Evaluation of Digitally Boosted Study Support Centres

Publication Details

The progress of the Digitally Boosted Study Support Centre Pilot, one of the four Digital Opportunities projects, is reported for the period January 2002 to December 2003. The project involved four study support centres located in three low decile schools and one marae in Christchurch and Invercargill. These centres piloted the use of a computer based boost to their after school activities.

Author(s): Michael Winter, Christchurch College of Education. Report prepared for the Ministry of Education.

Date Published: 2005

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Executive Summary

One of the research questions was to identify 'lessons which have been learned from the pilot which could usefully inform any roll out of the scheme to other schools and to other school districts.' This summary begins by listing the evaluator's perceptions regarding key lessons and suggestions. These are followed by a summary of findings and lessons categorized under headings corresponding to the main foci of the research.

Key Lessons and Suggestions

Participating institutions (schools and marae) did not regard the project as being a 'true' partnership between institutions, business and government. True partnerships would involve ongoing cooperation and communication between the partners for the duration of the project. It was believed that all stakeholders would benefit from a more genuine partnership.

Contractual arrangements between stakeholders should be flexible enough to enable institutions joining later in the life of the project to receive the full range of facilities enjoyed by those joining at the start.

Ongoing liaison and professional development support similar to that provided by the LCT coordinator/liaison teacher was seen as crucial to future sustainability and roll out.

The production of a 'start-up' manual is suggested to guide newly participating institutions recruited during roll out.

Background Data on the Study Centre Students

168 Students were involved in the pilot in 2002, and around 102 in 2003. In 2003, one centre worked more informally than in 2002, and numbers reported from this centre may be an underestimate of the total number of students involved. Moreover, in two other centres, numbers were restricted in 2003 as a consequence of selecting committed students in order to reduce behaviour problems.

Mean ages of the students were 11.8 years in 2002 and 11.3 years in 2003.

In 2002, females greatly outnumbered males in the Christchurch centres. In the Invercargill centres in 2002 and all centres in 2003, gender ratios were more equal.

The percentage of Maori and Pacific students in the centres was higher than in their respective regions as a whole. A higher percentage of European students, and a lower percentage of Maori was evident in 2003 compared with the 2002 figures.

56% of study centre students claimed to have computers at home in 2002 The number rose to 65% in 2003. Of these, around 75% claimed to have use of the home computer.

Findings Relating to Students, Teachers and the Web Based Resources

Student learning

What sorts of activities did the students engage in?
  • Students in all centres combined ICT based activities with more traditional learning activities.
  • The more traditional activities included completing homework, interactive microteaching, and quiz questions. Activities at the marae included te Reo and tikanga Maori.
  • Online activities included research for projects using search engines, presentation work using Word and other programs, e-mail, web page design and work with the WickEd website.
What were the stated learning objectives, and observed learning outcomes, of those activities? (How) did these change over time? How relevant to each of the Centres' specific objectives were the ICT activities?
  • Learning objectives included assisting students in completing homework, acquiring computer skills, improving student attitudes to learning and increasing students' essential skills. The marae's learning objectives included improving literacy, numeracy, te Reo and tikanga Maori.
  • In most centres learning objectives changed over time. Centres tended to move from a membership based programme dominated by homework to a more flexible programme based on students' actual needs.
  • Most centres achieved most of their goals and objectives. Links with communities and businesses were problematic for some.
  • ICT activities were crucial to the objectives of two school based centres. The other school was planning to change its modus operandi in such a way that would make ICT crucial to its future objectives.
What was the balance of ICT based and non-ICT based Activities in the various Centres' programs?
  • As the project progressed, the balance of activities in most centres shifted so that the majority of activities were ICT based.
How much emphasis was placed on mathematics, science and technology in the ICT based Activities undertaken in the Centres?
  • All centres emphasised numeracy and mathematical skills in their programmes. They tended not to emphasise science and technology.

Student motivation

Why did students opt to join the various Study Support Centre programmes? What was the role of the ICT component in motivating students either to join the centres, or to continue participating in them?
  • The most common reasons for initially joining the schools' centres related to homework or school work.
  • The most common reason for students' returning in 2003 was that centres were 'good' or 'fun.'
  • Parental pressure played a minor role in most student decisions to join a centre.
  • Computers and ICT were not major factors for most students in school based centres, although marae students gave rorohiko/computers/internet as the most common reason for joining.

Web based resources

In what ways did content resources or communications tools provided through the Learning Centre Trust contribute to the centre programmes? What were the most effective, and ineffective, online resources developed for the centre programmes?
  • LCT provided the WickEd website which included a range of resources and communications technologies to support the project. These resources included themes, quizzes, educational games, a student gallery and areas such as Maths Stuff, Technology Stuff, Science Stuff and Korero Mai. There were also links to other educational sites. LCT also ran challenges and provided virtual characters as online mentors for student learning. There was also a Teachers' Lounge communication tool.
  • Centres varied in their use of the WickEd material. Use of this material tended to increase with time as teachers became more confident and as the quality and quantity of resources increased.
  • Teachers regarded themes, Cool Stuff, Korero Mai, Information Station and the challenges as being among the most effective WickEd resources. Science and technology resources and some maths interactives were regarded as less effective.

Teachers and teaching

How effective did the participating teachers find the professional development opportunities offered through participation in the project? How broadly spread were those opportunities among the staffs of the four pilot schools?
  • Teachers found the professional development opportunities generally to be very effective. Especially appreciated were the opportunity to attend Navcon conferences and professional development support from the LCT liaison teacher.
  • The professional development opportunities were widely spread amongst staff of participating schools.

Findings Related to Educational Opportunity within the Wider Community

How much was the ICT used for the educational benefit of the wider school community (e.g. other teachers or classes in the normal school day, parent and community access etc)? What was the nature of that use? What were the perceived benefits of such use?
  • All schools used the ICT facility extensively for regular classes.
  • Teachers used the computers for e.g. planning and research.
  • Schools involved their wider communities in ways which included basic computer courses and offering access for research and e-mail.
  • Schools benefited by the positive publicity and increased visits by community members. Community members acquired skills and self confidence.

Findings Related to the ICT Infrastructure and Sustainability

The ICT infrastructure

How technically reliable and robust, over time, were the ICT systems put in place by the various business partners?
  • Initial problems were experienced with multiple e-mail accounts and router problems. After these were resolved, most centres were happy with the reliability of the systems.
  • Hard drives began to fail from late 2002, probably due to wear and tear. Centres had varying experiences when attempting to get the problem resolved.
  • In the two centres which ran proprietary filtering software, there were problems relating to compatibility with Smart Tools.
  • The marae experienced significant ongoing infrastructural problems resulting from its late addition to the project. This resulted in students at this centre being at a disadvantage relative to students at other centres
  • Business partners regarded the systems as robust and reliable.
For what purposes, were the infrastructural technologies provided by the business partners used by the schools for purposes other than the provision of study support centres?
  • Schools made extensive use of the technology to support classroom teaching, teacher and community use.

The sustainability of the project

To what extent, and under what conditions, did the stakeholders regard the project as sustainable in the pilot schools beyond the pilot phase?
  • Centres and businesses regarded the project as being sustainable.
  • Issues of sustainability related to ongoing costs, staffing and system maintenance.
  • Some of the financial issues were addressed by extension of the Digital Opportunities contracts (in a scaled down form) in 2004.
  • Centres mentioned continuing provision of a project coordinator as important for ongoing sustainability
  • LCT regarded sustainability as reliant on continued funding of WickEd content and continuing links between WickEd content and school programmes.
What lessons have been learned from the pilot that could usefully inform any roll out of the scheme out to other schools and other school districts?
  • It would be preferable to establish full partnerships with participation of all stakeholders, including host institutions (schools and marae), from the inception of the project.
  • There needs to be clarity about roles, responsibilities, communication etc within such a partnership.
  • Partnerships and contracts need to be flexible to accommodate late entrants to the programme with full involvement and facilities.
  • Arrangements need to be put in place from the start of projects to ensure internet safety of members of centres and to avoid software clashes with filtering programs.
  • The experience of the marae based centre showed that it is more difficult to coordinate a centre from a distance than from on site
  • Principals and senior management of low decile institutions were concerned about being able effectively to sustain the programme without support to help with staffing, infrastructure etc.
  • Institutions need to decide on their pedagogical approach within their centres.
  • Centre teachers and coordinators need ongoing professional development, including ICT skills, accessing and using online learning resources, and basic troubleshooting skills.
  • Ongoing provision of an LCT coordinator/liaison teacher to the project would help achieve the above professional development.
  • It is suggested to avoid employing beginning teachers as such a coordinator unless issues concerning their eligibility for full teacher registration are resolved. Both of the coordinators funded by LCT were first year teachers and had problems getting recognition of their year working on the project towards their full registration as teachers.
  • If the ongoing aim is to involve high proportions of Maori and Pacific students, centres will need to be accessible to them and the centre environment and programmes will need to be attractive to them.
  • The focus on 'mathematics, science and technology' needs re-evaluating in the light of the ages of participating students and the evolution of most of the centres towards a less formal way of operating
  • New schools joining the WickEd community would appreciate 'start up' manuals.

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