Southern Queensland. Especially we consider the hard-won knowledge of the Yandrawandha People who thrived at Cooper Creek, and their care for the surviving member of the exploration team, John King. The poster above is a recent articulation of the resource, presented at the Indigenous Content Symposium, University of South Australia, September 21, 2015.

The way we use this is two-fold: firstly, students need to list the similarities and difference between Yandrawandha living skills and contemporary research skills.  Students call out items on their list, and once these similarities and differences are entered into powerpoint, challenges are made about on which list an item may better belong. A significant shift then occurs, when we ask students to stop and consider themselves: what did you just do, what skills did you use? When they call out the skills they were using to complete the activity, we arrange these according to the six facets of the RSD. To see this process in action with a different example, go to .

Student-revelation of the skills is pivotal to them seeing that this set of skills is pertinent to their own lives as well as to their university studies. In this way the facets of the RSD begin to come to life, rather than say being ‘presented’ to students, or even merely used to frame assessment marking matrices, where they risk being dormant, irrelevant and opaque. When students make their own thinking visible, this meta-cognition enables them to be more aware of the educational enterprise, more able to articulate their cognitive processes and more likely be be able to improve their learning approaches.

In another example of introducing the facets of research, we provide Electrical Engineering students with a real scenario of a tree, a magpie and a man called Dom involved in a lighting strike. In terms of the adage ‘lightning never strikes twice in the same place’ we ask students to list why that adage may be right, and why it may be wrong. In the differentiation process of constructing two lists, it turns out that all six facets of the RSD are always employed, and students are able to articulate this in their own words. We use the lighting strike stimulus with Nursing audiences as well, but ask them to list reasons why the Dom should have gone to emergency and reasons why this was not necessary.

What stimulus have you used, or could you use, to introduce the facets of the RSD? How have you, or how could you, facilitate student generation of two lists? Use the ‘Leave a comment’ function to provide us with your ideas, so that we are able to see the variety of ways that the RSD may be introduced in discipline-and-context-appropriate ways.


Author: johnwillison

Senior Leturer, Discipline of Higher Education, School of Education, University of Adelaide.

2 thoughts on “The Education and Health Gap 1861: When Europeans died and Aboriginal People Thrived”

  1. Greatly inspired by the way RSD was linked with this story in the symposium. Back in my home country I teach courses like Research Methods, Counseling, Assessment and Evaluation. Now I can see how RSD is embedded in all of them. These days I am thinking around RSD and how I can restructure my courses for my students to understand them even more logically and think about research in more realistic manner. I wish to make students fall in love with research, not develop fears about it. With the examples around RSD I will help them understand that actually they were born as researchers, they just need to recognize this. They can then become real critical thinkers and amazing researchers.

  2. I like the ‘born as researchers’. I think that as human culture developed in the past 60K years, there must have been times of didactic/story-based transmission of knowledge prevalent when things were stable. But when people migrated, the environment changed or there was increased competition, that human brains must have had the capacity to move into problem solving/critical thinking/research modes of learning. Maybe brain that were born into a stable period were wired to optimally learn under didactic methods, but those with instability in the first 20 years or so were more geared towards a research orbit?
    See ‘Inquiring ape?’ for some further ideas

    Yes- a realisation of human brain potential could take us a long way in formal education in terms of enabling students to think critically and to be research minded.

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