Alaska leverages technology to address high turnover rate of teachers

For educators in Alaska, the vastness of the largest U.S. state tends to be a deterrent to community-building and idea-sharing, two things that the profession thrives on.

Over its 660,000 square miles, Alaska serves only 130,000 students across 54 districts. That makes for a lot of rural districts with small student populations and lean staffs.

“We want to be able to connect teachers” in Alaska, said Sam Jordan, education technology coordinator at the Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, in an interview with EdScoop TV. “They don’t necessarily have that peer group, that professional learning network, in order to talk about their craft, to think about curriculum and gain resources from other people’s perspectives.”

The lack of professional development opportunities has led to a high turnover rate among teachers and administrators, Jordan said. But the emergence of video conferencing, online discussion boards and other digital technology offers possible solutions to that problem.

“We’re looking at leveraging some of the ways that we can connect now — either virtually, using Skype or FaceTime, and beginning to connect people so that they feel less isolated,” he said.

During the interview, conducted at a recent gathering of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA), Jordan said his department has also devoted a lot of time and resources this year to digital citizenship.

“Our state — along with everybody else — we are beginning to utilize digital technology, digital curriculum and social media, even at the school level,” Jordan said. “We want to make sure that [students and teachers] are thinking about the safety issue, the representation, how they portray themselves online.”

Alaska’s education department has involved students, teachers, administrators and parents in their efforts to create a solid foundation and understanding of digital citizenship. “Really, this is a community issue, it’s not just a school issue,” Jordan said.