Sunday, February 22, 2009

Caring for the Elders

Here's a lesson I developed this week that I would like to share with teachers and eTeachers alike. In fact, this lesson could be adapted to any grade level. I was really intrigued by this project and found myself thinking; "Why couldn't we do something like this in Canada, in any of our communities?" Hope some of you find it useful.

If you are not teaching online live classes, then of course you won't use ElluminateLive to teach this lesson.

Grades 10-12

Adopt a Native Elder Program

The Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program was started by Linda Myers of Park City, Utah. In the late 1980's Linda, was touched by the stories of the Dine' people that prompted her to get involved in gathering donated food, clothing and simple medicines and driving to the reservation in Northern Arizona to deliver them to Elders living traditionally on the Land. It's an amazing story of caring and empathy. The significance of this story to Canada is that the Navajo (Dine') people are first cousins to the Dene of northern Saskatchewan. Although separated by 3500 miles, they can speak their languages to each other and understand each other completely.

Learner Outcomes:

  • eStudents will understand the background to the creation of the organization, Adopt a Native Elder Program, and what prompted Linda Myers to do something about it.
  • eStudents will comprehend the issues facing the Native Elder of Arizona who are struggling to survive and keep their culture despite hard conditions and living on the land.
  • eStudents will interpret and evaluate the information that will be provided to them and discussed to develop interview questions for creating a video of elders in their respective communities that will create awareness to issues facing elders today.


  • Credenda Virtual High School is a First Nations online school that provides education to eStudents, which are approximately 50% First Nations. Many of our elders in our communities have had really tough lives from living on the land, trapping for survival, and being so remote from access to healthcare and education. As these elders die, so do their stories and knowledge that they carry with them from the past. They are often neglected.

Prior Knowledge:

  • Have eStudents discuss and share about elders they know in their communities. Have they ever sat down and listened to their stories about the past? What did they find interesting? What are the concerns that the elders have about life today? How is their health and wellbeing?

Present New Content:

  • Read the quote by Thomas Jefferson: "I believe that every human mind feels pleasure doing good to another." Discuss what that means in context of helping the elders in our communities.
  • Have eStudents visit the following site while in ElluminateLive class by using web tour feature and watch both part 1 and 2 of the video entitled, Adopt a Native Elder:

  • Have the eStudents watch the videos that describes the program that Linda Meyer started. They should take notes of what things the program is doing to help and still maintain the elders dignity.

Independent Learning Experience:

  • In breakout groups still in ElluminateLive, have students work collaboratively to develop a list of interview questions.
  • Individually, each eStudent will conduct an interview with an elder in their community. Make sure to follow protocols. If they can videotape the interview, that would be good. If they can record the audio with an mp3 player that records, that's good too. If they don't have either, in all cases, they should have pictures to insert into a short film they will make using Movie Maker.
  • After these videos are completed, they will be viewed online in an ElluminateLive class by all the eStudents in class.
  • Then the videos will be uploaded to Credenda's NIng site for the all eStudents to access later.


The eTeacher will go into each breakout room on ElluminateLive, and provide feedback to each group and observe their discussions.


  • The video will be scored by a rubric which has been distributed and discussed in advance for content, style, technique, and presentation.


Discussion of what it might feel like to live as an elder with very little life left to live and watching the world go by. What can we do to help elders not be forgotten? How can we help?

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Technology Tools and Learning: A review of Elluminate Live

Credenda Virtual High School has been incredibly successful and it‘s been amazing to watch it grow. We certainly don’t take it for granted. It has taken a great deal of hard work, dedication, and creativity to reach the level of success that we have been able to achieve. We recently started the second semester with 227 eStudents. These are amazing numbers for us, and we are ecstatic. More and more eStudents are signing up for classes because they are excited to learn they can take live, synchronous classes with engaging eTeachers during scheduled class times. Many of these eStudents are not be able to access the courses we offer in their schools within their communities. Now they are able to graduate from high school with a full range of high school credits that allows them direct entry and access into post-secondary institutions without having to go through upgrading.

As proud as we are of how many eStudents are signing up for classes, we attribute much of our success to the people of Credenda. First and foremost, the eTeachers care about the eStudents and learning. You can’t necessarily teach that skill, it’s something specific to the individual that fosters a spirit of care and character in their own life. That quality then flows freely out to the eStudents, and they feel it. At Credenda, we believe that learning begins with relationship, and we strive to build that relationship with our eStudents.

When I was researching best practices back in 2005 in the creation of this online school, I learned quickly that just putting a bunch of text online and calling it a virtual school didn’t mean eStudents would learn. In fact the success rates of such an online school have been dismal largely because there is little interaction or relationship between eStudents and eTeachers. We knew that in order for us to replicate as close as possible a face to face experience for our learners, we needed to have the technology that would facilitate this phenomenon. That’s when we sat down with Elluminate.

Elluminate is a java-based software program that was designed for education that enables users to communicate in real-time via their Internet connection. eTeachers and eStudents are able to speak to each other via a headset with microphone, use the direct messaging or chat feature, raise their hand to ask a question, draw on a whiteboard, stream out video, share files, and much more.

Each live classroom session is recorded and archived for eStudents to access later for review, or completion of their assignments. This tool was tested against other leading communication tools and came out on top in every independent test, because of its ability to compress data without loss of audio. It was critical that we find a tool that was reliable as many of our eStudents are located in remote communities without the high-speed internet. We needed a communication tool that eTeachers could teach their lessons where the quality of the audio would not be distorted or drop off. Elluminate Live has done that for us. While the cost of the product is not cheap, it was important that we had the best product possible to ensure we had a quality eLearning program for our eStudents. In addition, many of our students do not have access to the most recent computers in their schools or homes, so we needed a tool like Elluminate that works on any PC or Mac computer that has java installed. In the end, we have been very happy with Elluminate, and it has a tremendously important communication tool for Credenda.

This technology helps students understand the world better in which they live and beyond in a greater way because it allows us to connect with people from all around the world. Last year, we had an eStudent taking live classes with us from Namibia, Africa. She was able to maintain daily contact with her peers in Canada, and also educate her friends online about life in Africa. Another eStudent would never have been able to graduate from regular high school because she was already 19 years old and a high fashion model in England, France, Spain, and New York. She was away from her home in Saskatchewan so much that she was unable to complete the work in a regular bricks and mortar school, but because we record our online classes daily with Elluminate, she was able to access the instruction and stay in regular contact with her eTeacher. In addition, she was able to share her career with all the eStudents at our monthly live eStudent assembly.

The technologies we use help eStudents gain valuable skills necessary to be competitive in a global business environment, because they are increasing their basic computer skills in the process of learning their subject. It’s amazing how comfortable eStudents are with using the computer after a few classes. Elluminate integrates word-processing, file sharing, video streaming, remote desktop sharing, Internet surfing and more into its operation. These are tremendous skills for everyone to possess in order to be competitive in a global environment, but more importantly, using Elluminate has really enabled our eStudents to increase overall success in learning. We believe this tool enables eStudents and eTeachers to connect and communicate in such a way that heightens the learning experience. Credenda wouldn’t be where we are without it. Read about our success story at Elluminate.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Cultural Capital in a New Millennium

I’ve just returned from visiting a number of our northern communities in Saskatchewan. Each time I get a chance to fly north, it feels like I’m going home. In reality, I feel most comfortable in many of our First Nations communities. Whether it’s a Dene or Cree community, there’s something familiar for me. Maybe part of it is growing up in a northern Alberta Cree community as a child, before moving back to New Brunswick for 13 years, and then eventually moving back into northern Canada as an adult for the next 20 years. Even though that is not the way I live today, because I live in Prince Albert, SK, a city of 40,000; when I am in those remote northern communities, I immediately have that connection to the people and the land. It’s a world of snowmobiles, boats, hunting, fishing, community, language, cultural events, and more. While I am nostalgic for the past, I am also deeply concerned about the present. Something is getting lost. It’s hard to put my finger on it.

However, something I read this week tweaked my interest about culture, anthropologist James Watson said that culture is no longer “a knowledge system inherited from ancestors. Contemporary anthropologists, sociologists, and media specialist treat culture as a set of ideas, attributes, and expectations that is constantly changing as people react to changing circumstances.” This grabbed my attention, because I think we spend a great deal of energy trying to recover the past, when we expend very little energy helping people live for today. We reminisce about the simplicity of living in the old days, when in truth, those were tough days. We had less access to medicine, doctors, medical treatments, just to name a few things that we take for granted today.

In our First Nations world, we talk a lot about reclaiming our culture, but mostly people are talking about retrieving long lost religious beliefs and traditions practiced by our ancestors. Yet, we are neglecting a whole generation of youth, who are developing a whole new set of ideas, attributes and expectations for themselves that has no interest in practicing the old ways of life. They have their own culture emerging that is completely different than ours. Lecturing the youth doesn’t work, they don’t want us telling them what to do. This is a generation of youth that are asking a lot of questions, and sadly very few people are stopping to take the time to listen.

What’s getting lost is the values that many of us were taught growing up about how to respect and care for one another. Growing up we learned about the importance of showing kindness to people in all situations and practice generosity by sharing what little you had, because your character mattered. Our culture is changing and seems to be in flux, but the values or virtues of life don’t need to be lost in the midst of changing ideas. In fact, the change of ideas, attributes, and expectations need to be rooted and directed in those core values and virtues that should not be representative of only our ancestors in the past, but of each of us in the present.

As I sit with many of our First Nations youth and listen to them talk about their lives and problems, so many of them feel lost. But I see so much potential. Just yesterday, I watched a young lady, who graduated from our high school two years ago, demonstrate tremendous ability and aptitude to logically analyze a mechanical malfunction of a school photocopier that three seasoned, veteran teachers laboured over for 30 minutes to no avail. She stepped in and had it figured out in minutes without any training. I couldn’t let that go unnoticed, I had to tell her, that I saw wonderful potential in her technologically and with her grades, she could be an engineer. Her response? “Awesome. How do I do this? Where can I go to get this training?” We need to affirm the youth, and build their confidence in themselves. When we affirm them for who they are as individuals that matter, all the changes going on around them will not steer them, but rather they will steer the changes for positive results for themselves. In fact, a new culture emerges that develops positives ideas of themselves based on attributes and values that recognize the good they have to offer and determines their goals and expectations in life.