Engaging a Community through Teaching and Learning

Last spring BCcampus shared a research call for proposals focused on removing barriers to online learning through a lens of teaching and learning. Dr. Paula Hayden at the College of New Caledonia saw this as an opportunity to build on a project she was working on with the Cheslatta Carrier Nation and was successful with her application for funding. 

Post by the BCcampus editorial team

The College of New Caledonia (CNC) in Prince George, B.C., is a community college with six campuses serving the northern interior, including 21 First Nations communities. CNC recently improved its technology infrastructure to ensure the community of the Cheslatta Carrier Nation has access to courses and programs through its Digital Delivery Instruction (DDI) classrooms. The goal was to make it easier for people to access courses such as high school upgrading or initial prerequisite courses, then transition into other courses or programs they are interested in.

We recently interviewed Paula about the research project, and this is what she had to share:

Infrastructure is Easy

“With modern technology, it’s relatively easy to work with a corporate provider to implement the equipment necessary to accommodate a DDI-based solution, but the question is, what are we going to do with the technology? How will we support the users?” asked Paula. 

“We realized that we were having a conversation about the community without having a conversation with the community, and that didn’t seem right. We need to look beyond the technology to understand what the learners need, which could be tech support, study support, counselling, or other types of support required for humans in any enterprise. You can’t just say, ‘Here it is – have fun!’”

What Makes Learning Happen?

“We soon realized that there were many reasons why people didn’t engage in educational opportunities,” explained Paula, “and if those underlying reasons weren’t resolved, a DDI-based solution might not be effective. If you weren’t successful, for example, in a physical learning environment with a teacher present, you may not be comfortable – or have any more success – in an online environment.”  

“To understand the needs better, we started with an appreciative inquiry approach – asking people about a time in their life where they had success in learning. It may have been in a formal or informal setting – working with a granddad or auntie, for example – where they felt respected, safe, and welcomed. We wanted to know what made the learning possible so we can replicate that going forward. If we know you were able to learn when you felt supported, valued, and accepted, we have something to build on.”

“It’s easy to identify problems, but if we look at the successes we have and focus on them – figuring out what worked – we can do it again and show others how to do it, too.”

Next Steps

“Through this project, we’ve developed a better understanding of working with the Indigenous community,” shared Paula. “The conversations with the people in Cheslatta, as well as with others, have raised important questions for our researchers: who should be leading education initiatives in and with First Nations communities? What limitations are non-Indigenous leaders putting on access to education for Indigenous learners (inadvertently or on purpose)? How can philosophically different (although not opposing) points of view around education delivery be reconciled so that (largely) non-Indigenous education providers can meet the needs and expectations of Indigenous learners?  Reflecting on these will shape the next steps in the research before the final report.”

Effective Indigenization

“Our approach to engaging with Indigenous communities is not as robust as it might be,” continued Paula. “People like me are sitting in a position of influence, and we’re trying to make decisions for people – about people – but we’re not engaging with them deeply enough. It’s caused me to reflect in terms of how do I develop a relationship with the various Indigenous communities that we serve? How do I learn the protocols for doing that appropriately and well? How do I understand their learning needs and ambitions? How do I work with the infrastructure that I do have influence over to meet the needs of those communities?”

“If we want to decolonize the way we do things, we have to think of things differently – not just fitting Indigenous communities into our current infrastructure. We can’t assume what will work – we have to research to find out what will work.”

At BCcampus, we are looking forward to learning more about Dr. Hayden’s research and sharing it with the learning and teaching community of B.C.

Notable quote:

“We’re a community college, and our goal is to serve the community, including every demographic. The Indigenous community should have access to the education they need and want, even if that’s not what we’re currently offering.”

~Dr. Paula Hayden, Director of Centre for Teaching and Learning, College of New Caledonia

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