Web Partnership Could Help Improve Distance Education in Alaska

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

JUNEAU -- A new partnership among Alaska schools could help improve "distance education" in the state, ultimately providing students in remote areas the classes they need to qualify for a new state scholarship program.

The next steps for Alaska's Learning Network, the school consortium that has begun offering online classes, will be discussed by an advisory board later this month. Significant challenges remain, including the needs for funding to maintain and expand the program, now working under a one-year startup grant. Less than reliable Internet connectivity in parts of rural Alaska also remains an issue.

But the network's director of distance learning, Woody Wilson, said the program is necessary if Alaska is to improve quality of education. Hee doesn't argue with those who believe it's better for students to have a teacher in the classroom, but said that scenario doesn't always exist in the far reaches of Alaska -- at least not with the same classes available in cities like Anchorage.

Students today are "so digital," he said, noting that many middle schoolers communicate with friends via texting and question the need for cursive writing, once a basic in schools.

"They're not into handwriting, but they are into the business of using computers," he said.

The network is offering 19 web-based courses through the Anchorage and Wrangell school districts, including classes students need to qualify for Alaska Performance Scholarships. Wilson said about 140 students, from 20 schools are enrolled in classes through the network this year, even though districts received late word about the program.

Roxanne Mourant, state technology coordinator with Alaska's Department of Education and Early Development, said it is the group's "hope and intention" to offer more courses in the future through various mediums, including email and video and web conferencing. She said students may not have a teacher qualified in the subject area in the classroom with them but they do have someone onsite to help them stay on track.

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