Northern students lagging in technology access, education inquiry project finds
Schools in north have difficulty connecting to Internet and lack cutting-edge equipment, two B.Ed. students found in research video
Students in northern schools are often lacking easy access to the Internet and the most cutting-edge equipment, a recent inquiry project by two Bachelor of Education graduates has found.
Randall Klassen and Sarah Olshewski spent most of their Themes in Senior Years education course this past year working on a 20-minute video that explores the theme of the challenges of computer education in northern schools.
They found the project extremely worthwhile, both as a research study and as a topic they hope to explore now that they have graduated from the Bachelor of Education program at U of M and are beginning their teaching careers.
“I’ve always had a passion for making videos…I know that both Sarah and I have said on multiple occasions that this project is probably the most meaningful thing we have done in our post-secondary education,” says Klassen.
Klassen and Olshewski spent time exploring the technology options available at students in several schools in Winnipeg, including Sisler High School and Tech Voc High School. They also examined the computer access for students at Helen Betty Osborne Ininiw Resource Centre in Norway House.
Their main findings?
While Sisler and Tech Voc were the “furthest ahead” in Winnipeg, the northern school lagged far behind.
“We started talking to Computers for Schools (an organization that supplies refurbished equipment to First Nations Communities, schools, non-profits, etc.) and we saw there was a great divide between schools in Winnipeg and outside of Winnipeg,” Klassen says.
The greatest differences were in access to the hardware including PCs, iPads etc. and difficulty connecting to the Internet, says Klassen.
Part of the challenge is that it is extremely costly to bring equipment to the northern areas of the province, he adds. That means that school technology budgets take a hit in places such as Norway House, he says.
“The amount of money it costs to run a school, to deliver supplies…all that costs so much more. What you are left over with in the end for extras like a cyber-security program or boosting the general technology in the school, you don’t have a lot left over.”
Poor web access can be attributed to the fact that the infrastructure is not as developed as it is in the southern part of the province, says Klassen. “They are stuck with low-quality Internet that often fails and sometimes students have better Internet access at home than at school.”
Another issue is programming, says Klassen. While many schools in offer technical training that prepares students to move straight into the technology workforce, students in the north are farther behind, their video found.
That means when the students do go on to post-secondary education in technology, they don’t have the most cutting-edge knowledge, which can hurt their ability to succeed.
In their video, Klassen and Olshewski did find that change is happening and some schools have developed new initiatives. The Manitoba First Nations Educational Resource Centre, for example, has created a fully credited high school program (Wapaskwa Virtual Collegiate) that allows students to take a variety of Grades 9-12 classes.
But, says Klassen, there are frustrations. “There is opportunity and ideas and plans to boost technology opportunities in the schools, but the funding isn’t there. They have to be able to get these programs off the ground.”
He and Olshewski hope to continue pursuing the topic of technology access in the classroom as they begin their teaching careers.
Unique inquiry project in B.Ed. program
The inquiry project is offered by senior years professor Rennie Redekopp as a way to find a topic students are passionate about and explore it through any means they deem appropriate, including video, posters, photography, etc. It allows students to do an open-ended exploration of a topic.
“The hope is that students will find a theme that they would like to explore in more depth. In my section, “Teaching the Social Media Driven Learner,” we focus on how changes in social technology will affect the classroom and examine some of the issues that will arise as a result of these changes.
“Students have a wide range of choices in terms of assignments and topics in the hope that this will allow them to achieve some depth in their learning,” says Redekopp.
In the end, two groups did videos in Redekopp’s course this past term. “Both did a great job with their projects,” he enthuses.
Klassen had great praise for Redekopp as a professor. “He’s supportive, he’s trusting, and he knows what we’re capable of.”
He has already used some inquiry learning during his student teaching and says it’s a great way for pupils to gain confidence.
“Because it is so open-ended and students are so used to everything being clear cut…it takes them a while to tap into something and let them take their own initiative.”