Arkansas is using a federal grant to evaluate a popular program that encourages students to use technology to tackle real-world problems.
The state last year received the three-year, $1.8 million grant, awarded under a portion of the No Child Left Behind Act for evaluating states’ educational technology, to study its Environmental and Spatial Technology, or EAST, program.
James Boardman, the assistant director of information and technology for the state department of education, says the program—which is primarily for high schools but includes 16 middle schools—has been a success.
Students in the project-based learning system, now used in 140 schools in the state, learn skills such as video editing, animation, programming, and database design. They can also “simulate real-life situations,” including virtual field trips, in computer laboratories, Boardman says.
Arkansas also launched in March, in partnership with education officials in California, a Technology Information Center for Administrative Leadership, a Web portal that provides administrators and other educators with technology-related resources and professional development. A cadre of technology-savvy administrators from Arkansas is contributing new resources to the Web site and providing orientation and training sessions throughout the state.
Boardman says Arkansas and California shared a joint U.S. Department of Education grant years ago as part of a five-state consortium. California used the grant to develop the Web portal and Arkansas partnered with it, he says, adding they will now, in turn, offer other states the opportunity to participate in the portal and have their own state link.
The Arkansas legislature appropriated $11 million for distance learning for the 2004-05 school year, and $6 million for 2005-06. State education officials are using the funds to install compressed interactive-video systems—which allow students and teachers to use videoconferencing technologies—in 214 schools. The distance-learning program, in its fifth year of operation, allows schools to offer courses to students that otherwise would not be available because of local teacher shortages in specific subjects. It also offers Advanced Placement courses for high school students.