Upper Nikik Interpretive Trail

Thank you for participating in the Upper Nikik Interpretive Trail. This interactive activity was created for the tri-communities of La Ronge, Air Ronge, and Lac La Ronge Indian Band.

As you walk along the trail, the signs have been placed at the exact location that Myrtle O’Brien was at. There are seven in total. This way, the participants are able to observe the plants and consider her teachings as if she was with them in real time. When you visit, the season may be different, but it’s great to observe a place at different time. This is another valuable lesson we can learn from the land.

To learn more about the project, as well as a Virtual Reality interactive lesson that students can take part in check out this article written in “Engaged: College of Education Newsletter”:

August, 2020. University of Saskatchewan
As part of July’s ETAD 898 course, graduate students Ryan Banow, Joel Stange and Janelle Lavoie created a unique and novel Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) project that teaches middle years students and the broader community about the Boreal forest and Indigenous Knowledges.

“This project was an opportunity for us to find a way to bridge technology and nature. Professor MacDowell provided a wonderful foundation, encouraging us to explore many XR (Extended Reality) platforms which could be used at all levels of education,” said Stange, an MEd student in educational foundations.

The project included two main pieces: an AR hike of the Upper Nikik Trail in La Ronge, Sask. and an exploration of a VR Boreal forest environment using the software Altspace.  

Using a smart device, hikers scan AR triggers along the Upper Nikik trail to launch interpretive videos of Myrtle O’Brien, traditional Cree herbalist, crafter and educator. Along the way, she provides teachings related to Indigenous plants, traditions, and language. In addition, the videos are annotated with important Cree terms.

“For the second piece of the project, learners explore a Boreal forest environment complete with many curricular connections using a PC or a VR headset. Within the environment, learners can also view the videos of Myrtle O’Brien and participate in a scavenger hunt related to the teachings in the videos,” said Ryan Banow, PhD student in curriculum studies and educational development specialist in the Gwenna Moss Centre for Teaching and Learning.

“I was excited to participate in this project as it brings together some of my favourite things, including educational technology, science education, instructional design and magnificent environments. I was also delighted to have the opportunity to advance my personal Indigenization goals and explore novel ways to share Indigenous knowledge with students and the broader community.”  

Dr. Paula MacDowell was very proud of how her students collaborated and worked synergistically on their projects, and explained how this technology can augment learning.

“Rather than reading about biomes from a textbook, learners can retain information as memories and stories from being in the heart of the Boreal forest,” explained Dr. MacDowell. “There was no shortage of design challenges to build a robust, engaging, and pedagogically-sound virtual environment. I applaud the students for their perseverance, creativity, technological ingenuity and high standards of excellence.”

“I think the result was a great example of how we can design immersive digital learning experiences, while staying rooted to the physical world,” added Stange. 

For ETAD master’s student Janelle Lavoie, VR technology allows learning to come to life in a powerful way.

“Dr. MacDowell empowers her students to really take creative risks,” said Lavoie. “Through collaboration and persistence, we were able to tackle the design challenges of VR to create a meaningful and engaging learning environment.”

Explore the VR Boreal forest Biome here (AltSpace VR). 
Visit the Upper Nikik Trail in La Ronge, SK to participate in the AR hike. 
View the YouTube Playlist of videos with Traditional Cree Knowledge Keeper, Myrtle O’Brien.