Learning project blends high tech with tradition in rural Alaska

Learning project blends high tech with tradition in rural Alaska


High-tech geospatial tools are being paired with traditional native knowledge of the land to create learning opportunities for Alaskan students, teachers and community members in a new project led by educators at the UW.

The National Science Foundation recently awarded $869,000 to the university’s Environmental Remote Sensing Center (ERSC) and two partners, the University of Alaska-Fairbanks and the Alaska Division of Geological & Geophysical Surveys (DGGS), to develop a series of after-school and summer learning activities that include annual field camps in rural Alaska.

Called MapTEACH (short for Mapping Technology Experiences with Alaska’s Cultural Heritage), the three-year project seeks to educate students, teachers and others in geospatial information technology that applies to their local conditions, relate modern science and technology to traditional knowledge, and help develop a growing and sustainable rural economy.

“The idea is to try to find new ways to tell old stories about the landscape,” says project director Timothy Olsen, a staff member at ERSC, part of the Gaylord Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

“In rural Alaskan communities, many people have a deep and extensive knowledge of the landscape and of the natural resources that exist out there. So there’s real expertise, and this project gives us a chance to try to build on that using geospatial information technology.”

MapTEACH will be implemented in two separate but content-equivalent formats to meet the unique requirements of reaching students in rural Alaska. Students serviced by centralized school districts will take part in a nine-week after-school program. Other more geographically dispersed students will be brought together in Intensive Studies Institutes at established living and learning facilities for two weeks of full-time instruction.