On the Frontline for Technology
Like a fussy customer test-driving a new car, Carole Inge couldn't wait to see exactly what this model could do.
"This may be the next generation laptop," she announced as she put the tablet PC through the paces. "Most important, it's wireless. You can do distance learning from a tablet PC, you can view video clips organized around the Virginia SOLs (Standards of Learning), and you can use it as an electronic notebook. It's been available for only two weeks. This is the second tablet PC I've looked at, and eventually I'll look at a third model."
"We want to see what it can do, what applications we can run on it - we want to push it to its limits," she continued. "For example, can you see the instructor, can you see the slides, can you hear it well, can you do two-way video? I've noticed this gets hot when you're holding it in your lap, and the screen is granular, so it's not as clear as it should be. The fan runs for a long time, so that's another limitation due to noise disturbance, but it runs a lot of applications. See, this is what we do. We test the effectiveness of emerging technologies."
The ITTIP, the only organization of its kind in Southside Virginia, researches and develops methods, models and practices in instructional technology.
Distance learning, videoconferencing, digital video, personal digital assistants and e-books are some of the things its staff has researched. Headquartered in South Boston, the Institute serves primarily 22 public school divisions extending from Pittsylvania County eastward to the city of Franklin and as far north as Buckingham County and Colonial Heights. It works closely with, and is the fiscal and administrative agent for, the Southside Virginia Regional Technology Consortium (SVRTC).
"We're closing the digital divide," Inge says. "We research, analyze and assess technology to determine if it's a viable option for K-12 and higher education. We look at methods that use technology to impact student achievement, especially for at-risk populations, and we work with teachers and school administrators to impact and change pedagogy. We develop the application or the service, but not the hardware or software. We do not recommend products; we assess systems and study them for their advantages and limitations in education. School divisions use our analysis before they purchase a product or service, which saves the taxpayers money and the school division staff time."
The Institute, under the College of Education and Human Services, was created by the 1999 General Assembly. Its main founders were Longwood President Patricia Cormier and W. W. "Ted" Bennett Jr., a Halifax attorney who then represented the 60th district in the House of Delegates and, no longer in the General Assembly, now serves on Longwood's Board of Visitors. Inge, whose background is educational policy with a focus on instructional technology, was hired in October 1999.
"Our clientele now is mainly the state of Virginia, but our work in the future could be on a national scale," Inge says. The ITTIP, which originally served only the schools in Halifax and Pittsylvania counties and the city of Danville, opened in a six-foot by six-foot office in the central office of the Halifax County Schools. Less than a year later, it moved into the Bank of America building in downtown South Boston, where it has suites on both floors. There also is office space two blocks away at the Southern Virginia Higher Education Center (also affiliated with Longwood and formerly called the Continuing Education Center), the Halifax County Career Center, also nearby, and in Blackstone and Richmond.
In addition to its annual state appropriation, the Institute has received federal funds, a grant from the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission (which disburses money from the 1998 tobacco settlement), and grants and contracts for research and development services it provides to public school divisions, higher education and state agencies. Despite the newness of its technology, it uses a surprisingly old system to augment its funding.
"All of our office space is either leased or used by us in a barter arrangement; we provide services for space," she says. "It's the good old-fashioned barter system, which we use a lot to leverage funds. I look upon us as social entrepreneurs, using our entrepreneurial skills to leverage more services for the region and the Commonwealth. The only salaries covered in the state appropriation are those of my administrative assistant and me. Through leveraging a modest state appropriation, we have been successful in securing other funding. I manage 13 budgets and about 20 full-time and part-time staff and consultants. On a shoestring budget, we have built this thing to be self-sustaining, to leverage funds, and to provide cutting-edge services to the Commonwealth."
The ITTIP was involved recently in a groundbreaking study of the effect of "video streaming" - viewing video over the Internet, also called video-on-demand.Along with two research organizations, Cometrika and Baseline Research, the Institute tested 2,007 students in grades 3 and 8 (SOL-testing grades) from 19 schools in Amelia, Brunswick and Charlotte counties and the city of Danville over a six-week period early last year, using four experiments in science and social studies. Half of the students were taught with video clips; the other half learned the traditional way. The ones who used the videos scored almost 13 percent higher on an SOL-correlated exam than those who didn't, and their SOL scores also were higher.
"Our hypothesis was based on literature which supported the notion that standards-based video content engages students, improves teacher performance, and changes student-teacher interaction in ways that facilitate student achievement and enhance educational performance. We found this to indeed be true."
The study, published a few months ago, already is being recognized. It was singled out by the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Education and the Workforce as a model for the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. That education reform plan, signed into law by President George W. Bush in January 2002, aims to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and more affluent students by holding states and school divisions accountable for improving student achievement. The ITTIP evaluation team for the study was invited by Rep. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, a Committee member, to discuss the research before the Committee in September. ITTIP staffers Mike Moore and Dave Shelton went to Washington; Inge was unable to go (she had just had a baby). She and the study were featured in a segment of a public television program, Virginia Department of Education Hour, that aired in October.
"Also as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, I'm about to provide services to almost every school division in Virginia, through a deal we just cut," she says. "A subset of the Act is called Ed Tech; every school division in the Commonwealth has to form a consortium to apply for Ed Tech funds. We will be the evaluators of the grants for six of the seven consortia that either exist currently or are forming. We will look at the issue of technology and its effect on K-12 education for the first time using a randomized experimental control design. This statewide evaluation design will make us a model for the entire country. It's a five-year grant program, and we hope to be the evaluators for the entire five years to have the unique opportunity to assess longitudinal data - longterm trends in effectiveness - in the area of instructional technology."