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
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
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
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 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
- 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
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
- 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
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.
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
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
| Midland C.I.
|| 10 & 11
Ethnic Survey of Midland Students
20th Century Leaders
| Pearson C.I.
History of the Chinese in Canada
|Stephan Leacock C.I.
||Film Production: Early Ethnic History of Toronto, Lecture
by Lillian Petroff
||Filming completed, awaiting editing and digitization
| Heritage Park P.S.
||7 & 8
My Family History
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
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
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
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