Caroline F. Collings
Alaska Extension Service
University of Alaska Fairbanks
105 Bunnell Building
Fairbanks, AK 99775-6180 USA
v: (907) 474-7909
f: (907) 474-6369
Improved Ways of doing things; More equitable access to technology or electronic info; Technology transfer; Local commitment to network-based activities
Alaska Extension Service is connected to the Internet via the “Aurora,” a mainframe computer at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Eleven districts, 2 state offices and 4 Native Associations make up our immediate Extension network; the Aurora also enables us to communicate with 2 other University of Alaska mainframes at Anchorage and Juneau as well as the global network.
The primary benefit to using Internet in Alaska is the speed. Because of the size, location and character of Alaska, we are at a disadvantage; vital information, if sent through the mail, often does not reach us in a timely manner. First class mail is our only option if time is a factor. However, for economic reasons, few government organizations use first class mail. Bulk mail sometimes takes 3 to 6 weeks to get here by barge (yes-barge). Because of the Internet, we now have the same advantage as everyone else; we now receive information at the same time as everyone else. Some examples follow:
- Our primary Internet use is E-Mail. CES staff and faculty use E-Mail within Alaska on a daily basis to communicate with each other, transmitting information in a timely manner. This information transfer, because it is through our mainframe computer and is free to University users, also reduces phone expenses.
- News releases, formerly distributed to other CES offices and news agencies by mail, are now distributed much faster via E-Mail.
- User networks and computer bulletin boards enable staff to ask for information from a larger audience, avoiding duplication of efforts.
- Library searches for information can now be done from our desks. This is a distinct advantage for our bush or rural districts, enabling staff to have access to university libraries not available to bush communities.
- Retrieval of information from other databases such as PenPages is done in a more timely manner. Staff and faculty can have the information right away, instead of waiting days or even weeks for printed information to be mailed.
- Federal reports are filed as soon as they are completed.
- Access to and response to ESUSDA news releases and time-sensitive alerts is immediate.
Despite the advantages and ease of use (for some of us), we still have staff and faculty who are resistant to using the Internet outside of Alaska. Comments vary from “I love it” to “There’s too much useless information.” We recently had an All-Staff Conference and were able to address this resistance and convert a few more people. Some even commented: “is it really that easy?”
My Internet “dream” is to develop an Alaska information database similar to PenPages. A few years ago we converted to a DeskTop Publishing System using Macintosh computers. Since that time, each publication–as it comes up for reprinting–has been scanned and/or entered in digital format. Many publications still need to be reviewed and converted; when the process is completed, the transfer to on-line database will be easier to accomplish.