Posted tagged ‘technology’

Building Capacity Through Peer to Peer Mentoring Programs

May 2, 2010

I had a significantly opportunistic and life changing experience while employed by an urban public school district in central Pennsylvania.  As a fourth year teacher in 2001, I overheard that the district had access to approximately $150,000.00 US to implement an in-house alternative school program for truant and excessively absent students.  As I sat idly in my apartment that weekend, I analyzed the larger dilemma and began to construct a proposal for the district’s first attempt at a night school since 1969. I recall working feverishly all weekend and printing the final proposal late Sunday night. I returned to work on Monday and submitted my proposal to the head principal who reviewed the document and was satisfied by the contents. She further stated that she would present the proposal when the principals convened for their weekly meeting at the Office of the Superintendent.  

Several days passed when I received a telephone call requesting my presence at the superintendent’s office.  At this meeting, and as occurs with most originators of a program or mechanism, I was asked to leave my teaching assignment and subsequently offered my first administrative assignment supervising five teachers and 150 at-risk students.  To this date, I have not looked back since.

Alternative education

The students/attendees of the program were provided a core course daily assignment within the minimum time required by the state department of education. Further, an on-site employment preparation program was made available by a local African American female* who possessed a 501c3 (non-profit) with a focus on job skills and fiscal responsibility.  To make a 6-month story short, whole group average daily attendance increased from thirty-one percent (31%) to ninety-two percent (92%) while more than thirty percent (30+%) gained employment through the support and efforts of the kind but ambitious lady with the 501c3. Bottom line, communicating our desire and the dire necessity for students to attend and actively participate served as the lifeblood of the program.

Despite feeling possessive of my first program, it was time to let it go and allow the lettered professionals nurture and expand a small idea into a fully functioning alternative education program.  I was truly happy with the level of participation, learning, and confidence building wrought over the previous six months.

Transition

The success of the program coupled with fiscal accountability and strong program dynamics helped me gain access to the ‘big house’, otherwise known as central administration.  As the newest and youngest member of the grant writing team, it was in this seven foot by thirteen foot room that a phenomenon was unfolding that would drastically alter my perception of public school education.

The initiative: Renaissance Program

Several months had passed before I was called to the Office of the Superintendent and informed that I was being given an assignment to meet with a local contractor turned banker turned philanthropist.  Using available state tax credits, the gentleman was interested in funding an after school program.  Understanding that he was limited in his ability to create such, I became the point man given great responsibility to create and supervise a successful program although I had no background relative to afterschool programs beyond knowledge of their existence.  The gentleman was willing to put forth $50,000.00 US dollars for the first year with an option for a three year commitment if the program exhibited results.  At the time, he was only concerned with the academic achievement aspect of the program and gave little consideration to the external influences and possible affects.  We didn’t know the externalities would eventually take center stage as influential components towards success.

First round draft picks

Although I would not consider myself scholarly at the time, I was able to work within budgets and create successful programs using researched theory.  I wanted to work with a state testing grade level that was mature enough to be actively engaged, but still required guidance and support. With this, I chose the fifth grade class of one elementary school.  I created an application that included general program information and several parental consent forms.  I received fifty-four completed applications from which twelve students would be randomly selected to participate.  As a marketing major in undergraduate school, I fully understood the importance of marketing hype; especially with a voluntary educational program. I held a thirty minute ooh and ahh session in the atrium of the school where a locally well known pastor reached into a container and randomly extracted twelve names.  Students were overwhelmingly excited when their names were announced.  Funny enough, to this day, I don’t believe all twelve elementary students even knew what they were excited about but what they did know, however, is they were finally chosen to be a part of something. Still, I was unsure whether the $50,000.00 US would be adequate to run a three hour per day, four days per week, thirty week program. Working within these limited parameters forced me to be creative in terms of curriculum and personnel choices.

Each one, teach one

I did not have enough funding available to hire teachers for part time work.  Therefore, I was inspired to look elsewhere for staff/personnel.I’ve always been a proponent of the ‘Each One, Teach One’ mantra and felt elementary students could benefit from a positive experience with high school students.  Growing up, we always looked up to and wanted to emulate the older kids.  This did not always transfer into appropriate decisions, but in a controlled environment, it had the potential to work.  I pitched the idea of having six of our most ambitious high school students become paid tutors (under adult supervision) to the elementary population randomly chosen to participate in the program.  Once I sold the idea to the philanthropist and senior administration, I immediately created an application to be distributed to the junior class at the local high school.   To my dismay, I received a paltry number of applications by the deadline, but the quality, not quantity, was of the utmost importance at this point.

I was able to reduce the number of high school applicants to a manageable number and began a vigorous interview period with the high school applicants. Fortunately, the six high school students were secured within several days and I was able to schedule an introductory training session by week’s end.

We were excited to see if the 2:1 mentee to mentor ratio would work. All fingers were crossed in hopes of success. 

Curriculum

I did not want to use the same texts and resources the students had access to everyday.  If I were to utilize the same ole, same ole, the program would surely be doomed to failure.  Additionally, I did not have the funding to purchase anything with a hard cover. Thus, I needed something fresh and affordable within the remaining $25,000.00 US dollars.  I began to search online and through every school merchandise mailer for a computer based math and reading curriculum that could be used through a twelve month licensing agreement.  With the help of a friend in the Information Technology Department, we were able to find, test, and purchase an affordable computer based math and reading curriculum. 

180 minutes

The three hour after school program incorporated an hour for homework, an hour for math, and an hour for reading.  This provided time for students to work within a hybrid context ensuring that traditional studies existed alongside the technologically progressive aspect of the program.  Further, opportunities for interaction and purposeful dialogue between the high school mentors and elementary mentees occurred.  After some time, I began to observe a type of older sibling-younger sibling relationship develop between the students.  We had, in essence, set the tone for a mentoring program within the existing tutoring component.

Final obstacle

Anyone who has had the opportunity to piece together field trips or programs for students knows transportation costs are often the make or break factor in the sustainability of a program. After some thought,  I decided the high school mentors/tutors would be transported to the elementary school across town by simply riding the high school bus that drops off in that section of town.  They were able to access the six o’clock athletic bus to get home at the end of the day.  Problem solved.

All in all, the success of the program was not limited to the academic success of the fifth grade mentees.  The aggressive application of a technology and computer based curriculum enhanced my perception of technology integration in the classroom. Although a hybrid model in the very least, a heightened sense of accomplishment was evidenced during site observations and informal dialogue. The young students were hooked on the technology.  Further, peer to peer student mentoring developed organically as positive relationships were formed and socially responsible practices emanated from the high school mentors.

Outcomes

High school student mentors

  • Employment/work experience
  • Teaching
  • Mentoring
  • Responsibility
  • Letters of recommendation
  • One hundred percent graduated to a four year college/university
  • Several entered college as elementary education majors

Elementary school student mentees

  • Averaged 178 points and 185 points above the districts fifth grade average on PSSA (Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) math and reading examinations
  • Most entered the districts advanced placement high school of science and technology
  • Purposeful use of technology
  • Reduction in disciplinary action
  • Increased daily attendance
  • Increased parent participation

And the rest, my friends, is history.

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Disruptive Innovation Theory and Public School Education: A Futurist Perspective

April 9, 2010

Disruptive innovation is a theory founded by Harvard Business School professor, Clayton Christensen.  Disruptive innovation challenges the framework associated with sustainable innovations.  Sustainable innovations are internal improvements to an already existing system. Sustainable innovations can be referred to as periodic upgrades to systems.  Although considered innovative, change is slow and results reap only marginal improvements. A disruptive innovation, on the other hand, is an advancement that significantly alters the sustained delivery method or product.  This disruption eventually results into what can be interpreted as a natural evolution of a delivery method or product that ultimately displaces the formerly sustained method.

An early objective of asynchronous curriculum delivery models was to enhance the learning of advanced placement students through an independent study component.  This independent study component is asynchronous because the assignments and assessments are not bound by time and space as occurs with synchronous models within traditional brick and mortar institutions. As technological advancements emerged, asynchronous models became primarily associated with computer based media or online applications and software.  This independent approach to learning has become increasingly viable and accessible for all students through distance learning initiatives such as video conferencing, Blackboard ™, web casts, pod casts, blogs, Wikis™, Twitter™ and privatized online learning programs such as NovaNet™ and Plato™. These innovations allow students the freedom to access and respond to the information within a flexible timeframe and without the necessity for face-to-face synchronous experiences. Petroski (2008) states that there are existing colleges whose students never attend a course on a physical campus.

An interview transcription (Burkhardt & Duncan, 2008) notes Clayton Christensen as stating,

“Online learning, a disruptive innovation, is starting to take root in many areas in the United States—both in and outside of the public schools.
Home schooling is a big area where online learning is taking off, but so too are areas of non-consumption within public schools like AP courses, credit recovery, and alternative education. As they take root in these places, they will begin to improve, and as budget cuts eat at the existing offerings in public schools, online courses will take on more and more of the load as more affordable options for districts that offer an escape from the barriers of time of the school day and more one-on-one and customized learning. “(para. 39)

In the feature article How Do We Transform Our Schools?, Christensen and Horn (2008) support the customization of learning for the individual student by using computers to deliver a self- paced instructional model that offers alternatives to the expanding non-traditional population. The number of student enrollments in online programs has grown significantly over a period of seven years.  In 2000, there were approximately forty five thousand students participating in some form of online curriculum delivery model.  As of 2007, the numbers had grown by more than twenty times (Lagace, 2008). 

Credit recovery programs were established within urban public schools to support at-risk students in the accumulation of credits that were forfeit because of academic failure or during unstable periods resulting in lengthy absences from school. Further, these programs provided an avenue for the non-consumer, or in this case, the non-traditional student.  If administered ethically, a credit recovery program can provide an alternative to the traditional school setting while simultaneously reducing drop-out numbers [of the non-traditional student consumer] and increasing legitimate whole graduation numbers for the home school district.                     

On one hand, school district officials have supported credit recovery programs as a means to assist an at-risk student population in the academic reestablishment of themselves through online credit accumulation. On the other hand, potentially limitless implementation of such initiatives can be obstructed because “established organizations are trapped in the industry’s architecture” (Trotter, May 5, 2008) and use technology as a tool of efficiency rather than as a transformative tool. Program detractors question the validity of such online programs because, until recently, there were no evaluations on the quality and rigor of online credit recovery programs (Trotter, July 2, 2008).

A disruptive innovation initially offers an alternative option to a previously established method of delivery.  These innovations were not initially embraced by the masses due to a small population being recognized as a consumer.  In the larger, established delivery system, the population being served by the disruptive innovation is considered non-consumers.  This non-consumer is labeled as at-risk or non-traditional when compared to the traditional high school student.  As the disruptive innovation becomes increasingly efficient and the number of non-consumers grows, potential exists for the disruptive innovation to transform the organization (Christensen & Horn, 2008).  Initially, these online programs were structured to provide a substitution for advanced placement courses when a course or series of courses were unavailable in the traditional high school setting.  However, to the credit of the disruptive innovation theory, Keeping Pace With K-12 Online Learning (2006) states that more students are accessing the credit recovery program than the number of students enrolled in advanced placement courses.  This is, in part, due to the increased enrollment opportunities through “for-profit online schools, state-run virtual schools, non-profit groups, and homegrown district efforts.” (Davis, March 26, 2009, pg. 8)

Reports on public school systems state that the nation’s public schools are “trapped within existing architecture” (Wilson, 2008, para. 2) as they are experiencing a period of turbulence due to increasing demands for course availability and customized education plans against constrained budgets.  Advocates of online learning feel the current economic trend and the effect on school district budgets makes online learning an appealing consideration (Ash, March 18, 2009). Specifically, a quarter of America’s public schools cannot satisfy demands for advanced placement courses due to the deficient pool of certified instructors and the inability for school districts to offer these courses to the smaller population of non-consumers because of  budgetary constraints.  Additionally, the roughly fifty percent of students who have fallen behind in course credits are limited in their opportunities to reclaim credits due to course failure or time away from school (Horn, 2008).  The current economic trends should cause America’s public schools to reconsider the application of such technological innovations to a rapidly increasing service population at an affordable cost.

As the demand grows for alternatives to the traditional classroom setting, companies like Apex Learning, Pearson, and Plato Learning, Inc. have advanced the implementation of technology based course work for the advanced learner as well as the student in need of remediation and instructional interventions. The flexibility of such programming is embraced by an ever growing population that is within an ever changing social and domestic dynamic.  These programs hold particular value to school districts by retaining students on enrollment rosters as well as increasing graduating rates and reducing overall dropout numbers.

Disruptive innovation, through the application of an asynchronous curriculum delivery model, provides a considerable argument for the establishment of such curricula in the nation’s public schools.  Disruptive innovation may cause initial turbulence to an established organization. However, studies advocate for further investigation of such computer based programming as an enhancement to the educational process of the non-consumer. 

A technology based asynchronous education model does not threaten the traditional schooling program within a traditional brick and mortar model. Nonetheless, the effects of such programming are undeniably beneficial to a segment of the population that has been confounded with dilemmas directly related to the school environment or external dynamics and complexities unrelated to the school environment.  Subject response to inquiry discloses aspects, affects, and characteristics of the credit recovery program that are associated with time schedules, commitment, independence, and isolation from influence that is antithetical to a traditional school model.   Further consideration on the applicability of credit recovery programs on non-traditional student populations beyond those that are credit deficient is necessary to ascertain the various affects and positive behavioral influences such programming has on a non-traditional student population.  It is possible that a wider audience can be served through participation in an on site technology based alternative non-traditional schooling environment.

Ash, K. (March 18, 2009). Experts Debate Cost Savings of Virtual Ed. Education Week. 28(25), 9.            

Burkardt, V. & Duncan, G. (Interviewer) & Christensen, C. (Interviewee). (November 3, 2008).   Embracing Disruptive Change [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from http://www.ideaconnection.com/articles/00061-Embracing-Disruptive-Change.html.

Christensen, C. & Horn, M. (summer, 2008). How do We Transform Our Schools? Education Next, volume 8. Retrieved from  http://www.hoover.org/publications/ednext/18575969.html.

Davis, M. (March 26, 2009). Breaking Away From Tradition. Education Week, 28(26), 8.

Horn, M. (2008) Career College Association Competitive Workforce Report. Retrieved from www.career.org/iMISPublic/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Home&TEMPLATE=/CM/HTMLDisplay.cfm&CONTENTID=17292.   

Lagace, M. (Interviewer) & Christensen, C. (Interviewee). (August 18, 2008). How Disruptive Innovation Changes Education: Q & A with Clayton Christensen [Interview transcript]. Retrieved from www.hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5978.html.

Petroski, A. (December 7, 2008) ‘6 T’s’ Driving Fast-Paced Learning Evolution. Patriot News. Retrieved from  www.pennlive.com.

Trotter, A. (May 5, 2008). Online Education as Disruptive Innovation. Education Week.  Retrieved from  www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/05/07/36disrupt_ep.h27.html?r=1720235360.

Trotter, A. (July 2, 2008) Ed Dept Releases Guide for Evaluating Online Learning. Education Week. Retrieved from  http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2008/07/16/43edonline_web.h27.html.

Watson, J. & Ryan, J. et al. (2006).  Keeping Pace with K – 12 Online Learning: A Review of State Level Policy and Practice.  Retrieved from http://www.evergreenassoc.com/documents/KeepingPace2006.pdf.atson.

Wilson, L. (2008). Disruption as Innovation. Message posted to www.guide2digitallearning.com/blog_leslie_wilson/disruption_innovation.