A Native Alaskan Cross-Cultural K12 Internet Training Program:
Visions from the Frontier of Online Learning

By Frank Odasz

Lone Eagle Consulting

2200 Rebich Lane

Dillon, Montana 59725


Email frank@lone-eagles.com

Web http//lone-eagles.com

Abstract for INET '99 panel presentation on "Learning Tools"

June 23rd 11-12:30:

This paper addresses a cross-cultural self-directed approach for training indigenous K12 teachers and students. This approach was used with remote Native Alaskan schools who receive two-way Internet via satellite and are now exploring wireless loaner laptops to provide community access. Issues are addressed on how best to utilize self-directed learning and the extensibility of impact the Internet offers teachers and learners globally. An online cross-cultural K12 Internet guide and online course serve as functional models. Intergenerational impacts of community use of Internet, and successive levels of self-empowerment are integral to this program which ends with cultural entrepreneurship and electronic democracy themes.

Big Skies and Lone Eagles

On January 1st, 1988, at Western Montana College of the University of Montana, in Dillon, Montana, Pop. 4,000, Big Sky Telegraph came online to provide online courses for rural teachers in one and two room Montana schools. Back then, it was a world of Apple IIe’s, 1200 baud modems and $18/hr long distance toll charges. As isolated teachers worked through the online lessons they grew visions of building online peer learning communities and began sharing lessonplans. By 1990, over 700 lessonplans had been collected, which became the first set of lessonplans the U.S. Dept. of Education put online. (Announced in March, 1998, the newest national lessonplans database from the U.S. Dept of Education is now online at http://www.thegateway.org)

The emphasis of Big Sky Telegraph (http://macsky.bigsky.dillon.mt.us/g_ver.html) was exploring "interactive reading and writing" as a new, unique communications medium with its own strengths and weaknesses. Anyone, anywhere, anytime could communicate without deference to age, sex, physical appearance, race, education level, location or time of day. Often creating greater intimacy than face-to-face relationships, rural teachers shared in depth issues, feelings, and resources with convenience and economy across the vast expanses of rural Montana.

Lessons learned from the ten years of Big Sky Telegraph’s social experimentation (1988-1998) are that while roughly 20% of the teachers involved eagerly shared the vision of building a peer community, many could not initially quite grasp the potential. For some, it took a couple months, for others a couple years, of "noodling around online" before they were able to internalize the potential. The independent-minded teachers preferred to have a choice of which lessons they worked on, and when. Despite learning differences, nearly all teachers arrived at the level of "rising expectations" regarding visions of reaching their full potential as teachers--online. The Big Sky Telegraph online community was self-selecting; those not interested in sharing resources, encouragement, and frontier visions just didn’t participate.

NOTE: Lone Eagle Consulting, http://lone-eagles.com is the current incarnation of Big Sky Telegraph; modeling the freedom instructional entrepreneurship can offer through a combination of western individualism and building purposeful online learning communities.


In 1993, Big Sky Telegraph received a major grant to create online courses which would produce K12 collaborative projects and other online offerings. Laptops were given to 20 rural teachers who would receive online courses with the intent they would then teach these same courses online to teachers in a five state area. A course was developed which explored the power and uniqueness of interactive reading and writing, but then the WWW appeared and suddenly interactive reading and writing was viewed as inferior "text-only" technology and the courses had to be rewritten with emphasis on graphical "point and click" Web pages. http://www.learner.org/courses/rfts/ Many of the teachers who had been interacting regularly became solo basement browsers, dazzled by the new visual medium.

Today, Webmania is being replaced with renewed attention to "interactive reading and writing" because of the added availability of over ten collaborative Internet tools (such as e-mail, listservs, chats, and MUDs/MOOs—see http://lone-eagles.com/collab.htm) and the increasing interactivity built into Web pages. No longer passive billboards, Web pages are taking on the best interactive features of both educational software and communications networks developed over the past decade as new and exciting interactive options appear with increasing frequency.

Empowered Teaching and Teachers

On this new frontier of learning, many questions are being raised: What is the role of online instruction, what is the role of the teacher, and what works best in service of our students? Motivated students and adults can often learn well using interactive self-directed multimedia materials, just as the Big Sky Telegraph teachers preferred, while unmotivated students still need an encouraging relationship face to face with teachers to learn to love learning.

Master teachers are no longer limited to teaching the number of students they can fit into a traditional classroom or model of education, but can now create interactive learning experiences for hundreds, even thousands, of students. How to best budget a good teacher’s limited time as a key resource raises more questions and opportunities. Teachers can target their time for those students who need it most. With learning outcomes as the key measure, online models promise our best teachers the option of impacting more students and of increased earnings based on proven learning outcomes.

Teaching as brokering the best available learning experiences

Just how does a teacher learn to broker the best of the best of existing Internet resources when over a million new web pages are posted each month? Knowing where to go for the best directories of K12 online courses, collaborative projects, and self-directed tutorials requires some new type of intermediary. More than another Yahoo search directory or Altavista search engine, there’s a need for a third party to do an initial pre-selection of the best of the best.

Big Visions from Small Village Schools

In the Native Alaskan village of Galena, population 300, the Galena City School District has received grants to put computers in the homes of 80 village families 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 villages 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.

In addition to creating the IDEA homeschooling program, Galena has helped secure funding for Internet training programs for teachers, students and community members from all eleven Native villages in the Yukon-Koyukuk Regional Consortium.

In November, 1998, village teachers and students learned to create school web pages, which can be seen at http://www.gcisa.net/schools/interior.htm. The villages have two-way Internet via satellite dishes, which is essential since most villages are hundreds of miles from the nearest road system. Wireless loaner laptops are being explored as a means for bringing Internet to homes without phonelines or computers.

As a component of this Internet K12/community training program, a circuit rider regularly visits the villages, sharing hands-on experiences for using digital cameras, MIDI musical keyboards, electronic art tablets, and other new and exciting creativity-enhancing technologies with teachers, students K-12, and citizens.

Models of Alaskan school /cultural web pages and Native crafts entrepreneurial web pages can be visited through an online self-directed "WebTour which features a hotlist of student entrepreneurial resources at http://lone-eagles.com/alaskan.htm.

A Cross-Cultural Self-Directed Learning Model

With 15,000 cultures slated to receive Internet via new low-cost satellite systems over the next couple decades, in a world where half the population has never yet made a single phone call, the issue of how best to introduce the empowering components of the Internet within the context of individual cultures is a major global challenge.

Created as a model for the IDEA program, the ten Yukon-Koyukuk Consortium Villages, and to address this global indigenous training need, a cross-cultural 120 page online "Native Alaskan Cross-Cultural K12 Internet Guide" models how to broker the best Internet learning experiences; http://lone-eagles.com/guide.htm

This handbook utilizes the best tutorials and resources other teachers and students have made available on the web through hands-on self-directed activities. This self-directed cross-cultural guide is serving as a model for use with indigenous peoples internationally via the U.S. Agency for International Development’s LearnLink project: http://www.aed.org/learnlink. A 1999 USAID report on "Native American/Alaskan/Hawaiian K12 Innovations with Computers and Internet" is online at http://lone-eagles.com/usaid.htm

An online self-directed Alaskan-specific WebTour, http://lone-eagles.com/alaskan.htm ,

presents K12 collaborative project models, Native entrepreneurial, cultural and community-oriented innovative uses of web pages for school and community self-expression. A hotlist of student entrepreneurial resources is included; http://www.fif.org/sec/seclinks.htm

Creating an Online Course on Brokering Internet Learning Resources

The IDEA homeschooling program is gearing up to identify and provide the best possible online education opportunities. At the same time, a national debate has begun about ‘online diploma mills’ and what are termed "Online HS diploma scams." Through the Alaska Staff Development Network, http://www.asdn.org/~asdn which serves over 5,000 Alaskan educators, an online course model has been developed based on a review of best practices for online education: http://www.asdn.org/~asdn/CYBER/odasz.html. The handbook mentioned above serves as the basis for this 3 credit graduate level self-directed online class for teachers. The course consists of eight four-hour units which emphasize structured hands-on activities.

1. Browsing and Searching Basics

2. Listserv Basics

3. Creating Instructional Webpages

4. Key Issues on K12 Internet Use

5. Project-based Learning

6. School and Community Networking Synergies

7. Online Instruction Basics and Issues

8. School Technology Planning, and Grant-writing

Mentors 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 is 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. This model also creates a level of financial incentive for the very best teachers to create very high quality self-directed learning opportunities for large number of motivated students. No longer limited to the confines of the traditional classroom, a teacher’s impact can now extend to thousands of students worldwide.

With the coming teacher shortage, and the expectation that billions 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. The extensibility of a teacher’s impact on large numbers of students raises incredible opportunities. This raises important questions of the appropriateness of online instruction depending on the student’s needs and delivery mediums available.

Assessing Quality Online Education:

The graphic below represents a quick overview of considerations in designing and/or evaluating an online class. Each line represents an entire spectrum of choices.

  1. A low budget, low tech class might involve text-only using slow modems and older computers, with a high budget, high tech class involving advanced multimedia and interactive television.
  2. A class can be self-directed or instructor interaction intensive, with a whole range of options in-between such as small group interaction with a high level of one-to-one student interaction, or a large group interaction with a low level of one-to-one student interaction.
  3. A course may be focused on teaching content and/or skills such as desktop-publishing, or may focus on conceptual instruction such as adapting the seven intelligences for multimedia instruction.
  4. A course may provide interactivity via interactive software on CDROM or Internet, or may focus on interaction with people.
  5. A course may offer a choice of learning styles, or may offer only one choice.

     6 . Community networking and online learning are blurring around the theme of  "building learning communities."

Building Meaningful Ongoing Learning Communities

We’ve come a long way from the early pioneering days of Big Sky Telegraph’s innovative rural teachers, but the core challenge of how best to bring people together to make good things happen remains unchanged. Soon, micro-satellites will allow for high-speed, two-way Internet access from hand-held computers anywhere on the planet. The issue will then no longer be that of establishing the "physical infra-structure," but will become that of creating a common sense "social info-structure," combining caring with connectivity.

The Relationships Age VS the Information Age?

One secondary 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 clarity 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.

Online professional development opportunities are listed at http://lone-eagles.com/self.htm

There is no limit to the potential benefits of a good teacher/learner online mentoring relationship, or of the global impact of one good teacher’s self-published learning resources. Already, teachers are sharing materials in worldwide online tutorials for citizen activism such as "The Virtual Activist" (http://www.netaction.org/training). As more and more people begin to understand that the Internet’s greatest potential is that of creating a true global transnational electronic democracy, more and more individuals will see how they too can make a worldwide contribution (Electronic Democracy WebTour: http://lone-eagles.com/democracy.htm).

The greatest potential for indigenous youth worldwide would be to create a vocation teaching self-empowerment Internet and multimedia authoring skills to youth in other cultures as a means of being able to remain with one’s home village, engaged in a meaningful, culturally-supportive vocation. Community network models serving as "instructional entrepreneurship cooperatives" would potentially allow all citizens to benefit. In Galena, Alaska, the IDEA homeschooling program is exploring how such a cooperative might involve teachers, parents and students in instructional entrepreneurship. In today’s world, it’s a fact; everyone can be both learner and teacher, all the time.


Biography: http://lone-eagles.com/articles/frank.htm

Frank Odasz (Lone Eagle Consulting) founded the Big Sky Telegraph and co-founded the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) . He has served as a senior advisor on community networking to the Morino Institute and as a member of the Institute's web review team. He has also been an advisor to the Online Internet Institute, Princeton, New Jersey. Frank has also served on the advisory boards of Hawaii Online, the Online Chronicle of Distance Learning, the Rural Datafication Conference, the "Creating Teacher Connections" Annenberg project, the Community Networking Institute (Kearney, Nebraska), the NSF/Network Montana Community Networking Project, and the US WEST Montana Teachers Network.

He was listed as one of the one hundred most influential people in the microcomputer industry by Microtimes Magazine, in1990. Under his leadership, Big Sky Telegraph has been cited for excellence in four reports by the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and by a major study on rural telecommunications and economic development produced for the U.S. Telephone Association by Mesa, Inc. Big Sky Telegraph was included in 1992 NII White House Agenda report as a network model of excellence.

Among his publications are "Issues in the Development of Community Cooperative Networks" (Harvard); "Online Teaching: A Significant New Pedagogy" (Journal for the U.S. Distance Learning Association); and "Community Economic Development Networks; A Grassroots Leadership Challenge" (Internet Research Journal).

Frank received his undergraduate degree in psychology from the University of California-Davis, and his M.A. in instructional technology from the University of Wyoming. He has taught educational technology, programming, telecommunications, and microcomputer applications at the University of Colorado, and has also created online courses on how to create and teach an online course, telecollaborating on the Internet, and mentoring online.