Unit 4: Activity 1 (DLEs in Rural Areas of Canada)

Authors: Ben Chaddock and Myrna Pokiak

We would like to start by bringing our thoughts to the 215 children who were forced to attend a residential school in Kamloops, BC, never to return home again (CBC News, 2021). This heart-breaking news is another reminder of the dark history of Canada’s maltreatment of First Nations peoples. The Residential School system will forever tarnish the history of our country, as well as other maltreatments of the First Nations people across this great land. 

The last Residential School closed in 1996 (Gray, 2021), but the healing will take generations. We would like to acknowledge that for many Dene, Metis, and Inuit peoples, the current school system continues to be a reminder of the pain and grief caused by past governments and religious organizations. During this most difficult moment, we can only wish that the spirits of the children find their way home, and the world takes notice to ensure such things never happen again.

In today’s post, Ben and I explore the challenges surrounding the application of digital learning technology in rural communities. We decided to explore these challenges in the context of Canadian rural communities including the far North.

There are many challenges facing Canadians in our rural communities. With regards to education and the advent of digital technologies, there is a mix of positive and negative impacts. We have accumulated a list of these impacts and summarized the key notes below. If our goal is to aim towards a future where as many Canadians as possible have access to the tools and resources they need to achieve their personal, professional, and community goals, then our ability to communicate our needs and carefully allocate our resources will contribute to achieving this equality of access in due time. In the meantime, great awareness needs to be taken by our education leaders to maximize the experience of our current student body.

Positive Impacts – things that are going well:

  • Attending educational programs from home communities
    • In areas where internet capacity is adequate, students can remain in the comfort of their home or community environment and participate in educational programs. 
      • This can be very helpful for children  who still rely heavily on their parents, or need support in balancing their academic studies with the rest of their day-to-day activities. 
      • For example, remote learning students were able to get more sleep, reduce chatter or bullying, lower the stakes and focus on the development of the whole student, and discover the power of self-pacing and self-determination (Fleming, 2020)
    • Teaching in Canada’s Far North is greatly challenging, however the number of schools has increased since 2017, from 7 to 20 institutions (ECE, n.d.). 
      • The Northern Distance Learning (NDL) program uses a blend of online and in-person high-school classes to help students access a greater variety of courses (ECE, n.d.). 
      • At From East Three secondary school in Inuvik, NWT, classes of up to 20 students can participate at a time (ECE, n.d.).
      • Student success rates are promising (about 70% credit acquisition rate), and are made possible by strong relationships between students, teachers and administrative staff (K12 SOTN, n.d.). The NDL illustrates how distance learning can help fill a need in the community given the right tools and resources. 
  • Expand cross-cultural connection
    • Khoo (2019) frames digital learning not as a commodity, but as an aspect of a gift economy, whereby learners can interact and build connections with students and teachers outside their immediate social and cultural groups (34:17).

Negative Impacts – things that need more attention:

  • Limited Infrastructure: 
    • Currently, only 45% of rural Canadians have access to high speed internet (Broadband Fund, 2021). 
    • Two financial projects have been announced to help bridge this gap, “the federal government’s $1.75-billion Universal Broad-band Fund and the CRTC’s $750-million Broadband Fund (Brownell, 2021). 
    • However, Byron Holland, chief executive of CIRA suggests that $6-$12 billion is actually needed (Brownell, 2021). 
    • This situation is attracting interest from large players in the communications sector, who are using this situation as a consolidation powerplay. 
      • For example, “Rogers, one of the country’s largest service providers, recently promised to create a $1-billion fund to increase connectivity in remote, rural and Indigenous communities if its proposed takeover of Shaw Communications is allowed to go through” (Brownell, 2021). 
    • Although digital infrastructure and broadband capacities have improved, consumers continue to increase their reliance on digital technologies. If consumer needs and use of the internet remain stable, then hardware infrastructure and broadband capacity may have a chance of catching up; however, until then, there will be a lag since current capacity already lags behind consumer need (White, 2020).
  • Slow Internet Speeds 
  • High cost of internet
    • The price and quality standard of internet access is also different in northern Canada (Latour, 2018)
    • For example, the internet provider Northwestel is currently able to provide 150 GB/month for $129 dollars. This is an improvement however, with Northwestel offering  just 100GB/month for the same price back in 2018. In comparison, that same year, Bell Canada offered Toronto customers unlimited monthly data for $50 a month (Levinson-King, 2019).
    • The Nunavut territory is the only region of Canada without access to fibre internet. To reach the Canadian household average data usage, a Nunavut household would have to spend $7,000 annually, approximately 5-6 times more than the average (Tranter, 2021)
  • Cultural
    • To maximize the use of online learning technologies, greater attention needs to be placed in areas of curriculum design to “respect and build on aboriginal ways of learning. In fact, that might also benefit non-indigenous learners as well” (Bates, 2019). 

It is in our nation’s best interest to create opportunities that maximize the creative and intellectual capacity of the peoples of this land. As more and more Canadians are required to use the internet for personal, professional, and educational activities, increasing access to the digital landscape will help us maximize the value each Canadian can share with their community (Canadian Internet Use Survey, 2019). Improved internet infrastructure will aid in this goal. Until then, support for programs that blend online tools with in-person learning will help young Canadians reach their academic goals. With regards to educational design, administrators need to strongly consider the needs and limitations of our rural learners and incorporate alternatives into curriculum structure and assessment resources.  For example, eLearning programs should include access to printed materials. Moreover, digital tools should be used as a supplemental resource, not a replacement for professional and caring teachers in each community. Using a combination of communication and consideration, together, we can innovate and build towards an educational experience that helps all Canadians reach their creative potential (Kuu, 2019).

References:

Bates, T. (2019, March 3) Why are there few online programs in Canada’s Far North? https://bit.ly/3i6ciXk

Broadband Fund (2021, March 19). Canadian Radio and Television Communication: Broadband Fund Closing the Digital Divide Canada. Retrieved May 30, 2021, from https://bit.ly/3i50Hb6.

Brownell, C. (2021, April 8). The pandemic has exposed Canada’s internet problem. Maclean’s: Technology. https://bit.ly/34tNpga.

Canadian Internet Use Survey. (2019, October 29). Statistics Canada. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/daily-quotidien/191029/dq191029a-eng.htm.

Education, Culture and Employment. (n.d.) Northern Distance Learning. Government of Northwest Territories. https://bit.ly/3gc5kO7.

Flags on federal buildings to be lowered in memory of Kamloops residential school victims. (2021, May 30). Canadian Broadcast Corporation: Politics. https://bit.ly/3yPf4pS.

Fleming, N. (2020, April 24) Why Are Some Kids Thriving During Remote Learning? Edutopia.https://edut.to/3yR4ChG.

Gray, B (2021) Digital Detox 5: The Harm Was Always There. https://bit.ly/2RWLu11.

Gray, B (2021) Digital Detox 6: Build Back Better. https://bit.ly/3vCRSci.

Internet Performance Test (n.d.) CIRA. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://performance.cira.ca/.

ISED National Broadband Internet Service Map (2021, March 25). Government of Canada. Retrieved May 30th, 2021, from https://www.ic.gc.ca/app/sitt/bbmap/hm.html?lang=eng.

Khoo, Su-Ming. (2019, April 11). Openings: bounded (in) equities: entangled lives. [Youtube Video]. https://bit.ly/34tGX97.

K12 State of the Nation. (n.d.) NWT Northern Distance Learning Program. State of the Nation. https://bit.ly/3c4Q6sQ.

Latour, J. (2018, August 23). Canada’s north deserves a better internet. CIRA. https://bit.ly/2SHO2Qu.

Levinson-King, R. (2019, September 9). Huawei heats up the battle for internet in Canada’s north. BBC News Toronto. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-49415867.

Tranter, E. (2021, January 24). Deeply disturbing: Nunavut internet is still slower, more costly than rest of country. CTV News. https://bit.ly/3p313jK.

White, E. (2020, October 20). After decades of promises for better northern internet, progress has been made — and the promises keep coming. Canadian Broadcast Corporation: Sudbury. https://bit.ly/2RZjgmn.

Myrna’s Network of Nodes

For this activity, I used Kumu, a very easy to use digital and free program. The digital network is found here. I categorized my online life into five categories, based on where I spend the majority of my time in relation to learning, education, work, and mental health. The five categories are further broken into online organizations and digital information that helps to function in those nodes of work and play. The outer nodes are the digital programs used to support communication, activity, and production within each group.