October 7, 2013

An Aboriginal Approach to Technology

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Since my project funded by the Entente Canada-Québec to create interactive multimedia modules for Macroeconomics includes a module on the contribution of Aboriginals to the Quebec economy, I began researching the topic. That is when I discovered Kiuna Institution, a First Nations CEGEP. During my visit, I observed traditional art, totem poles and an institution equipped with the state of the art technology.

Kiuna Institution

Technology in the Service of Tradition

Kiuna Institution is situated in the Odanak community between Sorel and Trois-Rivières. Courses are offered in both French and English. There are approximately sixty students currently registered. Kiuna Institution offers a diploma of Collegial Studies in First Nations Social Science. Kiuna opens the way to a quality education that respects its students’ identity. Technology is most definitely a part of the mix.

Because of the omnipresence of technology, distance no longer represents obstacles to accessing cultural and intellectual resources. Through videoconference, students can interact with guest speakers from all over the world: a Gitxsan artist living in Vancouver, a Cree author based in Toronto, a Maori Methodology Specialist live from New-Zealand… The possibilities are solely bound by the dynamism and expertise shown by the teaching staff.

One Teacher’s Experience

François Bastien has been teaching at Kiuna since its inception in 2012. He knew that adapting pedagogically to Aboriginal realities went far beyond course content and implied in-depth understanding of learning styles that characterize First Nations students.  More specifically, he realized that moving away from a linear approach implied in-class activities that ranged from sharing circles to videoconferencing with elders; all with the objective of cherishing tradition within a learning context.  For instance, in his Introduction to Economics class, students are also exposed to both traditional and more modern First Nations communities. Visual technologies such as SmartBoards are used as key learning tools to display economic concepts, presenting diagrams and pictures for students who are more apt to learn visually.

The Challenges of a Team-based Approach to Creating Aboriginal Content

At Kiuna, they firmly believe in a collective, team-based approach in developing course content, planning activities and projects that encompass various disciplines and defining the college environment. The size of the institution facilitates such an approach.

Technology is part of an environment that is accessible, homey, and comfortable. In fact, Kiuna is equipped with the most recent learning and communication technologies. There are SmartBoards and video conferencing in every class. There is a laptop at each teacher station and even a calculator on the desk.

A college for First Nations students implies entirely rethinking the content of all courses, not only by including examples adapted to First Nations situations, but also by highlighting First Nations theories and concepts beyond the insipid preconceived ideas that we all too often hear about. In order to effectively rethink course content, the teaching staff must avoid the usual, characteristic way of working in silos, with each lecturer solely focused on his or her field of expertise. Part of this new approach to a traditional community ironically involves embracing information and communication technology; a marriage that seems to work well at Kiuna.

How has technology impacted the content of course offerings at your college?

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