The Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Initiative is a performance-based learning environment utilizing community service, project-based, service learning, integrated with advanced technological applications in an interdisciplinary environment where the intellectual and problem-solving growth of students is the focus.
The project currently serves 190 schools in eight states (Arkansas, California, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Louisiana, Mississippi and Pennsylvania). At the outset of the current study (school year 2003-2004), Arkansas had approximately 130 EAST programs. The majority (90%) of EAST sites in Arkansas were in high schools, with 7% at middle schools, and another three EAST programs implemented in an elementary school or college. Sites are spread throughout the state of Arkansas, a predominantly rural state and therefore, a majority of the EAST sites are in rural counties. The remainder of the sites are divided roughly evenly between suburban and urban counties.
EAST’s central concept is based on the importance of students’ responsibility for their own learning, with a focus on cooperative learning, interdependence, and individual accountability, and development of problem solving, decision-making and higher-order thinking skills. The program counts as an elective for students and is intended to serve a diverse group of participants—including a range of aptitudes, academic motivation, achievement levels, as well as race, gender, and economic background. Students with special needs, gifted students, at-risk students, and all students in between are placed on a level playing field by being in the same class. Ultimately, the goal is to construct classes that are representative of the demographics of the school as a whole.
The instructional model relies on teachers (known as “facilitators”) to guide and assist students as they pursue their projects, through which students connect with peers, faculty, community members, and business and university partners to identify and solve real-life problems. Facilitators play an important role as guides to help students navigate project responsibilities and to help students in learning to learn, but they do not generally act as consultants or technical assistants. The EAST classroom mirrors the modern workplace by providing a dynamic environment in which students with all degrees of skills, experience, and aptitudes work together. Students are trained in and have access to advanced technical applications in architecture, animation, computer-aided drafting, database development, 3D design engineering, digital imagery, global positioning systems, geographical information systems, networking, system administration, programming, desktop publishing, digital filmmaking, and web development. These applications are provided as tools to support student projects, the experience of which fosters students’ teaming skills, responsibility, accountability, and personal initiative; mastering and applying basic skills and concepts; and creative and critical thinking skills.
The EAST classroom is characterized as existing in three parallel “environments”—the physical environment, which should be conducive to team work, accommodating of the use of technological resources, and enabling students to locate necessary materials; the learning environment, which entails guided instruction, class management that encourages responsibility, flexibility and productivity, and projects which focus on self-directed, student-centered learning, community service, the use of advanced applications, and teamwork and peer mentoring; and an environment of expectations, which provides an open and encouraging culture in which students learn from their mistakes and that focuses on student development rather than content delivery, an outlook for program achievement that looks to the future instead of simply moving from day to day, and student work that is monitored to ensure that it is conducted productively so that students can solve problems, meet project goals, and use technology appropriately to meet those goals.
The EAST program also includes state-sponsored professional development geared towards providing orientation to district and school administrators, training for aspiring facilitators in instructional methods, program philosophies and expectations and technical systems administration, technology training for facilitators and students, and partnership conferences to disseminate and celebrate program achievements and conduct additional training workshops for students and facilitators.
The EAST evaluation involved two parallel and interdependent studies: a three year implementation study designed to provide insights into the variations in the implementation of the EAST program in different contexts throughout the state, and a two year outcomes study that sought to determine the impact of the initiative on participating facilitators and students by comparing eight schools who were randomly assigned from a larger pool of applicants to begin a new EAST program during the 2004-2005 school year, with a matched group of control students in eight schools that were assigned from the applicant pool as delayed implementation schools.
Data for the implementation study were obtained from facilitator and student focus group interviews, principal interviews, observations of EAST classes, and on-line principal and facilitator surveys that were administered in the spring of each year.
On the principal and facilitator surveys, schools reported using a combination of student recruitment and selection strategies that promoted general awareness of the program and those that targeted specific students. Comparisons of demographics of EAST students and non-EAST students in the same schools were conducted as part of the outcomes study.
Surveys also asked facilitators and principals to report on their perceptions of the impact of program training activities. Both groups have expressed very positive feelings about the training process throughout all three years of the study. When asked to rate the adequacy of EAST training for bringing their skills to the level they needed as a facilitator, facilitators reported that the training was best for raising their skills in the instructional methods advocated by EAST, and also provided favorable ratings to training they received in assessing their own progress in facilitating EAST.
Facilitators were consistently positive about the support available from their school administrations, with large majorities agreeing that their principals supported class scheduling in their schools in ways that benefited the EAST program. Principals also echoed the facilitators’ impressions about their willingness to provide flexibility and facilitate class scheduling. Principals also expressed strong agreement with almost all EAST philosophies, such as the value of learning in a real world context, encouraging self-directed learning, and the value of group work.
- EAST positively impacts Problems Solving Strategies including Problem Characteristics, Assessing Outcomes and Revising Strategies
- EAST positively impacts Student Motivation and Self Directed Learning Styles
Among the 16 student outcomes that were studied, analyses indicated that participation in EAST appears to have a positive, statistically reliable impact in five domains. These included three problem solving domains (defining the characteristics of a problem, assessing the outcomes of a solution, and revising strategies in response to the assessment of outcomes), one motivation domain (motivation for school derived from accomplishment), and self-directed learning style. The preponderance of evidence for program effects in the area of problem solving skills seems consistent with one of the most central goals of EAST, and may point to a particular strength of the program. Although no direct effects were found indicating an impact of the EAST program on students’ math and reading test scores, this is a notoriously difficult relationship to demonstrate. Given the myriad of other factors that influence academic achievement and the limitations of standardized testing for measuring such skills, this should be taken as a failure to find a relationship, but certainly not as evidence that none exists. However, the domains on which EAST has been shown to have an impact are widely recognized as being important for both academic and career success.
EAST classroom observations were conducted in the eight study schools in winter 2004, spring 2005, fall 2005, and spring 2006. Each facilitator was observed a total of eight times, four times in each year. Additional measures that were used to assess the program’s impact on facilitators’ fidelity to the model included the end-of-year program ratings (completed by consensus by the team of EAST, Inc. personnel at the end of each program year) and online principal and facilitator surveys. Since the end-of-year ratings aligned, for the most part, with the classroom observations, ratings from the latter instrument were used as the focus for analyses. In both years of the outcomes study, observations were consistently strong across almost all schools for physical environment; however, overall fidelity, and fidelity in educational environment and in environment of expectations—as well as in the six sub-ratings within these two environments—were much more variable.
EAST Initiative, Inc.
8201 Ranch Blvd B-1
Little Rock, Arkansas 72223
(501) 371-5030 (fax)
President/Chief Executive Officer
Melanie VanZandt Bradford
Research & Technology
Arkansas Department of Education
8221 Ranch Boulevard
Little Rock, AR 72223