Charlotte Views: Connecting Haida Gwaii

Networked communications open up so many possibilities.

By Tom Kertes

I am off-island this week, as part of a trip that includes Glacier National Park in Montana, Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, and a visit to the Maritimes. I’ve been to Glacier and Yellowstone already. The Maritimes are next.

As I write, I’m in a one-room cabin by Lake Yellowstone. There’s absolutely no internet or cell service, which makes me totally out of the loop on local Haida Gwaii news. I’m enjoying the lack of internet (offline time has its advantages), while also realizing its tremendous value.

When I moved to Haida Gwaii there was already reliable enough internet for my husband Ron to continue his job as a computer programmer. There were some bumps along the way, especially when we lived in Lawn Hill for a short stint while looking for housing. But once we got to Queen Charlotte the internet worked well enough for Ron to keep programming for his Toronto-based employer. Jim Pazarena was a big help, working closely with Ron to iron out any kinks.

As a person who wanted to move to Haida Gwaii for my own career, I’m personally grateful we could make it work for his, too. But Ron is not the only member of the islands’ “tech sector” who relies on the internet to earn a living. Every job counts in building a sustainable local economy, especially jobs that are highly productive and maximize the economic benefit of our most important resource: the people who live here. The internet is more than a way to watch movies and read the news. It’s also a driver of human and economic development.

As a teacher, I rely on fast and reliable internet access to teach. Next year, I’ll be teaching Intro to Computing for Grade 8 students. I’ll also be teaching Computer Programming for Grade 11 and Grade 12 students. I worked in the tech sector before, largely in communication. I designed websites and produced viral videos. While I relied on more technically savvy partners to do much of the programming, I’ve been involved in the design process and seen how computer coding combines the disciplines of creative problem solving, design, mathematics, and computer science to create tools that make new things possible.

I’m excited to work with teen programmers and introduce computers as creative tools of production, rather than simply consumption. Computers and networked communications open up so many possibilities. Not only do they bring the world to us here, they also bring us to the world.

Computer programming is not the only way that computers connect with teaching and learning. GidGalang Kuuyas Naay recently purchased a class set of Chromebook computers. This has transformed teaching and learning across subjects, including mathematics, science, art, language arts, and distributed learning. While I’ve embraced the research, presentation, sharing, and number crunching tools of our new Chromebooks, I’m also a bit old school. What I’m most excited about is using more the public library’s online resources. Thanks to the internet, students can access print journals, reserve old-fashioned print books, and access curated news and information sources using the library’s online resources.

Even better: Ron writes the software that underpins access to these resources from our local library. When accessing Vancouver Island Regional Library’s online catalogue (the old one), you’re using search tools developed and maintained right here in Haida Gwaii. I like showing young people that it’s possible to build systems used by millions of people daily to access all the world’s information.

All of that said, it’s been a relief to be totally offline for a week. Yellowstone is incredible. Tonight, writing this column, is the first time I cracked open my computer. Tomorrow, I’ll be heading out, with time to dash over to a coffee shop to submit this column. While I’ve been cut off, I’ve had time to think of nothing. That’s something I hope to do a bit more of when back in town.

Charlotte Views