SKC Marks 10th Year Of Offering Online Classes

Feb 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 19-3: Beyond Our Names: Uncovering Identity, Tribal College News

In 1997, Salish Kootenai College (SKC, Pablo, MT) began offering its first online courses to a handful of students who lived off campus. It was a significant undertaking since few others attempted to offer online courses to American Indian students at that time. (See TCJ, Vol. 10, No. 3) SKC received grants from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation to begin its work on e-Learning.

Students were tribal members who relocated in Canada and on Indian reservations across Montana. Several were physically challenged. In the early years, five students from Browning, MT, and a student from Australia completed a Bachelor of Arts in Human Services all online. In 2001, Dr. Lori Lambert (Abenaki) was awarded the Alfred P. Sloan Asynchronous Teacher of the Year National Award for dedication to the project and to the students. She is currently faculty trainer at SKC.

The Pathways Learning Management System eventually replaced Lotus Notes Learning Space. Developed under a TCUP grant by Al Anderson and his team, the system applies the best qualities of all the learning platforms. Today online students at SKC are living in Arizona, New Mexico, and on reservations across Montana.

“Many institutions are jumping into the distance arena with high technology- interactive classrooms. However, they are forgetting that students learn from competent instructors who are trained in communicating through the technology,” Lambert says. At SKC, the instructors have master’s or Ph.D.s and were trained by members of the e-Learning Team.

Today, after 10 years of experience in the online environment, SKC offers over 200 courses in a number of disciplines, including Nursing, Forestry, Environmental Science, Biology, Computer Science, Computer Engineering, Elementary Education, and Native Studies. Every quarter approximately 150 students from 83 different tribes enroll for the 30 offered online classes.

“Over the past 10 years, we have learned much about offering online classes to Native students,” Lambert says. In some disciplines it is more appropriate for students to come to campus a few times a quarter in a hybrid class. For example, NASA scientists deliver the Computer Engineering degree to students; the instructor from NASA comes to campus. Other subjects lend themselves to the total online environment.

Technology allows access to college work for Native students living in remote areas. Students are able to achieve their goals of a college education without leaving their homes, families, and communities. Without online learning technology, educational goals may be impossible to achieve since students must leave home and jobs to relocate, leave the security of their tribe, and perhaps place children or elders in alternative care- giving situations. Such costs are not only expensive in terms of financial expenditure but also in terms of the emotional expense of separation, Lambert says.

“Learning in cyberspace from a tribal college brings hope and the dream of a future for American Indian students. E-Learning is not for everyone nor is it appropriate for every instructor, but if students are well disciplined in time management and have excellent computer skills, e-Learning is an exciting way to provide access to a tribal college education,” Lambert says.

But questions remain, according to Lambert: “How does this type of education impact Indigenous communities? What are the issues of access for Indigenous peoples? What are the ethical implications of not providing access?”

For more information on registering for online classes, contact the registrar at Salish Kootenai College or go to the website,, and click on the e-Learning link.

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