On the Frontier of Online Learning, in Galena, Alaska
by Frank Odasz; published in March 1999 issue of Multimedia Schools magazine.
In February 1998, I boarded a six seat bush plane, dressed as recommended, to withstand 50 degrees below zero, should the plane land unexpectedly during the 250 mile journey inside Alaska's interior wilderness. My destination: Galena, Alaska. This Native Alaskan village on the Yukon River, hundreds of miles from the nearest road system, is literally on the frontier of online learning. Also required for village visits, was my own sleeping bag and food. During the next month, I slept in libraries and classrooms, often within feet of the new humming web server, connected to the new satellite dish in the schoolyard. I lived off of microwaveable chili-cups, smoked salmon, stale bagels and coffee.
In 1997, Galena received a U.S Department of Commerce NTIA/TIIAP grant to install Internet via satellite systems in the ten Native Alaskan Villages of the Yukon-Koyukuk Regional Consortium. In 1998, a U. S. Department of Education Technology Literacy Challenge grant was awarded to provide Internet Workshops for all ten villages, and I was hired to provide on-site Internet workshops. This created the opportunity for the villages to literally leapfrog ahead of even some of the best schools in the world. I was excited about what I could learn about the potential for Internet to make a meaningful impact, with emphasis on sensitivity to cultural impacts.
Working with teachers, students and community members, we all experienced taking our own digital photographs and entering them onto original personal web pages. We searched for Athabascan cultural resources, specific health topics, and even found the villages were already represented on the web in various fashions. We found everyone can find something of personal interest on the Internet, and saw many examples of cultural expression and multi-classroom collaborations. Email was an instant hit, economically connecting family members scattered among the villages.
When I first arrived at the villages to introduce them to the Internet I wasn't sure what to expect, other than that I was likely to learn a great deal. Sure enough, I learned from the second-graders that they are definitely not too young to learn to use the Internet. With their eager openness and spirit of experimentation they learned faster than their teachers, who after seeing the excitement of their students, asked for a private training session 'at a much slower pace.' When the elders came in the evening to try their hand, they were prepared with specific topics for which they wanted information on. Within minutes after finding quality information, particularly on personal health topics, they were asking about options for Internet in their homes and we talked of wireless options such as the innovative system which is working wonderfully in Eskimo village of Toksook; http://wireless.oldcolo.com/toksook.txt
This past November (1998,) I finished my second round of village workshops. Now wiser for the experience, I bring an inflatable mattress to sleep on, for cushioned comfort. I tote along a MIDI musical keyboard and an electronic artists tablet, which open the doors to Internet art and music opportunities. The new digital camera saves pictures direct to floppies for instant student use. We succeeded in posting school web pages at every village visited leaving behind the knowledge of how to continually update them. Everyone knows I'll be returning for a third time in February 1999.
Cross-Cultural K12 Internet Guide
Between my first and second village visits I'd created a WebTour of innovative Alaskan School Web sites with an emphasis on collaborative multi-classroom activities and instructional use of web pages (http://lone-eagles.com/alaskan.htm). This is part of a 110 page handbook titled "Native Alaskan Cross-Cultural K12 Internet Guide; online at http://lone-eagles.com/guide.htm
During our all-too-brief face-to-face November workshops, the handbook provided both the context for use, and the best K12 resources on the Internet, ordered by topics and categories such as the;
J Four Levels of Empowerment for the Internet Style of Learning
J Top Ten Internet Collaborative Tools
J Eight Levels of Multimedia (Web) Self-Expression.
The handbook ends with an emphasis in Real-World Problem-Solving and includes a "Learning-to-Earn" Hotlist of Student Entrepreneurship Sites http://www.fif.org/sec/seclinks.htm and an Electronic Democracy WebTour http://lone-eagles.com/democracy.htm with examples of citizens using the web for self-organizing and activism.
With 15,000 cultures slated to receive Internet via new low-cost satellite systems over the next couple decades, the issue of how best to introduce the empowering components of the Internet within the context of individual cultures is an interesting challenge. All the more so in a world where half the population has never yet made a single phone call.
Galena has this year put 80 computers into student's homes to create the opportunity for intergenerational learning. If the elders do not learn right along with the students about what computers and the Internet offer them, an unnecessary, and culturally disastrous intergenerational rift will occur between young and old. The wisdom of the elders can now join with the passion of the youth for global cultural self-expression and renewed cultural pride.
The Galena City School district is extending their vision beyond the village through a new K12 correspondence program called IDEA "Interior Distance Education for Alaska." http://www.galenaalaska.org During 1998, 3000 students have signed on, from 1700 families, to receive home computers and Internet access. Alaskan schools do not offer hands-on Internet access 100% of the time as this home-based learning program does. As a result, the traditional school districts have lost a total of 10 million dollars of their budgets with the mass exodus of motivated families seeking the best learning solution for their kids.
The Relationships Age VS the Information Age
One surprising impact of the information age is that people are finding that through email and other collaborative tools the quantity and quality of relationships are increasing. If every time you hear the word "information" you substitute the word "relationships," you may be surprised at the insight it provides. Instead of the "information age" we have the "relationships age." "Information managers" become "relationship managers." At the core of most Internet innovations is a collaborative relationship. Through the use of the ten dominant Internet collaborative tools (http://lone-eagles.com/collab.htm) many new forms of collaborative relationships become possible.
The AskERIC system, which introduced the concept of using human intermediaries to assist searching the ERIC educational databases, has spawned a long listing of similar "Ask-a-Person" services which are listed on the A+ Locator at: http://www.vrd.org/locator/alphalist.html Another version of information service, offered at $7.50/month, provides access to ZDnet's self-directed tutorials, creating an online community of learners at http://www.learnitonline.com Community networks have been around for over a decade; http://lone-eagles.com/community.html "Stickiness" is the new strategy for successful online businesses. "Stickiness" refers to the process of having people leave a bit of themselves online. People enjoy helping other people and its become recognized that its good business to help people help others, online.
Brokering the Best of the Best
With the coming teacher shortage, and the expectation that billions of people will have Internet access within our lifetime through major advances in technology, optimally scaleable models of education will be necessary to meet the huge need for quality instruction. This raises important questions of the appropriateness of online instruction depending on the student's needs, ability, motivation, and delivery mediums available.
Adult education research has shown that adults prefer to have control over their own learning; selecting which learning task they take on, and when. For motivated students with Internet access, the same is true. This creates the opportunity for teachers to broker the best self-directed learning experiences available on the Internet for their more motivated students and refocusing their classroom time for working more closely with their under-motivated students to bring them to the point where they too can become self-directed, motivated, lifelong learners.
Where will a student find the best education and where will teachers learn how to be a part of delivering it? The issue of how best to broker resources, as well as brokering the best visions for the future, are everyone's challenge. If you're not online, you need to consider what you're missing!
We're all ignorant; only on different topics
If we all learn to share what we know, we'll all have access to all our joint knowledge.
If we keep what we know to ourselves, we'll each know only what we've learned individually. Which world would you like to live in?
Creating an Online Course on Brokering Internet Learning Resources
The Alaskan IDEA program is gearing up to identify and provide the best possible online education opportunities. Through the Alaska Staff Development Network, http://www.asdn.org/~asdn which serves over 5,000 Alaskan educators, an innovative online course model is being developed. See http://www.asdn.org/~asdn/CYBER/odasz.html The handbook mentioned above will be the basis for a self-directed online class for teachers. Teachers will have the choice of eight four-hour units which will emphasize structured hands-on activities.
1.Browsing and Searching Effectively
2. Listserv Discussion and Groupwork Basics
3. Creating Instructional Webpages
4. Key Issues on K12 Internet Use
5. Project-based Learning Models
6. School and Community Networking Synergies
7. Online Instruction Basics and Design Considerations
8. School Technology Planning, Training, and Grant-writing
Mentors will mediate the course logistics of receiving and evaluating the lesson submissions of the teacher, allowing hundreds of teachers to take the course simultaneously. The instructor's role will be to keep the online handbook's resources as current as possible while updating the teachers regularly via one or more listservs. The teachers will have the implicit opportunity to build their own peer learning community for sharing the best of what they've discovered through their hands-on experiences.
This model builds on what we know about the preferences of motivated adult and student learners. It also creates a level of financial incentive for the very best teachers to create very high quality self-directed learning opportunities for large numbers of motivated students. No longer limited to the confines of the traditional classroom, a teacher's impact can now extend to an unlimited number of students worldwide.
Three Historical Firsts the Internet Brings to the Classroom
Although the Internet is very new to most teachers, there appear to be some clear indications of what new skills and visions a teacher will need in order to meet the needs of students, given the real changes the Internet has brought to communities and the world of work. Can you name the three biggest advantages, which are also historical firsts, that the Internet brings to your classroom? Do you utilize them?
1. With proper introduction to information literacy skills, the Internet brings fingertip access to much of the world's knowledge base.
2. Students and teachers can self-publish their work for an authentic global audience with the same global distribution power as the world's largest governments, corporations and universities.
3. Students and teachers can communicate globally anytime, anywhere to share information and/or engage with other learners in collaborative projects of their own design. Focusing on real world problem-solving, with new access to expertise, K12 collaborative projects are rapidly becoming more and more elegant, relevant, and motivational for both students and teachers.
While there are many issues surrounding what constitutes a quality education, it is becoming clearer that the collaborative Internet skills, combined with the ability to find specific information whenever the need occurs, are essential employment skills required for the next millennium. Since ongoing training is a fundamental part of most jobs today, won't our students need to know a good deal about creating and delivering original curriculum for others? Will you be ready to teach them? The lessons from Galena are helping us find our way to such a future!
Resources to Review:
Online professional development opportunities http://lone-eagles.com/self.htm
Electronic Democracy and Community Networking WebTour: http://lone-eagles.com/democracy.htm
Hotlist of Student Entrepreneurship Sites http://www.fif.org/sec/seclinks.htm
Internet Style of Learning Tutorials http://lone-eagles.com/isl.htm
K12 Collaborative Project Directories http://lone-eagles.com/projects.htm
The Ten Collaborative Tools of the Internet http://lone-eagles.com/collab.htm
K12 Curriculum Clearinghouses http://lone-eagles.com/curric.htm
Essential Issues for K12 Use of Internet http://lone-eagles.com/k12.htm
The AT&T Learning Network http://www.att.com/learningnetwork/
Apple's Interchange http://ali.apple.com
Heritage online http://www.hol.edu
WebTeacher Resource site http://www.webteacher.org
The Thinkquest competition has motivated students to create over 1,000 outstanding instructional websites viewable at http://www.thinkquest.org
While exceptional, the above resources are not as exciting for teachers as the teacher-created resource by Kathy Schrock; http://www.discoveryschool.com/schrockguide/