December 13, 2004

20. Tundra Technology.

Here's an Elder giving a talk to the middle and high school. His words are being understood in three different languages simultaneously.
Most of the students are hearing him speak in Yupik. Sophie translates in to English so that the American Sign Language interpreter (via satellite in Seattle),

can translate it back to the village in sign. It's unusual that the teachers get to hear English translations when an Elder speaks, so we were trying to take advantage of the opportunity by huddling around Sophie as she softly repeated his words in English into the microphone. Video conferencing is used for a lot of things in the school.

In one class, there is a math class occurring on one satellite unit (see LA Times story), while another unit is used for translating what is being taught in the first. A few weeks ago, we were supposed to have another staff development day in Bethel. All the new teachers in the district were again supposed to be flown in from their villages, but as nature frequently has it here, flights were grounded due to fog. Instead of canceling or rescheduling it, we were delivered the staff development via videoconference.

There is currently a night school pilot's license class being offered every Wednesday night. I'm sitting in on it and hoping to pass the ground school test in May. The satellite communication company (gci) that handles the videoconferencing also handles internet communications. All the lap tops are connected wirelessly.

Another multi-million contract was signed for the next three years with GCI last week. We looked at a number of bid proposals, including AT&T. Cost and dependability were some of the biggest factors. I volunteered to be a teacher rep. for the tech committee, so I got to be part of that decision. Wireless communication is essential. A number of rural school districts in Alaska still don't have videoconferencing, but it's becoming a staple.


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