Hello, out there: A look at distance education in Alaska

Maria Elena Reyes, Claudette Bradley

Abstract


This study examines the state of distance education in Alaska. Providing public education has offered long-standing challenges to educators and policy makers in the state since the indigenous peoples of Alaska were introduced to Western education. This is especially so at the secondary and post-secondary levels. Factors such as a low population density, isolated and remote villages, a high teacher attrition rate, a low number of Alaskans (particularly Alaska Natives) in the classroom as licensed teachers, and a challenging environment contribute to the situation.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) has had a longstanding commitment to provide post-secondary education to students in rural Alaska. By surveying individuals involved in distance education in the state, this study found that distance education is primarily being delivered by audio conferencing and prepared curriculum modules. In an effort to meet the educational needs in rural Alaska at the post-secondary level, administrators and faculty are working to increase the number of courses delivered by distance education using asynchronous communication.
There were over 1,000 distance-delivered courses at the post-secondary level in Alaska delivered by the various campuses within the University of Alaska System during the 1999-2000 academic year. The typical distance education student in UA System is female, in her 30's, and likely to be White. Twenty-five percent of students taking distance education courses in various UA campuses were identified as Alaska Native, which is significant since they constitute 15 percent of the state population. Students taking distance education courses from any of the University of Alaska sites took an average of two courses per semester.
There is a need for greater coordination among the different sites delivering distance education courses and training for faculty in a more consistent manner. Information and access to course work should be made more readily available to all post-secondary students within and outside the state. Further research is necessary on gender disparity and on the relatively high number of Alaska Native students taking distance education courses.

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5210/fm.v5i10.797



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