Education in Alaska provides unique challenges to learning in the classroom. In the larger cities, like Anchorage or Fairbanks, schools are largely catering to the local population. This means students, like anywhere else in the country, hop on the bus, or get dropped off at school, and engage in learning with a teacher physically in the room with them. Rural communities, on the other hand, face a variety of different challenges. In this post, I seek to look at issues and solutions to these challenges flipped or reverse learning may present.
Snapshot: A Rural Alaskan Community
Let’s look at one community in particular. It resides on Kodiak Island, totals 25 square miles, and has a population of roughly 200 people. There’s a total of 35 students at the school, with 12 students in grades 6-12. There are four full-time teachers, one K-2, one 3-5, and one 6-12. There is a head teacher as well, who serves as the special ed teacher as well as administrative support. One secretary, one custodian, and one teacher aid. 5 adults, 35 students. Communities like this one, much like many communities across the world, has all the good and bad going for it. Tourism, public services, healthcare, and a wealth of support for Alaska Natives (making up 73% of the population). On the other hand there are other issues that arise and affect parents and students, such as alcoholism, drug abuse, domestic violence, and lack of employment opportunities. Despite the negatives, this has got to be one of my favorite villages on the island, and not just because I get to catch gigantic King Salmon there.
Virtual Learning in Alaska
As readers may know, having one prep is tough work. With two preps, it gets a bit rougher. Three or more and your sanity begins to wane. The 6-12 teacher has 12 students total, so technically that’s a different prep for each student, for each subject. I’m not even going to do the math here…let’s just say, it’s A LOT! There are 5 6-8 students, so that becomes a bit more manageable considering the 9-12 students take just about ALL of their classes online. These online classes are either taught by a teacher elsewhere on the island (in Kodiak or one of the 6 other outlying villages), or is a self-contained, asynchronous course through Edynamics or Edgenuity. The former option typically contains course material developed by the teacher, while the latter contains content developed by the company (or teachers who were hired by the company).
What does this mean for the students? Well, for starters, it provides students with more access to educational opportunities that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to get at school. That one 6-12 teacher cannot be expected to teach mathematics, social science, science, english, and electives in one day. Let alone some of the students are in 10th grade, which creates a whole different set of graduation requirements than a student who is in the 12th grade. This wide variety of offerings means students can learn what they need in order to meet graduation requirements, but are also offered the opportunity to engage in other types of subjects, such as Forensic Science, or Sports and Entertainment Marketing.
Flipped Learning in the Alaska Classroom
Since I’ve lived in Kodiak, I’ve heard a lot about Flipped learning. Last year’s Alaska’s Society for Technology in Education conference brought in Paul Andersen as a keynote speaker. Paul is the creator of the Bozeman Science YouTube channel, and is pretty much the epitome of Flipped Learning. Flipped learning, in its bare definition according to Educause, is “a pedagogical model in which the typical lecture and homework elements of a course are reversed.” In Paul’s case, the students watch the video lectures on his YouTube channel at home, and engage in other projects and learning experiences in the classroom.
At this point, I don’t know many teachers who are using the flipped classroom model. Nor in the state for that matter. While there may be teachers engaging in the flipped classroom model, a cursory Google search came up with only results for flipped learning in the professional world, such as this Alaska Airlines case report. Why is this the case? One consideration is access to the internet at home. While flipped learning can prove beneficial to many students in the classroom, students in rural communities typically do not have internet service at home. How can we expect students to view the videos created if they don’t have the access to view it? Ask them to come to the school after hours to view the videos? Likely to not happen. Add to this issue access to the the technology needed to view the videos. While many students have access to cellular phones, mobile learning may not be an option for all. This scenario, if played out, would most likely create a digital divide and create inequality in the classroom. We can expound the benefits of flipped learning, but until we address the issues of connectivity and access to technology at home, it just doesn’t seem like flipped learning will find a place in our rural communities.