National Adult Literacy Database
(The name of the National Adult Literacy Database [NALD] was changed to Copian on September 30, 2013.)
A northern Ontario learning program that combines traditional Aboriginal storytelling with the advances of online technology has garnered national attention thanks to the National Adult Literacy Database (NALD).
Now marking its 10th anniversary, GLA delivers learning curricula to a wide audience in a structured way through online learning platforms. The early challenge, according to its developers, was to engage adults who were perhaps intimidated by the thought of taking a class online.
Staff at Sioux‑Hudson developed the concept of a monthly Sharing Circle, an informal way for learners to experience online learning and at the same time be encouraged to take a next step in the learning process.
The NALD award selection committee, composed of three members of the NALD Board of Directors, noted that, although GLA is used in Ontario only, the idea has huge potential for places like the Northwest Territories and other isolated parts of Canada with similar populations.
"Meeting the needs of Aboriginal populations must have a strong focus. It's a growing population with high literacy and essential skills needs," the committee said.
"Canada needs innovative approaches for northern and Aboriginal people, and this program offers exciting possibilities to close the literacy gap for people who have been traditionally difficult to access and who have had difficulty accessing programs. Good Learning Anywhere can be used by communities, organizations and individuals, and everyone in the Sharing Circle seems to be a winner."
Learners taking part in GLA Sharing Circles are encouraged to try icons and tools within the online classroom and introduce themselves to the group. The session leader and volunteer participants read a traditional Aboriginal story together, and that is often followed by a guest speaker who shares his or her own journey to where he or she is today. This is a live session in which attendees are asked to raise their hands and, using their microphones or text chat, ask questions that the speaker is able to reply to immediately.
The Sharing Circle does not require learners to register for the GLA program, but all learners registered with GLA are automatically enrolled.
"This encourages a mix of current and potential learners, and is a creative way to introduce Aboriginal culture and inspiring role models in the context of a learning environment," explained Jonathan Baum, executive director of the Sioux‑Hudson Literacy Council.
"We are thrilled to have been named the winner of the NALD Innovative Technology Award this year," he said. "GLA is striving to continue to remove barriers for adult literacy learners who are new to technology, but also geographic barriers. Participants in the Sharing Circles from communities across Ontario are able to connect and interact with our motivating guests."
Katherine Shine, executive director of KE‑NA‑MA‑TE‑WIN Native Learning Centre in Kenora, Ontario, says the monthly GLA Sharing Circle is a unique opportunity, especially for isolated adult literacy learners in the North, to connect with Aboriginal role models in a live setting.
"GLA's innovative use of the live online classroom gives participants the chance to talk to and ask questions of individuals they would never have a chance to meet face to face," she said. "The circles also allow practitioners to encourage learners who are hesitant about technology to sit and observe the circles – until they are comfortable enough to enrol in an online course themselves."
The GLA program began as a joint project of Ontario's Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities and the National Literacy Secretariat in 2003, led by AlphaPlus. Its purpose was to determine whether literacy and basic skills could be learned at a distance. The Sioux‑Hudson Literacy Council was one of four programs involved in the pilot.
An updated, expanded version of the program, which is known as e‑Channel, includes four cultural streams and a college sector. Sioux‑Hudson's Good Learning Anywhere program is the Aboriginal Stream lead, focusing on creating partnerships and opportunities to meet the literacy needs of Aboriginal communities, organizations and individuals.
The Innovative Technology Award was established by NALD in 2010 to bring greater visibility to an exemplary or innovative technology product, project or service that benefits the field of adult literacy and essential skills. The winning initiative also supports and/or facilitates knowledge exchange within the adult literacy community.
NALD is the lead network that Canadians rely on to connect them with information, tools, resources, knowledge and expertise to enhance life‑long and life‑wide learning.
Tel: 506‑462‑5034 or toll‑free: 1‑800‑720‑6253