When Cisco Systems Inc. began the Connected North program three years ago with the vision of connecting every indigenous school in Canada to an HD video telepresence network, you might call it an ambitious goal. But once you learn that students report liking science learning more as a result, it seems like anything is possible.

Connected North is nominated for ITWC’s Digital Transformation Awards.

Since the networking vendor founded the program, the management of it has been taken over by charity TakingITGlobal (TIG). Cisco remains an actively involved partner, acting as technology provider and a collaborator with TIG to help manage service partners, corporate sponsors, academic institutions, and government. In 2017 the Connected North program will be operating in 30 schools across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, Saskatchewan, and Northern Ontario.

Its mission is to provide 21st-century digital learning to under-served communities and ensure there’s enough support that the connected video networks become viable as a long-term approach to student engagement and learning. Connected North is a nominee for IT World Canada’s Digital Transformation Awards, being held June 14 in Toronto.

The Connected North story is told in this video:

According to a study conducted by York University in 2013-2014, about nine in 10 students said that the remote learning experience with Connected North actually “made science more enjoyable.” Also they felt they “learned more in the virtual sessions” than they would in a regular classroom scenario. Teachers were also happy with how easy the technology was to operate.

Another study by the University of Toronto conducted in 2014-2015 found that 86 per cent of students were actively participating during a Connected North virtual session and the highest levels of engagement occurred when there was a cultural sharing opportunity.

“A 21st century video learning network to connect every indigenous school in Canada is a bold and ambitious undertaking,” Connected North’s nomination states. “But it works, is in high demand, and has an ecosystem of funders and partners led by TakingITGlobal to make it real and sustainable.”

To deploy the HD telepresence network in Canada’s rural northern regions, Connected North had to work with service providers to boost the bandwidth available to schools. The charity also collaborated with indigenous local councils, boards, and governments as the program was adopted.

The plan is to eventually migrate ownership and accountability for the program to local communities. The hope is that improved connectivity and interaction with more field experts through the telepresence channel will lead to a lower dropout rate and better student engagement.

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