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Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have achieved a global reach, particularly in social groups within the ‘Global North,’ such as those within the province of British Columbia (BC), Canada. It has produced the need for a computing workforce, and increasingly, diversity is becoming an integral aspect of that workforce.

Today, educational outreach programs with ICT components that are extending education to Indigenous communities in BC are charting a new direction in crossing the cultural barrier in education by tailoring their curricula to distinct Indigenous cultures, commonly within broader science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) initiatives. These efforts require examination, as they integrate Indigenous cultural material and guidance into what has been a largely Euro-Western-centric domain of education. Postcolonial computing theory provides a lens through which this integration can be investigated, connecting technological development and education disciplines within the parallel goals of cross-cultural, cross-colonial humanitarian development. This is a process that can be usefully illustrated by depicting how those undertaking it conceptualize its potentials and pitfalls, as well as what those depictions illustrate about ICT within broader STEM education.

To explore the challenges of this initiative, I used a case study focused on a nonformal, educational outreach organization from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Geering Up. During the course a 2-month field study period gathering observations and interviews with Geering Up employees and members of a First Nations community working with

Geering Up (K’omoks First Nation), which in support from an analysis of documents from the organization, was used to identify key themes.

These themes include a Canadian work-force focus underlying Indigenous outreach, the immensity of commitment required to integrate Indigenous cultural material into a Western STEM educational program’s curriculum, aspects of how identity and locality impact the process of developing curricula and lessons, and how resources shortcomings are particularly acute in ICT education, as compared to broader STEM. Principally, the discussion of these themes highlights the importance of viewing integration as a process (as opposed to over-fixation on endresults in the form of educational artifacts). I also highlight the epistemological complexity of cultural integration by a Western outreach education program, how power circulates within a system that interacts with broader corporate and governmental alignments, ultimately leading to recommendations for scholars and community members working in the space of cross-cultural, cross-colonial technological design.


Chapter 1


In 2015, The “Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) established by the Canadian Government completed its 7-year investigation into the nation’s residential school system, mandated for the nation’s Indigenous students during that time. Active throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the commission detailed over a century’s worth of psychological, physical, and sexual abuse at the hands of Christian missionaries, teachers, and church officials (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015a). The policies and practices surrounding residential schooling have been likened to a genocide (MacDonald & Hudson, 2012), working to extinguish

Indigenous cultural practices through the educational system.

Seeking to transcend this insidious history, The Final Summary of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada was accompanied by a set of Calls-to-Action that lay out the foundations of a nation-wide initiative to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation” (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015b). Among other various social and cultural recommendations of redress, the commission also spoke directly to the reformulation of educational principles by recommending the creation and proper funding of “culturally appropriate curricula” for Aboriginal youth (The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, 2015b, p. 2). This is just one of several points in reconceptualizing education with Canada’s Indigenous peoples, but an identifiable one that represents a crucial connection to emerging approaches in education that attempt to address what

“culturally appropriate” constitutes in practice. Compared to the other educational recommendations (for example, “Improving educational attainment levels and success rates”), it is in this simple line that cultural integration between Indigenous outlooks and Western perspectives are most strongly called for. This, as I will show, is also one of the most challenging, yet pressing, developments in education and justice.

Integrating Culture and Education: From Reconciliation to Reality

The integration of ‘culturally appropriate’ educational content generates a space where epistemological primacy is contested, even as educators, practitioners, and community members seek balance. Embracing the ideal of inclusion, scholars, educators and community leaders have integrated Indigenous culture into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), and information and communication technology (ICT) lessons and curricula (for example Kafai, Searle, Martinez, & Brayboy, 2014; Miller & Roehrig, 2018). At the same time, the place of Indigenous knowledges in the academy and institutions of learning continue to be challenged, either directly through portrayals of indigenization as threats to “open inquiry” (Hamilton, 2018) or indirectly through bureaucratic machinations that hamstring its capacity to be transformative (Hauser, Howlett, & Matthews, 2009). As Marie Battiste (2005) points out, Indigenous knowledge butts up against long-held notions of what constitutes a modern education and the institutional practices and strategies produced over years to protect those notions and maintain

“Eurocentric thought”. The emphasis on the exotification of Indigenous knowledges and ways-ofknowing situated these epistemological outlooks as diametrically opposed to ‘enlightenment’ era conceptions of science and education. The frames Indigenous knowledges as a relic of the past with little relevance to the modern era (Battiste, 2005).

This is particularly true for what stands to represent a high standard of cultural integration in ‘indigenization,’ which seeks to be a transformative process for the Western academy,

“including Indigenous knowledges, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials” in service to Indigenous knowledges becoming an essential element of educational institutions (Indigenous Advisory Circle, University of Regina, as quoted by Pete, 2016). With the thrust of Indigenous voice and vision at the helm, indigenization is the Indigenous-led challenge to those entrenched structures of Western education. In its various forms, it also represents a high standard that organizations conducting Indigenous cultural integration seek to meet.

Thus, Canada’s institutions of higher education are increasingly integrating Indigenous culture into educational practices, often within or beside broader indigenizing initiatives, including in the ICT and STEM disciplines. Integration efforts attempt to tailor content to distinct

Indigenous communities, and those communities’ particular cultural outlooks. These initiatives combine education about technology and science largely sourced from Western scientific and engineering contexts with Indigenous cultural practices, as provided through direct work with representatives from these nations. How cultural integration of an ICT and STEM curriculum occurs, and how different motivations and valuations are expressed in the process requires further exploration. Specifically, explorations might portray the different factors shaping the process of designing indigenized curriculum and lessons, including psychological and political factors, as well as factors associated with the organizations themselves. In this study, I focus on one such organization offering and seeking to grow a culturally integrated curriculum with First Nations communities in British Columbia (BC), Canada, through educational outreach. The analysis uses a postcolonial computing and broader postcolonial theory framing, through which these factors are tied to technological design, through the idea of ‘designing cultural integration.’

Topic Statement: A Postcolonial Computing Lens on Designing Cultural Integration

The ICT globalization process has produced an industry of technological and human development that crosses cultural and colonial borders, while generating technologies that straddle multiple worlds. Within this industry, scholars and technologists with a humanitarian orientation have created the fields of information and communication technologies for development (ICTD/ICT4D) and human-computer interaction for development (HCID/HCI4D). These fields bring together scholars, the aid industry, and tech firms, all with a techno-focused ideal of human and societal development, for better or worse (Toyama, 2015). Within these fields, postcolonial computing emerged as a theoretical orientation incorporating insights from the broader realm of postcolonial theory, coinciding with techno-development scholars’ explicit recognition of the ongoing impacts of colonization in techno-development work. This criticality was directed at problematizing the role, positionality, and methodologies employed by scholars and technologists in this space.

To contribute to this connection, I believe that we need to view technological development within a broader social, cultural, and political understanding of colonial relationships today. Education, especially as we design cultural integration, stands to illuminate many of the considerations that must be engaged in tech-design practices today. Cultural integration in education as an imperative that stipulates engagement of Indigenous ways-ofknowing and cultural outlook in educational processes, products, and structures has strong implications and motivations for both educational impacts and justice, since it speaks directly to this epistemological border-crossing. The design of culturally integrated education as a process that brings representatives from both Western and Indigenous communities in service to a shared goal of production hearkens to many of the shared considerations present in both education and technological development. It is also a politically loaded domain, potentially highlighting asymmetries and power differentials between nations that characterize Indigenous-Western[1]


relationships, and that functions in the background of cross-colonial development work. Lastly, by framing these two processes in separate domains as parallel initiatives, I also frame these as intrinsically connected: the education of today will produce the technological perspectives of tomorrow, whether those perspectives are held by participants from Indigenous communities, or technologists and builders from those Indigenous communities themselves.

Definition of Terms

Cultural integration here pertains to the integration of Indigenous cultural material and practices into otherwise Western educational curricula and lessons. In STEM disciplines, culturally integrated curricula and lessons use culturally-based resources to teach both Western and Indigenous STEM concepts (B. G. Miller & Roehrig, 2018). Developing and deploying such curricula and lessons requires certain actions and mindsets, which is the focus here.

This is in contrast to indigenization, which foregrounds Indigenous leadership and voice in these practices (cultural integration practices do not necessarily stipulate this). While indigenization has many definitions, one perspective, offered by the Indigenous Advisory Circle at the University of Regina, views indigenization as a transformative process for the academy to

“include Indigenous knowledges, voices, critiques, scholars, students and materials” in service to establishing Indigenous knowledges as an essential element of educational institutions (as cited in Pete, 2016). Similarly, Michelle Pidgeon (2016) describes this as a “movement to center Indigenous knowledges and ways-of-being within the academy.” These views, indigenization as a transformation of the academy and a movement, give voice to the breadth of the endeavor, as well as speaking to a higher standard of Indigenous place in the academy than just cultural integration.

As this research involves informal education outreach programs, it is also important to differentiate indigenization from program customization. In this study, the latter is defined as the tailoring of a program to a particular community’s particular needs and interests. This can include a community’s request for particular topics of focus, for example on water in the local ecosystem, or more pragmatic considerations, such as adapting to available facilities. However, indigenization processes may serve as a finer-grained example of program customization manifest in taking the further step of incorporating Indigenous cultural material directly.

The Formal vs. Nonformal vs. Informal Education Distinction is essential for understanding the context of the study and scope of educational contributions, even though I argue throughout that aspects of the findings are of benefit to formal educational institutions.

Kleis, Lang, Mietus, & Tiapula (1973) (as cited by Etling, 1993) define nonformal education as

“any intentional and systemic educational enterprise (usually outside of traditional schooling) in which content is adapted to the unique needs of the students (or unique situations) in order to maximize learning and minimize other elements which often occupy formal school teachers.” By contrast, formal education here can be thought of as learning that takes place within the traditional educational institutions, e.g. public or private K-12 age schooling within recognized schooling facilities. Informal education, by comparison to both nonformal and formal education, is “lifelong learning” that engages lived experiences in their own environment, outside any organized educational structure or enterprise (Coombs, Prosser, & Ahmed, 1973). Nonformal education can therefore be situated at the center of a formal-informal educational gradient.

As will be described in further detail in the methods section below, the key educational organization in this study is Geering Up, a nonformal STEM educational outreach non-profit organization working through the University of British Columbia (UBC) in Vancouver, BC. They maintain a small permanent staff, but their educators are composed almost entirely of UBC students commonly drawn from the school’s engineering and applied sciences departments.

Organizationally, they draw their intellectual leadership primarily from the Faculty of Applied

Sciences, where their primary faculty host resides. They are a network affiliate of Actua: a Canadian STEM non-profit organization that manages a network of educational outreach organizations throughout Canada. Each of their network affiliates is associated with an institution of higher learning. Actua maintains representation of industry and higher learning on their board.

Indigenous Knowledge is knowledge that embraces a particular context of an Indigenous people, including what is observed and unobserved, and qualities of the geographic context (Battiste, 2005), which she points out is a characterization of Indigenous knowledge that is Eurocentric in its categorizations. Indigenous knowledge also crucially includes the teachings of elders passed on through generations (Battiste, 2005, p. 2). It is inherently evidence-based, built on long-term observations, relationships between phenomena, and temporal notions of phenomena, in coherence with its ‘across-generations’ quality (Pierotti, 2011). By this definition, each Indigenous community has its own notion of knowledge, built upon its own contexts and histories, and accounts for the natural phenomena at the heart of and surrounding a people’s existence.

Finally, development within this piece can refer to either technological development practices such as design, or to human and societal development overall. Admittedly, this distinction can be blurry in fields like ICTD and HCID, where human and technological development are commonly dealt with simultaneously (as in, a techno-focused approach to human and societal progress). I will try to specify which one(s) I refer to where necessary.

The Purpose of the Study and Research Objectives

The purpose of this study is to explore of the process of integrating Indigenous cultural outlooks into educational outreach with First Nations communities, using use an evaluative case study of a STEM educational outreach program in British Columbia, Canada. These attempts to integrate STEM education are part of a broader national imperative to re-shape the nation’s educational institutions in light of its colonial histories, although what that means in practice is still being understood and learned today. The study has two primary research objectives, which compose a pair of research questions each:

  1. Interpreting Challenges and Considerations of Indigenous cultural integration into STEM education:
    1. How does the outreach organization and its employees motivate Indigenous STEM outreach?
    2. What do outreach educators and administrators report as challenges and considerations of Indigenous cultural integration into STEM education? How about ICT education within STEM?
  2. Applying and Enriching Postcolonial Computing Theory:
    1. What can postcolonial computing theory suggest about the identified themes of challenges and considerations of Indigenous cultural integration into STEM education?
    2. Based on an identification of themes from the first set of objectives, how can these reported challenges enrich our understanding of postcolonial computing theory?

Significance of the Study

This study contributes to scholarship in both theory and practice. First, the creation of Indigenous-sourced technologies requires educational practices that connect to cultural foundations, wherein postcolonial computing’s focus on cross-cultural design and development steps mid-stream: design connects people and communities with technological outputs. This study extends the view of postcolonial computing backwards along this stream to the source of the contexts that define technological design processes, specifically education.

Second, and more particularly, postcolonial computing as a perspective stands to both be informed by and inform educational practices. Both cross-cultural technological development and educational development processes exist within a space where themes of power, social structure, and positionality circulate. Furthermore, education is an implicit, embedded factor in crosscultural co-design of technologies, and that implicitness can obscure the fact that sources of power at play in the educational elements of co-design can obscure the foundations underlying the features of the co-design process. Thus, a more explicit link to education is warranted, but is a connection that has not yet been fully leveraged within the ICTD and HCI4D communities.

Third, nonformal education is a unique angle of cultural integration that is likewise relatively underexplored, as more formal education and institutions of higher learning steal much of the academic spotlight. Therefore, this study identifies the unique potential nonformal education creates for cultural integration through its connectedness with individual communities, both in terms of relations and geographic connections, as well as its tradition of program customization.

This study also has implications for educational practices more broadly, especially as cultural integration and indigenization, particularly in STEM fields, transitions from being a niche endeavor to a nationalized humanitarian goal. As previously argued, cultural integration and indigenization at a larger scale, as is suggested by a nation-wide initiative, is still in need of exploration. Current approaches are commonly at relatively small scale, typically with a single community engagement. Across Canada, the current state of these initiatives differ, ranging from “intense” in British Columbia to indifference in Quebec (Kabatay & Johnson, 2019), indicating the contrast currently between different context and scales. How institutions and scholars conceptualize and apply this initiative more broadly, across multiple communities and institutions, defines the quality of integration and indigenization as it ‘scales up.’ This study seeks to portray the scaling-up process, contributing to our understanding of integration practices in a novel way.

Lastly, this study has implications for educational practices with regards to particular disciplines. While British Columbia continues to expand STEM educational opportunities, there are undeniably differences that exist between each of the disciplines that constitute STEM. Exploration of the indigenization process, in addition to contributing to our understanding of cultural integration in STEM (which is as broadly still in need of exploration), stands to expose how different sub-disciplines of STEM cohere with integration attempts. This is particularly valuable for ICT education, the discipline of which forms a fundamental aspect of Canadian (and by extension British Columbia) and Western society today. Offering a finer grained analysis of ICT within STEM offers a comparative shift in STEM perspective, potentially informing organizations of the need to view ICT and technology education as distinct in the development of integration and indigenization practices.

Organization of the Dissertation

I first present the background literature to the topic (Chapter 2), motivating the primary research objectives throughout. I first cover the societal and humanitarian motivations for increasing diversity in STEM- and ICT- based disciplines in Canada, and the connection to educational initiatives seeking to engage Indigenous culture. Then I discuss the extant scholarship on educational models and practices, seeking to motivate the exploration of cultural integration by an educational outreach organization. Next, I discuss the particulars of ICT education within this discourse, through the views of ethnocomputing and postcolonial computing theory. I wrap up the background literature section by revisiting the research objectives.

Next, I present the methodology I used in this study (Chapter 3). I begin this section by presenting the narrative of building up relationships with key organizations and communities, foregrounded insofar as this narrative contextualizes many of the decisions made with the study’s design. I then introduce and motivate the evaluative case study – grounded theory methodology.

Next, I describe the avenues of data collection, including semi-structured interview, observation, and documentation. Then, I present the style of analysis used, and data handling and care procedures. I conclude this section with a positionality statement, and the protocols to acknowledge and mitigate my reflexive limitations relative to the people and cultural practices this research touches on (but does not seek to make claims about).

Then, I report the findings of the case study (Chapter 4). I lead this section with a description of the results of the qualitative coding phase. Then, I break the remaining section up into three sub-sections: a) depiction of the contextual foundations of the organization; b) depiction of themes that capture the process of indigenization, such as challenges, obstacles, and considerations particularly prominent in the perceptions of employees and community members; and c) depiction of a narrower set of themes that focus on ICT education within STEM as it is undertaken by the organization.

Following the findings, I present several chapters discussing these findings, with Chapter 5 serving as a brief introductory chapter to the concepts and ideas I will present. I first present what a postcolonial computing perspective on ‘designing cultural integration in education’ illustrates (Chapter 6). I then present extensions to postcolonial computing motivated by the findings and analysis (Chapter 7). Finally, I wrap up this dissertation with a concluding chapter (Chapter 8) consisting of concluding remarks, evaluation of research, limitations, future work (both that I intend to undertake and that I hope other scholars will explore further or continue), and final reflections.

[1] Although there are certainly non-Western nations and societies with relationships to Indigenous communities, I am largely bound to the Western context given the geography and focus of my study.


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