Connections are born and communities thrive when people with a shared interest join together to expand their knowledge. That’s exactly what has happened through a partnership between Pinnguaq and a college in Alberta.
What started as three presentations at Maskwacis Cultural College in early 2020 quickly grew to encompass more than 20 demonstrations, each attracting individuals from various backgrounds, all interested in learning more about various aspects of science, technology, engineering, arts and/or math (STEAM).
When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, many people lost their jobs and their livelihoods. They started their search for new skills to help them adapt to the new, virtual world and for them, these presentations provided a strong foundation for those skills. Other individuals found the changing world provided them with the opportunity to further explore their interest in the world of STEAM, now that their typical work day had seen such restructuring. The background of the attendees varied but what they had in common was their interest in knowledge.
Launch of the Program
The series of workshops hosted virtually by Maskwacis came to fruition through efforts to promote STEAM education within the community in a safe, responsible manner. What started as three sessions coordinated by Pinnguaq’s Director of Delivery, Nate Gardiner, quickly became something much more as both organizations worked together to meet the needs of a community impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mary McDonald, Manager of Travel Delivery for Pinnguaq, remains impressed with the quick thinking of all involved, particularly with how suddenly they were able to adapt to the pandemic evolving around them.
“It’s incredible how quickly a network of Canada-wide and global presenters and audience formed due to the efforts of all involved,” says McDonald, impressed by the agility and hard work of everyone who made this mutually beneficial collaboration possible.
Overview of Sessions
The sessions were first offered in May 2020 and continued through early December, with additional sessions already planned for 2021.
Through more than 20 sessions, McDonald and the Pinnguaq travel delivery team introduced participants to digital art, coding and storytelling, graphic design, WordPress, sound editing, mapping and visualizing data, creating instructional videos and mobile video editing.
The presentations attracted anywhere from three to 20 attendees from various backgrounds and experience levels, offering everyone a chance to add new digital skills to their repository.
“The session about creating instructional videos included an entire department of continuing education from St. Albert Further Education in Alberta,” says McDonald.
“This presentation actually led to a request later in the summer for a train-the-trainer session for a group of youth from the African Friendship Society to learn coding.”
Benefits to the Individual
Many of the participants in these sessions facilitated through the Maskwacis/Pinnguaq partnership noted their gratitude and excitement about using their newly developed skills to further their personal and professional development. For some, these tools empowered them to create their own websites, for others, the presentations provided the skills needed to upgrade their existing web infrastructure. For many, if not all, this program allowed them to build a deeper connection and understanding of the digital realm and its potential.
“This was a really interesting workshop,” wrote one participant, a library technician, in a session about graphic design. “I feel like I have a much better understanding of Canva now! There are so many cool features I can’t wait to play around with more. Thank you so much!”
Another participant noted their curiosity and enthusiasm about putting their newly acquired skills to use.
“This was super interesting,” they said after a session in August. “I’m already thinking of how to make use of many of these tools.”
McDonald thoroughly enjoyed seeing and hearing who was attending the sessions and why, and was fascinated by the connections developed as a result of the collaboration.
“It was great to see the same glow on the faces of the adult participants as we’ve often seen on the faces of our younger learners,” she adds.
McDonald says many of the participants had recently lost their jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic, were new Canadians or had simply decided to take the steps to enhance their digital skills for their own personal development.
Benefits to the Broader Community
In addition to the advantages these sessions directly provided the participants, the partnership with Maskwacis has built a foundation for each individual to take their skills and knowledge and strengthen their personal and professional networks. This ripple effect can lead to the creation of opportunities empowering all people in communities across Canada and beyond.
“During these sessions I met many people who were going to take their new skills forward,” says McDonald.
“This collaboration, these sessions, helped open doors to new opportunities for everyone involved. It’s exciting to think of how participants might use these skills to strengthen themselves and their communities.”
Gardiner says this collaboration has enabled individuals and organizations from varied backgrounds and interests to connect and network.
“I think this kind of partnership fosters amazing community and brings a lot of people together, from all over the country, to learn which is in itself beautiful,” says Gardiner.
“I think that’s a huge strength.”
Many of the participants in the sessions indicated they’d love to continue to learn from Pinnguaq’s team and looked forward to keeping the lines of communication open for further collaboration and opportunities.
“It is great to have the opportunities to attend these courses that have been provided,” said a representative from a lifelong learning organization.
Another participant, a Spanish teacher, also appreciated the presentations, noting: “It’s been a great experience attending your sessions. I’d love to continue [to keep] the communication open.”
For McDonald, the best part of this and any skills delivery program she works with is meeting the different people, hearing their unique stories and learning what they plan to accomplish moving forward.
As for the future of this partnership, McDonald is optimistically anticipating continued collaboration as both organizations share the goal of educating and engaging with individuals interested in improving their digital literacy.
“I believe this model of micro sessions of learning circles where digital skills are shared has a lot of potential for these pandemic times and as the world of online learning continues to expand. The richness that comes from learning circles filled with participants who come together from across Canada and even internationally, is one of the greatest opportunities of online learning,” says McDonald, noting more sessions are in the works.
“We are collaborating on another round of workshops, focussing on teaching and learning online. I’m looking forward to meeting more learners and teachers and hearing about the projects they are planning to put in place with their new skills.”