Training Challenges in the North

Iqaluit, Nunavut.

In February.

When I was first asked if I would be available to provide SMART Notebook training to teachers in Iqaluit, my main concern was that I did not have the gear to handle Canada's far north in the middle of winter. Sure, I had a parka, some gloves, and boots. That isn't uncommon for Canadians.

But there's a pretty big difference between winter in southern Ontario and northern Canada.

As it turns out, the weather wasn't nearly the challenge I thought it would be (even though my flight out did get cancelled due to a blizzard). I picked up some better boots, better mittens, a balaclava, and some snow pants, and ended up walking around quite a bit while in Iqaluit. It was a great experience, and I only fell through the snow once!

The real challenge of Iqaluit, from an educational technology training perspective, is the state of the Internet.

The Internet speed at the hotel would lead me to click on a web link, walk away to do something else, and come back to the computer a couple of minutes later. The speed at the school wasn't any better. In fact, the school Internet was further impacted by the government filters. I have to wonder how long it will take for officials to realize that the filters are increasingly ineffective, especially as students begin to bring their own data-enabled devices into the classroom. The filters also end up blocking useful teaching tools and valuable information (some of the SMART-related resources appeared to be blocked). SMART Response worked, but not particularly well and would not be usable for more than a handful of questions. To SMART's credit, the question web pages are actually quite small. Unfortunately, the school's Internet connection is so slow, the question pages would still take up to a minute to load on student devices. There is another delay between the student clicking to submit a response, and the response being "received" by the teacher.

Surprisingly, SMART Maestro, the iPad-enabled feature of Notebook, ran smoothly. This must mean that most or all of the network traffic required to mirror the SMART Board to the iPad must stay on the local network.

On my third day of training, I asked the teachers what their strategies were for integrating Internet-based materials into the classroom. In unison, several teachers replied, "We don't". This may seem like a shocking response in the 21st century, but it isn't a surprise once you've tried using the Internet in the school for a few days.

So, the solution could be to pre-download resources from home. The teachers did comment that their Internet speed at home was quite a bit better than the Internet at the school. This was a solution used to a limited degree by some teachers, but there was another problem. It seems that the best deal for Internet in Iqaluit only includes roughly 40GB of monthly data, and each additional GB is $15! Ouch! I can barely stay below my 275GB monthly allotment and have considered paying the additional $10/month to get unlimited bandwidth. That's great for me, but there is clearly a problem with "Internet equity" in Canada.

The CRTC is currently soliciting input on broadband connectivity in Canada. The completed questionnaires must be submitted by February 29, 2016, so go participate as soon as possible (but please just read a little further first).

Before you respond to that poll, just take a few moments. Forget about Netflix. Forget about iTunes. Think about your own child not having access to the Internet to research a school subject. Consider that other students across the country have relatively easy access to resources like Homework Help, Khan Academy, and a variety of other online learning resources. Many school districts are moving to Google Apps or Office 365, tools that help enable collaboration and 21st century skills. From what I experienced in Iqaluit, these tools would be virtually unusable.

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