Connected classrooms
Students welcome chance to learn online

Jorge Barrera
Northern News Services

Yellowknife ( May 22/00) - When the last bell rings at Diamond Jenness school in Hay River, most students push back their chairs, gather their books, and head home.

But for Grade 11 student Clinton Unka, that is when class begins.

Everyday after school, Unka sits in front of a computer -- his cyber classroom -- and clicks an icon that reads "Northern Studies 10."

After a few seconds, he enters his password and a computer voice -- sounding like someone speaking into a tin can -- welcomes him.

"Welcome to the Northern Studies 10 online course," the voice says.

"This is a course about the North, about the history and culture ... that make living in, and studying the North so fascinating."

The online Northern Studies 10 program is a pilot project funded by GNWT Department of Education, Culture and Employment.

The program is run by ECE's curriculum development division, distance learning division and the department of information networks.

For Unka, the pilot project is a God-send.

"I needed to take Northern Studies," he said. "But I didn't have room for the course."

Now he's close to receiving his credit thanks to the online program.

The program started in January and 12 students from NWT five communities are enrolled in the online program: six in Norman Wells, one in Kakisa, two in Yellowknife, one in Hay River and two in Aklavik.

When students log on, they can either go into a discussion area or do course work, which includes three modules -- history, Northern studies and land claims -- divided in different lessons.

Each module also has a link to both Web-based and text-book resources. The program is now being assessed for possible changes or expansion.

In Aklavik, Moose Kerr principal Derek Johnson is pleased with the project's results.

"We have two senior high students involved," said Johnson.

"It's been a great success.

"I think it's a great idea," added Johnson. "Due to limited resources we can't offer the course all the time.

"Students can now graduate in three years. They don't have to wait."

Northern Studies is one of the core courses required for graduation in the Northwest Territories. Students in communities with limited educational resources often move to larger centres, like Yellowknife, to receive their Northern Studies credit.

According to distance learning co-ordinator Janet Sargant, the online program allows students to complete their requirements at home.

"The best thing this program offers is flexibility," she said.

Taylor, the facilitator, is based in Norman Wells. She directs the online students, assigning projects, directing discussions and answering questions.

Assignments are due each Friday.

"It's very different from a classroom setting, you get to know students in different ways," she said.

"It's great for smaller communities. Students don't feel so isolated. They can read postings from other students doing and thinking about the same things."

The online program was developed by Genesis Consulting and ECE.

Debora Simpson, co-owner of Genesis consulting said she's involved with the project for altruistic reasons.

"I heard the Northern Studies project wasn't consistent. Teachers had difficulty gathering resources. We wanted to provide that service," she said.

The Northern Studies 10 project is not a substitute for live classroom interaction. It is designed to complement it.

"You can't replicate student/teacher classroom interaction," said Johnson.

And Unka prefers the live classroom setting to the cyber class.

"Right now the Northern studies class here is on a walk.

"You can't do that online. I am learning a lot though," he added.