Twelve years ago, educators in Central Alberta decided they wanted to do something that would provide better learning opportunities for Aboriginal youth and adults. The on-going challenges faced by both youth and adult learners were difficult to overcome in First Nation Communities. Youth faced numerous challenges that included relocating, family issues and various legal situations. Adult learners, who wanted to upgrade their education in order to provide better futures for their families, had to find a way to complete their high school diploma within their immediate location, schedules and responsibilities. They wanted a higher quality of education and would need a broad range of experienced teachers. Small class sizes and severe budget restrictions prevented that from happening. To achieve their goals, students have enrolled in the SCcyber E-Learning Community program.
Asynchronous E-Learning (using computer based materials to educate) isn’t a new educational approach but it is a term that can
be confusing, especially for people who are just learning the in’s and out’s and do’s and do not’s of working with a computer. SCcyber is different! It uses a synchronous learning model (the use of live teaching interface) in combining a model of instruction that is in fact virtual reality.
Sunchild First Nation was the first location to adopt the SCcyber program in Alberta. “Thus the name SCcyber E-Learning was adopted to honour what at the time was a bold move into the future,” explained SCcyber Public Relations Director Gaylene Weasel Child. “SCcyber E-Learning is different from conventional educational programs in that it creates accountability and interaction between student and teacher. Students are expected to be logged into the computer during class times and can speak with the teacher at any time through text messaging or a microphone. In most cases, students work from a classroom environment where a mentor addresses technical concerns and ensures student participation.”
SCcyber E-Learning is the first 100% mobile online school in Canada making available to its clients entire school courses through a computer, mobile iPad, iPhone and android devices. Courses offered include the core subjects like Math, Social, Science, and English. Other high school courses include Aboriginal Studies, Adult Literacy, child care, photography, mechanics, finance, psychology, world religions, physical education and Cree language study.
“The SCcyber E-Learning Community is committed to teaching the Alberta Curriculum online to First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities,” noted Weasel Child, who said that the program has now grown to well over 25 different communities accessing the program. “The program provides increased equity and access to the highest quality educational opportunities for Aboriginal students and, in so doing, raises the educational level of Aboriginal communities. The initiative models educational leadership through integrity, vision, innovation and metacognitive learning and persists in promoting community interests and seeking solutions, overcoming distance and time.”
Experienced and Alberta certified teachers with a passion for teaching First Nations students head the online classes, providing a level of education that is the same as or better than that found in urban schools. Students who miss class time or change residences can easily catch up by reviewing archived classes. This system also allows students to work at a comfortable pace. Achievement is tracked on a weekly basis so that intervention and support can be provided as soon as it becomes necessary.
“The initiative has met with remarkable success,” assured Weasel Child. “During the past 13 years we have seen completion rates that have exceeded 70 per cent and graduation rates in excess of 80 per cent. This year we expect to teach 800 students in more than 2000 courses throughout Alberta and the Northwest Territories.”
Government participation helps to ensure that every student who qualifies for the program has a chance to participate.
“AANDC,” explained Weasel Child, “partners with SCcyber to provide free course access for high school programming starting back in September 2012. Students who are under the age of 19 and currently on nominal role of an existing First Nation’s school can access SCcyber E-learning course options at no cost.”
The overall purpose of the SCcyber model, noted Weasel Child, “is to advance Aboriginal economic inclusion through the use of e-learning technology in Aboriginal communities and to build on First Nation student retention. Our vision, mandate and goals are based around the premise that to be successful we need to employ different strategies (blended learning) than those used in traditional educational settings. The SCcyber E-Learning Community has met with remarkable success. In record numbers, students are re-entering the school system and staying in school. They are gaining valuable experience with computers, graduating and moving on to rewarding jobs or post-secondary education.”
Graduates of the SCcyber E-Learning Community, she added “are educated and competent and produce the kind of employees who make corporations successful. When corporations contribute to the SCcyber program, they help to create skilled candidates for scholarships, advanced training and employment. In this way, they are investing in their own future. We are very proud to note that to date our sponsors include Encana, Nexen, NorthwesTel, PennWest Exploration, Shell Canada Limited, ConocoPhillips, Devon, and TransCanada. We have generated a successful program that creates positive results and as such we are always interested in hearing from other companies and organizations who wish to participate, just as we are also interested in adding even more communities to our SCcyber E-learning community.”
The SCcyber E-Learning initiative was co-founded by the program’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Martin Sacher, a former high school teacher and principal, who has won awards for his innovative program and is the recipient of the international SITE Award for Outstanding Service to Digital Equity, the first time this award has ever been won by a Canadian.
Nelson Daychief is the Chairman of the SCcyber E-Learning Board of Directors. Mavis Sacher is the Principal of the SCcyber E-Learning Community. Teachers and instructors include Burl Horniachek, Shawn Lawrence, Linda Robinson, Wendy Slade, Larry Sribney, Liz Schweizer and Dorothy Thunder.
In addition, SCcyber has recently incorporated an innovative program known as “Readspeaker” where lessons in over 80 courses can be read audibly to the student by the computer. “This is a truly wonderful and important aspect of the program,” assured Weasel Child. “The student is able to highlight the reading portions of their lessons and then have them read back to them.” During the first week that the application was set up, added Weasel Child, “it received more than 1800 hits, thus indicating that the program not only works, but is being utilized by the student body.”
Depending on the availability of school space in rural communities, the SCcyber E-Learning initiative can also be housed in community centres, youth centres and other viable institutions.
by John Copley