Alaska’s unique set of challenges in providing a rich education to all of its students is well documented. The size of Alaska, differences in rural and Railbelt learning environments, capacity to incorporate E-Learning and distance learning technologies, and state budgetary constraints pose significant challenges for educators seeking to reach Alaskan youth and provide continuing education/training opportunities to Alaskan teachers. 

There are many entities actively working to disseminate STEM based lessons throughout the state (See STEM ECOSYSTEM APPENDIX). As stated above, there are at this moment, four energy educators working throughout Alaska. REAP’s three energy educators work to increase energy literacy and a greater understanding of clean energy principles. Alaska’s Resource Education employs two energy educators who work from a curriculum centered upon resource extraction. These, and the many Alaskan STEM educators deliver lessons and train teachers by combination of: in-person classroom instruction, distance learning (live or recorded instruction through video, chat and/or webinar), and E-Learning, where lessons and modules are accessed online and experienced at the user’s own pace. 

REAP’s efforts to deliver the high-quality AK EnergySmart curriculum is indicative and perhaps representative of the challenges faced by Alaska educators charged with a state-wide mission. The ideal scenario has expert teachers working inside the classroom. This is likely to have the greatest positive impact on learning outcomes. Teacher-student and student-student dynamics foster relationships and interactions that cannot be easily duplicated through distance or on-line learning. Body language, tone, mannerisms and behaviors are minimized or in some cases lost without real world interactions. 

In 2018, REAP conducted approximately 200 teaching sessions in classrooms with one full-time STEM educator. The expansion of REAP’s teaching capacity to the equivalent of 3 STEM based energy educators will have a significant impact on both the breadth and scope of REAP’s efforts. Still, just three individuals covering a state the size of Spain, France and Portugal combined has obvious limitations. The aforementioned 200 teaching sessions often double as training sessions for regular classroom teachers. 

REAP’s energy educators model best practices in delivering the AK EnergySmart curriculum to students, with the understanding that the classroom teachers in attendance might absorb best practices and then be able to deliver more of the curriculum at a later date. This train-the-trainer model perpetuates a greater number of individuals qualified to deliver lessons in the most favorable manner possible – face-to-face . REAP’s energy educators provide in-service teacher trainings that are often sponsored by school districts. Additionally, REAP  energy educators seek to provide special teacher training sessions by appointment. All of these trainings include Continuing Education credits for interested teachers. 

REAP and various extracurricular STEM educators reach classrooms through webinar type distance learning experiences. Wind for Schools curriculum and activities are taught via video demonstration with live links. 

Modules from AK EnergySmart can be downloaded by students and teachers and utilized in classrooms independently of REAP’s energy educators. This is an example of limited E-Learning – the level of on-line interactivity with the AK EnergySmart is, presently, fairly limited. 

Finding #1: 

The number of professional energy educators and classroom teachers trained in energy education is severely lacking. 

  • •The recruitment of more qualified individuals able to teach energy education may require an expansion of the pool of candidates to include those outside the teaching profession. It could be worth exploring ways to extend energy literacy teacher training to members of the general public with a proven degree of STEM competency. Such trainings could be re-tooled so that non-professional, volunteer teachers could accurately convey clean energy lessons (in or outside classroom settings) from a personal or vocational perspective.
Finding #2: 

High quality E-Learning and Distance learning content on the subject of energy literacy need to be further developed. 

  • •Obvious advantages of employing on-line and distance learning are reach and flexibility.Exploring best practices in adapting existing energy literacy curriculum to take full advantage of these technologies and mediums should be a priority. The Home EnergyBasics course from UAF, Bristol Bay’s Sustainable Energy Program would seem a highly promising candidate for adaptation. Some course materials currently exist as a series of online videos that are by today’s standards dated in terms of production value.Re-imagining this course could be a good pilot project to further develop the capacity ofREAP and partner organizations to create high quality distance/on-line content.
  • •REAP has shown a capacity for delivering Wind for Schools through distance learning, but the potential for more dynamic presentations and an expansion of distance/E-Learning curriculum seems timely. High quality cameras, microphones and green-screens are the basic production tools needed for this endeavor. Alaskan organizations such as the Kodiak based, AKTeach or Ketchikan based Alaska Digital Academy, have extensive distance and on-line offerings – conferring with these and other organizations or agencies with demonstrated skill sets could be beneficial. The actual creation of these online/distance energy literacy lessons could also serve as a project that would tap both the expertise and enthusiasm of rural Alaskan students who as the most frequent end users of these technologies in Alaska, are perhaps the most discerning judges of quality content. 
Finding #3: 

Slow broadband speeds and the prohibitively high cost data plans in rural Alaska are a serious barrier to implementing E-Learning. 

  • 80% of U.S. 8th Graders report using an internet connected computer to complete homework every day.
  • 93% of Audited Alaska K-12 schools do not meet the U.S. benchmark of 1Mbps (1.5Mbps = speed needed to stream an HD Netflix movie)
  • •There is no clear recommendation to remedy this issue other than the obvious: greater investment in rural broadband capacity.12 For now, a clear and wide recognition of this problem seems paramount. Curricula development and delivery have too often ignored the fact that many intended Alaskan end users simply do not have access to the internet at home and attend schools where internet connectivity cannot support many online lessons. Rural communities with a higher degree of connectivity, such as some in theLower Kuskokwim School District, are demonstrating that state-of-the-art distance delivery methods and technologies can play an increasingly dominant role in the education of rural Alaskan students.
  • Explore the possible use of a Wi-Fi based intranet installation within a rural community.It could be the case that stored curriculum delivered via Wi-Fi on a locally housed server is a workable solution for students hampered by slow or no internet.