Saskatoon

Teachers use tech to share Indigenous lessons

Students at the University of Saskatchewan are using technologies like virtual reality to bring lessons of traditional living into modern classrooms, allowing students to have a more interactive experience.

Students can 'live' lessons of the land

The idea is to use technology like the VR glasses shown above to bring students lessons collected from Indigenous communities, told in local languages. (Manu Fernandez/Associated Press)

It's hard to understand at first glance how a kookum's simple tale of collecting duck eggs can help Indigenous students understand more formal lessons at school.

But within that telling, Rollin Baldhead said, kookum was always careful to let her audience know she was not greedy with the eggs, that she would "always leave one." 

The simple gesture of leaving an egg in the nest opens up lessons on topics as varied as biology, conservation and medicine. 

Rollin Baldhead is part of a group at the U of S that is trying to marry traditional lessons with technology to offer students a more interactive experience. (Victoria Dinh/CBC)

Tradition meets high tech

Baldhead is part of a group of students in the Indian Teacher Education Program at the University of Saskatchewan working to marry these historic lessons with today's classrooms. 

"What we are doing is using technology as a conduit…to allow students to see [the] Indigenous world view and non-Indigenous world view," Baldhead said in an interview with CBC Radio.

Growing up, I noticed there wasn't really representation.- Rollin Baldhead  

The group is using technologies like virtual reality and animation to bring lessons of traditional living into modern classrooms, allowing students to have a more interactive experience and come away with a feeling that they have participated in those Indigenous practices.

Where the textbooks fail 

The project isn't just about the latest gadgets. 

"Growing up, I noticed there wasn't really representation," Baldhead said.

He didn't hear his language, see faces like his, or read about the traditional lessons of his community in the western textbooks at school.

"The only representation of Indigenous peoples and learning about it was when my mooshum would actually come in and teach us or read a book to us," he said.

Customize these high-tech lessons to include the local knowledge and the traditional languages of Indigenous students is key to the project, Baldhead said.

The project is in the research phase, which includes collecting stories from elders.

"It's not us going into communities and extracting, but rather getting the communities to show us what their knowledge is," Baldhead said.

Eventually it will all be available on a website for teachers to download. Baldhead said he is already excited about bringing his ideas into the classroom and plans to do so at an internship at Saskatoon's Cree bilingual school.

with files from the Afternoon Edition

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