As we think back over the past year, we are awestruck by the many ways digital technology is increasingly shaping our lives. As a result of the pandemic, engaging with the digital world became critical in how we work, connect with our family and friends, and learn. However, between urban and rural communities, there is an unequal distribution of who is gaining access and who is being left behind. With so much of our lives happening in a digital space, the need for digital literacy and proficiency in technology became even more apparent and our mission crystalized.
Our purpose is to provide programming to bridge that digital divide and in doing so, build a more fair and equitable world. We refocused our efforts, dug in, and expanded our reach. The shift to online saw our web reach begin to touch all Canadians. In March 2020 as the Pandemic was beginning we were averaging around 3000 unique page views a month. By November we had increased that by five times, bringing in more than 15000 users a month to the website.
We achieved incredible outcomes in 2020. Our team grew from 37 in January to 49 at the end of the year. The human resources department makes this growing organization a great place to work while our finance team helps keep everything running smoothly. The support of our funders is the reason we are here today and it’s thanks to contributions from the Federal Government, The Government of Ontario, the Kawartha Lakes Business Innovation Fund and the generous private donations of community members that we are seeing this growth. Together we have built a solid base to expand our work going forward.
“Within weeks of total lockdown in March we were innovating on ways to serve our communities and the tireless, iterative effort of this team has led to a virtual model that will shape our work even when we are able to reopen our doors to the public,” says Ryan Oliver, CEO of Pinnguaq.
All of the milestones reached this past year, including the first anniversary of the Lindsay Makerspace, were made possible by the stellar work of the entire Pinnguaq team as well as the partnerships and collaborations we’ve built within our communities and the world of STEAM.
Without your support, none of this would have been possible.
As everyone knows, this has not been a typical year. Of course Pinnguaq was not alone in the challenges our organization faced but these challenges provided valuable opportunities for growth and development.
When it comes to delivering programs, the pandemic necessitated a change in format.
“We have switched all programming to virtual, including pre-registered summer camps and pre-registered courses through the Makerspace,” says Nate Gardiner, Director of Delivery.
“The travel delivery team has had to find ways to reach our partners as travelling to deliver is not an option. They are in the midst of developing kit-based programs tailored to the needs of each specific community to ensure participants are truly empowered to learn.
Gardiner is proud of his team for a number of reasons, including the Makerspace’s pilot of a kit-based school program and the entire team’s ability to reach high numbers of teachers.
“The absolute biggest accomplishment was really pulling together, adapting to the new work environment and continuing to deliver on our objectives,” says Gardiner.
Resources for Educators and Learners
In an effort to provide a platform for more diverse STEAM stories, lesson plans, and resources, Pinnguaq was pleased to publish the first ever issue of Root & STEM, a magazine for educators available in print and digital formats.
“Each issue features articles, activities, and lesson plans with a specific focus on STEAM education through creativity,” says Jennie Cross, Director of Curriculum Development at Pinnguaq.
“Root & STEM provides a holistic approach to education, merging heart and head while pushing the boundaries for how Canada thinks about science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.”
Another way Pinnguaq is supporting education is through the newly launched Learning Management System (LMS).
With the onset of the global pandemic and the rise in online learning, Pinnguaq prioritised the development of an internal LMS integrated into the website. The LMS allows students to take free courses at their own pace.
“With an initial Intro to Scratch course launched we are now focusing on the development of more courses with more than 10 planned to be released early in the new year. We will look to expand the LMS in 2021 with features that include videoconferencing, groups and forums, and direct contact with instructors,” says Ashley Beamer, Director of Productions.
Internships and Access to Digital Skills Training
After being selected by the Department of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) to deliver the Digital Skills for Youth (DS4Y) program for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 fiscal years, Pinnguaq formed its own DS4Y department dedicated to the program.
“With hiring and development of the team, we have been busy stepping up processes, creating workflows and most importantly delivering DS4Y on behalf of the federal ministry to rural and remote communities, with a focus on the Northern Territories,” says DS4Y Manager, Avi Rakhra,
While COVID-19 presented challenges in regards to obtaining information from Intern Host Organizations, Rakhra believes the program is essential in its mission to create employment opportunities for young people, preparing them to be competitive within the job market.
He notes it also helps local businesses keep operations afloat or expand through their ability to hire interns with the DS4Y program.
“We have been on track in filling the number of intern positions we are responsible for and our mission in trying to help make a difference is what keeps us going, even during challenging times,” says Rakhra.
Building on the organization’s commitment to provide digital skills support, Pinnguaq manages the Computers for Success Nunavut (CFSN) program, delivering hundreds of computers to communities across Nunavut every year. The program is administered by Pinnguaq with support from the Computers for Schools (CFS) network across Canada – as well as ISED Canada and Computers for Success Canada (CFSC).
Alex Smithers, Manager of CFSN, says the program is continuing its work to provide Nunavummiut with access to technology.
“A large shipment of computers was sent to the community of Igloolik, while smaller distributions have been made to aid in training initiatives and research programs. Computers have also been given to students and community homes to aid in remote learning during the COVID lockdown,” says Smithers.
Game and Video Development
Another exciting development of 2020 was the launch of Nanili, a video game in which players use computer science techniques to solve problems.
“We were over the moon to deploy Nanili this year,” says Beamer, noting that the game teaches players of all ages basic coding concepts including procedures and loops.
“The goal of the game is to get the character from the start of the icy maze to the campfire by creating commands using a limited number of direction pieces. As the player moves through the levels of the game, the complexity of the tasks increase.”
Visitors to the Pinnguaq website can play Nanili online or download an offline version on the Pinnguaq Itch.io website.
In partnership with Kids Help Phone, Pinnguaq is developing an animated video campaign working within a co-design model, in which student interns collaborated on scripts for a series of animated videos explaining KHP’s services.
Working within the model, the participants represented the end users of the product — an animated video campaign — and offered insight throughout the creative process. Through the partnership with Kids Help Phone, we brought the requirements and vision to life using our own staff to develop the final product.
Pinnguaq has also been actively improving our communications with the public in an effort to better share our successes and those of our partners, such as our workshop participants, educators, programming colleagues and more. One example of this is our recently-launched e-newsletter service, to which you can subscribe online.
Levelling Up in 2021
As the new year begins, we’re inviting educators and anyone else who may be interested to check out the second edition of Root & STEM.
This issue thoughtfully surrounds the theme of health and wellness as it relates to STEAM and includes topics such as healthy gaming, medicinal listening, using 3D printing to create prosthetics, photography as a mindfulness practice and more.
The entire issue will be available for download as a PDF, digitally on our website as well as through Magzter and can of course be ordered in print format for those interested in receiving hard copies.
“Our hope is that educators will see the unique needs of their communities and classrooms reflected in the STEAM stories and resources that we share,” says Cross.
“In 2021 stay tuned for new STEAM resources including a Root & STEM podcast and additional lessons coming to our new LMS.”
As those new lessons are made available through the LMS, Pinnguaq plans to continue improving website user experience through interactive videos and activities.
“We will be working closely with consultants on the development of interactive activities and videos to enhance our online delivery,” explains Beamer.
“Bringing interactive design and development skills in house to create an ongoing schedule of production, we’ll provide more engaging user experiences and really ‘test’ the knowledge that we are providing through our learning resources.”
The organization will also be focusing on external projects using a co-design model similar to that of the Kids Help Phone project previously mentioned.
“We firmly believe that everyone can meaningfully participate in the design process, and our approach to production is committed to creating opportunities for learning experiences,” says Maria Coates, Director of Special Projects and Fund Development.
“In 2021 we aim to collaborate with partners and participants to ideate, design, and develop digital services as a platform to build agency and ownership in the use of technology.We center design and software development as a platform for building agency and ownership in the use of technology.”
Coates says the Pinnguaq model harnesses the co-design process as a method for joint exploration rooted in collaboration, accessibility, and inclusion to support community-led solutions.
With respect to the community, Gardiner says the delivery team looks forward to upskilling and reskilling adults in digital literacy as various aspects of society continue the shift to a digital forum.
“In the hopes of returning to in person delivery we hope to expand on the framework we have set up and continue with a hybrid delivery approach reaching as many learners as we can,” he adds.
Youth and businesses will continue to be served through the DS4Y program, particularly in communities of high need.
“It is our hope that the partnerships we have created will help in continuing to provide these much needed internship positions and that we can continue to expand the program for those who may benefit most,” says Rakhra.
“We hope that our internship programs, through DS4Y, will be able to help more businesses and not-for-profits who can use the help, while also creating more opportunities for interns, who may not otherwise have the chance to gain valuable experience and obtain the skills necessary to succeed in the future.”
Building upon its strong foundation, CFSN plans to establish guidelines and policy while forming in-territory partnerships, fueling a computer refurbishment pipeline.
“Once an inflow of used hardware is in place, hiring and training of local staff to perform hardware refurbishment can begin. It is the hope that a working model proven in the Iqaluit headquarters will open the door for similar operations to begin in other Nunavut communities,” Smithers explains.
As we welcome the new year, those interested in STEAM — whether educators, families or independent learners — will have the opportunity to engage with Pinnguaq through the e-newsletter service. While the service itself has already officially launched, newsletters tailored to specific audiences are in development and can be expected to arrive in the inboxes of those subscribed within the first few months of 2021.
Wishing You Infinite Health
We know 2020 has been challenging but we appreciate every opportunity we’ve had to help others achieve their STEAM goals, pursue their digital dreams and equip themselves with the skills they, and their communities, need. While we are in no way asking for a repeat of 2020, we are hoping 2021 carries with it the same steadfast desire to strengthen the digital workforce and with it, the people who make up the heartbeat of our hometowns.
“Going into 2021 and 2022 I’m excited about what we have lined up. As you read this we are on the verge of unveiling a five-year strategic plan, a new name and continued focus on the Lifecycle, the vision we centre at the heart of everything we do,” says Oliver.
“Thank you so much for your support to date, the next steps are going to be our best yet.”