Mr Michael Donovan

Mr Michael Donovan


Indigenous Education and Research (Indigenous Education)

In our own backyard

Using student voices as evidence, Michael Donovan is looking to improve the schooling experience for all Indigenous Australians.

Michael Donovan

Michael Donovan's work is as valuable as it is value-laden. Simply focused on finding the best ways to engage Aboriginal children and adolescents in education, the early career researcher's qualitative studies are also as interdisciplinary as they are innovative, straddling the pedagogical and professional development arenas and dovetailing into leadership.

"I concentrate on the compulsory schooling years," he elaborates.

"The aim is to make learning easy, fun and worthwhile."

At the same time concerned about the inequalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, Michael is committed to formally addressing disadvantage and its deep, underlying causes too.

“There is one population within our society that sits at the negative end of all the social indicators – education being no different to health or housing ownership or heart disease,” he affirms.

"While policies like 'Close the Gap' have resulted in some improvements, there is still a long way to go."

"I recently presented data at the United Nations, for example, which demonstrates that apparent retention rates through secondary school are only on the increase because the government has upped the leaving age."

"There is no point in painting half a picture."

From all angles

Fuelled by this perceived need for "systemic change," Michael commenced a PhD in 2006 at the University of Newcastle. Originally pinned as a fastidious exploration of quality teaching, the ongoing probe has since morphed into an inquiry of sorts, seeking to ask – and answer – what it means for schools to be "positive learning environments" for Aboriginal students.

"I spoke to local communities before pushing ahead with the idea," he recalls.

"Working with this cohort and being an Aboriginal person myself, I felt cultural protocols were very important."

"I sought the advice of the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group as well."

Taking a targeted approach to his research project, Michael proceeded to contact several schools in the area.

"I ended up picking eight sites and 50 students," he comments.

"Four schools were selected from a specific region that had significant numbers of Aboriginal students that covered urban and rural communities"

"The other half very much related to Aboriginal society, with low socioeconomic statuses, regional locations and multiple linguistic features - with one school selected being considered an elite school that has strong mentoring program to support the Aboriginal students in residence."

Straight to the source

Armed with just three questions, Michael spent twelve months conducting interviews with his young participants across NSW schools. Wanting to find out what makes good teachers, good curriculums and good schools, the Wollotuka Institute affiliate has been busy comparing student perspectives with those of pedagogical theorists too.

"The experts have had their say, Indigenous communities have had their say, and now kids are finally getting a turn," he smiles.

"Yarning circles allowed us all to sit down as equals and informally discuss our understandings of schooling."

Finding there to be "a lot" of common ground where views on teaching and learning are concerned, Michael is now in the process of firming up conclusions for his long-awaited thesis.

"Cultural responsiveness, close relationships and a focus on interactivity are so far sticking out as key," he shares.

"Something that really surprised me though is that creative arts and performance-making are what students most enjoy and identify with."

"It's also appreciated when educators are able to be flexible and adapt to different classroom situations."

"Good pedagogical practice should be teachers' bread and butter."

Bold and bright

A passionate academic, Michael is keen to pursue more research opportunities in the not-so-distant future. The multitasking lecturer already has a handful of proposals in mind, hoping to make each a profitable offshoot of his near-complete doctoral dissertation.

"Some follow-up questions are big and others are small," he describes.

"What Aboriginal people say about good educational practices hasn't changed much over the last three or so decades, however."

"The Western world is just starting to catch up and learn these ideas."

Dually interested in human rights, Michael is planning to take on some comparative work too.

"I want to study other Indigenous populations," he asserts.

"A lot has been done in New Zealand and the United States in this regard."

In our own backyard

Using student voices as evidence, Michael Donovan is looking to improve the schooling experience for all Indigenous Australians.

Read more

Career Summary


I am a Gumbaynggir man from the north coast of NSW, but I grew up in the western suburbs of Sydney. I have a mixed academic history starting with completing my HSC then training to be an Enrolled Nurse at Concorde Repatriation Hospital, from enjoying health I studied Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). After moving to the Hunter valley after a few years practcing TCM I worked in a primary school as an Aboriginal Education Assistant (AEA) and began a teaching degree through a residential program.

My Bachelor of Teaching (Primary) and Bachelor of Teaching (Honours) at the University of Western Sydney (UWS) were completed through an Aboriginal identified residential program, AREP. This meant that my studies were completed in an away-from-base mode but also I was away from the University setting and distanced from my academic support and my academic supervision. These issues did make some aspects of studies difficult and slowed my progress. I am also the first male Aboriginal Honours graduate at UWS. I am also the only graduate to complete an Honours program through the AREP or away-from-base mode.

I started working in higher education as a short term change from schools in Wollotuka at the University of Newcastle and primarily focussed on teaching, including across all the courses in the Bachelor Of Aboriginal Studies and the mandatory Aboriginal studies course within all education programs at University of Newcastle. 

In 2004 I started my journey in research particularly Aboriginal educational research through winning a position as an Academic Partner for the Australian Government Quality Teacher Program (AGQTP) in 2004, this project included, providing professional learning about the NSW Quality Teaching model, supporting teaching practice and identifying means of developing teaching perspectives, reflecting on and analysing actions resulting from professional development and supporting the preparation of the final action research report. This project was with the Nyngan schools cluster. These schools were introducing to the Quality Teaching Framework and I supported their understandings and worked with them to incorporate this into various key learning areas across the Primary and High School curriculum. 

I enrolled as a part-time student in a Doctorate of Education in late 2006 investigating "WHat form(s) of pedagogy are necessary for increasing the engagement of Aboriignal school students?".

Research Expertise
I have worked within Aboriginal education since the early 1990's from an Aboriginal education worker in schools through to doing a PhD in pedagogical practices to support Aboriginal students. Key areas of expertise and interest in my work include: * Engagement of Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge (ACK) in supporting Aboriginal students * Aboriginal education * Aboriginal pedagogical practices * Working with Aboriginal communities * Engaging ACK into teaching practices * NSW Quality Teaching framework * Comparative Indigenous cultures * Use of Information Communication Tools (ICT) in supporting education Peer Reviewed Journal Publication Donovan, M., & Heitmeyer, D. (2000) “To Get the Black Point Across: Linking Technology to Aboriginal Voices” Edited G. Partington in online journal and conference articles. Perth, Edith Cowan University Press. Donovan, M. (2002) “Outcamps: Education Centres to Suit the Needs of Indigenous Communities” Common Ground Publishing, Altona, Victoria. Donovan. M., (2003) “To Watch, Hear and Re-Learn: Electronic Revitalisation Tools for the Gumbaynggir Aboriginal Language. “ Common Ground Publishing, Altona, Victoria. Donovan, M., (2007) “Do Aboriginal Knowledge and Western Education Mix? (To get Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge in schools to make all the kids smile)” In The International Journal of the Humanities, edited by Tom Nairn & Mary Kalantzis, Common Ground Publishing, Melbourne. 5 (5), 99-104. Donovan, M., (2009) Quality Teaching and Aboriginal students, a NSW model, in the Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, edited by Andrew Gunstone, Monash University, Churchill, Victoria. 12 (1-4),104-115. Donovan, M., (2011) Aboriginal landscapes and their place in the classroom, In The International Journal of Science in Society, edited by Bill Cope and Michael Peters, Common Ground Publishing, Melbourne, 12 (3), 243-252. Donovan, M., (in press) Aboriginal Cultural Knowledge it lives in my town. Urban communities and engagement of Aboriginal students, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra. Peer Reviewed Book Chapter Donovan, M., (2007) “Can Information Communication Technological Tools Be Used to Suit Aboriginal Learning Pedagogies?” edited by Laurel Evelyn Dyson, Max Hendriks and Stephen Grant, in Indigenous People and Information Technology, Idea Publishers Research Grants Assoc. Prof James Ladwig; Mr Michael Donovan; Dr Wendy Amosa, 2006-2007, “Quality teaching and the cultural knowledge of Aboriginal students in NSW”. NSW Department of Education and Training, Research Grant $50,000 Michael Donovan, 2007-2008 “Analysis of the effectiveness of the NSW Quality Teaching framework in increasing Aboriginal students' educational outcomes”. Australian Research Council, Research Grant $60,000 Michael Donovan, 2007, “Travel to the 5th International Conference on the New Directions in Humanities at the American University, Paris France” University of Newcastle, Umuliko Research Grant $7000 Michael Donovan, 2008 “When Aboriginal language comes to Schools does Aboriginal culture follow?” University of Newcastle Equity Research Fund $23,000 Dr Wendy Elsworth, Michael Donovan, 2010-2011 “Regional Partner Research Team of Stronger Smarter Learning Communities; NSW Hunter Central Coast Region Evaluation Case Study, The Stronger Smarter Institute, Research Grant $170,011 Dr Wendy Elsworth, Michael Donovan, 2010-2011, “Regional Partner Research Team of Stronger Smarter Learning Communities; North & Western Regional NSWEvaluation Case Study, The Stronger Smarter Institute, Research Grant $121,856 Michael Donovan, 2010- 2011 , “Situational analysis of key aspects of the well being of Aboriginal residents in the Upper Hunter Valley” Analysis Case Study, Coal & Allied, Rio Tinto Coal Australia, Research Grant $46,300

Teaching Expertise
I teach across a variety of Aboriginal Studies areas and have taught in the entire program presented by Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies. Currently I teach across a series of course within Aboriginal Studies including education, human rights, traditional Aboriginal society and comparative Indigenous cultures. I am also teaching in the Masters Coursework program. These courses include, " ABOR1370 Working with Aboriginal Communities " ABOR3120 Contemporary Aboriginal Society " ABOR2380 Interpreting the law: Aboriginal customary law & Western law " ABOR3500 Aboriginal education policy & issues " ABOR1330 Traditional Aboriginal society " ABOR3250 Comparative Indigenous culture 2 " ABOR3380 Human rights & the worlds Indigenous Communities " ABOR1110 Introduction to Aboriginal society " ABOR6006 Switching Black power back on in Indigenous learning

Administrative Expertise
I have worked in many various administrative roles within the Wollotuka School of Aboriginal Studies in the academic and Aboriginal support roles within the school. Academically I have been a course coordinator across a series of courses within the school in both undergraduate and course Masters Courses. I have been the academic coordinator within the School and have organised the academic course and staff workloads to maintain these course. I have re-established the Aboriginal research centre within Wollotuka and co-ordinated the research arm of the school including establishing the schools confirmation process and various Aboriginal student and staff research workshops. I have been the Indigenous Support Coordinator this position manager the Indigenous support staff within Wollotuka and support the social and academic needs of the 300 to 350 Indigenous students at the University of Newcastle. I have also worked as the promotional officer for Wollotuka which included visiting schools and career expos to engage Indigenous students into considering applying to the University of Newcastle. I coordinate the schools Aboriginal education course that includes approximately 1000 education students per each year across 3 campuses. This course in a mandatory element for all education students including 2nd year Primary school education students, 4th year Early childhood and secondary education students and Masters of Teaching students. 


  • Bachelor of Teaching (Honours), University of Western Sydney
  • Bachelor of Teaching (Primary), University of Western Sydney


  • Aboriginal Studies
  • Aboriginal communities and ICT
  • Aboriginal education
  • Aboriginal pedagogy
  • Comparative Indigenous cultures
  • Human Rights and Indigenous Peoples
  • Pedagogy
  • Quality Teaching
  • Working with Aboriginal communities
  • Working with Aboriginal communities


  • Aboriginal English, so described (Fluent)

Fields of Research

Code Description Percentage
080601 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Information and Knowledge Systems 30
130299 Curriculum and Pedagogy not elsewhere classified 25
130301 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Education 45

Professional Experience

UON Appointment

Title Organisation / Department
Lecturer University of Newcastle
Indigenous Education and Research
Lecturer University of Newcastle
The Wollotuka Institute

Academic appointment

Dates Title Organisation / Department
1/01/2007 - 1/12/2008 Fellowship

ARC - Discovery - Indigenous Researchers' Development

1/08/1996 -  Aboriginal Education Assistant Windale Primary School
The Wollotuka Institute


Dates Title Organisation / Department
Aboriginal Community Representative NSW Board Of Studies Aboriginal Education Advisory Committee


For publications that are currently unpublished or in-press, details are shown in italics.

Chapter (1 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2007 Donovan MJ, 'Can Information Communication Technological Tools be Used to Suit Aboriginal Learning Pedagogies', Information Technology and Indigenous People, IGI Global, Hershey 93-104 (2007) [B1]

Journal article (6 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2015 Donovan MJ, 'Aboriginal student stories, the missing voice to guide us towards change', Australian Educational Researcher, 42 613-625 (2015) [C1]

© 2015, The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc.Despite decades of policy and practice oriented at improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal students in Aus... [more]

© 2015, The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc.Despite decades of policy and practice oriented at improving educational outcomes for Aboriginal students in Australia, achievements on most measures indicate that there is a long way to go in this endeavour. One avenue for improving Aboriginal education that has received little attention is accessing the views of Aboriginal students themselves about best practice in engaging Aboriginal students. While there is a body of research in education that attempts to privilege ¿student voices,¿ little work has explicitly focussed on accessing the voices of Aboriginal students. This paper reports on my study that involved asking Aboriginal students their views on schools, teachers and the curriculum in culturally safe discussion spaces. The Aboriginal students highlighted the need for their culture to be represented at schools and the recognition of their Aboriginality in safe environments at school. These findings reinforce the importance of engaging with Aboriginal people in the development of best practice so as to build Aboriginal understandings within a Western educational system.

DOI 10.1007/s13384-015-0182-3
Citations Scopus - 2Web of Science - 2
2011 Donovan MJ, 'Aboriginal landscapes and their place in the classroom', The International Journal of Science in Society, 2 243-252 (2011) [C1]
2009 Donovan MJ, 'Quality teaching and aboriginal students, a NSW model', Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 12 104-115 (2009) [C1]
2007 Donovan MJ, 'Do Aboriginal knowledge and western education mix?: To get Aboriginal cultural knowledge in schools to make all the kids smile', International Journal of the Humanities, 5 1-5 (2007) [C1]
2003 Donovan MJ, 'To Watch, Hear and Re-Learn: Electronic Revitalisation Tools for the Gumbaynggir Aboriginal Language', International Journal of the Book, 1 423-431 (2003) [C1]
2002 Donovan M, 'Outcamps: Education Centres to Suit the Needs of Indigenous Communities', International Journal of Learning, 8 (2002) [C1]
Show 3 more journal articles

Conference (6 outputs)

Year Citation Altmetrics Link
2012 Donovan MJ, 'It's all in the way we connect, the importance of relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal teachers and students', International Indigenous Development Research Conference. Keynote Speakers: Biographies and Abstracts (2012) [E3]
2012 George RD, Nesbitt KV, Donovan MJ, Maynard JM, 'Evaluating indigenous design features using cultural dimensions', User Interfaces 2012: Proceedings of the Thirteenth Australasian User Interface Conference (AUIC2012) (2012) [E1]
Citations Scopus - 1
Co-authors John Maynard, Keith Nesbitt
2011 George RD, Nesbitt KV, Donovan MJ, Maynard JM, 'Focusing on cultural design features for an Indigenous website', Proceedings of the Australiasian Conference on Information Systems ACIS 2011 - (2011) [E1]
Co-authors Keith Nesbitt, John Maynard
2010 George R, Nesbitt KV, Gillard PM, Donovan MJ, 'Identifying cultural design requirements for an Australian Indigenous website', User Interfaces 2010: Proceedings of the Eleventh Australasian User Interface Conference (2010) [E1]
Co-authors Keith Nesbitt
2009 Donovan MJ, 'Working together: The school, the teacher and the Aboriginal Community', Pedagogy in Practice 2009 Conference. Abstracts (2009) [E3]
2000 Donovan MJ, Heitmeyer DG, 'To get the Black point across: Linking technology to Aboriginal voices', To get the Black point across: Linking technology to Aboriginal voices (2000) [E1]
Show 3 more conferences

Research Supervision

Number of supervisions


Total current UON EFTSL


Current Supervision

Commenced Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2015 PhD Fishing in Port Stephens and the Hunter NSW: Techniques, Methods and the Fish Economy of Aboriginal People Pre and Post Colonisation
PhD (Aboriginal Studies), The Wollotuka Institute, The University of Newcastle

Past Supervision

Year Level of Study Research Title / Program / Supervisor Type
2016 PhD The Development of Aboriginal Education Policy in Australia - Voices of the National Aboriginal Education Committee (NAEC)
PhD (Education), Faculty of Education and Arts, The University of Newcastle
2012 PhD Capturing Cultural Requirements in the Design of a Website for an Aboriginal Community
PhD (Information Technology), Faculty of Science, The University of Newcastle
2012 PhD Capturing Cultural Requirements in the Design of a Website for an Aboriginal Community
PhD (Information Technology), Faculty of Engineering and Built Environment, The University of Newcastle

Research Collaborations

The map is a representation of a researchers co-authorship with collaborators across the globe. The map displays the number of publications against a country, where there is at least one co-author based in that country. Data is sourced from the University of Newcastle research publication management system (NURO) and may not fully represent the authors complete body of work.

Country Count of Publications
Australia 4

Mr Michael Donovan


The Wollotuka Institute
Indigenous Education and Research
Academic Division

Focus area

Indigenous Education

Contact Details

Phone (02) 4921 7381
Fax (02) 4921 6985


Room SAS.07
Building Birabahn
Location Callaghan
University Drive
Callaghan, NSW 2308