Georgian employees receive Minister of Colleges and Universities’ Award of Excellence

Three Georgian College employees received a Minister of Colleges and Universities’ Award of Excellence in the category of Future Proofing Students for their work using virtual reality (VR) technology to teach and preserve the Anishnaabemowin language.

The award was presented by the Honourable Jill Dunlop at a virtual ceremony on Jan. 21. Premier Doug Ford also joined the celebration to acknowledge the achievements of faculty, staff and students from across Ontario.

Congratulations to Immersive Technology Manager Rob Theriault, Indigenous Studies Coordinator Michele O’Brien, and Indigenous Studies Professor Angeline King. 

Rob worked with staff and faculty from Indigenous Studies to create an immersive Indigenous Language House using ALTSPACE VR that’s providing students in the Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program a unique and fun way to learn and practise their speaking skills.

He built and furnished a house and put information buttons on all the items in the house. Professor King and Elder Ernestine Baldwin translated a word list for everything so that when a student clicks on a button, the Anishnaabemowin word pops up.

A second home and community are located in ENGAGE VR on a large VR property that includes an outdoor area with a medicine wheel, a school with the 7 Grandfather Teachings, and other spaces where students can engage in conversations with each other.

In addition to learning the language in the virtual house/community, students also learn about Indigenous culture through teachings and oral recorded stories.

A graphic of cartoon like people standing outside
Elder Ernestine Baldwin interacts with students and their avatars around the fire pit and medicine wheel in the Indigenous Language House

Michele says the Anishnaabemowin language is in danger of being lost, and using VR technology is one way to entice young people to engage with the language. 

I’m proud of the nomination and recognition for this team award. It acknowledges we’re heading in the right direction to create innovative teaching tools for Indigenous language learners, especially for students attending Georgian’s Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program.

Michele O’Brien, Indigenous Studies Coordinator

“I want to extend great appreciation to our whole team: Nookmis Ernestine Baldwin, Greg McGregor, Mitchell Akerman, Cody McGregor and Dann Blair, our developer, and his team from Bit Space Ltd.,” Michele adds. “Inspiration and motivation came from all of the gifts and talents of these individuals.”

Michele shares that one of her proudest moments during the project was when they named the elementary school after Nookmis Ernestine.

“To honour our Elder who gives so much to the students and the community, through teachings, wisdom and kindness, was a high point,” says Michele. “I’m very proud that we’re also being contacted by other organizations and communities to show them our VR environments to support Anishnaabemowin learning, revitalization and preservation. Chi-Miigwech to Georgian, Dr. Helen Pearce for the nomination, and to all who have supported us!”

A woman wearing black goggles and holding two control switches in her hands. She's standing in a livingroom.
Maryam Ismail, a student in Georgian’s Anishnaabemowin and Program Development program, uses Oculus goggles to meet with others in the Indigenous Language House

“This is a proud moment for Georgian – Angeline, Michele and Rob are an inspiration to us all. Georgian is among very few institutions in the world offering Indigenous language education in an immersive VR environment. This innovative approach has expanded meaningful experiences for students to ensure Canada’s Indigenous language heritage continues.

Dr. MaryLynn West-Moynes, President and CEO

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