A Warrior Nation, A Learning Tribe With Opportunity for All
Red Lake Nation College
Red Lake, Minnesota, USA
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Closing an “Education Canyon”
Red Lake Nation College is a tribal community college on the Red Lake Indian Reservation in northwestern Minnesota, home to the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. With the support of elders and community members, the college serves students in geographically remote locations, providing access to higher education and training for future employment.
According to Red Lake Nation College President and tribal member Dan King, 33 percent of U.S. students earn a four-year degree, but within the Red Lake community, that number is only 1.5 percent. “What we have here on our reservation isn’t an education gap,” King said, “it’s an education canyon.”
King and other Red Lake administrators aim to close that “canyon” by providing exceptional learning experiences, but their challenges are many. The average Red Lake student is a 29-year-old female with children, and 80 percent are the first in their families to go to college. Distance, transportation, and other issues deter many prospective students from enrolling. And, until recently, the college was housed in one 4,500 square foot building with outdated resources.
Yet, Red Lake Nation is primed to reach their potential. “Our 12,000 people are members of this warrior tradition and warrior people. That’s in the DNA of our tribe,” King said. In 2015, thanks to an effort led by King to secure funding, the college constructed a new, state-of-the-art, 45,000 square foot facility to better serve the needs of the college and to provide space where every member of the Red Lake community can access Wi-Fi and the Tribal Archives.
With their physical infrastructure updated, Red Lake recognized the need to invest in learning technology to better prepare students for the future. As Mandy Schram, VP of Operations and Academic Affairs, said, “We have so many staff and faculty who are dedicated to elevating the school to make it a 21st-century educational institution. Nobody wants to go backward; everybody wants to go forward.”
For Red Lake, going forward meant implementing a learning management system that was, in their words, “excellent, affordable, and user-friendly.”
Canvas has been a big help for us, because we look at technology like a tool, and in our tribal history, adaptation to new technologies has been one of our strengths.
President, Red Lake Nation College
Finding The Right Digital Tool
Red Lake Nation College partners with three other tribal colleges in Minnesota. Together, the four institutions wanted to adopt the same LMS, ensuring they could work together and “share” classes according to enrollment. Additionally, administrators wanted a system that would help prepare students for four-year schools.
After evaluating at least a half dozen systems, Red Lake chose Canvas. As King said, “Once you compared them all and looked at the key factors, it was kind of an easy decision.”
With help from the Canvas Implementation Team to integrate their student information system (SIS) and to train their teachers and staff, Red Lake implemented Canvas in less than a month, rolling out the system in time for fall 2017 classes. Because so many of their students graduated from high school before technology was ubiquitous, the college also introduced a technology placement test to identify students who would benefit from a developmental technology course.
With Canvas, Red Lake students now have a centralized place to access learning resources, turn in their work, give and get feedback, and progress toward their goals. Cassy Leeport, director of Library Services and Tribal Archives, said, “I’ve seen a big change in the motivation of students. They’re more accountable for their education because they know they have the independence to check their grades and they’re not relying on having to see their teachers face-to-face to get that feedback.”
Our community and campus are vibrant, and I think that's what Canvas is ... the layout, the structure of it is vibrant. We need that. It really instills hope and success.
VP of Operations and Academic Affairs, Red Lake Nation College
Analytics Are the Answer
Possibly the biggest reason Red Lake chose Canvas was its analytics capabilities, which enable the college to use data to meet larger, institution-wide objectives. Nadine Bill, the college’s director of Assessment and Institutional Effectiveness and member of the Upper Skagit Tribe of Washington State, explains how:
“Canvas allows faculty to monitor assignments, quizzes, and test scores. Through our language classes, we can assess a student's ability to correctly learn language pronunciation through audio samples that are submitted to faculty. We're doing cultural preservation in our digital storytelling classes using Canvas apps.
I think our eureka moment came when we were able to see course analytics visually within the course shell. That was amazing because, in the past as an institutional research or assessment director, I spent hours and hours collecting paper. I'm now able to glimpse—at an administrator level—teaching and learning without having to be in the classroom myself.”
Red Lake is currently participating in an accreditation process through the Higher Learning Commission. During one visit, commissioners asked for Red Lake’s 10-year plan. Administrators said they now have a 100-year plan, because they’re building a legacy for future generations of students.
Many native cultures around the world subscribe to the Seventh Generation philosophy, which says we should consider how every decision will affect our descendants seven generations into the future.
Everyone at Red Lake Nation College says they are committed to that philosophy, and their primary goals are to make students confident, prepared to earn advanced degrees, and proud of their culture and history.
Success stories on campus include Jen Hart, a student and library technician, who started college later in life so she could raise her children. She said she had a hard time finding and keeping a job. Red Lake opened a path for her to become a student again. “[My children] see me now when I'm going to school. I graduated, but I'm continuing on—and they're already talking about going to college,” she said.
Benicio Tyler, a freshman who left the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming to attend Red Lake, said, “I’m becoming somebody I didn’t think I would be. College is just making me a whole different person, for the better, of course. And if you have an education, you can do anything.”
Nokomis Paiz, VP of Student Success at Red Lake, said, “I completely believe in my people and their ability to succeed and go beyond ... and to fill all of the roles that we need in professional realms here on the reservation.”
King added: “I think opportunity and access to higher education is what we need to provide our members. Once they get that access and opportunity, they’ll do the rest. They just need the same opportunity that everyone else has. And we need to provide it to them in an excellent manner, like our mission says. And the great thing about Canvas is that it helps us do that."
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