In this essay, I present a fiction-based persona that illustrates how emerging technologies have impacted society and education in the not-so-distant future. How has technology intersected with HoYeon’s life during her first year in Canada and how has it compounded her learning? This short story is an insight into the challenges some newcomers and refugees face when trying to access services and education in Canada. How might we as educators better understand how they interact and interface with different technologies?
Case Study: HoYeon Jung
HoYeon is the daughter and only child of North Korean parents who labored as farmers on the outskirts of Kanggye City, in a province that borders China. Her parents never completed high school and there were no computers in their home. North Korean smartphones started appearing in 2020 but only for the government elite in Pyongyang. During the Great Famine of 2022, she slowly watched her mother starve. In 2023, when Kim Jong Un died from complications of the Omicron Variant, food riots were common. Her father was “disappeared” and became one of the many people who were never going to be seen again. Thankfully her aunt took her in but with her own children to feed. HoYeon realized that if she stayed, she might not survive the winter. She thought to herself, “No matter how hard things get, still, I must live”. There was little food these days, especially with the new variant starting to spread in the east. HoYeon decided it was better to take her chances and try crossing through the north mountains than to starve in the cold house with just a wood burning stove to keep the family warm. There was almost nothing left to burn , nothing left of the forest that was once there and nothing left to lose So, at the age of 17 she left.
It has now been three years since she left and today is the one-year anniversary of arriving to Vancouver, Canada. When she wakes up, she looks at her only photo left from her past. It is a photo of her and her mom at her junior high school graduation. Her mom was so proud of her that day. It is almost 9:30am, so HoYeon takes out her smartphone and accepts her invitation for today’s lesson. Biometric face recognition allows her access to the LMS. The LMS provided by Immigrant Services Society of British Columbia (ISSBC) via Engageli, is a subsidiary of Microsoft. The platform allows her to log on, see grades, but best of all the Engageli platform was built from scratch for the sole purpose of higher education use. It seamlessly integrates hybrid, synchronous and asynchronous online instruction all in one platform which she finds very convenient. HoYeon has already completed her reading and writing modules, but she hasn’t yet completed her least favourite modules, speaking or listening modules. Feeling a little inspired today, she chooses the speaking module. She dons her augmented reality goggles that have been loaned to her by ISSBC. They are not the latest or most high-tech, but they thankfully are free. After watching a quick commercial sponsored by FLoRiA ( a predatory loan service targeting immigrants), she greets her AI teacher, Athena, a student engagement platform. “Good morning, HoYeon. How are you feeling today? What would you like to study?”. HoYeon replies, “Speaking please.” The learner predictive analytics engine has decided that today’s speaking lesson is embedded questions and workplace language. She hadn’t done very well on last week’s module so today’s virtual learning scenario will be a job interview.
Before she knows it, it is 10:27, and she is beginning her intensive soft skills class. There is no set time limit to the activities. The length of the lessons depends on her progress. She is getting faster, but the lessons are getting more difficult and sometimes she gets a little dizzy after a longer lesson using VR. Athena is always present and listening to all of HoYeon’s lessons regardless of whether they are synchronous, asynchronous or VR/AR classes. Athena corrects her immediately if there is an error and continually modifies the lesson as she progresses. Any mistakes are noted and integrated into future lessons to reinforce correct language learning. Her human teacher Rob receives weekly reports on her progress. It is rare for Rob to intervene unless there is little engagement on HoYeon’s part, or her assessment scores are low. Although HoYeon likes Athena and thinks she is affable, Athena can be excessively cheerful. Rob said he can adjust Athena’s extroversion, but HoYeon is so busy working at her part time job these days at a busy restaurant on Alberni Street. She hasn’t had time.
It is now almost noon and HoYeon moves from her desk to her bed. Her living space at Welcome House is freshly painted, spotless and one room. Athena praises her, as she has crushed the embedded questions as well as the dangling modifiers in her roleplay, yet she is still having problems with the ‘th’ sounds /θ/ and /ð/ which do not exist in Korean. HoYeon repeats softly to herself, “Thankfully the three brothers theorize amongst themselves. Will I ever master this?” Athena gives her additional positive reinforcement and notifies her that Javier is waiting for their conversation class. HoYeon says she isn’t feeling up to it today, so Athena matches Javier with another student who is available. HoYeon loves her personalized learning pathway and finds it so efficient compared to her previous learning experiences but is still shy when she must work with other human students.
Arriving in Canada with zero technology experience has been a struggle. Navigating her online banking and, applying for a social insurance number from Services Canada was hard but the biggest technological barrier is still at school. All these require technological know-how. Although Welcome House provides subsidized housing, free medical/dental and a Vancity bank account with financial literacy training, she still is expected to know how to use educational technology on her own. Most immigrants to Canada arrive with some digital literacy. Unlike her South Korean classmates, she had no experience with AR/VR lessons or English. Her accent occasionally makes it difficult for Athena to understand her. South Korean classmates giggle when they hear her northern accent. The IT specialist is a volunteer and is very patient with her, but he has countless others to help. Sometimes she feels so alone.
HoYeon has time for one more task before work, so she decides to work on her Digital Women’s Insight Project. Immigrant refugee and newcomer women receive 100 hours of free training on project design and management with participatory action research and sustainable development goals. She hopes this helps her when she applies to BCIT. She surmises that this online asynchronous training may be especially meaningful as she knows first-hand how important sustainable development is and her experiences could really lend some insight to the project. It also gives her a chance to be productive when she has a few moments to spare and take a break from her lessons. HoYeon knows her time as a student is finite and will have to find a full-time job when the government benefits run out. She has learned more than she had ever thought possible but does not yet consider herself digitally literate. She occasionally feels very isolated and cut off from society even with all her connections online and at work. “Still an outsider” she murmurs to herself. Just when she has learned one thing it seems there is a new piece of technology or platform that she is not sure how to use. Rob says it takes 8 years for a newcomer to be settled and to give herself time. “Don’t give up”, he repeats. HoYeon’s hope is that she can get promoted to line cook in a month to make tips and perhaps receive some funding to attend BCIT for the Business Information Technology Management diploma course. She would love to do the degree, but it just seems financially out of reach. She thinks to herself, “If I can cross an ocean, learn a language and use a computer, maybe I can find a way.” She used to be able to hear her mother’s voice scolding her for not studying more but recently she can’t remember what she sounded like.
About two months ago she was notified by the Canadian Consulate in Harbin that her father is alive and working in Northern China. She has been able to pass a few messages to him through the consulate, but it doesn’t look like they will be able to video chat or email. The great digital firewall probably won’t be coming down anytime soon. Maybe if she works hard enough and saves enough, she can sponsor him. You never know.
Clark, R. E. (1994). Media will never influence learning. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 21-29.
Felicitas Macgilchrist, Heidrun Allert & Anne Bruch (2020) Students and society in the 2020s. Three future ‘histories’ of education and technology,Learning, Media and Technology, 45:1, 76-89,
Kozma, R. B. (1994). Will media influence learning: Reframing the debate. Educational Technology Research and Development, 42(2), 7-19.
sava saheli singh and Tim Maughan The future of ed tech is here, it’s just not evenly distributed
Selwyn, N., Pangrazio, L., Nemorin, S., & Perrotta, C. (2020). What might the school of 2030 be like? An exercise in social science fiction. Learning, Media and Technology, 45(1), 90-106.
Selwyn, N. (2021). Ed-Tech Within Limits: Anticipating educational technology in times of environmental crisis. E-Learning and Digital Media, 2042753021102295
Weller, M. (2020). 25 Years of Ed Tech. Athabasca University Press.
25 Years of Ed Tech: The Serialized Audio Version. (2021). https://25years.opened.ca/. [website]