Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Overview of MW98: Why you should attend MW98 Learn new skills to enhance your museum site Explore issues and controversies facing Museums and the Web Experts featured at MW98 Commercial products and services to enhance your web site Organizations supporting MW98: Online interchange regarding the virtual museum experience Juried awards to best web sites in 5 categories

Archives & Museum Informatics

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published April 1998
updated Nov. 2010


The Global Gathering Place: Exploring the Ethnocultural Diversity of Canada on the Web

Leslie Chan & William Barek, Centre for Instructional Technology Development, University of Toronto at Scarborough


The Global Gathering Place: The History of Canada's Ethnic Diversity (GGP) is a joint initiative between the Multicultural History Society of Ontario (MHSO) and the Centre for Instructional Technology Development (CITD) at the University of Toronto at Scarborough. A key partner of the project is eight schools from the Scarborough Board of Education in Toronto.

The project is founded on the recognition that in a multicultural country such as Canada it is imperative that we recognize the contributions of the diverse peoples who have joined in the making of our nation. Our sense of Canadian identity and our concept of nationalism comes from our shared histories. Given this imperative, cultural institutions need to be more proactive in stimulating public interest in Canada's unique multicultural history. The GGP is an example of this proactive approach.

Through the World-Wide Web, the project makes available to a wide range of users valuable and rich resources housed at the MHSO. This information would otherwise not be accessible because of geographic barriers, cost, and the limits of the print medium.

This article describes the key goals of the GGP, the phases of development of the project, the roles and contributions of the various partners, the challenges and preliminary outcomes of implementing the project in the classroom, and plans for the future.

Target Audience and Goals of the Project

The Global Gathering Place is an electronic educational outreach program that primarily targets history and social studies students from Grade 7 to 12. Although the primary focus of the project is the history of the diverse groups that make up Canada, the broad range of subjects covered in the project (e.g. immigration, religion, arts, literature) make it suitable for cross-disciplinary use and for fulfilling a range of curriculum goals, such as the teaching of social responsibility, critical thinking, writing skills, and research methods.

The GGP's approach relies heavily on educational resources developed by the senior education officer of the MHSO, Dr. Lillian Petroff, whose work is based on "state-of-the-art" research findings in immigration and ethnic studies. The material on the site is therefore, of interest to various community members, cultural agencies, and researchers interested in immigration and refugee studies, diversity issues and multicultural education.

The major goals of the Global Gathering Place are:

  • to provide national and international access to valuable historical resources housed at the Multicultural History Society of Ontario;
  • to increase student awareness of the rich social and cultural history of the diverse ethnocultural groups that make up Canada.
  • to foster a classroom environment in which local, family, ethnic and immigration history can come together as Canadian History, through a series of classroom projects, guided by a set of questions that challenge students to reflect upon their own experience.
  • to encourage students to develop critical thinking and information literacy skills as well as alternative means of expression through the use of information technology.
  • to explore and develop a new paradigm for delivery of heritage outreach program to schools and the community.

The Partners

The MHSO was founded in 1976 to foster the positive aspects of living in a multilingual, polyethnic province. Its mission is to bring to a wide public audience the history of the diversity of Ontario's people. Located on Queen's Park Crescent East, the Society houses an extensive archival record of Canada's peoples, manuscript collections, and ethnic newspapers. The MHSO's library holds more than 8,000 hours of oral history, with interviews in more than fifty languages drawn from the experiences of groups as diverse as the Polish War Veterans, immigrants from the United Kingdom, and the Vietnamese Boat People.

The society has also produced a number of well-known traveling exhibits that collectively tell the stories of the diverse people who settled in Canada. These exhibits include "Many Rivers to Cross: the African-Canadian Experience", "History of Chinese Women in Canada", and "Images of Japanese Canadians", currently on display at the Heritage Gallery of Canada's People at the Royal Ontario Museum.

In addition to its impressive repository of primary and secondary sources, the MHSO has active programs in publishing, education and community outreach. However, the traditional methods of outreach such as traveling exhibits and printed material reach only a limited audience and are very costly to produce and maintain. Like many cultural institutions in Canada in recent years, the MHSO has seen severe budget cuts and increasing competition for limited funding. The Global Gathering Place represents an experiment in broadening the society's funding base and an attempt to extend its educational outreach programs to a much wider group of people through the use of information technology.

The partnership between the MHSO and the CITD began in the summer of 1996. Founded in 1993, the CITD is a facility created by William Barek to support and assist faculty at the University of Toronto at Scarborough in the development of multimedia courseware and online learning resources. Over the last few years, the CITD has created, or assisted in, the development of Web sites for over fourty courses across a broad range of subject areas. The CITD has produced and published a number of major CD-ROM projects in the Humanities and Life Sciences. Besides product development, the CITD also conducts workshops on instructional design and Web-based and other forms of electronic publishing.

In early 1997, the University of Toronto became a partner in a multi-partner project known as EdNet2, and the CITD was invited to participate. Shaw Cable and Silicon Graphics Canada are the major industry partners in the project, providing, respectively, access to high speed fibre-optic connection and the powerful O2 computers. The former Scarborough Board of Education, now part of the Toronto District School Board, is providing one primary school and seven secondary schools as test sites for the EdNet2 project. These selected schools are wired and equipped with high-end equipment designed for networked learning.

Briefly stated, the primary goal of EdNet2 is to help the school board learn more about networked computing and about how it can be applied to students' learning. These observations will have implications for teacher training, pedagogy, and the transformation of existing curricula to suit learning in a networked environment. The lessons learned from projects conducted in these schools will be the basis for future decision-making about the implementation of information technology in other schools.

The partnership between the MHSO, as a rich repository of Canadian multicultural heritage, and the CITD, as an organization with a reputation for the development of multimedia knowledge products, is a natural one. The involvement of CITD with the EdNet2 project also proves to be ideal, as the latter supplies schools ready to be partners providing field sites for the testing and evaluation of the GGP. More important, the EdNet2 partnership allows us to pose several important questions related to the use of the Web in the classroom.

  • Do students show greater spontaneous interest in a learning activity that uses a new technology than in one employing the traditional approaches? More specifically, will students become more interested in heritage knowledge because of the new medium?
  • Do Web-based resources enable students to learn in new ways? If so, how can we design learning activities that take advantage of these new ways of learning?
  • Will the use of the Web stimulate higher order learning skills, such as critical analysis, creative thinking, and problem-solving?
  • How will the information and activities in the GGP project enhance existing curricula?

Phases and Structure of the Project

As a multi-year initiative, the project encompasses a number of component projects, which are being carried out in three distinct, though overlapping, phases.

1) Phase I

This phase involves:

  • defining the target audience
  • identifying the goals of the project
  • defining the scope and content of the project
  • exploring external partnerships
  • strengthening community liaison, and
  • constructing the framework of the Web site.

While our goal is to provide representation of as many ethnic groups as possible, it is painfully obvious that such a goal is impossible to achieve, at least in the short term. The question of which groups should be represented first is, indeed, difficult, and one likely to engender much debate. After careful examination of the MHSO's holding, five groups were chosen as prototypes for developing the project: the Chinese, Sikh, Chilean, Jamaican and Italian. The choice of these particular groups was influenced by the availability of material ready to be transferred online, as well as on the community relationships that had already been established. Another important factor in the decision was that authenticated and useful educational material on these groups is currently not available, or is poorly represented on the Net.

Using the same criteria, we have identified a second set of groups for subsequent development: the Vietnamese, Irish, Dutch, Blacks, Portuguese, Japanese, Jewish, Korean, Mennonite, Scottish, and Ukrainian.


Each group's history is presented in a module, consisting of a montage of many images and words, video and sound clips, ideas and opinions from the popular press and scholarly sources, as well as links to exercises, projects and classroom resources. Each module has of a table of contents linked to recurrent social themes:

* An Overview of the Group
* Early Settlement
* Work and Enterprise
* Immigrant Life:
     + religion and politics,
      + culture and family life,
      + change and persistence
* Immigrant Encounters with one another and the Canadian Host society
* Contemporary life

In addition to the more traditional historical narrative, each module contains links to life histories of ordinary Canadians of various ethnic backgrounds who have lived extraordinary lives. As students travel through time with these individuals, they learn about the ever changing social and political fabrics of our society through the eyes of these individuals. These life histories are meant to stimulate students' interest in their own heritage, and to encourage them to validate their own experience through storytelling.

We also encourage students to contribute their heritage stories to the GGP and this growing repository will be an invaluable resource for future generations.

2) Phase II

The second phase addresses business, organizational, and design issues, including:

  • funding requirements
  • defining the work flow
  • designing interactive learning activities
  • consulting with community groups and teachers.

The project started with a very small seed fund from the CITD, that also donated staff time and supplied the server space for the site. Work on the project has, thus far, been carried out by Drs. Lillian Petroff and Nick Harney, and by Dora Nipp and Carl Thorpe of the MHSO, who donated their own time to the project. We are currently preparing a detailed proposal and budget to be submitted to key granting agencies.

As the site map of the GGP clearly indicates, the project is not simply about making an electronic multicultural history archive, but more about creating a lively and growing resource for the study and celebration of multiculturalism that is relevant to teachers and students. To this end, we invited teachers, community members, and equity educators to join an advisory board. By involving the learning community, teachers, and community members in the design of the project, we hope to identify a set of shared goals and reach a better understanding of one another's needs. Our advisors remind us of the need to recognize the diversity of the learning needs of students, reflecting their origins, ethnic background, language, talents, social conditions, and future aspirations.

Design Issues

In designing the site, we want to take advantage of the participatory nature of the Web. We also want to design projects that encourage students to think critically about ideas and opinions that they encounter in print, or in other media, including the Web.

With this in mind, we designed exercises that encourage students to "rethink" the concepts involving history and people that they generally take for granted, and to "replay" them creatively. Incorporating the resources on the GGP, the "rethinking" exercises are designed to help students think critically about what they have already learned, or what they already know about their own and other cultures. Each rethinking exercise focuses on a few images and a few inquiry questions that encourage students to look at cultural history in a critical and thoughtful way.

To further reinforce the "rethinking" exercises, we also provide a set of "replaying" exercises that give students an opportunity to "play" with concepts and ideas through creative activities, group projects, role plays, and multimedia experiments. These projects will not only help students learn, but will also provide opportunities for enjoyable interactions between peers. We hope that teachers will find these exercises useful in the classrooms, and that some teachers will contribute ideas for additional activities. We also hope that the multimedia projects produced by the students will be submitted to us to be archived on the GGP homesite or on the student's own school site. This expanding body of knowledge will enliven the study of cultural history.

To assist students with their projects, the site also provides resources and instructions on how to keep a history journal, how to write news reports, how to conduct interviews, and how to compose a photographic essay, multimedia presentations, or World Wide Web-based documents. Future links will include an open electronic forum for discussion of multicultural education, and a search engine that will allow for easy access to the growing database.

3) Phase III

The third phase of the project is the implementation of the GGP material in the classroom, and the testing of some key assumptions about learning and the Web. In designing the project, we make two broad assumptions that need to be evaluated:

a) The interactive and collaborative approach to the learning of cultural history central to this project will foster among students a stronger feeling of membership in the community as well as a stronger sense of participation as a Canadian citizen.

b) By encouraging students to get involved in historical research and to evaluate existing information critically, the GGP will help students develope both critical thinking and information literacy skills.

In September 1997, we made a call to the EdNet2 schools asking for participation in the GGP project, with the intent of seeing how teachers integrate the material into their curriculum, how students respond to the material, and whether they are interested in submitting their own projects for publishing on the Web. We will gather information on student's participation, and see whether their interests in heritage knowledge increase because of the new medium. The following table summarizes the schools that responded to our call and their specific projects and intended product.

EdNet2 Schools and their participation in the GGP project
 School Grade level Projects Intended Product Status Deadline
 Midland C.I.  10 & 11

Ethnic Survey of Midland Students

20th Century Leaders

Web site

Web site



June, 98

June, 98

 Pearson C.I. 12

African-Canadian Experience

History of the Chinese in Canada

 Web site


Web site




April, 98


April, 98

Stephan Leacock C.I. 12 Film Production: Early Ethnic History of Toronto, Lecture by Lillian Petroff Video Filming completed, awaiting editing and digitization June, 98
 Heritage Park P.S. 7 & 8

My Family History

Media Literacy

Web site




June, 98

June, 98

Challenges and Preliminary Findings

Although all eight EdNet2 schools responded favourably to the call, and many teachers considered the project to be highly worthwhile, not all the schools were able to participate in the project. This was due mainly either to the lack of technical support in the schools for teachers, or to the lack of time. While it is still too early to determine the success of the GGP, and there is also not sufficient information to evaluate the degree of student participation and the impact the Web made on their performance, a number of important observations have been made.

We discovered early on in our association with the EdNet2 schools that despite the heavy investment by the school board and industry partners in hardware and connectivity, there is little corresponding investment in training teachers to use the technology.

There has been little effort made by the Board in showing teachers how they can integrate the new technology into their curriculum. Many teachers, particularly those in the Arts and Social Sciences, remain uncomfortable with the technology and do not see the need for using the Web. The lack of their own exposure to the Net also means that many teachers have not given much thought as to how they can integrate resources such as the GGP into their regular lessons. This is a serious question that we need to address thoroughly if we hope to have our material adopted in the classroom.

We also found that many teachers, while suffering from uncertainties caused by deep funding cuts and extensive educational reforms by the Provincial Government, are also suffering from severe techno-stress. As educational structures and learning technologies evolve, teachers are asked to assume new roles and responsibilities. Instead of being dispensers of knowledge, teachers are told that they should become facilitators for students who are clients in the process of discovery in the new learning environment. This, according to one teacher, amounts to telling teachers to become technical support staff. Little wonder that many teachers distrust the technology.

Indeed, one of the most discussed issues on the EdNet2 bulletin is hardware and network problems, with relatively little discussion among the teachers on curriculum integration and instructional strategies using the new media. This is a clear example of how technology can in fact get in the way of learning. As educators, we must be clear on why we are incorporating technology into the classroom, and we should remain skeptical with technology firms who are interested in promoting their wares in the name of education.

Technical problems aside, our partnership with the EdNet2 schools, and our work with students -- from the primary schools to university -- tell us that information technology can add values to the learning environment by making learning more relevant and responsive to changes in our knowledge base.

Our experience with students also tells us that the Web stimulates inquiry because it creates environments that presents content in ways that are more engaging, and involve students more directly than do textbooks and traditional teaching tools. The challenge, of course, lies in designing material that will stimulate student inquiry. This issue is more often than not a pedagogical, rather than a technical one, and when we are designing for the Web, we need to work closely with teachers and educators who understand students' needs.

In addition, we have learnt from our work that by forming partnerships and links within the formal education community (e.g. other schools) and with institutions, industries, and organizations outside the formal system (e.g. museums and galleries, business, media, community groups), our learning structures and knowledge base are enriched and extended. As networking technologies become increasingly accessible, the walls separating school, work, and community begin to dissolve and their activities mutually reinforce one another. These observations will have implications for how cultural institutions design and implement their outreach programs.


The Global Gathering Place is a project that is more than simply making the MHSO's resources available electronically. It is a site providing real and meaningful resources that will enrich the learning experiences of our students. As the site grows and becomes interlinked with other learning and cultural institutions, it will evolve into a "virtual learning space" where students interested in specific aspects of Canada's multicultural history can find all pertinent information that may originate from diverse, geographically disperse institutions and sources.

George MacDonald, Executive Director of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, remarked that "the story of Canadian heritage is like a big jigsaw puzzle, lying around in pieces. The museums in this country are each keeper of some of the pieces. Libraries, archives, universities, historic sites - they too hold some of the pieces. By creating digital representations of the various pieces, we get a shot a putting the parts of the puzzle back together and seeing the whole picture." (Cited in the Ottawa Journal, 11/6/94)

The alliance between the MHSO and the CITD will provide many key pieces of the globally and historically unique puzzle that is Canadian heritage.

We thank Dora Nipp, Nick Harney, Lillian Petroff, and Carl Thorpe of the MHSO for their support and collaboration. Thanks to the many students and teachers of the EdNet2 for their continual support: Robin Mercer (Pearson C.I.), Rick Brown and Jyoti Sanwalka (Heritage Park P.S.), Howard Gross (Stephan Leacock C.I.), and Doug MacMillan (Midland. C.I.). We are grateful for the editorial assitance of Deirdre Breton.

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