“The Kodiak Island Borough School District will receive an $890,260 grant and is
partnering with the Pribilof, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon, Northwest Arctic, Lake
and Peninsula, Nome, St. Mary’s, and Annette Island school districts,” the Alaska Department of Education said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement added that the program’s aim is “to increase student engagement and academic performance in core content areas with an emphasis in science, technology, engineering, and math increase life-literacy skills; enhance and expand online delivery models; and create a network of well-trained online educators.”
The digital teaching initiative grants were proposed by Gov. Sean Parnell and enacted and funded by the legislature in the past session. They will provide funding for three years beginning in fiscal year 2015.
“This is an opportunity to strengthen 21st century best practices in Alaska and provide
greater access to high-quality teachers and content for more of our Alaskan students,”
Alaska Education Commissioner Mike Hanley was quoted in the statement as saying.
“We’re pretty excited about this,” Kodiak Island Borough School District Superintendent Stewart McDonald told the Mirror. “We’re going to build a strong network of Alaska school districts that are going to meet the needs of their kids.”
One application for Kodiak villages will be language training, McDonald reports.
“We don’t have a language immersion program here in Kodiak. People in Old Harbor have expressed the idea that it would be nice to participate in some kind of native language immersion,” McDonald said. “And in the Lower Kuskokwim School District there are some schools that have language immersion programs. Through this partnership we’ll be able to connect through video-teleconferencing and connect some schools together to engage in some aspect of that language immersion that otherwise we probably would not have done without this grant or this initiative.”
The digital teaching initiative seeks to deliver “high-quality” virtual courses to middle and high school students, increase student access to a greater diversity of courses,
enable teachers to reach beyond their own classrooms, train teachers and
expand school districts’ infrastructure, technology, and staffing, the statement said.
Kodiak received the largest commitment from the state. The Dept. of Education said it was giving $819,915 to the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District, $652,053 to the Copper River School District and $837,744 to the Ketchikan Borough School District.
McDonald acknowledges the challenges inherent with distance learning programs and the mixed reviews it received in the villages. Kodiak school district’s purchase of 12 telepresence robots early in 2014, for instance, was met with some resistance by students unhappy with being instructed by robots.
“When somebody in a village says that the distance learning is not enough what they really are saying is, ‘We need that distance teaching in our village. We need relationships between the student and the teacher,’” said McDonald.
He hopes the expansion of the virtual learning program will enable Kodiak village schools to actually teach the courses themselves and interact more with their distance-learning peers.
“Learning and instruction in the end just come down to real relationships between the student and the instructor. We’ll use a lot of technology that will facilitate that,” McDonald said.
Contact Peter J. Mladineo at email@example.com.