Success Story: GCI Supports Interactive Books for Alaska Students
Chevak, Alaska is in southwestern Alaska and a long way from anywhere. It’s as geographically isolated as most Alaskan villages, maybe even more so—a full day’s travel by air to Anchorage, more than $900 for a round-trip ticket. For the past five years GCI SchoolAccess has helped overcome that gap with communications services ranging from Internet access to videoconferencing while continuing to support the steadily growing bandwidth needs of the village’s 900-plus residents. Recently all those services and connections have come into full play with the launch of a school district project that promises to make new demands on network bandwidth for two of the best reasons imaginable: preserving the local language, a unique Central Yup’ik dialect called Cup’ik, and empowering local students to learn about cultural diversity and their native heritage.
It all began a little over a year ago, when Joseph Gorski, Director of Technology and Federal Programs for the Kashunamiut School District, attended a conference about interactive digital books, or “eBooks,” in Anchorage sponsored by the Alaska Association of School Boards’(AASB) Consortium for Digital Learning (CDL). Taking advantage of a federal grant designed to help preserve Alaska native languages, he and CDL Director Bob Whicker hatched a plan to translate “Milly and Molly,” a popular interactive children’s book series about cultural diversity, into Cup’ik. In April 2013, two employees of the Kashunamiut School District, a Kashunamiut School Board member and an AASB member flew to Auckland, New Zealand to work with KIWA, a software company that specializes in interactive books. Two of the Alaskans spoke the parts for 12 “Milly and Molly” stories while the third provided the narration. KIWA then assembled them all into eBooks that are available for download from Apple’s iTunes, in addition to two eBooks produced by Gorski and his colleagues that feature traditional Cup’ik stories spoken in English. Readers are able to touch the illustrations to hear both English and Cup’ik names for things. “With that much exposure on the Web, a rare language like Cup’ik - now spoken by only a few people in a remote Alaska village - has a chance to go mainstream,” says Whicker. In addition to school children from all over the world, linguists and the general public will have a chance to hear what Cup’ik sounds like, perhaps even learn a few words, thereby helping to preserve it.
Students will be able to read the stories on iPads or Kindles or other tablets or e-readers, swiping to read at their own pace, touching single Cup’ik words to hear them spoken, double-touching words to hear them pronounced syllable by syllable, even recording their own pronunciation of words and playing them back to see if they’re pronouncing them right. “Kids are their own best teachers,” says Gorski. “Give them something to play with, and they’ll learn by accident.”
Working with other school districts throughout Alaska, the AASB then plans to translate the “Milly and Molly” stories into as many as 10 other Alaska Native languages. After that, they hope to be able to develop similar interactive books in Alaska Native languages that tell local stories and histories, bringing all the learning about language and culture even closer to home.
More languages stored in the same eBook means bigger files and more demand for bandwidth (bigger network pipes to carry more data) for downloading them from the Web or exchanging them with other users. And more Alaska school districts working on eBooks about their local cultures, spoken and written in their local languages, means more demands on local area networks, more emails flying back and forth, more demand for mobile phone service--all the technology that now enables and drives every collaborative digital project. School Access promises to be there every step of the way, as it has been in Chevak and many other school districts for so many years, providing the necessary bandwidth as demand continues to grow, setting up and servicing local networks, Internet service, and other connections that will allow the stories to be gathered, told, and shared interactively with Alaska and the world. “GCI has helped with this project and many others at our school district in an array of different ways,” says Gorski, “mainly with infrastructure, technical support, and helping us set up and maintain our networks.” Says Whicker: “GCI is our primary partner in moving digital learning forward in the state. Schools all over Alaska are quickly learning the huge value of broadband for teaching and learning, and GCI is right there with us, helping to make it all a reality.”
"Our goals are never about the technology, but about instruction using technology in a variety of ways. GCI has been flexible and responsive enough to support our instructional integration as we have grown and changed as an organization."
- John Concilus, Director of Educational Technology, Bering Strait School District
"The expertise that GCI provided in setting up the (distance learning) system and in working with us as we learned to operate it was very beneficial to our educators, who wanted to focus on the content and not the technology. With GCI's support we have reached over 5,000 students across the U.S. since our program launched in 2005."
- Darin Trobaugh, Education Program Coordinator, Alaska SeaLife Center
"GCI and their team of Engineers in Anchorage are a force to be reckoned with. They have continually proven over the years to be a team player with ASTE."
- Todd Schechter, Chief Networking Engineer, Alaska Society of Technology in Education
"Petersburg City School District is very pleased with its relationship with GCI. The district considers GCI to be a strong and important partner in the overall mission of providing an outstanding education to the students of Petersburg. As a "cutting edge", "one-to-one laptop" remote island district that relies very heavily upon stable, fast, and trouble free broadband service, the district has come to expect exceptional service from GCI as the norm."
- Robert Thomason, Ed.D., Superintendent, Petersburg City Schools
"GCI's SchoolAccess program has not only pioneered the delivery of video technology in bush Alaska, they have wrapped content and outreach around their service adding immense value. One Vision is proud to support the efforts of this innovative partner."
- George Woltors, NW Territory Manager, One Vision
"GCI’s contribution of live streaming the events during our National Competition was a great success. Our schools and families that were unable to attend the event had the opportunity to see their student(s) in person. Without GCI this would not have happened!"
- Les Martisko, Ph.D., CEO, United States Academic Decathlon
"GCI SchoolAccess has serviced the Jemez Mountain School District for the past seven years impeccably. GCI has developed a product that eliminates many of the pitfalls of traditional piece-meal approaches to implement Internet services by bundling the most critical services into a concise package. Additionally, GCI is well established in the navigation of E-Rate protocols, has an outstanding technical support team, and has a highly competent education program manager."
- Adan Delgado, Former Superintendent, Jemez Mountain School District
"We have a tradition of providing our faculty, staff, and students with the most up-to-date technology that can be made available, and GCI makes carrying on that tradition a possibility. GCI is instrumental in the planning, designing, and implementation of our distance learning services. This support, along with the broadband services provided by GCI, has allowed our distance learning program to be second to none in Alaska."
- George Gladish, TAI Coordinator, Lower Kuskokwim School District
"GCI School Access has been a great partner for Ilisagvik College. In 2012 and 2013, they donated funds to support our annual STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camp, which provides a fun and educational opportunity for rural Alaskan youth. We are very grateful to GCI School Access for their sponsorship!"
- Pearl Brower, President, Ilisagvik College
"GCI has been providing technical support for videoconferencing events at the ISTE Conferences in San Antonio and San Diego to the IVC Operations Teams for the past two years. Their knowledge and experience has been a key to our success."
- Paul Hieronymus, IVC Operations Chairman, 2013 ISTE Conference
"GCI SchoolAccess makes it possible for our coaches and volunteers to communicate in the villages and most importantly make sure the students are safe by providing our coaches with mobile technology in the villages."
- Lars Flora, Director, NANANordic
"CILC has partnered with GCI SchoolAccess over the last few years on many projects that have benefited and enriched the life of people both in Alaska and the lower 48. Much of this would not have been possible without the leadership of Dr. Pam Lloyd."
- Janet L. Zanetis, CEO, The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)
"Our administration realized our aggressive approach to educational achievement could only be met with a network that can support the growing number of mobile devices in our district and the increasing use of video conferencing for our classes. GCI SchoolAccess helped us transition off satellite and onto a terrestrial service that supports these goals."
- Dan Walker, Assistant Superintendent, Lower Kuskokwim School District
"The most powerful thing in a traditional classroom is the connection between the teacher and the student. And that connection happens over two-way video."
- Gary Baldwin, former superintendent, Lower Kuskokwim School District
"GCI is a strong educational partner with the Alaska Distance Education Consortium, helping to expand broadband, bring technical solutions, and instructional programming to high need areas."
- John Monahan, Alaska Distance Education Consortium
"Educating 4 Leadership has benefited enormously from our partnership with SchoolAccess to provide student leadership and 1:1 resources for Alaska, other states, and the UK at present. We consider the contributions from SchoolAccess to be completely vital to our work and success during the past three years. We appreciate their support!"
- Dr. Mark Standley, CEO, Educating 4 Leadership
"In the 15 years I have been an administrator in the Northwest Arctic Borough School District we have been utilizing Broadband services from GCI. The distances and the cold and lack of infrastructure are tough challenges, but GCI is among the best of all vendors that we use for services to our students, faculties, and schools."
- Norman Eck, Ph.D., Superintendent, Northwest Arctic Borough School District
"GCI has been an instrumental partner in helping the Alaska Zoo develop a Long Distance Education Program. This program provides a venue for the Alaska Zoo to expand the reach of its Education classes through video conferencing and the ability to share Education Programs with students throughout our state."
- Patrick Lampi, Executive Director, Alaska Zoo
"GCI is a company with an exceptionally strong reputation for its expertise in building out networks in rough terrains and for their deep knowledge in all aspects of videoconferencing. Throughout my several years of partnering with GCI, I have come to learn that those who work within the education division are dedicated to the mission of bringing world-class opportunities to all learners across Alaska, including some of the most remote corners of the state."
- Ruth Blankenbaker, Former CEO, The Center for Interactive Learning and Collaboration (CILC)
"GCI has a long track record of being a friend to schools and libraries in the State of Alaska. Despite the unpredictable timing of E-rate funding, GCI's willingness to work with anchor institutions by appling discounts and handling E-rate invoicing is a welcome relief when staff is small. Steve Walker and his team at GCI deserve a big THANK YOU for finding ways to make the billing process understandable and manageable for the smallest of our schools and libraries."
- Valerie Oliver, Alaska USF/E-Rate Coordinator for Alaska Schools and Libraries