GCI SchoolAccess currently provides services to over 170 school/sites, with over 300,000 minutes of video per month throughout Alaska, Arizona, Montana, and New Mexico. Below are just a few specific examples of the successful customers who using SchoolAccess to provide their students with fulfilling learning experiences.
The Kodiak Island Borough School District is 6,213 miles from Australia's Great Barrier Reef. But for a few hours recently, modern technology reduced that gap to essentially zero, giving students in the remote Alaskan borough a first-hand glimpse of the world's largest coral reef.
Students were able to make that trip with the help of a high-speed video-conferencing system deployed by GCI, an Anchorage-based telecommunications provider. The system, called GCI School Access, is specifically designed to help students in far-flung Alaskan schools gain access to new educational opportunities.
In the case of the Great Barrier Reef tour, the Kodiak Island Borough School District worked with the Alaska Society for Technology in Education to make the connection with their Australian counterparts. About 180 students from eight Alaskan school districts participated in the tour.
Divers in Australia used digital video cameras to send a live stream of their dive into two tanks that re-create conditions on the Great Barrier Reef. After a brief talk from one of the divers, the students first saw up close how coral forms, and offers shelter to other sea creatures. Next, the diver entered a shark tank, which contained several representatives of the scores of shark species that inhabit the reef.
"The kids were just blown away," says Phillip Johnson, a principal and teacher with the Kodiak district. "We had incredible video quality, and it was as if the kids were right there."
Johnson says that GCI SchoolAccess provides a great resource. "It's great to be able to offer things like this to students in rural areas," he says. "Otherwise, they wouldn't have an opportunity to see these places. It really opens up the world."
GCI School Access also allows the Kodiak students to share their own experiences. They've shown virtual archery, dog sled demonstrations, and fish-smoking techniques – all part of a rural Alaska lifestyle. "It creates value for the children by showing that their lifestyle isn't less than anyone else's – it's wonderful and beautiful and appreciated," says Johnson. "They can also share commonalities with others, learning culture, empathy and tolerance, and learning to respect and understand other cultures."
GCI sponsors the Alaska Academic Decathlon, a statewide all-academic competition for high school students. This unique program allows students with an "A," "B," or lower GPA to compete against their peers for scholarships. The GCI Alaska Academic Decathlon awards a total of nine $1,000 scholarships to the top three individual students in each category of Honor, Scholastic, and Varsity.
Additional scholarships are made available from Rural Alaska Honors Institute, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska Pacific University, DeVry, and other educational institutes. The team that wins the state competition is eligible to represent Alaska at the United States Academic Decathlon National Competition held each April. The Sponsors of the GCI Alaska Academic Decathlon provide travel and accommodations for the National Competition.
In September 2010, Bering Strait School District (BSSD) teacher Ann Marie Stone and her students broadcasted their last episode of this year's North Salmon River Project (NSRP). This series of virtual field trips provided students with an interactive learning experience centered around the prolific life cycle of salmon in the Unalakleet River.
The NSRP brought together students from five BSSD schools (Diomede, Koyuk, Elim, Teller, and Shishmaref) as well as over 1,500 students in 18 schools in Australia using video conferencing provided by SchoolAccess.
The Iditarod is one of the defining annual sporting events in Alaska. Not only does it honor the history and cultural traditions of mushing, but it also provides an extraordinary learning opportunity for students. Along the racing route of the Iditarod lies the Bering Strait School District (BSSD).
BSSD is the spearhead of the IditaProject, an online resource dedicated to giving students access to the many educational opportunities provided by the Iditarod. Some of the features include live video conferencing coverage of the race, an active user forum, archived videos and photos, an updated map of the race, and much more. SchoolAccess plays a critical role in IditaProject, providing the video conferencing service and support for schools to broadcast and watch coverage of the race. In 2009, the IditaProject reached new levels of usage with over 300 registered schools, over 14,000 unique IP viewers, over 1,000 simultaneous viewers from over 26 countries, and over 6,000 hours of broadcasts.
For more than 35 years, the Native Youth Olympics have offered youth a chance to pay tribute to the rich cultural heritage of Alaska through a series of competitive events that test the mind and body. Open to all students from 7th to 12th grade, regardless of ethnicity, the competition includes more than 69 participating schools.
For the past nine years, SchoolAccess has teamed up with the Bering Strait School District (BSSD) Student Broadcasting Team to provide connectivity and support services. Using video interviews, blog entries, posted images, and game results, the Student Broadcasting Team is able to provide in-depth coverage of the games. And the best part is it's all produced by the students.
Alaska Injury Prevention, Kigluait Educational Adventures, and DVD Technology, teamed up to raise the awareness of teenagers about underage drinking. They came up with a campaign called "Our Reality Underage Drinking Campaign: Choose Your Own Ending!" This campaign involved teaching and learning about storytelling, media literacy, and the creation of media (video, audio, and print for a television spot on channels such as MTV and ESPN) to share the stories about youth and underage drinking.
Along with the opportunity to have a spot on TV, the top produced media piece from each session, selected districts/classrooms will receive one-on-one training from a professional videographer (DVD Technology) to help them produce a high quality TV spot. Students worked three-to-five hours per week on their projects. This included one hour of synchronous (live or real time) lessons via Internet or video conferencing using SchoolAccess. The purpose of this program is to teach the power and effects of media and storytelling, helping students convey their messages about underage drinking by empowering them to create their own media.
Using SchoolAccess, students from across Alaska are able to participate in the NASA video conferencing events. The Challenger Learning Center of Alaska (CLCA) provides rural classrooms opportunities to participate in E-missions with a flight director at CLCA. These E-missions provide students and teachers with curriculum, lessons, and guest speakers from the flight deck at CLCA.
CLCA was created to meet the educational needs of students throughout Alaska. Using simulated space and earth science missions, distance education and hands-on workshops, the CLCA inspires youth to develop an interest in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and to consider careers in these fields. Using space and earth sciences as a medium, participants work in an environment that spans the academic areas while learning valuable skills in problem solving, communication and teamwork.
FIRST LEGO League (FLL) is a robotics program for 9 to 16 year olds (9 to 14 in the US and Canada), which is designed to get children excited about science and technology -- and teach them valuable employment and life skills. Teams, comprised of up to ten children with at least one adult coach, can also be associated with a pre-existing club or organization, homeschooled, or just be a group of friends who wish to do something awesome.
FLL Introduces younger students to real-world engineering challenges by building LEGO-based robots to complete tasks on a thematic playing surface. FLL teams, guided by their imaginations and adult coaches, discover exciting career possibilities and, through the process, learn to make positive contributions to society.
Through the use of video conferencing technology, SchoolAccess connects students in village schools to the FIRST LEGO League Challenge site on tournament day. SchoolAccess provides bandwidth and video conferencing equipment that allows students to run their robots on the playing surface in their school and to be judged by the tournament judges. Scores are entered and remote students compete for the same prizes as the local teams. Teams also deliver their Challenge project and design presentation to the judges at the Challenge site just like the local teams.
Alaska Sisters in Crime, a non-profit organization of mystery writers, partnered with Future Teacher Clubs of Alaska, University of Alaska Fairbanks Rural Education Preparation program to coordinate a tour of 16 authors who visited 53 classrooms in Anchorage. In addition, seven authors participated over video conferencing to connect to 23 schools. Through the program, authors were able to show students the opportunities that exist in their field and encourage students to read and write.
SchoolAccess is proud of its five-year partnership with NASA, providing students from across Alaska opportunities to talk with NASA mission specialists and astronauts. Over 300 students participated in a video conference live downlink from the STS-116 Mission with Alaska's very own Pilot William Oefelein. Pilot Oefelein provided weekly updates from space on the GCI SchoolAccess sponsored website (http://www.akastronaut.org). Pilot Oefelein also joined NASA CFO Gwendolyn Sykes (Alaskan) and former astronaut William Readdy to conduct presentations in classrooms and participate in live distance learning video link-ups with the International Space Station (ISS) and the Johnson Space Center (JSC). SchoolAccess also provided video conferences to other remote schools where the astronauts could not be present. This is one of several enrichment educational opportunities available to SchoolAccess customers throughout the year.
Students throughout Alaska had the opportunity to ask questions to Senator Lisa Murkowski face-to-face via video conferencing using SchoolAccess Distance Learning Service. For the second year running, SchoolAccess teamed with the Alaska Distance Learning Partnership to offer this educational enrichment opportunity for students to practice civic-mindedness, while giving them direct access to their legislator in Washington, D.C. It also provided a chance for Senator Murkowski to address the questions and concerns of some of her youngest constituents.
Using SchoolAccess, students in Alaska and the lower 48 are able to expand their knowledge through live, multi-media presentations from Alaska SeaLife Center. These presentations include meeting animal "guests," exploring Alaska SeaLife Center exhibits, talking with researchers and animal caretakers, and completing hands-on activities. Each conference utilizes research and rehabilitation programs happening right at the Alaska SeaLife Center. All programs are designed to align with national and Alaska state science content standards. Alaska SeaLife Center programs are also designed to meet content standards across the curriculum.
Kigluait Educational Adventures hosts the Mushing Alaska program, which focuses on the exploration of dog mushing as a tool for transportation and freighting through Alaska. Using SchoolAccess Distance Learning Service, students had the opportunity to explore equipment, meet sled dogs, and take a virtual sled dog ride. This program provided general information on Alaska (the topography, current temperature, and culture) and mushing to students from the lower 48. Teachers could request whether they want the lesson to be the specifics of the sled (Geometry) or the specifics of genetics in dogs (Biology). Many primary standards are covered in this program, including math, science, physical science, technology, social science, and geography.
Working with Kigluait Adventures, students in the Bering Strait School District used inquiry-based science units called "Video Sleuths" to collaborate with students at the Highland Tech High School in Anchorage to examine and solve essential scientific questions. These lessons required students in grades 7-12 to form hypotheses, test these with hands-on experiments, and collaborate with student teams in other schools to form conclusions based upon their research and experiments. These programs have been presented this year to over 250 students via video conferencing in rural schools and Anchorage. Students can also participate in secure, password protected, and monitored chat sessions with students from various schools to exchange information and data about their project and each other.
In village schools of the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta region of Alaska, distance education is the on-ramp for children's adventures in learning, placing them closer to par with students throughout the U.S. With distance learning technologies these adventures can be as rich, advanced and varied as any in the nation. In the Delta, GCI's high speed terrestrial broadband network brings the world to the classroom and can take a child's mind and imagination on a fascinating journey around the planet and back.
The teachers in the YK Delta's remote villages explain the impact of distance learning best: "It gives the students out here a sense of community. It gives them a sense of belonging. That there are other students out there that they can relate to." "It has made me a richer teacher - and then deepened the richness of the learning experience."
Elsewhere in Alaska, the teachers from Aleutians East Borough School District have bridged 15,000 square miles and 6 education sites through video teleconferencing. While they still experience limitations based on the amount of bandwidth available to them, they have achieved teaching and learning innovations beyond that known even to highly wired urban school districts. For example, through distance learning, highly specialized instructors are able to teach across this wide geography, providing AP English, Physical Science and Geometry to students hungry for, and capable of, receiving quality instruction in the advanced subject matters.
Despite the success, the school district is now considering a bolder vision of sharing highly qualified instructors beyond existing schools to new districts through distance learning tools and technologies. Aleutians East Borough School District believes this will help all districts leverage their bandwidth to open new doors to educational opportunities. This method will, for the first time, enable any rural district to tap into the base of highly qualified and specialized teachers from around the state to expand course offerings and improve learning environments – all while saving costs.
Distance learning technology is bringing countless opportunities from outside of the classroom directly to students… "field trips" to aquariums, zoos, puppet museums. It has even made possible "on-site" state history lessons on Iditarod training from pups in action. According to the educators living in these communities, these opportunities are the keys to happy and healthy, quality learning experiences for those who may never have the means or opportunity as a child to leave their village.
In 2001, SchoolAccess brought its technical and educational expertise to twenty-two rural schools in New Mexico, Arizona, and Montana, serving over 10,500 students. Currently, SchoolAccess is servicing eight districts in Northwest Regional Education Center #2 in New Mexico. The Education Center helps rural school districts by providing administrative support, technical assistance, technology, quality staffing, and professional development opportunities.
- Providing all students with problem solving skills, analytical skills, critical thinking skills, and synthesizing skills
- Teaching acceptance of various customs and cultural differences
- Enabling students to work as part of a team
- Teaching students to write effectively, communicate, and listen well; and
- Giving students the technology skills to effectively achieve their goals at work, home, or during leisure
There are nine regional education centers in New Mexico, providing a variety of school support programs for member districts and state supported schools. By building networks and cooperative arrangement among districts, state supported schools, and other agencies, the cooperatives can pool resources and provide services the districts/state supported schools may not be able to offer on their own. These cooperatives assist rural school districts in improving educational practices, programs, and policies to ensure academic, social, and behavioral success for all students. Additionally, many of these cooperatives provide statewide training, consultation, and support to increase effective educational practices across the state of New Mexico.
Kodiak School District's Phil Johnson, the superintendent of a district that covers an entire island in the Gulf of Alaska, also believes better bandwidth has brought about positive change for his 7 rural and 6 urban school settings. Over the course of several years, his district utilized a federal native education grant to bring in video equipment and relationships with GCI, an Alaskan telecommunications company. The partners experimented with several methods to achieve highly specialized education through video teleconferencing. After trying multiple technologies and platforms, they achieved their goals and more.
The system allowed the district to put students in break-out rooms so they could work together virtually. At first, students did not know one another, and couldn't benefit from visual cues. The district realized they needed an actual experience to bring students together. They did this through a science academy – with a hidden agenda of building strong teams and social networks. It hand the intended effect and then some, according to Johnson. Kids now felt connected to a larger "one school concept" – and wanted to collaborate virtually – better understanding who was on the other side of the camera.
Johnson says he believes the program is actually feeding student participation in extracurricular programs and sports – keeping kids more engaged, mentally stable and excited about school. For the first time kids want to come out and meet their online buddies at sport outings and events. Johnson sees the program supporting itself from both angles – meaning kids are excited to get online and learn with their new friends, and then want to strengthen these newfound relationships in the real world. He has seen relationship building in ways he never imagined… with students introducing one another across schools and becoming good friends in otherwise impossible ways. He said momentum now exists and kids are excited about the new model. Johnson believes the program, because of the enthusiasm the children have for it, is fully sustainable.
To build on the success, Kodiak School District has tried something incredibly ambitious with its math program - where progress was most lacking. Prior to this year, the district asked teachers to instruct up to four levels of math in one period and most didn't have the background to do so. However when the district introduced video conferencing, it was suddenly able to leverage math and technology specialists to give students more individualized instruction.
This is not the only new program within the Kodiak School District. Other programs include music instruction such as guitar, trumpets, flutes, and keyboards. The robust music program is done virtually 100% through video teleconferencing.
Furthermore, the district adopted software to help manage grading and instruction. With this, the district can evaluate student and teacher progress and compare education and learning with national and state standards. As a second installment of this process, the district is currently evaluating iPads so teachers can walk around and enter grades in real time. The district is keeping ease of use and productivity in mind to free up teacher workload and give them more time to help students actually learn – and of course achieve goals and standards. The district is currently working with a pilot group of 50 teachers to implement the program and fully leverage the software investment.