PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Dr. Collie Conoley
CO-PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: Dr. Vishna Herrity
PROJECT COORDINATOR/GRADUATE STUDENT RESEARCHER:
PAL Tech was designed to provide tutoring for at-risk elementary school students. The program was based on a dual approach that utilized face-to-face and virtual tutoring with the purpose of supporting student learning. This program was conducted by the Santa Barbara Police Activities League (PAL), Santa Barbara School Districts, the Preprofessional Program in the Teacher Education Program of the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, and the Gevirtz Research Center (GRC).
PAL is a countywide community-based organization providing outreach and after-school programming to local youth. Undergraduate tutors for PAL Tech were recruited from the Preprofessional Education Program at UC Santa Barbara, part of the Teacher Education Program in the Gevirtz School. The GRC coordinated the program and served as the online tutoring location for undergraduate tutors. Santa Barbara School Districts administrators and teachers from Adams and Franklin Elementary Schools worked with the GRC to plan and evaluate the program and select academically needy students for participation.
This inter-agency program sought to establish a model for supporting student success both on academic and socially interactive levels. Other goals were designed to offer Preprofessional university students opportunities for professional development and teacher training, as well as to incorporate innovative technology into academic support practices.
PAL Tech was designed to achieve the following outcomes:
The PAL Tech design combined online learning and one-to-one tutoring. PAL Tech tutors were university undergraduates taking Gevirtz Graduate School of Education pre-professional classes. These students were learning educational methodology and had aspirations to become teachers.
Operating from laptops at the GRC, tutors worked twice weekly with students from Adams Elementary School and Franklin Elementary School who were attending after-school programming at the PAL computer lab in downtown Santa Barbara. Students and tutors communicated via full-duplex audio, interactive whiteboard and live web-cam. A PAL Tech Supervisor was present in the PAL lab in order to assist students with computer use and oversee the program on-site. Elluminate Live! software for real-time online learning was donated for trial use by the manufacturer during the initial pilot phase of the project, completed in June 2007. The software proved to be successful, allowing for the development of technological skills by students, the opportunity for tutors to work privately with tutees in virtual break-out rooms when necessary and high-interest technology that provided excellent motivation and engagement on the part of students being tutored.
University tutors also visited the classrooms of tutees weekly and established face-to-face relationships with them and with their teachers. Tutors worked with teachers to plan tutoring sessions that responded to students’ individual needs and aligned with the classroom curriculum. There was an emphasis on language arts and mathematics.
The project was successfully piloted with technical support in implementing the new communications technology provided by the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education’s Information Technology Group.
The research and evaluation component was designed to examine the overall effectiveness of the PAL Tech Program with an emphasis on the process of developing a functional virtual tutoring model. The research and evaluation for the PAL Tech program had four sub strata which organized the evaluation focus: students, preprofessional tutors, teachers, and the administrators and coordinators involved.
Within each of those foci, qualitative and quantitative data collection methods were utilized, with the overarching purpose of establishing program participants’ perspectives, attitudes, and skill levels. Archival data were also collected to document progress towards program goals, and to provide a more complete picture of model development.
The evaluation focus on PAL Tech students involved quantitative methods such as a pre- and post-attitudinal survey, a pre- and post-technological competency survey, attendance records, and homework completion documentation. Qualitative methods included individual interviews. A selected case study of three students finalized the qualitative data.
Tutors completed a quantitative pre- and post-attitudinal survey, as well as an end-of-year qualitative focus group interview. Monthly meetings with the tutors were also analyzed using qualitative methodology. Finally, the journals that tutors were asked to keep weekly were collected and analyzed. For project teachers, the data collection methods were qualitative, with monthly meetings and a final focus group interview. Qualitative data were collected from administrators and coordinators in the form of email communications, meeting minutes, observations, and an end-of-year interview. Data were analyzed by utilizing descriptive statistics for quantitative data, locating larger themes across all qualitative measures, and synthesizing the main findings.
Students indicated that their engagement level with the program, both in the classroom and in the computer lab, was unanimously high and intense in nature. Students also clearly indicated that it was the combination of face-to-face and e-tutoring that they found particularly potent and positive. Most of the students demonstrated a positive increase in academic achievement on various levels: higher grades, more homework completed, and clearer understanding of academic content and procedures.
All tutors felt that working with children in the after-school program increased their interest in working with underserved school-aged children. The most exciting theme for tutors was watching “their” students grow or improve in some way. A second source of excitement was their involvement in the virtual tutoring process at UCSB – “a cutting edge” program, in their words. Tutors were adamant about the concrete academic benefits for students as a result of PAL Tech, as well as student enjoyment in participation. Tutors further agreed on the power of both face-to-face and online tutoring in combination.
Teachers overall expressed strong support for and satisfaction with the PAL Tech program. Benefits they focused on were: individual attention for children who need individualized support; access to cutting edge technology; and the high quality of the tutors from the Gevirtz School. A unanimous consensus was that it was the combination of face-to-face classroom tutoring with virtual tutoring that appeared to be successful. Other benefits cited were increased self-esteem, ability to focus, and increased reading fluency.