Half an Hour,
Oct 09, 2019
Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age for Indigenous Learners
Robert Andrews, Executive Director, Aboriginal Financial Officers Association of Alberta
Deborah Hurst, Dean of Business, Athabasca University
DeAnne Lightning, AU-FB BComm Student
Robert Andrews Video
Talking about the program they have with Athabasca University, to increase the managerial capacity of First Nations communities. We worked with the CPA, which provided some funding. There are challenges which aren't typical for students in a more traditional academic environment.
A lot of the PSE had policies very inflexible to the needs of indigenous learners. The policies tended to create barriers for these learners.
Also, around web-based learning, a lot of the learners weren't successful, so we needed to combine the flexibility of the program, with an in-person shared experience. This was important for the learners and helped contextualize the learning for them. We crafted such a model with Athabasca University, and layered on the structure of the program on top of the online learning offered by AU. It allowed them to be able to navigate their life experiences that might take them away from the course.
We did a systematic review to address barriers to success. 2018 report. We noted that there was poor quality instruction in K12 system, and many of the graduates weren't prepared. There were also barriers around racism. We felt that working online might help address this some. There were also lower expectations attributed to indigenous students, which became a self-fulfilling prophecy. And there were emotional factors associated with being away from home and family. These occurred with more frequency with this demographic. And then at university there's the need to find colleagues. And then cost and associated factors were barriers.
We put all of our majors under one umbrella 'BComm'. And we assembled an instructional team including the professor and the indigenous mentor (Robert in this case). And we created a psychologically safe environment, away from the 'norm', an off-site locaton where the mentor and professor could come together with the students so they could create a learning community.
We believe it's working. The new BComm program design combines the typical online individualized study model (with online materials and tutors) and overlayed it with onsite paced sessions at the beginning, middle and end of the course. This allowed us a structured way to present how to learn at AU, present student services and all the supports they needed, etc. This contrasts with a previous group that failed because we didn't understand the level of comfort with the tech and the support needs. So we brought them together, we worked through all the little problems. We had faculty go through sensitivity, so they learn eg., about words that trigger, say, memories of residential school.
We set it up this way because of th culture and because we wanted a safe environment, but also because we wanted to create a safe environment for students. We walk them through gently and carefully.
In the process of doing that we were able to discover and address learning gaps, for example, numeracy skills were often a challenge. This allowed us to select additional courses or tools that will help them master the skills (eg. a math tutor softwrae app).
Why do we think it's working? We did create a culturally safe environment. People were working together to succeed. We saw people back away from math - they didn't want to take the risk - but we created an environment where that would be possible. They were able to bring their own cultural knowledge into the learning situation. The mentor was able to help advise the faculty member learn how to interact with the students. And we focused on improved teacher-student interaction.
We also employed prior learning recognition, especially eg. credentials from AFOA. But also even mothers and grandmothers came in with lots of prior experience and learning.
We also had student advisors come out of the office and come on site and talk with students face-to-face and learn their stories.
"We were giving them back a dream they didn't think they could have."
We were up against factors designed to make the university efficient. We have 40K students, 18K is business, we have to be efficient.
That was a good day when we got our university-branded bags.
My father is a residential school survivor, was released, took several job, took a bus to Toronto, and then back in 1967 came back to the reserve. He was a nation leader for 11 years. In his mid-60s decided to attend university for the first time. I am a single mother, I work full time, I run the Nation's food ban, and in programs that help people enter the workforce. I help alleviate the obstacles and barriers that keep so many of our people down.
The legacy of the residential schools has created many of the problems of today, as anger and dysfunction are passed down from generation to generation. We still live with gang activity, violence, drug abuse, rampant racism, and a high suicide rate. Plus high unemployment and lack of services. It's a struggle for survival.
This program has taken steps to help people achieve their education, but also to achieve resiliency, and support our community needs. We meet once a month on weekends. Otherwise, we work online. We also have access to university supports, and of course to each other. The students are mostly able to leave their stress at the door. We laugh a lot. It's not a competition; we all want to see each other succeed.
If you had told me six years ago when I had no job security that I'd be half way to my BComm, I wouldn't have believed you. And I've had kids say to me "Your my inspiration." That's what assures me I'm on the right track. And if this has the ripple effects through our communty, this can be a turning point for our people.
What is the core take-away:
- it's a collaborative approach involving both orgaizations
- we revealed systematic barriers for a new kind of safe learning environment
- we had to add extra time for numeracy skills and other challenges
- we needed manual processes for registration and credit transfer and advisory suppprt
- faculty and staff took on extra work - they said "We're not set up for this" but they do it because it's the right thing to do
- and the courses are not dumbed down. We don't reduce the quality, but we add extra support.
- we're continuing the program
- we're looking at adding honorable exit points with additional certificates
- when they drop out for lie reasons, we still have the opportunity for individualized studies, so they don't have to repeat the course
- we're looking at lanching a new cohort
- and we're looking at plans to develop graduate programming in 2020
Exploring some of the tensions between the western view of business education and indigenous culture. We're still looking to qualify for the certificates, etc., but we're looking at the broader view. We have a long way to go. And as we take each course to the group, the instructor is in situ trying to make adjustments.
Has technology been an issue? Yes. It took us 1-2 hours just to get online and navigate the whole online thing (I was thinking, our poor teacher). We don't have good internet access; sometimes I go into town 10 km away.
Question: what are the extra barriers for men. The course was all women. Even in the band office, it seems to be mostly women. It's really hard to say.
Also, we've had people who graduated from other programs who have agreed to come and advise us, and these people have been invaluable. We're looking at a new course, 'Building an Indigenous business.'
Comment: need for the in-person get-together.
Student crisis is the biggest challenge for First Nations. What are the males doing, they're waiting in the parking lot for the women to get out of class. There's a trust issue. Student crisis issues are ongoing. Suicide. People getting kicked out of the house. How do you address that online-onl? How do you address elder support? We don't provide counseling ourselves, but there is the mentor to act as a go-between. We provide deferrals, extensions, etc. and we can transfer them to individual study to give them a chance to complete their course.
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, - Teaching and Learning in the Digital Age for Indigenous Learners, Feb 13, 2020