Considering Context and Culture in Learning about Digital Pedagogies

When I moved from Ontario to Vancouver Island, British Columbia there were a number of new learning experiences such as new real estate, car and medical insurance processes. I also had to learn how to get on and off the island with varied transportation choices (ferries, helicopters, airplanes and seaplanes) and the impacts weather (low ceiling, fog, wind, rain) had on those choices. Cost of food, gas and other living expenses were more than in Ontario, yet provided context for the ways goods and services make their way to an island versus what can be produced and sold locally. Moving to a new province is nothing compared to moving to a new country, but for some parts of my job it was a significant shift.

Tonquin Trail, Tofino British Columbia (Photo by Liesel Knaack) This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Tonquin Trail, Tofino, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (L. Knaack)

Provincially, locally and institutionally there were many new lenses through which I had to view the work I do, the way I could lead my team and what changes I had to make in how teaching and learning would be supported. I think I have come to understand the culture and context of living and working here, but when I read articles, talk to peers or attend events outside of the province I am reminded how much British Columbia’s and Vancouver Island University’s culture and context impacts education, learning, technologies, research – sometimes for the better, sometimes with small hurdles to jump over and sometimes disappointingly challenging.

Here are some context and cultural factors that influence how we teach and learn at Vancouver Island University. This blog will provide a reference for future blog posts and work done by this project.


Responsibility for Education
Under the Canadian Constitution, provincial governments have exclusive responsibility for all levels of education. There is no ministry or department of education at the federal/national level. The ten provinces oversee policies, funding and regulation of teaching and learning of all K-12 and post-secondary education at both public and private levels. In literature from other countries there are often more regulations and overarching organizations engaged in education’s directions.

Honouring The Truth, Reconciling the Future: A summary of the final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada
This report traces the history and legacy of the residential school system and also includes 94 “Calls to Action” (recommendations for all Canadians such as urging provincial governments to revise K-12 and post-secondary curricula to include the history of residential schools and treaties). Rolling out these 94 calls to action (with a couple of dozen focused on education) isn’t going to happen quickly or easily, yet the discussions happening across the country are worthy ones. Other countries do not have such an initiative nor with the impacts that it has on post-secondary education. For British Columbia and both education sectors, we are very engaged in ways to honour and respect the Indigenous ways of knowing and the perspectives they have to more broadly inform our learning and expand our understandings.

Tofino, British Columbia (Photo by Liesel Knaack) This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Tofino in the Early Morning Fog, Vancouver Island, British Columbia (L. Knaack)

British Columbia

Freedom of Information and Privacy of Protection (FIPPA) Act
The province of British Columbia’s terms around data sovereignty and the storage of personal identifiable information affecting government institutions and their service providers. Only British Columbia and Nova Scotia have this regulation for activity taken on by K-12 and post-secondary institutions. This means that we require storage of student work and associated data to reside in Canada and that no access to personal identifiable information is allowed by any non-Canadian company. This impacts the choices we can make about technology platforms and systems are sometimes limits our activity (or forces us to find local and shared instances, hosting and collaborations). On the positive side, we treat data about our students and faculty with a greater degree of consideration as to where it will live and what sorts of data we need to store.

BCNET is BC’s provider of shared services for higher education and research. Of the many services BCNET provides, they assist in licensing platforms and systems with vendors to obtain better pricing and access with large scale purchasing with groups of institutions joining the service. As a cost saving measure, it is worthy but it also means that Privacy Impact Assessments (PIAs) have been done for the institutions who sign on to the service should the data sovereignty be in question.

This is an organization providing teaching, learning, educational technology, and open education support to the post-secondary institutions of British Columbia. They host workshops, conferences, learning series and other professional development opportunities on a variety of topics. They also will run sandbox pilots of educational technologies. Supported by BCcampus, ETUG – Educational Technology Users Group is a grassroots organization of faculty and support staff who connect and share resources, ideas and knowledge. This community of connected educators and support staff is very helpful in building learning experiences around digital pedagogies.

Open Textbooks and Open Education Movement
A government supported open textbook project (led by BCcampus) and strong adoption rates across the province puts BC as a national leader in the use and integration of open educational resources. Faculty, admin and support staff are also leaders hailing from many of BC’s universities and colleges. The principles of open education and the associated practices for creating learning experiences is very prevalent in BC and therefore creates a broad community of like-minded educators.

British Columbia Teaching and Learning Council (BCTLC)
This is a community of leaders from British Columbia’s public post-secondary education system with a mission to provide local, provincial and national leadership on issues, challenges and directions around teaching, learning technologies, scholarly practice, student learning, and related topics to facilitate the enhancement of high quality teaching and learning cultures across the BC system. Having this group of leaders enables teaching and learning centres to have a network of colleagues to reach out to for sharing and growing awareness and engagement of the work of critical digital pedagogies.

Vancouver Island University Campus View (Credit: VIU)
Vancouver Island University Campus View (Credit: VIU)

Vancouver Island University

University Act – Creation of Vancouver Island University (2008)
The University Act sets out that Vancouver Island University (VIU) is “a special purpose, teaching university that serves a geographic area or region of the province.” The Act identifies VIU’s programming to be “adult basic education, career, technical, trade and academic programs leading to certificates, diplomas and baccalaureate and masters degrees.” Further, the Act states: “so far as and to the extent that its resources from time to time permit…applied research and scholarly activities to support the programs of the special purpose, teaching university” (10:47.1) are part of its mandate. There are five such designated universities like this in BC with no others across Canada.

Teaching-Focused Institution
Faculty members have a larger teaching load than their counterparts at research universities. Typical load is 8 courses per year. Faculty are passionate and highly engaged in teaching.

Vancouver Island University has its main campus in Nanaimo, British Columbia. Nanaimo has ranks near the top in the province with the greatest number of people living below the poverty line. This affects the role a university has in engaging families and children in education and assisting in this important regional issue.

Open Access Mandate
With a mandate to provide open access for learners, VIU responds to regional needs including those of students who are disadvantaged, Indigenous, international, dual-credit high schoolers, those pursuing a trade, youth aging out of care, etc. If credentials do not allow for entry, there are upgrading opportunities and other pathways for entry into post-secondary learning at VIU. With most programs needing only a C in Grade 12 English, the opportunities for entry are more extensive than research-focused institutions.

Indigenous Learners
In the spirit of reconciliation, a new learning partnership for Indigenous youth supported with $50M by two philanthropic foundations, Mastercard Foundation and Rideau Hall Foundation, has enhanced opportunities for Indigenous learners. This will double the number of First Nations and Métis students who pursue an education at VIU. VIU already offers a range of initiatives and wrap-around supports for Indigenous students, including outreach workers, student mentors, campus Elders and tuition supplements. New supports include Education Navigators to help Indigenous youth access pathways to learning, improve retention and graduation rates and ultimately support the social and economic development of their communities. Relationships are built by providing in-community services to guide Indigenous learners along their pathways. The vision is that students will no longer need support to navigate the “system”; rather, the system will offer supports to fit the students. ‘Community Cousins’, Aboriginal students studying at VIU, offer campus peer support. The program builds capacity for mentors to gain valuable employability skills and career related experience through mentoring activities. Many students enter through VIU’s Aboriginal University Bridging Certificate. The coaching and mentoring provide learners with access to upgrading for entry into natural resource management, science, health, education and trades programs in demand for local Indigenous communities and employers.

VIU’s Niche
VIU responds to the regional needs for offering education opportunities for all. With both vocational and traditional academic programming, there are also special opportunities created for more interdisciplinary and focused programming. The Niche Statement is as follows:
Adjacent to the rugged coastline of the Salish Sea and within the traditional territories of the Coast Salish People, Vancouver Island University is proud of its unique history and culture as a teaching university that: • welcomes and celebrates learners, from local, regional and international communities, and nontraditional students, as the heart of the institution; • supports and celebrates student success; • provides high quality teaching, affordable high quality programs and multiple ways of knowing; • promotes campus communities offering small class sizes that encourage rewarding faculty/student engagement; • supports Indigenous learners and connections to Indigenous communities; • fosters a global awareness within the campus and external communities; and • promotes community engagement for students and faculty