Alaskan Professional Development: Lone Eagles Learn to "Teach from Any Beach!"

By Odasz, Frank | T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education), November 1999 | Go to article overview

Alaskan Professional Development: Lone Eagles Learn to "Teach from Any Beach!"


Odasz, Frank, T H E Journal (Technological Horizons In Education)


Galena, Alaska is a Native Alaskan village of 300 persons on the banks of the Yukon River, hundreds of miles from the nearest road system. Last year, the Galena City School district announced a K-12 correspondence program, Interior Distance Education for Alaska (IDEA), offering loaner computers and an annual subscription to the Internet. Three thousand students signed up from all over Alaska, representing 1,700 families, suddenly making the Galena school district (www.galenaalaska.org) the seventh largest school district in the state. One hundred and sixteen teachers were hired to assist these home schooling students in a program of online mentorship and brokerage of the best Internet learning resources available.

Last December, the Alaska Staff Development Network (www.asdn.schoolzone.net/asdn/) hosted a leadership retreat titled "Online Learning: Implications for School Leaders," where many of the administrators who lost students to Galena attended. Discussions were held on the viability of creating a district's own online courses, or brokering the best of what's already available. With limited access to the Internet at school, where students spend 19% of their time, the enthusiasm for a modern multimedia computer and home-based Internet access 100% of the time was understandable. There was no debate as to whether the benefit to students should come first.

This year, many more Alaskan school districts are offering families a computer and local Internet access. At issue is which districts can make the claim of offering better mentorship, better resource brokerage, and a higher vision of what is most significant for students to learn. No less than the best of the best can be made available.

In order to keep their students and their jobs, teachers now are challenged to learn how to locate and integrate the best Internet resources, project-based learning activities, existing courses, lesson plans and tutorials into their curriculum, which must also meet new Alaskan standards. Ongoing online professional development may be the best way to meet this challenge. Optimal strategies are being explored.

Encouraging Hi-Tech Learning

Galena Superintendent Carl Knudsen, a visionary from Montana, helped instigate a number of successful grant efforts that resulted in Internet access via satellite for the 11 Native Alaskan villages of the Yukon-Koyukuk Regional Consortium. Within 14 months, three Internet workshops per village were conducted. Each village now has a school Web page, digital cameras, and Internet access to unlimited learning resources.

Three village schools are already involved with streaming video technologies. The workshops featured hands-on access to digital cameras, photo manipulation software (Adobe Photoshop,) multiple Web authoring programs, art tablets and high-end art software (Painter 5.0), creation of 3D object images for marketing native crafts, and the use of MIDI musical keyboards with tremendous capabilities costing only $225 (Yamaha PSR 225 from www.musiciansfriend.com).

In Bettles, Alaska (population 30) students mentor students with the very latest technologies. Ramona, a Native Alaskan, has natural artistic ability and books of wonderful drawings using the available technology of the past, a pencil and paper. Today, Ramona has access to a digital arts tablet, Web authoring software, photo manipulation software and many state-of-the-art graphics software programs. Ramona can now self-publish her artwork globally.

The Alaska Staff Development Network and the University of Alaska, Anchorage are offering nationally a series of online graduate level courses for teachers which include the following:

1) Making the Best Use of Internet for K12 Instruction. A hands-on course on how to broker the best resources for your classroom.

2) Designing Online Curriculum for K-12 Instruction. A hands-on course on how to easily create Internet hotlists, Web-tours, lesson plans, project-based learning activities (Webquest, Cyberfair, Thinkquest, etc. …

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