D. Sharpe, D. Philpott

Memorial University of Newfoundland (CANADA)
Many of Canada’s Aboriginal students reside in small, often isolated communities, scattered across the provinces and territories. Delivery of secondary school (high school) education is challenged by the lack of availability of onsite subject specialist teachers and other needed resources. The situation is further exacerbated by other factors including the often low academic achievement of Aboriginal students compared to other students and a failure to graduate from high school, a typical pre-requisite to most tertiary education opportunity. A recognized and rapidly expanding solution to improve education access has been through various forms of web-based course delivery to many of the isolated Aboriginal communities through a variety of providers utilizing synchronous and asynchronous approaches. Despite some positive results of this, there remain many challenges associated with improving student success rates with web-based course delivery.

The intent of this paper will be to report on the key challenges identified through a recent pan-Canadian study of Aboriginal e-learning conducted by the authors and supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada. Using data collected during 2010-11 from extensive interviews of 25 key informants representing all regions of the country, the issues, challenges and possible solutions are examined from each of four constructs that emerged from the data analysis. These were the administration, organization and delivery of web-based learning, communication among and between all participants, student motivation to learn, and the community context within which students are located.

It was evident from the results that, for example, much more attention needs to be directed at local community involvement in determining and delivery Aboriginal content within the overall high school curriculum, and improving in many locations, the technological infrastructure and onsite student support with curriculum content and learning. The need for specific teacher preparation (pre- and in-service) in delivering and managing the e-learning environment was also very evident. These and many other factors that may have the potential to increase student success will be discussed. We would also note that, while this research was directed specifically at Aboriginal students, many of the finding may have relevance to other students and those engaged in web-based course delivery in remote and rural situations.