DE conference aims to improve educational opportunities for American Indians

June 25, 2004

The conference highlighted distance learning as a solution to postsecondary educational needs in American Indian communities. These communities are often rural and underdeveloped economically, making them excellent candidates for distance education programs. Hosted by the College of Extended Learning’s Office of Distance Education and the American Indian Program at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in collaboration with the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s Anytime, Anyplace Learning program, this event brought together over 100 participants from nearly 70 American Indian, government, and higher education organizations. Participants represented tribal education and government organizations, institutions of higher education, nonprofit associations, the New Mexico State Public Education Department, elected state officials, and current American Indians distance education students. Digital Pathways was conceived with two primary goals: 1) to create a solid understanding of best practices in distance education for American Indian students; and 2) to use these best practices to develop a plan to support successful delivery of distance education courses and programs to American Indian communities.

Opening remarks during the first day of Digital Pathways were given by NMSU Interim President William Flores and Mescalero Apache President Mark Chino. In the first of two keynote addresses, Dr. Burks Oakley, Sloan Foundation representative and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at University of Illinois, described the Sloan Foundation’s involvement in supporting distance education through funding and research. Additionally, he presented an overview of distance education nationally, as well as at his institution. The second keynote address, given by Dr. Lorelei Lambert, Assistant Director of Distance Education at Salish Kootenai College in Montana, highlighted the tremendous potential of distance learning for bringing educational opportunities into American Indian communities. The remainder of the first day featured panel sessions on best practices in distance education for American Indians composed of nationally-known experts in related fields. Topic areas addressed during these panels included reducing technological barriers, program development, pedagogy, learning styles, integration of culturally-relevant curriculum content, student retention, and faculty preparation.

The second day of Digital Pathways was dedicated to developing an action plan aimed at supporting the successful delivery of appropriately-designed distance education courses and programs into American Indian communities. A participatory strategic planning process was used to facilitate collaboration among conference participants, led by Gerald Sherman of Beartooth Development Consulting, Montana. As a result of this planning, three action committees were formed to carry out strategic goals and objectives in the upcoming year.

Complete conference proceedings (including presentation papers, panel reviews, strategic planning results, and a media gallery) are now available on CD-ROM and at To obtain a free copy of the CD-ROM, please visit the conference website and register. For further information or assistance, contact Robbie Grant, Project Coordinator, Office of Distance Education, College of Extended Learning, New Mexico State University, telephone 505.646.4699.

The mission of NMSU’s College of Extended Learning ( is to provide comprehensive distance learning opportunities to meet diverse educational and professional needs anytime, anywhere.