Success Story: KIBSD and AKTEACH Making Globalized Education Happen through Digital Connection

The Kodiak Island Borough School District (KIBSD) is comprised mostly of Kodiak Island, the second largest island in the United States, and a small strip of coastline on the Western part of the Alaska Peninsula. 2,500 students are spread across 13 schools, including 7 rural schools. For a school district spread out over such a large area, delivering quality education is a challenge. Additionally, some students attend school alone and wouldn’t normally have the opportunity to “connect” with other students.

“Our vision for education in the 21st century is a blended digital approach that connects students across the globe,” said Stewart McDonald, superintendent of Kodiak Island Borough School District. “No matter how big or small your school is or whether it is urban, rural or remote, there is a basic need for kids to engage and connect.”

With the help of GCI SchoolAccess, a service provider for schools and libraries that offers broadband access, video conferencing, and state-of-the-art digital tools, coupled with Superintendent Stewart McDonald’s vision, KIBSD has successfully implemented a synchronized learning approach by providing highly qualified instruction to all students in the district, regardless of location. Both urban and rural schools receive a quality education through digital learning. For example, rural students receive Algebra 1 instruction from a highly qualified math teacher based at Kodiak High School while others receive Geometry, and Algebra II from highly qualified math teachers based at Chiniak School. Additionally, students who might typically attend school alone because they are the only high school student in a school, are now able to connect to other students across the district and form peer-to-peer relationships. This “culture of connectedness” has helped build relationships, expanded students’ world views and better facilitates the virtual learning process.

“The reality is that in many locations throughout Alaska, providing a highly qualified classroom teacher in all content areas isn’t realistic. We are stepping in with our virtual learning alternative. Our goal is to provide authentic, rigorous, synchronous and blended course offerings to students throughout the state of Alaska and, in doing so, genuinely bridge geographic barriers.” said Phillip Johnson, director of AKTEACH and KIBSD’s Digital Teaching Initiative (DTi).

After recently securing a grant to partner with other Alaskan districts KIBSD tasked AKTEACH (KIBSD’s statewide, K-12 home and correspondence school), to expand its digital collaboration outwards. The goal is to connect communities across the entire state and deliver highly qualified content, continuing to create a culture of connectedness. Initially, students are often reluctant to engage in virtual collaboration- broadcasting oneself to the ‘world’ creates its own barrier. Overcoming that barrier is where instant challenges and content sharing come into play. Instant challenges are STEM based activities and present an opportunity for students to compete in an event where the task is not shared until the moment of the event. Instruction and materials are provided and at the end, teams share the data. Content sharing is a learning opportunity across multiple districts with a teacher.

Since November of 2014, AKTEACH has been facilitating statewide monthly instant challenges and content sharing events. These events are intended to provide students with an opportunity to develop virtual collaboration skills in an environment that is both engaging and challenging yet ‘safe’ and thus far the results have been promising. Students who in the past wouldn’t normally engage are now willing and able to interact via digital tools. These new collaborative capabilities are preparing students for the workforce which often works across continents via video conferencing.

During one content sharing session, Kodiak partnered with Alaska’s SeaLife Center, located in Seward, on a virtual squid dissection lesson. KIBSD scheduled the event with the SeaLife Center and invited partnering districts to participate. Phillip and his team purchased squid and sent them across the state to partnering districts that signed up for the event. AKTEACH facilitated the connectivity to six partnering schools. Through digital learning and video conferencing one hundred and two students statewide were able to participate in a synchronous dissection without any school making the trek to the Seward SeaLife Center. “At this point. We knew we had something unique. Students were completely engaged in the dissection yet they didn’t have to leave their rural community to experience the opportunity, “said Phillip.

Another example of a successful AKTEACH virtual event is the paper airplane instant challenge. In the paper airplane challenge, 166 students statewide were given an hour and a list of materials to create a plane that flies. By way of these synchronous events, kids across the state are learning to engage, virtually, with content in ways they might never before been imagined. “We want to reach out across Alaska and connect with communities across the state,” said Phillip. “The intention is to create a culture of connectedness like we have in Kodiak. With services like GCI SchoolAccess.”

And it isn’t just across the state of Alaska. AKTEACH is connecting and collaborating with schools and organizations across the country. Schools that want to collaborate and create their own culture of connectedness can reach out to AKTEACH for details on how to become a partner district: All that’s needed is a video conferencing service, Internet and laptop computer.

The vision is to continue to expand this program outward to afford the same opportunities to students across the state no matter their location.

  • "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