Online Education – Navigating Our Present Virtual Reality: An Inside Look into Mapping Education Offered Online During the COVID-19 Pandemic

The First Nations Technology Council offers a 12-week Foundations in Innovation and Technology program designed to give Indigenous people the tools to use technology to support the needs of their own communities. As part of this program, students learn computer basics and professional practices; web development and coding; GIS/GPS mapping; communications and digital marketing; software testing; and network setup and support. Students of this program also receive 24 credits towards their post-secondary education through the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology.

GIS/GPS Mapping Instructor, Lauren Tekano
GIS/GPS Mapping Instructor, Lauren Tekano

Our Firelighters, Jessica Hak Hepburn and Lauren Tekano are the GIS/GPS mapping instructors for this course. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this program has been set to continue – providing all coursework online for the very first time. Lauren Tekano recently led the GIS/GPS mapping course remotely; we caught up with her to learn about her experience. Here’s what she had to share:

“On March 30th, I was scheduled to teach another GIS/GPS Mapping module for the First Nation’s Technology Council’s FiiT Program. This program is typically a 12-week, in-person course that is hosted across British Columbia. The intent was for this module to be held on Nlakapamux and Sylix territory in Merritt, BC. However, with the pandemic, we quickly had to adapt and move the 2-week GIS/GPS Mapping module online. The students had been in the classroom for the first 9 weeks of their program but were sent home in order to social distance. They had to adjust to finishing the program in an online environment.

Overall, teaching online was a positive experience. It was definitely new territory for all of us, and the first few days were challenging, but we learned to make it work for our unique situation. Some students were in very remote parts of British Columbia, so we had to work creatively around individuals Internet connectivity. Helping the students adjust to being in a classroom environment while simultaneously being in a family home also came with challenges. Flexibility was key. Allowing a student to step out of the Zoom classroom to help their child who was also attending school online, or allowing a student to take a slightly longer lunch so they could prepare lunch for their family – these were things that we don’t often come across in a regular classroom, but they became a part of our new routine.

The Firelight Group

We found that the best was to ensure that everyone could interact in the best way possible, with minimal video or audio issues, was to do the lecturing in the morning and the assignment work in the afternoon. We used a combination of online resources including Zoom, Google Hangouts, and Slack, to allow for both a group classroom environment and a one-on-one office hours environment. Slack was used heavily as a way to communicate homework, updates, and news to the students. The goal was to create an environment that mimicked the classroom as much as possible. We were in the Zoom classroom for 6 hours a day, and then would break off into independent work and private slack conversations and hangout calls when needed.

The resiliency of the students, who were able to adapt to a new learning environment in the middle of their program was incredible to see, and I learned a lot from them as I was also navigating this new online world. It was honestly a whirlwind, but we figured it out!”

At The Firelight Group, we are all learning from Lauren’s experience teaching remotely, as we plan future endeavours in online education during the COVID-19 pandemic. Thank you Lauren for all of your hard work, we feel honoured to work with you. Congratulations to all the students who continue to learn during these unprecedented times.