The State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) has unveiled a new web site intended to highlight nine federally funded studies currently under way in eight states–all charged with exploring the effects of educational technology on student learning.

An online companion to SETDA’s Technical Assistance Partnership Program (TAPP), the web site provides examples of how schools in Arkansas, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin are employing scientifically based research (SBR) to make the best use of technology. A provision of the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), SBR stipulates that all classroom solutions for reading and math instruction boast a proven, research-based track record of success.

Each of the initiatives highlighted on the TAPP web site is funded through a three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) worth $15 million in all. The Evaluating State Educational Technology Programs, or ESETP, grant initiative was launched in October 2003 to provide scientific evidence of the impact of large-scale, technology-based programs on student achievement in elementary and secondary education.

SETDA Executive Director Melinda George said the site represents a virtual community where educators from the eight states can “collaborate, share, and disseminate” information about their different SBR initiatives–not just among themselves, she explained, but with schools nationwide–“so that everybody can benefit from the research and methodologies being created.”

The terms of the federal grant stipulate that participating states find a vehicle to disseminate their findings to the broader public. To do that, eight of the participating states contracted with SETDA to create the TAPP web site. Building the site cost less than 1 percent of the total $15 million given to schools, estimated George, who called the site “a terrific way to get the information out at minimal cost.”

As the grant program moves into its second year (the program runs according to ED’s fiscal year), TAPP will continue to make updates to the site, providing more details about each program as they become available, George said. She also said SETDA would find a way to link the TAPP site to another web site–www.setdaconnects.org–which serves as an information repository for educators to share best practices and learn about school technology initiatives under way around the country.

“We are trying to share the information as widely as possible,” George said. “We want to give some very concrete examples of what scientifically based research looks like.”

Educators who visit the TAPP web site will find summaries of each project and can observe the different methodologies being used to create results, George said. Eventually, as the grant projects progress, users also will have access to official presentations about the projects, including scientific studies detailing the final results of each experiment.

The site also features a private area reserved specifically for grant participants, where educators involved in the featured projects can log on to share information “about what does and what doesn’t work,” said George, so they can achieve the best possible results.

The grantees are conducting SBR on a wide range of interventions, from using recycled computers to overcome the digital divide to experimenting with ways technology can improve the quality of foreign language instruction.

In West Virginia, the only state to receive two different ESETP grants, researchers are looking at technological approaches to evaluating the effectiveness of classroom learning.

Brenda Williams, executive director of that state’s office of educational technology, said the idea is to “use technology to evaluate the use of technology.”

Several schools throughout the state also participate in a program called ED PACE: Educational Development for Planning and Conducting Evaluations, which is meant to evaluate the effectiveness of virtual foreign-language programs in schools. Together, Williams said, both programs account for approximately $1 million of the $15 million federal grant.

When asked what her state hoped to gain from its participation in the TAPP program, Williams said the hope was to share best practices and “create a dialog that will allow researchers in every state to compare ideas and achieve the best results.”

Educators in Arkansas share similar ambitions for TAPP. Jim Boardman, assistant director of information technology for the Arkansas Department of Education, said when it comes to conducting SBR and experimental design “a lot of states aren’t really prepared yet to do this kind of research.” But with TAPP, he said, the different grantees form a community of like-minded peers to help cope with the various growing pains and avoid redundant problems.

Boardman–whose state runs a program called the EAST Initiative, which provides students with high-level technology skills intended to help make a difference within their communities–looks forward to seeing what types of programs are under way in other states so he can shop for possible best practices for consideration “down the road.”

“We shouldn’t have to reinvent the wheel here,” explained Michael Golden, technology director for the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “We should take the things that are working and share them.”

Pennsylvania is currently conducting an SBR study called eSPARC, or Evaluation of Student and Parent Access Through Recycled Computers, which asks whether recycled computers and internet access for use from home can help improve student achievement and parental involvement.

Golden said he hoped TAPP would create a “toolbox” of methodologies and solutions that educators and administrators from schools across the country could share to help guide them through their own evaluations.

Here is a complete list of the programs highlighted on the site:

  • Arkansas: EAST Initiative (Environmental and Spatial Technology
  • Iowa: Using Technology to Support the Iowa Professional Development Model
  • North Carolina: LANCET: Looking at North Carolina Educational Technology
  • Pennsylvania: Evaluation of Student and Parent Access Through Recycled Computers (eSPARC)
  • Tennessee: The Tennessee Ed-Tech Accountability Model (TEAM)
  • Texas: Evaluation of the Texas Technology Immersion Pilot (eTxTIP)
  • West Virginia:
    • ED PACE: Educational Development for Planning and Conducting Evaluations
    • Evaluation of the Enhancing Education Through Technology Model School Project
  • Wisconsin: A Study of the Effectiveness of Three Models of Implementing Educational Technology

At the conclusion of the three-year grant period, SETDA plans to develop a handbook that will include a section for each of the TAPP members to highlight results, methodologies, and best practices, according to the web site. The idea is to share the information with the entire educational community.

“We’re thrilled about the evidence that is coming out,” said George of the various grant programs. “We’re really able to see the impact that technology is making.”

Links:

State Education Technology Director’s Association
http://www.setda.org

Technical Assistance Partnership Program web site
http://www.setdatapp.org

SETDAConnects.org
http://www.setdaconnects.org