University of Alaska Fairbanks

Bridging the e-Skills Gap in Alaska

Alaska and its rural communities often lack crucial broadband-enabled services like distance learning, public safety, and telehealth. The University of Alaska Fairbanks, spearheading the Alaska Distance Education Consortium, proposes to promote broadband adoption across the state by delivering relevant content and services, driven largely by online learning for professional development, to remote villages including dozens of Native Alaskan villages that are most in need of improved service and adoption levels. The project also plans to train “Village Internet Agents” to respond to the hardware and software needs of residents.

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BTOP In Action
A class from Angoon City School watches a Digital Storytelling presentation

The University of Alaska Fairbanks is breaking down the digital divide in remote villages across the state, using a three-prong approach to increase sustainable broadband adoption. Through the Bridging the E-Skills Gap project, the university partners with approximately 20 non-profit, educational, and for-profit organizations to create distance learning, public safety, and telehealth opportunities.

For example, the Alaska Library Network provides free access to two new distance learning tools at state libraries. The first, Live Homework Help, is an online educational portal that offers live homework tutors to K-12 students seven days a week. The second, the Testing Educational Reference Center, is an online resource where patrons can access study guides, practice tests, and tutoring videos for school entrance and career certification exams. Library visitors can use the tool to prepare for tests, such as the GED, SAT, and the Reciprocal Electrician Journeyman License exam.

Another project partner, the Family Centered Services of Alaska, installed two video conference centers in Fairbanks to provide distance learning classes, professional development workshops, and even family therapy sessions to low-income families. The Alaska Postsecondary Commission is in the process of creating the College and Career Guide, an online portal that allows students to develop career plans, research and apply to colleges and postsecondary institutions, and find scholarships and other financial aid. Yet another project partner, the Alaska Native Tribal Consortium, offers a Telehealth Coordinator Certification Program for medical professionals. This three-course program helps individuals become certified workers skilled in the use and application of telehealth applications and videoconferencing equipment.

The University also created the Digital Storytelling-Performance Literacy program to teach K-12 students how to digitally write and tell their own culturally relevant stories. For example, Angoon, Alaska, is a small village with a population of less than 500 people, the majority of whom identify as Tlingit Indians. The Digital Storytelling program taught K-12 students at Angoon City Schools how to turn their stories into podcasts and share them with family members and friends around the country. This program improves the familiarity of students with computers and mobile devices, and encourages participants to use broadband technology to stay connected with loved ones.

So far, the University has encouraged more than 7,800 households and nearly 900 businesses to subscribe to broadband service.

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