Technology connects cultures

For many years, Alaska Native lecturer Dr Beth Leonard has been a face on the screen to students at Victoria but this trimester they finally got to meet her in person.

As co-teacher of Māori Studies paper Science and Indigenous Knowledge, Beth, who is Deg Hit’an Athabascan and a member of the Shageluk tribe of interior Alaska, usually delivers her part of the course via video conference.

Based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, this year Beth received a Fulbright fellowship that has enabled her to travel to Wellington and teach alongside her Victoria colleague, Dr Ocean Mercier, for one trimester.

Students are still joining Beth and Ocean’s session using videoconferencing, but this time they are on Beth’s side of the world. Eleven Wellington students enrolled in the Science and Indigenous Knowledge paper are joined by Master’s and PhD students who are being supervised by Beth. Some are based at the Fairbanks campus, as well as one located in California and another in Virginia.

Beth’s students will join the Kelburn class for at least eight live sessions, with video and audio feeds of students in multiple locations combined into one and projected onto the Wellington classroom wall.

The students will also be able to connect across time zones and geographical divisions at other times, using innovative teaching tools such as Skype, Moodle, Google Hangouts and VoiceThread.

Beth says being able to bring students from different cultures together in the classroom is invaluable. “It’s clearly having an impact because previous students have kept in touch through online forums well after assessments are over.”