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The SWATTEC (Student Writing Achievement Through Technology Enhanced Collaboration) initiative at the Saugus Union School District is an exciting program targeting fourth grade writing, information literacy, and Internet skills in a technology-rich environment. Through funding from an EETT (Enhancing Education Through Technology) grant, every fourth grade student throughout the district receives an ultra-mobile device, more commonly referred to as a "netbook", and engages in collaborative learning through the use of online evaluation, assessment, and social media tools.

Students received their individual mini-laptops in January '09 after careful planning and tremendous preparation on the part of teachers and staff. The excitement and passion in the classrooms was electrifying as students and teachers discovered together what it means to be literate in the 21st century through a variety of projects and technology-rich activities. Students have been empowered to take responsibility for their own learning and teachers have been enabled through a variety of technologies to transform their classrooms into participatory learning environments that drive student achievement while giving them a passion for learning.

From the beginning, the district set ambitious goals for the project, and we are pleased to report that the program has been a huge success! Student proficiency in English Language Arts on the state test jumped an incredible twenty-four percent (24%) - a greater gain than Saugus has seen in any year since state-wide testing was instituted. Student writing tests showed an average thirty-seven percent (37%) gain from the beginning of the year, with several students achieving fifty percent (50%) or more individually!  Both student and teacher technology literacy also showed impressive gains, and students are more actively engaged and participating in their own learning.

The success of the initiative has led the district to consider expanding the program beyond the fourth grade, although funding continues to be a challenge. We are exploring every avenue, and look forward to working with our parents and the community to bring more technology-rich educational opportunities to the students of the Saugus Union School District.

 

Independent Evaluation

We are pleased to have the University of California, Irvine as an independent research partner evaluating the quality and effectiveness of the SWATTEC program. Led by Dr. Mark Warschauer, Professor of Education and Informatics, leading researcher, and author of Laptops and Literacy: Learning in the Wireless Classroom, the U.C. Irvine team has worked with the Saugus team through two phases of research. First, a preliminary evaluation/case study as part of a national effort to determine the effectiveness of low-cost netbooks and open source software. And second, a more detailed follow-up effort to correlate student achievement with technology access.

Preliminary Evaluation

The first phase preliminary evaluation was completed, with extremely positive comments from Dr. Warschauer and his team. Key phase one questions included:

  1. How suitable do teachers and staff find netbooks and open source software (in regards to cost, maintenance, size, portability, functioning, and fit with instructional needs)?
  2. What do teachers and staff perceive to be the impact of netbook computer and open source software use on teaching and learning processes and outcomes?
  3. What have teachers and staff found to be effective practices for implementing laptop programs with netbook computers and open source software, in terms of curriculum, pedagogy, professional development, and any other matters?

From the report:

Overall, the Saugus laptop program appears to be extremely well designed, thoughtfully implemented, and well received by teachers and students. Learning activities with laptops match well with what is known about how students learn best with technology.

Dr. Warschauer and his team found the program to be particularly effective for teaching and learning of writing, differentiated instruction, and making connections for deeper learning. They were also impressed with the sustainability of the program. Again from the report:

We and others have found similarly positive results in other laptop programs with larger and more expensive computers and more commercial software. However, it has been often difficult to sustain these more expensive initiatives. We thus entered this study with a real curiosity as to possible effectiveness of a laptop program using small, low-cost netbooks, an open source operating system, and, for the most part, free open source software.

Interviews and observations suggest that Saugus has chosen the right tools for the job. The netbooks and software are performing quite well and teachers report few technical problems, most of which they say are quickly and easily solved. The small form factor of the netbooks appears to be an advantage; the machines are very light and take up comparatively little room on student desks. The social networking tools created by the district allow both teachers and students the chance to collaborate online through blogs and wikis, and the wide range of free software used allows the same kind of learning activities that we have observed in laptop programs elsewhere. Most importantly the project should be more sustainable than other, more expensive, laptop programs, especially in these difficult economic times.

Needless to say, we are quite pleased with the results. You can read the full report here.

 

Full Program Analysis

The broader second phase, completed at the end of the 2010 school year, aimed to answer the following questions:

  1. What changes in district and state test scores occur following student participation in the laptop program, and how do these changes compare to students in other grade levels (i.e., not using laptops) in the district? How do these changes differ among particular groups of students in the district (e.g., by gender, ethnicity, free lunch status, special program status)?
  2. How frequently and in what ways do students use laptops in instructional activities, and do these differ among particular groups?
  3. What relationships exist between frequency and types of laptop use and test score outcomes?
  4. How suitable do staff, teachers, and students find the Eee netbooks and open source software for upper elementary school instructional use?

Again, the results were quite compelling. In terms of teaching and learning:

Teachers and students indicate that the quantity and quality of student writing has increased with laptops. In surveys, students report that when using their laptops, they tend to write more, revise more, and get more feedback on their writing. Some 60% of them believe that the quality of their writing improved since use of laptops and some 70% of students prefer typing on their computers instead of writing using pencil and paper...

Another major strength of the laptop program in Saugus lies in student individualization, allowing teachers, whether it be in Science, Math, English Language Arts, or Social Studies, to direct students to online readings, exercises, projects, games, or quizzes that are tightly aligned with their individual needs

...the laptop program is a good match for the district’s diverse students. For example, we saw how students in the Gifted and Talented Education Program had access to online resources to carry out substantive research projects in class. We also heard from a special education teacher who commented that the laptops have been especially valuable for her students, as it provides them a means to scaffold their abilities and thus participate more equally with other students in the school.

Saugus students report that they find these activities highly engaging, and teachers also report that they are energized to teach in laptop classrooms. Most importantly, though, this engagement and energy appear to be tied to the pursuit of substantive learning objectives.

This time, however, the learning outcomes were specifically evaluated with impressive results. Again, from the report:

Our analysis of test scores indicates that (1) there were statistically significant improvements in student performance in writing and English language arts following implementation of the laptop program, with students increasing test scores from third to fourth grade more after the program was implemented than before; (2) at-risk students increase their test score performance more than non at-risk students, thus helping close achievement gaps, and (3) test score gains were greatest for students who used the laptops the most.

Our observations and interviews, survey results, and analysis of test score data all point to the same conclusion: the SWATTEC program has had a positive effect on teaching and learning of writing and English language arts in SUSD. Furthermore, while all demographic groups benefited from the program, the greatest benefit accrued to those students most at risk. These are impressive achievements, given the program is still in its early stages of implementation.

Unlike other personal student device programs that claim no measurable gains in student learning, instead claiming that the gains are in unmeasurable areas, the SWATTEC program demonstrates that a carefully planned, effectively implemented program can have a dramatic impact in both measurable and immeasurable areas. You can read the complete report, including full analysis of student achievement in target areas here.



jklein, 03/08/11 08:03 (GMT)

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