Addressing Diversity in AU Classes: The Example of Indigenous Students

November 17, 2017

Educational classes are now far more diverse than in the past, reflecting our more diverse society.  This situation is being addressed by a policy called inclusion.  Inclusion means that students who would previously have been placed in separate classes or schools, or might not have received an education at all, e.g., students with learning difficulties, are now members of ‘regular’ classrooms. 


Because of the wider range of student learning needs that must now be met, inclusion has required changes by education systems, classrooms, and instructors.  These include additional professional development, differentiated curriculum, additional teaching strategies, and technological support.  At the same time, good teaching still remains good teaching.


While “one size fits all” is less and less acceptable, trying to totally individualize teaching and learning would be unrealistic.  Practically speaking, the amount of extra work would drive educators out of the profession.  What is required, as is always the case in education, is a balance of group and individualized instruction. 


All the above is in the main true both for online and face-to-face education.  Diversity of classes needs to be taken account of even when our interactions are through online electronic means.  Of course, since we do not actually meet our students, it may be more difficult for us to realize the nature of their diversity.


Indigenous students are one concrete example of an identified group of online learners whose needs might be better met.  AU has a long connection with indigenous students; serving them is part of its original mandate.  As with all such identified groups, AU appears to be both meeting and not meeting these students’ diverse needs.   Here are a few examples.


Meeting indigenous students’ needs:

  • Can access classes from remote/isolated areas

  • Can learn at home so need for services like transportation and child care are eliminated

  • Self-paced so could work around other responsibilities, e.g., family (extended) loss is often a major life event

  • AU previously offered helpful face-to-face Study Circles for indigenous students, e.g., for EDUC 201 at Blue Quills with an indigenous instructor

  • Can enrol at any time; not tied to the regular school term

  • Extensions are available for added course time if needed


Not meeting indigenous students’ needs:

  • No bridging/learning strategy courses are provided for those unfamiliar with post-secondary education, e.g., have not written or done math in a long time

  • Technological difficulties, including  poor Wi Fi reception in remote areas, can disrupt learning

  • No provision for added class time if other obligations such as family-related issues require student time

  • No quiet place to study at home

  • Lack of indigenous educators/classes in indigenous languages such as Cree, Blackfoot, Stoney, Saulteaux, Dene, Michif (Metis)

  • Any alleged indigenous curriculum at AU is infused, not restructured (see Battiste and Kirkness below for an explanation of the difference)


Other “included” groups might be similarly analyzed.  In the end, what is important is to find out the main blocks to a group’s learning (some of which might overlap with other groups) and to figure out how the blocks can be dealt with by changing how AU does what it does.  A necessity is obtaining direct feedback from the group members themselves as to what would help their learning.  The subsequent changes could foster improved interaction that better enables student success.




Battiste, Marie (1998).  Enabling the Autumn Seed: Toward a Decolonized Approach to Indigenous Education.  Cape Breton University.  Reprinted from Canadian Journal of Native Education, v22 n1, p16-27.


Kirkness, Verna (1998).  Our People’s Education: Cut the Shackles, Cut the Crap, Cut the Mustard.  Canadian Journal of Native Education, v22 n1, p10-15.

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