I have not had a chance to watch the entire 40-minute video yet, however the topics that Kate Hennessy covers in her presentation is very interesting. This webcast is sponsored by Irving K. Barber Learning Centre. It states that many Canadian First Nations and Aboriginal organizations are using digital media to revitalize their languages and assert control over the representation of their cultures. At the same time, museums, academic institutions, and individuals are digitizing their ethnographic collections to make them accessible to originating communities. Hennessy discusses the digitization and return of heritage to Aboriginal communication via the virtual route. She talks about the opportunities, challenges, and critiques associated with digitization, circulation, and remix of Aboriginal cultural heritage. She also discusses some recent projects including a collaborative virtual exhibit with a community in the Western Arctic. Hennessy is a professor at SFU and her research explores the role of digital technology in the documentation and safeguarding of cultural heritage, and in the mediation of culture, history, objects, and subjects in new forms. This video would benefit anyone who is interested in exploring the digitization of Aboriginal cultural heritage. Hennessy demonstrates that while access to cultural heritage in digital collections can facilitate the articulation of intellectual property rights to digital cultural heritage, it also amplifies the difficulty of enforcing those rights.
The OLPC has come to Canada. While touting itself as a highly successful and well-embraced initiative, this controversial pilot program is set to distribute up to 5,000 XO (next generation) laptops to children aged six to twelve in Aboriginal communities across Canada. The funding comes from major corporate sponsors (Air Canada, Vale, BMO Financial), the Belinda Stronach Foundation, and the government of Ontario.
The slogan of OLPC programs around the world is “it’s not a laptop project, it’s an education project.” Youth participating in this program will be accessing “culturally relevant” programming with their new netbooks. The program mentions that Aboriginal youth are the “fastest growing population in Canada,” and have been underserviced through traditional education opportunities. OLPC has 30 different programs and 8 of them are customized for Aboriginal youth:
- Owl Vision (Literacy)
- Swift Feet (Physical Fitness)
- Healthy Heart (Food & Nutrition)
- Ekominiville (Financial Literacy)
- The Meeting Place (Mental Health, Substance Use & Well Being)
- Calm Waters (Water Safety)
- Future Generation (Virtual Library)
- Drum Beats (Science of Sound)
The idea is that children will use the laptops and the culturally designed curriculum above to become more connected with the world, each-other, their culture, and traditions. Ultimately, this will allow them to be more engaged learners and brighten the future for everyone.
Many of the schools participating in the pilot phase that is set to begin soon are rural schools and spread throughout Canada (13 schools in 7 provinces). I think the aims of this project are laudable, and some of the books, tutorials, reading links presented in the curriculum are excellent (view here).
I am leery about this pilot because of the history of failure that has marked many 1:1 laptop programs. The Kelowna school district ran into significant problems when it implemented a 1:1 laptop pilot. OLPC Canada will have to address all of the concerns (tech support, finances, training) that have plagued past projects plus meet the challenges of being culturally sensitive…that is a tall order for anyone.