by Frank Odasz

A large weathered community building was the bustling hub of a 10 village jamboree in Galena, Alaska, this past week. Inside the building was one large square room with the tribal elders sitting against all four walls, three successive rows of chairs were for the younger generations.

The entertainment began when two female Eskimo dancers from the Galena Charter School were joined by their two Athabascan girlfriends to sing and dance traditional stories. They were followed by a group of drummers and singers who with a signal were joined by a large portion of the audience in an 'invitational dance.' Flashbulbs went off regularly and videocameras were in evidence on all sides of the room.

One bluegrass band after another then took their turn on the corner stage organizing a cordwood stack of fiddle and guitar cases as the bands got ready to play. Bill Monroe would have been proud at the authentic renditions of many country and bluegrass classics. Older folks danced the shamish and cowboy swing steps while toodlers bounced about, excited by the music.

The jamboree was a rare event made possible by an Internet training workshop for the Yukon-Koyukok Regional Consortium. Teams of teachers and students from each village had come to attend a 3 day workshop on how they can prepare to train their villages to benefit from the upcoming Internet connections which promise to bring a better life through new satellite-delivered two-way Internet. New educational and vocational opportunities are the hope for the 10 Native villages which dot the Yukon on its 400+ mile trip from Fairbanks to the Northern Oceans.

The U.S. Air Force base in Galena has leased buildings at a very low rate to create a charter school for Native Alaskan youth focusing on Internet skills and distance learning. The new computer lab was filled with the 55 teachers and students chosen to be their village's trainers. Galena is the first Yukon village to receive two-way Internet via Satellite. The computer lab was connected to the Internet the day before the villagers arrived.

Visions of capturing the wisdom of their tribal elders with multimedia technologies were presented, before the elders are gone forever. Studentswere specifically tasked with their responsibility to teach how their villages and cultures might learn greater self-sufficiency. New ways to keep in constant touch throughout the year will soon be available...from river freeze-up, where the Yukon becomes a great white highway for dogsleds and snowmobiles, until river breakup, when the boats return with the geese and fauna.

After the busy workshop in Galena, teachers and students returned home with their first email addresses and their first web pages with personal digital photos on floppy disks.

The same day the workshop ended the Galena Internet Trainer flew to Nulato, pop. 300, which will be the next village to receive Internet. As he drove through the old town portion of the village, he noticed most of the buildings were misshapen log homes, no longer inhabited. The newer section of town was located up the hill amid black spruce trees. A steel post stood outside the school waiting for the promised satellite dish. He was ushered to a corner of the school library where he laid out his sleeping bag along with his laptop and workshop materials.

The next day, he shared visions of what they could do with Internet, using a multimedia projector loaned by Proxicom as part of the Thinkquest program. The Internet Style of Learning entails use of vast information resources, collaboration and self-expression via multimedia self-publishing worldwide. ( Unable to afford many textbooks, the excitment for the learning resources which would soon be available was contagious. One of the teachers' sons had attended the Galena workshop and she reported he could speak of little else.

Outside the school, a fishwheel sat on the bank, retired for the winter. Sled dogs were tethered near the surrounding houses, as the first snowfall of the season batted flurries against the library window.

As he sat alone thinking about the many students, parents and teachers who he had the pleasure of meeting during the past couple weeks, he thought of the many questions about the educational value of Internet raised amid the media politics of what Alaskan's call "the outside."

The week previous for the Galena trainer had been 12 hour days presenting workshops for hundreds of homeschoolers in Fairbanks, AK, who had just received new PC's and Internet accounts as part of the IDEA program; "Interior Distance Education for Alaska." Parents were eager to learn how to best help their kids learn within the home environment...where 81% of learning takes place. (Students spend only 19% of their time in school.) It was clear that most of the kids were technically well ahead of most of the parents.

Home PC's with Internet access are replacing with collaborative interaction and self-directed learning, the six hours per day of passive television kids used to average. New learning communities are forming; homeschoolers each sharing their specific expertise, villages sharing the talents of their youth's skills, elders learning alongside the youth. Most of the parents of these village kids grew up at boarding schools, missing the teachings of their elders. It is a new day.

Home Internet access now makes intergenerational home learning, and home schooling far more feasible than ever before. Cyberschools are popping up internationally, offering quality web-based K12 curriculum. Online collaborative project opportunities are increasing in number and quality and provide a means to learn groupwork skills for a distributed knowledge economy. Students are using new collaborative tools which are appearing on the Internet with increasing frequency.

The other week, the first microsatellites were launched for the Iridium project, one of several schemes to bring two-way high speed Internet capability to laptops anywhere on the globe. At issue, is where will 15,000 cultures find the collaborative instructional services appropriate to their cultural context? On the Yukon, efforts are underway to address this need through development of vocational youth co-ops ready to offer peer-mentoring services via Internet, worldwide.

The potential offered by today's technologies represent vast unexplored learning landscapes, and whole communities are forging ahead together on this very real, emerging frontier.

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