Empowerment Evaluation: GTO Tool in Richland School District Two (South Carolina)

Empowerment Evaluation:  GTO Tool in Richland School District Two (South Carolina)
Getting To Outcomes as an Evaluation Tool
As the 1 TWO 1 implementation team contemplated the task of building a successful computing project that included everything from building community support to building the infrastructure to support 20,000 computers with wireless Internet access and virtual desktop infrastructure, we knew that any significant misstep could become a serious problem and that we needed an evaluation system that would provide on-going feedback for mid-course corrections from the very start.  We wanted evaluation that could improve our chances of success.
Providing every student in grades 3-12 with a computer is a complex technical task, developing the skills and dispositions for over a thousand teachers to use the technology effectively is a complex human resources task, and developing tools to document outcomes like changes in pedagogy and 21st century skills is a complex measurement task.  We needed help. We envisioned an evaluation approach that would support our success by providing the right questions and the right information at the right time.  GTO and the strong team that has supported it have provided just the resource that we need.  For us, GTO is more than just an evaluation approach facilitated by outside evaluators.   As we have worked together with the GTO team we feel that they have become part of our team and our sense is that they share our commitment to ensuring that we get to the outcomes that we have identified for our teachers and students.

New Experiences with Evaluation and Changing Perspectives on its Value
At one time evaluation meant defining program outcomes and coming in at the end of a program to see if they have been achieved.  Richland Two has a history of using program evaluations as tools for improvement, so we came to the GTO evaluation with general acceptance of the value of evaluation and certainly openness to using data for improvement.  However, this is our first experience with empowerment evaluation. GTO is giving us a new perspective on how evaluation can be useful, we are experiencing new evaluation tools, and we have more people who are recipients and beneficiaries of the information we collect. 
Our evaluation has allowed us to clarify our goals, objectives and measures in ways that will benefit the district as well as the growing field of 1:1 computing in education; to use information from a device try-out to make device selections and fine-tune professional development;  to use surveys to assess readiness, to clarify needs for the full rollout, and modify implementation plans; and to collect information at the school and district level about research-based implementation practices and to make adjustments based on that information.
As with traditional evaluations at the end of our project we will look to see if we have reached our goals.  We will use some traditional approaches to evaluation—in particular changes in key outcomes over time.  However, right now we are particularly happy that we are getting data that helps us tweak our implementation and support our schools.
Using the Quality Implementation Tool
The Quality Implementation Tool has given us research-based best practices for implementation and given us lenses to focus our attention on specific areas that need attention during the implementation process.  Just knowing the key elements of effective implementation is learning that has benefitted the district. The use of the Quality Implementation Tool has done just what the name implies, given us a tool that can be used at the school and district levels on an ongoing basis to stay on track with implementation and to share findings in ways that foster collaboration among schools and departments working on implementation. 
As a district we had created a general plan for our rollout—we had visited schools with exemplary programs, read everything we could about how to make 1:1 computing successful in our schools, put together a large steering committee to assist with planning and problem solving, and developed a general timeline for implementation.  But a complex project like this requires layers of work—layers that take planning and implementation down to the school and classroom level and layers that break large tasks into ever smaller tasks with specific responsibilities.  The QIT is helping us navigate the layers.  It has given those of us at the district level a clearer idea of where the schools are and how we can support them.  It has also clarified for the schools some areas that need attention and has helped them identify resources and strategies that are available to meet those needs.
1 TWO 1—It’s not about the technology; it’s about the students!
We are not putting computers into our students’ hands to garner bragging rights about our high tech school district; we are doing it to improve teaching and learning.  We opened our first 1:1 classroom 11 years ago and documented it with a dissertation study.  One of the most clearly evident outcomes in that classroom was that some of the students who were lower achieving and sometimes under appreciated by their classmates were suddenly leaders—students who knew how to use the computers and could help their classmates.  The technology gave them a new reason to like school, new success, a new status in the classroom, and new self-esteem.
While the “elite” status of knowing about technology is changing as all students have more and more experience with it, social and emotional learning remain important to our project.  21st century skills include the ability to collaborate and communicate effectively with others; engagement is enhanced by affiliation with school, teachers, and other students; and the personalization that technology can deliver builds interests, dispositions, and self-directed learning.  This learning—liking school, caring about each other’s success, autonomy and self-directed learning—all contribute to achievement in the traditional academic disciplines.
For additional details contact Debra W. Hamm, Ph.D., Chief Information OfficeChief Information Officer at the Richland School District Two and Professor Abraham Wandersman, University of South Carolina, Columbia.


karen said…
I love the picture of the students and this (quoted text): As we have worked together with the GTO team we feel that they have become part of our team and our sense is that they share our commitment to ensuring that we get to the outcomes that we have identified for our teachers and students.

It's so great when evaluators, the people who will use the data to make decisions, and the people who the decisions will effect all come together on one accord! Thanks for sharing!

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