On Monday I flew from Anchorage to Juneau, had a short night in Juneau, and early Tuesday morning flew on to Ketchikan to catch my ride into Thorne Bay. Day 6 would be my introduction to a float plane and, given my recent bout of seasickness, I was a bit uneasy about the round trip to Thorne Bay. In Ketchikan I met up with Matt Hultman and Alan Cleland so, worst case, if I was miserable at least I’d have company … or maybe witnesses?
Bear in mind, I live in rural South Dakota. Fifty-one weeks of the year people hassle me about being in a small town, though we do have sidewalks and, no, they don’t roll them up at night. We don’t go downtown any more to watch the traffic light change … not since they installed six more lights around the city. But my town is rural. Thorne Bay, with 501 residents, is remote!
For instance, I spoke with a teacher about life at Thorne Bay. She said she’d recently had a craving for ice cream – but wondered if it was worth driving 3 hours to satisfy that craving. She was from New Jersey and was starting her second year of teaching. She noted it was hard living on the island, there are good and bad things about being in such a remote area, but after a year she is getting used to it. Another teacher said he moved to the Lower 48 for a few years, but came back to Thorne Bay and will never leave again. It’s all in what you’re used to.
The remoteness, though, is part of what brought the three of us to Thorne Bay. It’s not unusual for the town to lose wireless connectivity for a day or more at a time. With float planes under visual flight rules being the main link to civilization—we were afraid we were going to have to sleep in the gym that night—weather is a huge factor. How do you give students a sense of belonging to a larger community? How do you teach 21st Century skills? Hello, RealPresence!
The Southeast Islands School District (SISD) offices are in Thorne Bay, this is where we held our telepresence in education training. Schools represented were from Hollis, Kasaan, Thorne Bay, Whales Pass, Port Protection, Port Alexander and Naukati. One school couldn’t attend on-site due to weather so they participated remotely.
The training took on legs of its own right after introductions. We did a lot of hands-on activities as these groups of teachers were new at using our technology – and apparently there’s a lot of turnover. We practiced what I call ‘knobology’ where we learn how to use the remote, share content via People Plus Content, we practiced dialing into their virtual classroom, how to hook up an additional monitor how to annotate using visual board, and more.
Five hours later and under a storm warning Matt, Alan and I headed back to the pier to catch our flight back. We felt good about the training provided and were intrigued by the great job these schools are doing in a remote—and I really mean remote—setting.
And the float planes? Venerable Dehavilland Beavers and they flew nice and smooth. Two thumbs up from this newbie!