Cisco Canada Blog

Connecting Canada through Digital Technology

June 15, 2017

As every schoolchild learns, Canada is a large country with the majority of its population concentrated in the south. It is this geographic divide that Connected North seeks to bridge. A partnership between Cisco Canada and TakingITGlobal, Connected North works to engage students in remote indigenous communities through immersive and interactive education experiences and services. Founded by Cisco Canada, Connected North leverages high-definition, two-way video technology to deliver TakingITGlobal’s program of customized content, empowerment through role models, and thinking beyond the classroom.

Last night, Connected North received the Digital Transformation Award from IT World Canada.  I had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Furdyk, co-founder & director of innovation at TakingITGlobal, to discuss the program and award.

Susannah: Congratulations on the award! Can you tell me about some of the challenges remote communities face, and how digital technologies and Connected North are helping bridge this distance?

Michael: Mental health and education issues in Canada’s First Nations and Inuit communities have been increasingly in the news of late, and are finally getting receiving the attention they deserve in part due to the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Connected North seeks to overcome the challenges provided by remote geography and provide schools with access to Indigenous mentors, experts, and role models, along with field trips, and education and mental wellness resources. These are often taken for granted in larger cities like Toronto, but are not readily available to schools in remote communities.

We work with each community to create experiences that are strongly influenced by Indigenous ways of knowing, and focused on building resilience in Indigenous children and youth. These experiences come to life through Cisco’s high definition Telepresence technology, connecting schools in northern communities to each other and to experts and opportunities around the world in real time. Connected North is supported by a strong ecosystem of partners across a number of sectors, including service providers, corporate sponsors, academic institutions, and all levels of government. For example, Connected North has worked with Internet Service Providers to increase the bandwidth for remote schools to overcome the challenge of poor connectivity.

Susannah: What impact has Connected North had on these communities?

Michael: There are numerous anecdotal testimonials to the positive impact of Connected North, including the story of Parr Etidloie, who is featured in the Summer issue of On the Up magazine. However, to be able to concretely demonstrate the impact of the program, Connected North has engaged with research partners to begin to capture outcomes of program participation on students and educators, and early indicators of growth in enjoyment of learning and participation give us optimism. A study by York University in our first schools concluded that 89% of students found the experience made science more enjoyable while the University of Toronto’s research in our second year found that 86% of students actively participated, with the highest levels during cultural sharing sessions. In collaboration with communities, we’re also working to expand summer learning opportunities and funding for informal learning activities through the recently launched Samuel Family Connected North Youth Leadership fund.

Susannah: What does this Digital Transformation award mean to you and your team at TakingITGlobal?

Michael: To all of us at TakingITGlobal, this award is an acknowledgement of what our ecosystem of partners have made possible to date and spurs us on to continue our efforts with Connected North. By the end of 2017, we will be operating in 30 schools across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Saskatchewan, and Northern Ontario. As we add new communities to the network, it will always be our priority to do so responsively and respectfully, taking the time to build strong relationships and shared goals that maintain the integrity of the program.

To learn more about Connected North and how you can help establish a digital legacy across Canada, click here

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