According to Selwyn (2021), “[M]ost ed-tech endeavours are rooted in a shared sense of continuing progress” (para. 4). Nowhere is shared progress more necessary, and more contentious, than between the Indigenous peoples of northern Turtle Island, and the government of the same space, Canada. The abhorrent educational practices stemming from “colonialism and residential schooling [had] the goal of eliminating and replacing Indigenous culture” (Walton et al., 2020, p.1) and resulted in many poor outcomes, of which low university attendance is just one (Walton et al., 2020, p.1). If, as Selwyn claims, “Most areas of education research share a ‘redemptive’ commitment to improving the lives of learners and teachers, or else righting perceived wrongs in the provision of education” (Ball, 2020 as cited in Selwyn, 2021, para. 5), Indigenous peoples of Canada are certainly owed such redemption. By 2030, the journey to ‘right the wrongs’ of the discriminatory, genocidal residential school legacy is underway, where First Nations across Canada apply technological advances to address historical inaccuracies, indigenous access to education and curriculum determination.
After the first National Day of Truth and Reconciliation in 2021, Canada accelerated the use of educational technology to rewrite history. Applying the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action, “federal, provincial, territorial, and municipal governments …provide[d] education to public servants on the history of Aboriginal peoples [and] residential schools, the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Treaties and Aboriginal rights, Indigenous law, and Aboriginal–Crown relations” (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015, p. 6). Because this required “skills-based training in intercultural competency, conflict resolution, human rights, and anti-racism” (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015, p. 6) an engaging way to ensure learners persevered was necessary. Hence, gamification was utilized because it had by then firmly established itself as “focus[ing] on meaningful interaction amongst various stakeholders which results in better understanding and resolving problems and leads to win-win solutions” (Saxena & Mishra, 2021, para 2.2.2). This re-education of the policy- and decision-makers paved the way for sweeping educational reforms in which “consultation and collaboration with Survivors, Aboriginal peoples, and educators, …[led to] age-appropriate curriculum on residential schools, Treaties, and Aboriginal peoples’ historical and contemporary contributions to Canada” becoming “mandatory for Kindergarten to Grade Twelve (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015, p.7). Gamification was applied across K-12 because, as above, it had long been used to foster complex interdependence towards mutual solutions, while employing “culture-specific role models” that were shaped “to enhance learners’ behaviour” (Saxena & Mishra, 2021, para 2.2).
Next, online learning provided cost-effective education since “The main promises of online learning … involve … enhanced teaching and learning, wider access and lower costs” (Hill & Lawton, 2018, p.603). Also, federal funding discrepancies were eliminated “for First Nations children being educated on … and … off reserves” (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015, p. 6), supplying finances for all children with Indigenous heritage. Nonetheless, discrepancies in educational quality needed to “close identified educational achievement gaps … [and] improv[e] education attainment levels and success rates” (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015, p. 6). In rural locations, where variation in educational quality exists, online schooling initiatives were “a way to provide equity and access to students from small and rural schools, and to students who are typically disadvantaged due to their ethnicity” (Hernandez, 2005, as cited in Barbour & Reeves, 2009, p.407).
Of course, online learning requires access to expensive computer technology and internet. Unfortunately, “Colonialism [has] resulted in generations of poverty for Indigenous communities in Canada and many current Indigenous university students come from families with limited financial resources” (Walton et al, 2020, p.14). Moreover, internet access and connectivity were an issue. A study of adult Indigenous learners in rural communities identified technology problems, such as poor Internet connectivity, as a barrier to success (Kawalilak et al., 2012, as cited in Walton et al, 2020). Thus, many “First Nation leaders and educators across the North have directed the development of locally owned and operated broadband networks, equipment, and the associated education applications in their communities” (Beaton & Carpenter, 2016 p.43), allowing high-school graduation (Beaton & Carpenter, 2016 p.48), as well as community-based student supports to narrow the access gap significantly (Walton et al, 2020, p.17), becoming global leaders in rural technological education.
Educational collaborations with indigenous communities were an example of such leadership. For instance, “‘North of Sixty’ weaves together the history and culture of Arctic communities worldwide while preserving the voices and ecological knowledge of generations” (Doering & Henrickson, 2014, p.11) and provides “technology kits… to easily collect, edit, and upload stories to the … online learning environment,” and flash drives that can be mailed, in case of “slow Internet speeds or limited bandwidths” (Doering & Henrickson, 2014, p11). These kinds of educational partnerships with remote communities helped “provide for meaningful, personalized learning through … the incorporation of authentic activities, collaboration opportunities, and experiential learning (Doering, 2007; Herrington, Oliver, & Reeves, 2003), all of which are important components in Indigenous pedagogies” (Doering & Henrickson, 2014, p10).
In fact, such endeavours hit upon the final improvement of Indigenous education which is technology-focused, Indigenous-led curriculum development. “Professional development and … other adult training programs …[that were] delivered online …[and] planned and delivered by community members in their own language” (Beaton & Carpenter, 2016, p.43) were key to “developing culturally appropriate curricula… protecting the right to Aboriginal languages, [and] teaching of Aboriginal languages as credit courses” (Truth and Reconciliation, 2015, p. 6). Instead of maintaining the habit in which the ‘haves’ provide knowledge, computers and other technological gadgets to the ‘have-nots’ in a sort of one-way exchange (Eglash, 2002), remote First Nations “support[ed] a variety of training programs” (Walmark, 2010 as cited in Beaton & Carpenter, 2016, p.43) by using technology “to successfully operat[e] locally owned education environments that support the language and traditions of the communities” (Beaton & Carpenter, 2016, p. 46).
Given that “Pedagogies within Indigenous communities tend to be, by nature, more learner-centered and experiential, and grounded in communal, familial, and, sometimes, essential survival needs” (McGregor, 2010; Nakashima et al., 2012; Seyfrit & Hamilton, 1997, as cited in Doering & Henrickson, 2014, p.6), remote First Nations directed various digital technologies towards their own “formal and informal educational opportunities” (Beaton & Carpenter, 2016, p.43) for improved engagement and culturally relevant learning. For instance, “Observation skills [that] are key to learning, and traditional knowledge [that] is key to both surviving and thriving in harsh Arctic environments” (Doering & Henrickson, 2014, p.6) could be well developed in virtual reality (VR) environments that “recognise …cultural protocols and community engagement” (Loban, 2021, p.5) through Elder and community member consultations and feedback. Building on success with other indigenous groups, “the immersive and highly visual experiences afforded by VR seemingly aligned with some traditional forms of learning within Indigenous communities” (Loban, 2021, p.8). Once cultural features, drawings, traditional stories and historical artifacts were authentically converted into the game databases (Loban, 2021, p.6), VR was widely and enthusiastically embraced across many Indigenous groups as a means to teach historically significant content in an engaging and relevant way. This, and other kinds of “Digital storytelling ha[ve] emerged as a way to incorporate Indigenous knowledge into learning (Loewen et al., 2018) [and] recognized the importance of including Indigenous knowledge holders and community members in the online course design process” (Walton et al, 2020, p.26).
In conclusion, “First Nations are creating the tools they require to support the economic and social environments they desire” (Beaton & Carpenter, 2016, p. 44) by developing their own educational mandates and the means to execute them. No longer satisfied with leaving education to the government that betrayed them, Canada’s Indigenous peoples have successfully rewritten their own histories and futures by leveraging modern educational tools, ascending to the esteemed status of global leaders that is long overdue.
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Beaton, B., & Carpenter, P. (2016). Digital technology innovations in education in remote first nations. In Education, 22(1), 42–60.
Doering, A., & Henrickson, J. (2014). Designing for learning engagement in remote communities: narratives from north of sixty / concevoir pour favoriser la participation active à l’apprentissage dans les communautés éloignées : récits d’au nord du soixantième parallèle. Canadian Journal of Learning and Technology, 40(3). https://doi.org/10.21432/T2WC7H
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