Northlands College, which has physical campuses in La Ronge, Creighton, Air Ronge and Buffalo Narrows has added another one as it recently launched the Northlands College Metaverse Campus.
Northlands is one of the few colleges in Canada to establish a full campus presence in the Metaverse.
The college touted the achievement as a new era of transformational learning that helps them continue to push the boundaries of education and integration of technology across Northern Saskatchewan.
Karsten Henriksen, the President and CEO of Northlands College, said the initiative is part of the college’s Year of Transformation in 2023.
“That Year of Transformation is really about where we are going as Northern Saskatchewan’s post-secondary institution,” Henriksen said.
“Northland College is demonstrating leadership on a national level and I think it’s high time that northern residents are proud of the innovation that happens in northern and rural remote communities, not only in northern Saskatchewan but from coast to coast to coast.”
A Metaverse Campus is a web-based, interactive website that allows faculty and students to meet online. Henriksen said goal is to help bridge the vast distances of Northern Saskatchewan while bringing learners, faculty and staff together to access education and services.
“What we see in Northern Saskatchewan with the mining industry, the natural resources sector and really every aspect of our economy is the transition to a digital economy,” he said.
“When we started talking about what the future is for us, we recognized as Northerners we have barriers, (and) we have challenges. The vast geographic region of Northern Saskatchewan, it’s larger than a lot of countries. I think that’s an important thing to note, so we needed to find a non-traditional way of bridging the huge distances that divide us.”
Henriksen said the new campus environment will give students the option to attend recorded virtual lectures that enable learners from different time zones, or those learners who are working, to follow experiential and “in-person” lectures on their own time.
It delivers on four fundamental tenets (community, support, innovative learning experiences, and the application of cutting-edge technology for supporting academics), which Henriksen said are all elements of Northlands College’s vision for achieving its transformation.
He explained that the Metaverse will not only serve students but also help staff spread across the north.
“We have campuses across Northern Saskatchewan in the larger centres, so Buffalo Narrows, Creighton, we have learners in Ile la Cross we have students in La Loche but to provide them with consistent levels of services and to increase access to the diverse programs that we offer Metaverse plays a really key role,” Henriksen said.
“Instead of staff driving for hundreds of kilometres, spending tens of hours on the road going to some of our more remote locations, we’re meeting remotely and it’s an exciting thing to see Northern Saskatchewan leading the way.”
They have also seen a 19 per cent increase in their domestic enrolment, which Henriksen said is unheard of in Canada.
“While other institutions are working and growing their international education enrolment, we’re focusing on building our domestic learner enrolment, recognizing the fact that the huge percentage of our learners, 90 per cent are Indigenous, so we’re meeting them on the road to whatever path they are on and helping them find the north. We’re proud to be Northerners,” Henriksen said.
He explained that ultimately their Year of Transformation is about self-determination in the north for the north.
“(It’s) about looking at the institution is in its entirety,” he explained. “We are looking at every aspect of our operations and asking ourselves the singular question, ‘is this the right approach? Is this the right strategy to meet our strategic plan goals.’”
On Sept. 26, they launched their new Strategic Plan and a new vision and mission statement.
“We have new pillars for institution—the first time we’ve had pillars—and what’s so interesting about our new strategic plan, not only is it the first time that we’ve engaged our elders in the development of our strategic plan, but we’ve engaged communities across northern Saskatchewan and we’ve listened to them. We’ve heard what they have to say and we’ve responded,” Henriksen said.
There have been some challenges for Northlands College. Henriksen said the institution dealt with a 57 per cent enrolment decline since 2012. That decline meant the college didn’t have the ability to offer the diversity of services and programs it wanted to.
Addressing this meant moving away from a centralized approach and also going back to the roots of the institution.
“We’ve seen a dramatic increase in enrolment as we spoke to,” Henriksen said. “We’ve seen new industry partnerships across Northern Saskatchewan with the natural resources sector. We’ve seen a dramatic increase in donations to the institution … and we’ve got some exciting things coming up in the near future as well, including the unveiling of the new Cultural Centre in Creighton Saskatchewan where we’re building applied research capacity to allow northern residents to have self-determination and applied research. That’s something we’re working on and we’ll have announcements about more formally in in the near future.”