Recommendations for the Higher Education and Career Readiness Task Force: A Legislative White Paper prepared by Don Bantz, Task Force Member, January, 25, 2011

SB 220, the Alaska Sustainable Energy Act, contains a section entitled The Emerging Technologies Fund. It provides funds to Alaska organizations or institutions that demonstrate partnership with the University of Alaska or another Alaska postsecondary institution to “test emerging energy technologies or methods of conserving energy.” I propose a similar concept for education–an Emerging Pedagogies Fund, an incubator of creativity and innovation for teaching and learning aimed at secondary and post secondary faculty, a tripartite partnership among Alaska Native corporations, APU, and government agencies.


George Guthridge was “sentenced to teach in the “Siberia” of Alaska high schools, the remote village of Gambell on St. Lawrence Island with a group of unreachable, un-teachable Siberian-Yupik students. In The Kids From Nowhere, he documents the remarkable scholastic achievements of the Gambell High School students who with minimal world knowledge in a school with no computers, few books, English as a second language, won national acclaim by taking first place in The Future Problem Solvers of America competition, competing against gifted students and well financed high school teams from all over the U.S. in areas such as genetic engineering and nuclear waste disposal that the Gambell students had never heard of before. Guthridge managed to recognize and cultivate the genius and indigenous wisdom of these students who had been written off by the public school system and the dominant culture.

The question is how was this accomplished and can we replicate it?

At the Higher Education and Career Readiness Task Force meetings, the stories and the data were clear and compelling–we are not reaching these students and we are losing them to a myriad of forces. Like Guthridge, we must find a way to reach them and foster the genius within them.

Richard Arum’s work documenting “limited learning in colleges” is a vivid reminder of the need at the college level to create learning environments that foster deep learning, embodied learning, the kind that remains within you. Literally it means growing the neurons in your brain, firing their synapses like fireworks exploding, and creating new neural networks in the bodymind–neural networks being the repository of knowledge and experience. We know that the single most important factor in learning is the existing network of neurons in the learner’s brain. The premise is that deep learning, not work force education, is the end game of the higher education experience. Deep learning spawns the creativity, innovation, and knowledge it will take for Alaskans to compete in the global economy and steward Alaska’s economy, its human and natural resources. Student engagement is the means to achieve deep learning.

Yet, the primary method of instruction–at both the secondary and postsecondary levels–often ignores the best practices in teaching and learning that engage students.
Alaska Native peoples from around the state spoke to the Higher Education and Career Readiness Task Force. They want relevant, rigorous real world, hands-on experiential learning opportunities in supportive learning environments that honor indigenous wisdom and methods, standing alongside western science. They want a relevant curriculum that deals with the issues facing them in their own communities. They want to be able to access quality higher educational education experiences so that they can remain in and serve their local communities.

The best practices in teaching and learning involve:
Learning communities
Collaborative team based learning
Interdisciplinary knowledge
Student engagement
Personalized student/faculty interaction
High levels of academic challenge
Responsive to digital era/learners
Curriculum: hands-on experience in real world, relevance, rigor
Honoring multiple ways of knowing; multiple intelligences

Emerging pedagogies dictate that we move from past practices to new strategies such as:
seat time → competency based
individual → collaborative, team based learning communities
textbook based → digital based
passive learning → active, hands-on learning
place-bound classroom instruction → field based learning
western ways of knowing → western/indigenous ways of knowing
academic departments/silo knowledge → interdisciplinary based knowledge

The research on best the practices of teaching and learning is well established. The difficulty lies often in the implementation of these practices through highly bureaucratic structures/highly regulated systems. Institutions of higher education, created in the 19th and 20th centuries, must adapt for the 21th century and a new world of digital learners.

We know that we are losing many of the best and brightest students in rural and urban Alaska especially in their senior year as they fail to take course to get them college ready. Here are some examples of what APU could accomplish with Emerging Technology funds, with an emphasis on creating relevant, rigorous, real world experiential learning laboratories, testing them, and monitoring and disseminating the results.

Curriculum Development

Village survival in Alaska is one example of an interdisciplinary real world curriculum of serious consequence. For instance, of 229 villages, 32 may be immediately impacted by global warming, 192 others may be impacted in the near future as Alaska has lost 400 billion tons of land ice since 2003 and tundra permafrost is melting, etc. Imagine a model of teaching and learning whereby students enroll at APU, come to a three to five day residency on campus, met with faculty, peers, and government agencies personnel to co-create a curriculum designed around a specific village survival issue facing them in their geographic regions e.g. the high cost of energy, subsistence, resource development, habitat protection, etc. Upon return to their respective communities, students meet on-line to interact, complete interim assignments, receive peer feedback of their work, and discuss common reading assignments.

Faculty Development: three examples

  1. Summer faculty development institutes in pedagogy and curriculum content, bringing together Alaskan faculty and experts from other states and countries which have had success with emerging pedagogies and with curriculum development that incorporate indigenous knowing (i.e., George Guthridge, innovators from New Zealand and Canada universities, etc.).
  2. Invite the Curriculum for Bioregion project to APU in the summer to share its successful “faculty learning communities” model to build sustainability concepts and place-based learning in foundational college classes; and field- and community-based workshops that update faculty about pressing bioregional issues as well as the people and organizations working on solutions.
  3. Case Studies Institute. For the past six years the Enduring Legacies Project at The Evergreen State College has been developing Native Case Studies around contemporary issues in Indian Country. The largest Native Case Study initiative in the United States, this project has produced more than 50 case studies covering a wide range of subjects and academic disciplines. Faculty, Alaska Native organization leaders, and government agency personnel will be invited to participate to write Alaska case studies for use in the classrooms.

College preparatory academies

APU will create a residential summer camp experience for high school students in their junior and senior years to develop college-ready skills, drawing upon existing organizations (Voyage to Excellence, Alaska Native Heritage Center, Alaska Humanities Forum) that bring Alaska Natives in from bush and rural areas. These summer college preparation camps will be based at the main APU campus in Anchorage and APU’s 700 acre Kellogg Farm in Palmer and may include field trips to Prince William Sound or other wilderness areas. APU will employ its active learning community model. The Kellogg Farm is an ideal field laboratory for sustainable communities and renewable energy practices.

Early Honors expansion: Alaska Native cohorts

High school seniors enroll at APU in a university-level curriculum designed to satisfy the senior level requirements of the local School Districts while concurrently completing their freshman year of college. Depending on the student’s remaining requirements, they select courses from the APU schedule relevant to their academic interests. In partnership with CIRI, Alaska Native Heritage Center, and South Central Foundation, APU will recruit an Alaska Native cohort from the Anchorage School district to create an Early Honors model where college faculty work collaboratively with high school faculty and the regional Alaska Native organizations to engage students in real world community based projects and earn college credit in the process. APU will investigate the possibility of delivering an Early Honors programs in the North Slope and Bering Straits regions in conjunction with the Barrow Arctic Research Consortium.