Here’s a sample of online learning programs serving very different populations:
a small district spread over a vast area, a large inner-city school district,
and a statewide program serving numerous districts.
Yukon-Koyukuk District Connects
Cultures and Communities
It isn’t easy luring teachers to the Yu-
kon-Koyukuk School District (YKSD)
in interior Alaska. Made up of nine
far-flung schools, the district covers an
area larger than the state of Washing-
ton. Seven of those schools are acces-
sib e only by small aircraft. And up until
two years ago, the duty was tough. Some
teachers taught five different levels, each with its
own lesson plan. The teaching staff was overwhelmed.
That’s when we decided something had to change. We
took teachers out of brick-and-mortar classrooms and put
them in virtual ones. We made sure teachers had all the
tools they needed and, through video, we “re-injected”
them back into the classroom. Students still receive direct
instruction—only now, their teachers are remote and have
access to a vast amount of content. YKSD also delivers
education to independent learners through its internal
one-to-one laptop program.
Planning for this novel initiative grew organically
and through observation. We looked at other programs
in the state to see what did and didn’t work, and we also
took a very close look at our students. It’s all about the
audience, after all. Our students are digital natives, and
they feel just as comfortable typing on a keyboard as
putting pen to paper. We realized we had to go to them,
not vice versa.
But going to the students was not easy. It meant we
had to set up satellite communications systems in rural
areas, some of which are inaccessible by automobile.
Geographical barriers are a nightmare when you’re trying to get people or equipment into remote villages.
Because of severe weather, we invested in backup power
systems, which is a must in rural villages.
Two years into the program, YKSD has seen significant
progress. The district finally has a continuous program despite the discontinuous geography and culture diversity.
A “highly qualified” science teacher from Madison, Wisconsin, uses video teleconferencing (VTC) equipment to
provide instruction to students districtwide.
Student achievement has increased and test scores have
improved. Only two schools are deemed “nonimproving”
under the adequate yearly progress benchmark of the No
Child Left Behind Act. Two years ago, four schools were in
Now the district enjoys economies of scale. One language coordinator, for example, teaches more than 200
Native Alaskan students their tribal language every day
through VTC equipment, and she is joined by an award-winning language professor from the University of Alaska
at Fairbanks. The language program is not only educationally sound, it also aims to preserve the ancient native culture, which greatly appeals to village elders.
Connecting our remote students using video teleconfer-ening has been so successful, some courses, such as hospitality and construction, have been accredited through the
University of Alaska at Fairbanks.
Always looking to improve the program, district leaders are working to expand the curriculum to include Advanced Placement courses; certificate programs, such as for
medical terminology; and more college-accredited classes.
Such initiatives are yet more examples of how YKSD has
strategically employed technology to advance achievement
and success among its unique student population.
From e-Learning to Virtual
In the Baltimore County Public
Schools (BCPS), we believe that
online courses provide new opportunities for our students. We
offer e-learning courses designed
to expand student access to chal-
lenging lessons aligned to state curricula, core learning
goals, and national standards. Students work independently
and at various times during the school day. Online teachers
communicate with students using tools such as e-mail, discussion forums, and virtual classrooms as well as by phone
and fax. Each student taking an online course has an onsite
mentor who is available as needed to provide support. Management of online courses resides at the local school.