Saturday, 19 Kenai Peninsula teachers sat down for a staff development class called "Best Practices of Reading." But this class was special, because not all of them were in the same room.
The training was the first the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District conducted via live "Webcast" on the Internet.
Dorothy Gray, the district's staff development specialist and the class facilitator, declared it a success and a harbinger of things to come.
"I am not aware of any other district in the state that has used this technology to provide professional development for the teaching staff," she said. "The initial success of the Webcast class may very well change the shape of how we deliver credit courses and mandatory trainings in our district."
Gray said she got the idea when Loraine Murphy, a teacher at Homer High, asked her if it were possible to have staff classes in Homer as well as the central peninsula. Gray contacted Phil Biggs, the district's technology specialist, who had used new Webcast equipment to broadcast the districtwide in-service over the Internet in August.
"I wondered if there wasn't some way we could use the same technique to make this class available to teachers outside the central peninsula region so they wouldn't have to drive one or more hours to get here," she said.
Biggs arranged for the necessary equipment and was on hand Saturday to make sure everything was running smoothly, she said.
Ten teachers joined Gray at Soldotna Elementary School for the two-hour session, while seven from Homer and two from Seward logged onto a special Web page address on their computers. The online participants watched a live video and audio feed of the class and discussed it with the others via the district's e-mail chat line for all to see in all three sites.
Most credit classes and workshops are on the central peninsula because that is where most students and staff live. That forces teachers elsewhere to drive or fly to courses.
"If we can use this technology to provide training for teachers in any of our districts 40 schools, we will not only increase participation, but we will also decrease the amount of time and money spent on travel," Gray said. "It's a win-win situation for teachers and consequently their students, who are the true beneficiaries of these classes."
Feedback from teachers involved has been positive, she said.
Participants from the central peninsula expressed enthusiasm for working with out-of-town colleagues.
Teresa Smith from the Kenaitze Head Start preschool took part. She also serves as president of the Kenai Peninsula Reading Council, which sponsored the class along with the district.
"Being part of the live Webcast was a great way to get information from teachers and folks outside the central peninsula. The more input, the better the discussions and ideas generated," she said.
Participants in Homer and Seward expressed relief at the convenience.
"It worked really well despite a few initial glitches with the equipment. Everyone appreciated not having to drive three hours to go to the class," said Eileen Clark from Homer High School.
The educators already are planning to pursue the technology opportunity farther.
"Plans are under way to purchase a system that would allow two-way audio and visual communication," Gray said.
"Thanks to Phil Biggs' expertise, the district made history."
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