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Generation www.Y: Students as Change Agents
Dennis Harper

Generation www.Y (GenY) is a program that uses partnerships between students and teachers to integrate modern computer technologies into the classroom. The program promotes the effective use of educational technology in schools, develops opportunities for student leadership, and fosters a collaborative, learning community atmosphere in schools. Rather than teaching technology skills to teachers and hoping they will use these skills to improve their studentsí learning, Generation www.Y trains students to form working partnerships with teachers in order to improve teaching and learning in their schools. Students become agents of change, assuming responsibility for helping to improve the educational resources available to themselves and their classmates.

Generation www.Y students learn technology skills with an emphasis on applying these skills to a real-world problem: helping teachers use technology to deliver more effective lessons. Students and partner teachers learn how telecommunications tools, the Internet, digital imaging and presentation tools, and other technologies can enhance lesson plans and curriculum units. Many Generation www.Y students and partner teachers also learn about their state academic standards and learning goals, and the process of aligning classroom activities with these goals.

Each Generation www.Y student is paired with a partner teacher (or an administrator, librarian, counselor or other educator), who decides what lesson plan, curriculum unit, or other school need will be addressed by a collaborative, technology-enriched curriculum project, which the partner teacher and the Generation www.Y student produce together. These projects are then used in the partner teacherís regular classroom, or in the library, administrative offices, etc. Through this model, participating educators receive individualized support as they strengthen their use and integration of new technologies. Students learn technology, communication, collaboration, and project management skills in an authentic, personally meaningful context, and many go on to further extend their skills through advanced school or community service projects.

The program was developed in the Olympia, Washington School District, with a five-year award in 1996 from the U.S. Department of Educationís Technology Innovation Challenge Grant program. Numerous state and local grants as well as corporate sponsorships have also supported the development of the instructional model and materials, as well as dissemination of the model to schools outside Olympia. Generation www.Y classes have operated in over 500 schools in 42 states. The program provides a model that can be customized to fit a wide range of grade levels, technology infrastructures, scheduling requirements, interests, and skill levels of participants.

Data from the nationwide project indicate that the program can be an effective alternative for schools wishing to integrate technology into their regular curriculum and increase their use of project-based, student-centered learning practices. The model provides individualized support for educators who wish to increase their use of technology without becoming distracted from the essence of their jobs--building and delivering effective curriculum units and lesson plans. Generation www.Y achieves this by giving students experience with educational technology, communication skills, and information literacy, then allowing students to act as responsible partners with their teachers in building new curriculum materials and new teaching and learning practices.

A five-year independent evaluation of Generation www.Y has been conducted by the Evaluation Program of the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory (NWREL). Each semester since the beginning of the program, NWREL researchers administered surveys to all participating students, Generation www.Y teachers, and Generation www.Y partner teachers, as well as analyzing the collaborative projects produced by partner teachers and students. At selected schools, additional research was conducted, including observations, in-depth interviews with participants, and additional surveys of all faculty members (participants and non-participants). Teachers were asked about their beliefs and practices regarding teaching, learning, educational technology, and the transformation of schools into learning communities, in which students and teachers are enthusiastic partners in learning.

Two major sets of findings have emerged from this research. As intended, the Generation www.Y model has been successfully adapted to a wide range of school contexts. The program can be implemented in schools with different grade spans, technology infrastructures, curriculum and instruction frameworks, and community contexts. Generation www.Y can be tailored to support a wide range of other educational technology initiatives or curriculum projects. However, implementing the model successfully requires a high level of commitment from school administrators, as well as significant time, energy, and creativity from a dedicated Generation www.Y teacher. In general, when the model doesnít work in a school, it is because of a failure to fully implement the program.

In schools with full implementation of the model, both teachers and students report very positive outcomes. Participating teachers receive effective, individualized support as they integrate new technologies into their work. Students learn technology, communication, collaboration, and project management skills in an authentic, meaningful context, while producing something of value that becomes a learning resource for others in their school.

Six schools were selected as case study sites for supplemental interviews, surveys, and observations. Also presented is data from a series of interviews and observations with Generation www.Y teachers who have delivered the technology integration model over the course of several years, and who provide insight into the evolution of the model and the long-term impact of the program in their schools. The report also contains a statistical comparison of professional development gains in a sample of Generation www.Y partner teachers and their colleagues who did not participate in the program.

Participating teachers and students report that their involvement in Generation www.Y afforded them an excellent opportunity to improve their basic technology skills as well as their more advanced abilities to integrate technology in standards-based lessons, projects and curriculum units. Both teachers and students report that they gained meaningful, authentic experience developing skills in technology use, collaboration, project management, and information literacy, while contributing to the improvement of their schools. Most found the Generation www.Y model to be an effective professional development strategy for teachers as well as an effective approach to increasing student engagement, student learning, and student leadership.

Useful information regarding facilitating conditions, challenges, and keys to success emerged from this study, which should be provided to schools interested in implementing Generation www.Y. This information can help schools determine if the program is a good match for their needs, as well as give them information about how to prepare and develop a successful Generation www.Y program. A number of other challenges and recommendations are highlighted in the report.

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