Teaching GIS in northern Canada can be both challenging and rewarding, particularly when you are new to GIS yourself, as Julia Landry was when she first started teaching in the Environmental Technology Program at Nunavut Arctic College. Read about her experiences and future goals as an instructor.
This past academic year has been a challenging one for the education community. While K-12 students and teachers faced a mixture of online and in-person learning, and sometimes full school shut-downs, most colleges and universities in Canada opted to offer only online programs. Instructors had to find ways to adapt their course materials – and their teaching styles – to engage students who were geographically scattered, often in less than ideal learning environments, and likely starting to suffer from zoom-fatigue.
A challenging teaching environment is nothing new to Julia Landry, who is an instructor in the two-year Environmental Technology Program (ETP) diploma program at Nunavut Arctic College: “Being an educator in Nunavut is highly rewarding but not without challenges large and small. We still struggle with connectivity in the North and this has a great impact on education being accessible. Even simple video streaming is limited! A deeper challenge as a non-Indigenous instructor on Inuit land is the continual ‘decolonizing’ work of my mindset and my classroom to create a welcoming and empowering environment for students.”
The ETP program integrates Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit (IQ), or Inuit Traditional Knowledge, in a variety of ways. The program also aims to help students gain more than just technical skills. As Julia explains it, “Resilience building and coping skills are integrated into our program, both as needed in the face of tragedies and on an ongoing basis. We conduct regular land trips as a means to develop travel and navigation skills and also to be proactive about mental health of students and staff. I believe GIS and mapping can have a role in cultural reclamation and identity due to the power held by maps as control over land and resources often begins with lines on a map. Guiding students through this knowledge and these tools is a step further towards Inuit self-determination in a rapidly changing landscape.”
Environmental Technology students at Nunavut Arctic College.
Julia has been teaching at the college for three years and prior to that was a high school science teacher in two Nunavut communities. She was included among the faculty in STEM programs who were featured in an article celebrating the International Day of Women and Girls in Science in February for the Nunavut Arctic College newsletter. She describes the ETP program as “small but mighty, with around 20 to 25 students.” Julia and her fellow instructors have to be extremely versatile, able to teach a wide range of courses as well as lead week-long field camps. Her course load includes Environmental Law, Arctic Ecology, a Limnology field course, and GIS.
Although she is now very comfortable with the technology, Julia’s experience with GIS was limited when she started teaching in the ETP program and she admits that she was intimidated teaching unfamiliar content. She made use of well-developed course materials and guided her students through the tutorials. The GIS course has become one of the most enjoyable courses for her to teach. “I remember the satisfactory feeling of printing my first colour map from ArcMap and my students each experience this as well in the course.”
“It would one day be my goal to integrate traditional Inuit knowledge (or IQ) into Esri mapping software but my own skills are still too early in development to execute this. I do encourage my students to dream of maps they would like to see made which incorporate IQ and their responses include traditional travel routes, caribou hunting locations, and camp site use by Inuit over the millennia. There are some excellent maps created and distributed by the Inuit Heritage Trust of traditional place names in Inuktitut which we examine in our course.”
In addition to the GIS course, Julia teaches the Map Use and Wayfinding course, which “serves as a foundation to build up spatial reasoning, GPS skills, and traditional Inuit navigation practices so that the students enter GIS with a solid understanding of mapping concepts and are able to develop tangible skills in ArcGIS in a short amount of time.”
Julia sees the potential of web GIS and, more specifically, ArcGIS StoryMaps as a teaching tool. “This year, I have started exploring and creating story maps which I hope to integrate as a presentation tool into my courses, perhaps not even into GIS specifically, since it is a tool that can be applicable to any place-based course such as Arctic Ecology. However, our courses are module based which means we have a lot to cover in three weeks! It is not always long enough to get through essential content plus the interesting extras so I have to be creative in my deliveries.
“Adaptation has been a strong theme for me as a teacher in the north – through content delivery on a biological/ecological level as well as professionally within the cultural context. There are so many amazing opportunities here but you have to be open to the possibilities. In my time here, I have built my skill set for traveling on the land (the Nuna), preparing local foods, sewing clothing and gear for me and my family, working with a dog team, learning basic Inuktitut, and harvesting plants and fungus. I am forever a humble student of the Nuna!”
Julia Landry holds a puppy she is raising for her dog team.
This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.