- Open Access
I-SLATE: designing a culturally relevant framework for authentic learning
© The Author(s). 2017
- Received: 14 November 2017
- Accepted: 28 November 2017
- Published: 15 December 2017
Many Indigenous learners worldwide find the learning materials presented in current educational settings culturally irrelevant. A lack of relevant learning materials within formal education settings subscribing to Western Euro-centric curriculum standards is a key factor. Learning materials provided through modelling, practice, and apprenticeship, are desired. With the literature identifying the lack of a formal curriculum design process, a framework is presented for standardized creation of learning objects for Indigenous learners. To determine the efficacy of the framework, two case study examples and prototype tools were presented to Indigenous knowledge expert interviewees to identify strengths, weaknesses and additional benefits to the proposed framework. Incorporating learners in the design process from the beginning was highlighted as being a very positive approach. The benefits of this research include that it provides an interface, in the form of a prototype, to allow educators to create relevant and authentic learning for Indigenous learners. Additional work is needed on simplifying the process of knowledge creation for educators and on ensuring that any knowledge used maintains cultural and contextual meaning to the communities in which it was generated.
- Indigenous knowledge
- Educational technology
- Learning objects
- Fuzzy logic
“I cannot read or write. I know nothing, but I know when a cyclone is coming from the north- east.” - (Statement by a Bengali man, proclaimed in the documentary Savage Sea) (from Wane, 2008, p 183).
The educational systems currently encountered by many Indigenous learners are culturally irrelevant leading to a distinct lack of enthusiasm towards learning for many of these learners worldwide (Battiste, 2002). For the Indigenous learner, the bulk of learning materials provided by mainstream educational channels are delivered in a conventional, colonial, standardized way, often referred to as “Eurocentric” theory (Battiste, 2002). For example, in Canada there is a long history of colonization in many Indigenous communities resulting in imposed education systems often in the form of residential or boarding schools that resulted in a litany of abuses, and now intergenerational trauma. The result of this is that many Indigenous people identify formal education as a negative process, as a deliberate way to marginalize their languages, cultures, and distinct knowledge (Germain & Dyck, 2011). Any educational initiative within Indigenous communities must take Indigenous knowledge into account when formulating and/or designing curriculum for learning. To most, Western knowledge and Indigenous knowledge are two very different knowledge systems but treating these as mutually exclusive, or as black and white, does not provide a useful way forward (Nakata, 2007). There is, in short, no single Indigenous knowledge ‘theory’ that might be analogous with Western knowledge and thought. Bridging these two seemingly monolithic knowledge structures is indeed a difficult task. Recent advances in software tools to analyze qualitative data for use in Indigenous knowledge research, for example, in agent-based, and artificial intelligence (AI) software that provides reasoning capabilities, suggest some possible ways forward (Sillitoe & Marzano, 2009). Combining this with ways in which Information and Communications Technology (ICT) has been shown to be an effective tool for Indigenous learners (Donovan, 2007) is a key to creating learning opportunities for Indigenous learners that are both pedagogically and culturally relevant. ICT should benefit societies by allowing technological development without undermining local cultures or traditions and by supporting local identity rather than undermining it (Tedre et al., 2006). Therefore, understanding local culture and knowledge is a key component and any ICT system that is developed to support learning must be relevant to local needs, which need to be defined by local people and communities.
Knowing that Indigenous learners are not being adequately served in mainstream education, what is missing from the research is the concretization of a standardized methodology or a framework (particularly in the area of geographical and cultural context) for the storage and retrieval of Indigenous knowledge (Hartnell-Young & Vetere, 2008). The purpose of this study is to propose a framework that leverages ICT to provide authentic and relevant learning opportunities for Indigenous learners. We present an approach that recognizes that a standardized framework approach to Indigenous learning may not work in all environments (Sillitoe & Marzano, 2009), and that any approach must be flexible to gain the best fit between students, teaching and learning Nakata (2007). We propose an ICT-inclusive framework which may be leveraged to develop culturally relevant and authentic learning materials for Indigenous learners. Secondly, using the framework, we designed prototype learning tools and presented case study examples to Indigenous knowledge and curriculum experts in the field then performed one-on-one interviews using open-ended questioning techniques to gather data. From this data, qualitative data-analysis techniques were used to analyze the data to determine the efficacy of our approach.
Trust building and knowledge building
“salmon is to the Carrier what wheat is to the white man - give them a large run of salmon, and abundance with its logical associates, rejoicing, feasting and dancing reign in the camp; cut off the supply, and there will be famine and desolation, silence in the village and melancholy in all hearts.”
A bad harvest of salmon would directly affect the economic well-being of an individual, family and community. However, this was not the case for the Sekani people, whose traditional lands are roughly to the northeast of the Nakaztli. Morice (1889, p 128) observed that “the Sekanis disdain fish of any kind and regard fishing as a degrading occupation unworthy of a hunter”. So in a historical context, “abundance” or “wealth” was (and in many cases, still is) defined much differently from community to community. Therefore, any learning system must take in to account the major local contextual differences between communities.
These learning objects may be created from within an LMS and may conform to a well known standard, for example IMS-LD (in our case) or SCORM.
IMS-LTI provides a standardized way in which to integrate rich learning applications (for example, from remote locations) with platforms such as an LMS.
Attributes for determining harvest health
Attribute (linguistic variable)
high, normal, low
This affects ability to get up river and to find spawning beds
high, moderate, low
Fish caught before they get to the community
high, normal, low
How easy are the fish to catch?
dry, seasonal, wet
Affects the ability to start up river, also affects spawning
The attributes, linguistic values and weight applied in Table 1 have been arbitrarily created in consultation with a practitioner in the field. In practice, these values would be determined through participatory design techniques with community members.
IF catch-per-unit-effort low THEN harvest-health good
IF catch-per-unit-effort high THEN harvest-health poor
IF catch-per-unit-effort normal THEN harvest-health moderate
The final step of the process is the “de-fuzzification” process. In this case study, 3 different rulesets are aggregated to determine the output value of harvest-health. The resulting numerical value is “de-fuzzified” to give it linguistic meaning, and then is used to retrieve the appropriate learning object(s) from the LMS database. These are the learning objects that were created during the Learning Design phase, and are shown in Fig. 4 as “LO Data”.
A simulation is then initiated with the output value (in this simple case created as poor, moderate, or good) linking to associated learning objects.
Trust building and knowledge building
Valuation of goods traded for at Ft. St. James, 1822, partial list (Source: Morton, 1988)
Number of skins
Large Fine Beaver
Small Fine Beaver
Large Blk Bear Skins
Large Grisly (sic) Bear Skins
During this period, the unit of currency from which all other valuations were determined was “one made beaver pelt” (Morton, 1988). Referring to Table 2 it can be determined that one large black bear pelt was worth 2 beaver pelts, 10 muskrat pelts worth 1 beaver pelt, etc. Fluctuations in value were determined by supply and demand, for example, in 1851, with the first major documented failure of the Fraser River sockeye run, sockeye salmon, an essential part of sustenance and economy for the Carrier, the value of sockeye salmon as a trade item increased from 90 salmon per beaver pelt to 50 salmon per beaver pelt, effectively almost doubling the “price” of salmon.
The learning design phase incorporates the knowledge gathered into predefined curriculum that has been created from a Euro-centric perspective. Learning objects may be created from the knowledge gathered. For example, in our case, learning objects are created based on the historical relative value of certain objects during periods of trade between communities and the HBC. Once these learning objects have been created, they may be incorporated in to the ICT Implementation phase as learning objects that are associated with an output linguistic value, for example, relative-value.
Fuzzy logic rulesets may be created first by determining the attributes associated with wealth of a community, as determined during the knowledge building phase. With the knowledge acquired, objects and their associated values are known.
Factors for determining the relative-value of an object
Attribute (linguistic variable)
high, moderate, low
This affects the relative cost of a particular artifact/object.
high, moderate, low
This affects the relative cost of a particular artifact/object
high, moderate, low
Grading value related to quality.
very low, low, moderate, high, very high
An item of trade may have to be transported from point A to point B which can also be a determinant of its relative value. The more difficult the route, the higher the relative value.
The attributes, linguistic values and weight applied in Table 1 have been created using knowledge obtained from the available literature. In practice, these values may be determined through participatory design techniques with community members. In order to obtain a more comprehensive set of knowledge, further questions must be asked of community members and experts, such as what other items were/are imported and exported between local communities, not just with the HBC.
Created according to the relative value of articles of trade to each community. Someone knowledgeable in fuzzy-logic is needed to create the rulesets and then incorporate them into the mechanisms of trading, through such processes as one-to-one trading, the potlatch, and through fairs that were held on borders of certain territories (Morice & Père, 1894). An example ruleset is shown in Fig. 3.
The relative value of an object is calculated using fuzzy logic, and “de-fuzzified” according to the rules of trade determined through the participatory process and the resulting ruleset creation.
As with the first case study example, 3 different rulesets are aggregated to determine the output value of relative-value. The resulting numerical value is de-fuzzified to give it linguistic meaning, and then used to retrieve the appropriate learning object(s) from the learning object table.
Learning design relevancy and authenticity
The preceding two case studies highlight the value of leveraging ICT to allow for many different learning opportunities to be created in a short period of time by running simulations with varying inputs. For example, the traditional effects on supply and demand in a community may be simulated at different levels, resulting in different outputs from the simulation, providing multiple learning opportunities that may otherwise not be realized. As shown in Fig. 3, different outputs allow for the presentation of learning objects that are relevant to that specific output. To further examine the efficacy of this case study approach, a case study and prototype tools were presented to experts in the area of Indigenous knowledge, education, and IT fields, with the purpose of providing feedback on this approach.
Qualitative research methods were used for this study, using questions designed in in order to elicit responses that would best reflect the experiences and knowledge of the participants in regards to the efficacy of our approach. This took the form of an interview and questionnaire process, performed by the authors, with the focus on deep qualitative data to provide more in-depth analysis of the concepts presented. This follows a phenomenological research approach, outlined by Creswell (2014) as consisting of three to ten participants with the purpose of determining the “essence of their experiences” (Creswell, 2014, p 14). One hour was allocated for each interview. Due to distance and cost restraints, the interview process was completed face-to-face or online. The format of each interview consisted of a 20-min overview and demonstration, followed by 40 min to complete 6 open-ended questions. Online interviews were provided with a 20-min video demonstration, to ensure that the participants were able to observe the visual components of the prototype tool. The questions were designed to initiate dialog with the intent of acquiring rich qualitative data for analysis. A complete list of the questions is shown in Appendix 1.
The research results in this section should not be seen as a rigorous evaluation of the proposed framework, but as reflections arising from the case studies presented as well as some qualitative insight to assist in the direction of further development of the I-SLATE framework.
Lead, Community Engagement, Education and Evaluation for Aboriginal Health
Director of Aboriginal Education and Community Connections (Tertiary Institution)
Associate Professor, Educational Technology (Tertiary Institution)
Faculty Development, Center of Excellence for Teaching and Learning (Tertiary Institution)
Co-editor of English Practice Journal and Doctoral Student – Language and Literacy Education
“I think what you are doing is good work because you are building a level of engagement at the beginning rather than assessing the results at the end”.
“my actions will benefit the collective; therefore we as a species will survive, if that collective is always connected to the environment”.
Another participant seconded this thought by stating that “you have to try and bring the social in to everything you do in Indigenous culture” Two of the six participants identified experiential learning techniques and real-life problem solving as relevant methodologies, as well as including the learners in the curriculum generation process. By providing a tool that presents a standardized interface through an LMS, which many students are now familiar with, the process of incorporating local content in to a course is simplified.
“where things bog down for me, as a non-IT person is in the ‘fuzzy logic’ system. I don't understand it, it’s more like a black box for me - that needs to be unwrapped and explained.”
“it would mean relying on the expert system programmer’s interpretation s of what was relevant and/or meaningful to include”.
“it’s not outdoors. When you talk about trade/bartering, it involves being on the land, so how do you build that in?”
“they (the learners) find words as treasure along their journey. The word has embedded meaning that also connects it to the land, and we are using this word because it also connects to a particular species, salmon for example”.
“I believe that using the technology as a tool to achieve genuine connection with community members is incredibly important for youth, particularly given the higher incidences of suicide in rural and remote Indigenous communities. Using technology to interview and create movies about their family and community connections is a way to achieve this.”
Three of the six participants identified that to provide cultural relevance, any tool must support students to engage directly with their environment and their community. And lastly, three of six participants (one Indigenous and two non-Indigenous) identified that an additional strength was the ability to use the knowledge obtained beyond just educational applications as the knowledge would be stored using ICT (for example in a relational database) making it accessible. One participant identified this knowledge as “being useful for other community needs, for example, treaty negotiations”.
The purpose of this research was to design and implement a framework where ICT may be leveraged to create authentic and relevant learning opportunities for Indigenous learners. The preceding case studies illustrated that the I-SLATE framework highlights two very important elements to the learning design process. Firstly, that authentic learning may occur through knowledge gathering, dissemination and learning object design. Secondly, that the authentic learning objects created through the development process may vary greatly from community to community; so much so that even communities within a very short geographic proximity may find that through the interface designed, authentic learning towards a particular subject or object may contrast greatly from one community to the next. So if authentic learning is desired, designing learning with community involvement at the forefront is an essential step. Using fuzzy logic provides a method for disseminating this knowledge in relevant and authentic ways for Indigenous learners. As Berkes and Berkes (2009) state, “Indigenous knowledge holders do not need fuzzy logic to understand holism; they already practice it.” By simulating authentic learning opportunities, this research aims to demonstrate the value of using ICT to create a tool to allow for many different learning opportunities to be experienced in a short period of time by running simulations with varying inputs. Learning opportunities may be created on the fly by interfacing with relevant technologies, such as IMS-LD Level B, which allows for the inclusion of run-time IF-THEN-ELSE logic to access contextually and culturally relevant learning objects, called conditions, used for personalization and adaptation (Koper & Burgos, 2005). Lastly, following the prescribed framework allows for iterative design, ensuring that previously created learning objects and tools may be built on (for example multiple ruleset aggregation), added to, and improved as the design process progresses. If a modular approach is taken and the proposed framework is followed, then once this initial stage is completed, libraries may be created and may be used and added to in future knowledge building exercises.
Statistical data from Indigenous communities around the world show that due to very low success rates for Indigenous learners, the current methodologies for teaching Indigenous learners are not working. This is due to a lack of appropriate pedagogy and a lack of culturally relevant learning materials. Defining a way in which Indigenous knowledge, or local knowledge and ICT may be integrated to make sense of the world as approached by a holistic thinking culture (for example, Indigenous learners) is of great utility. This paper provides qualitative analysis of Indigenous knowledge and curriculum expert interviews with the purpose of providing feedback on the I-SLATE framework of Authors (2016). Two case studies and prototype learning tools were presented to expert participants to illustrate how the I-SLATE framework may be used in practice. Issues identified in previous literature include the initial setup of the framework and of the Indigenous knowledge data, which are both labor and time intensive and to this end, additional tools have been created to streamline this process. However, what has become clear in the analysis of this approach, particularly from Indigenous expert feedback, is that community trust-building and engagement must be at the fore-front of any attempt to apply this system in a specific context, and that any tool used must build on the principles of supporting learners to engage directly with their environment and their community. With these conditions being followed carefully, the benefits to the I-SLATE framework are, for example, that it may provide government decision makers a way in which to better understand how Indigenous knowledge is relevant to today’s educational system; it may provide a system that non-Indigenous peoples can use to understand Indigenous knowledge systems; and, if a modular approach is taken and the proposed framework is followed, then once the knowledge building exercises are completed, libraries may be created, used and added to in future iterations.
Future work of interest may include research on approaches to imparting knowledge to the educators of the learners in the I-SLATE framework, as well as finding opportunities to apply the proposed framework in other educational environments where a large number of “big picture” variables make quantification of data very difficult, thereby allowing ICT, and specifically this framework, to do the “heavy lifting”. From the feedback of Indigenous education experts, research on ways in which to use this system to support learners to engage with their environment and community, for example, through digital storytelling, would be valuable. The implications of our findings for future research, design theory, and practitioners trying to enact culturally relevant pedagogy is that it provides a framework that may be used to establish culturally-appropriate relationships to allow for the collection, storage, and retrieval of Indigenous knowledge, that through leveraging ICT, may be used to integrate Indigenous knowledge in to education in useful and novel ways, providing authentic and relevant learning opportunities for Indigenous learners.
There was no funding for this paper.
JL carried out all of the research and the studies and drafted the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.
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