NSF to evaluate technology’s impact in math, science

With a three-year, $1.1 million grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF), leading research groups plan to create a standard for evaluating how desktop, laptop, and handheld computers are currently used in mathematics and science education—with the ultimate goal of advancing the idea of ubiquitous (one-to-one) computing.

“What are teachers doing with laptops and handhelds in math and science classes? It’s a very simple question, but no one knows,” said Andy Zucker, principal investigator for the Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium and associate director at SRI International’s Center for Education Policy.

As more schools integrate one-to-one computing into the classroom, it becomes increasingly important to determine how the devices are being used, how ubiquitous computing changes the learning experience, and how teachers best can integrate available technology into their curricula, Zucker said.

Creating a standard framework for research enables evaluators, policy makers, and educators to compare and tally the outcome of various studies more easily and accurately.

“By pooling our resources and sharing research findings with the six other institutions in the consortium, we’ll be able to develop the comprehensive framework and the knowledge [that] policy makers need to understand and guide the widespread adoption of computers in math and science classrooms,” Zucker said. “We will be able to make quicker headway.”

Within a few months, the consortium will post the first draft of its framework for evaluating ubiquitous computing on the project’s web site and invite the public to comment on it.

SRI International, an independent not-for-profit research and development organization, is coordinating the effort. So far, the consortium includes several well-known institutions in the ed-tech field, including the University of Virginia, the University of Minnesota, the Metiri Group, Kent State University, Rockman et al, and the Education Development Center’s Center for Children and Technology.

In addition to collaborating on a national level, each organization is working separately to evaluate a number of ubiquitous computing initiatives in several states.

“Each of us will be doing one-to-one computing evaluations at different sites. That means there will be at least seven studies underway,” Zucker said. These studies are not funded under the NSF grant, but will adhere to the guidelines established by the consortium, and their findings will be published on the project’s web site.

In addition, the site will feature other tools and resources designed to promote ubiquitous computing in schools.

The consortium is developing a teacher survey for school officials to use. “Once we have a teacher survey we think is good, we will put it up on the web site and anyone [will be] free to use it,” Zucker said.

The Metiri Group is conducting a policy study to determine what policy makers need to know about ubiquitous computing. The group will interview dozens of policy makers, including staff from governor’s offices, school superintendents, and others.

The site also will house an annotated bibliography of ubiquitous computing resources and research. Where possible, this bibliography will provide web links as well.

The draft of the framework, the policy study, and annotated bibliography will be ready by this summer, Zucker said.

Why focus on ubiquitous computing only in mathematics and science education?

“It’s important to focus on specific content areas. That’s what people do in schools; they study particular subjects,” Zucker said. “When the president and others say they want to raise math scores, they refer to a particular thing.” He added that NSF’s participation in funding the project also is a consideration.

See these related links:

Ubiquitous Computing Evaluation Consortium

SRI International

Metiri Group

Center for Children and Technology

eSchool News Staff

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