Northern Distance Learning Program (NDL) continues to provide a new type of learning experience for students in small northern communities by supplementing local programming with online instruction from real-time teachers located in Inuvik, NWT. One example of the geographic coverage NDL provides is students from Ulukhaktok and Fort Providence, a distance of 1046km, attending the same live Art class taught from Inuvik.

NDL seeks to build ‘presence’ between all learning stakeholders to make the online platform used for online instruction ‘comparable’ to their brick and mortar experience which NWT students generally prefer. The following three examples describe how relationships and ‘presence’ are developed online.

One popular kind of NDL programming is a media literacy focus with a digital storytelling emphasis in the English language courses. For one week, students from up to six communities take a digital storytelling workshop remotely from a provider in Southern Canada: Hands On Media Education. The final videos made available within a YouTube playlist are thought-provoking for viewers and identity-building for students. This kind of programming would be out of question if we were to try to bring the facilitator to each of the communities. Our challenge of assuring a high quality web-conferencing experience for the online workshop in each participating school is well-worth the benefits inherit in digital storytelling.

Since the focus of NDL is preparing for direct entry into post-secondary institutions, a new opportunity has been made available—a Post-secondary Bridging Experience (PBE). Eligible students go to a Southern Canadian post-secondary institution for one week of activities and orientations to bridge the gap between their small school and community and the much larger institutions and cities of their future. PBE focuses on Grade 11 students in their second to last school year when they will be making key decisions about their post-secondary futures.

These and other examples of developing presence from a distance resonate with the public. NDL has been communicating some of its experiences ‘to the world’ through its Facebook account. The digital storytelling posts providing links to the YouTube playlist have solicited heartfelt reactions from the public who generally are curious about the North and its youth.