UNCG Campus Weekly

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Dr. Holly Downs and her Applied Educational Evaluation students assist community partners

Photo of Dr. Holly DownsOne of the UNCG School of Education’s most successful community-focused research projects is the work being done by Dr. Holly Downs’ Applied Educational Evaluation students. After having learned theory and background in the Evaluation of Educational Programs class, Downs’ students engage in practical applications of evaluation methods. This includes conducting real-life research for an actual community partner agency.

“This is the third time we have used a community project to teach this class,” Dr. Downs said as last semester wound down. The first year, the Educational Research Methodology (ERM) graduate students teamed with UNCG’s Core-Math Project. The second year, students worked with the Advanced Training for Outstanding Mathematics & Science Scholars (AToMS) program, which provides hands-on science and math learning opportunities for students. Last spring, ERM students partnered with the UNCG’s Math Emporium program, which is an approach to teaching mathematics that eliminates class meetings and replaces them with a learning resource center featuring online materials and on-demand personalized assistance, coordinated through the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. While the collaborative coursework is a great learning opportunity for the ERM students, Dr. Downs said there also are real, tangible benefits for the partner organizations, which receive the research at essentially no cost.

“You teach the community partners what good, theory-based evaluations should look like,” she said.

Dr. Holt Wilson, an assistant professor in the Teacher Education and Higher Education department who leads the Core-Math Project, said Associate Dean Terry Ackerman put him in touch with Dr. Downs when the Core-Math grant was funded.

“Dr. Downs agreed to serve as the evaluator and asked if she could use the project as a context for teaching her evaluation course,” he said. “I enthusiastically agreed as I also was planning to use the project as a teaching context for my own mathematics education graduate students.”

The Core-Math Project is an effort by UNCG mathematicians and mathematics educators to design and deliver quality, sustainable professional development for elementary school math teachers in high-needs schools. Downs’ students conducted comprehensive surveys of and interviews with teachers and school administrators participating in Core-Math, focusing on their satisfaction, learning and needs.

Dr. Wilson said, “The Core-Math project continues to be very successful in supporting teachers in learning about students’ mathematical thinking and student-centered instructional practices, largely due to the high-quality formative evaluation efforts of Dr. Downs and the ERM graduate students. In all stages in our planning and implementation, the evaluation team has been present to offer insights into the participants’ learning that our team would not have had without them.”

Aundrea Carter, an ERM graduate student who participated in the Core-Math research, said the project provided her and her fellow students with real-life project planning and pre-production experience, as well as experience conducting evaluations.

“One great thing about it is students get ownership in what happens,” she said. “Dr. Downs gives us a lot of room to maneuver, but she’s always there to help if we need it.

Carter said the initial Applied Educational Evaluation project went so well students were invited to present their findings at a national conference, which proved to be another invaluable experience.

Dr. Julia Jackson-Newsom, who co-led the AToMS learning community, said the ERM support provides a service many organizations simply couldn’t obtain on their own. AToMS is designed to attract students in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields and retain them once they enter those disciplines.

“From a project management standpoint, you want to be carefully analyzing what’s working and what’s not working,” she said. “(The Applied Educational Evaluation research) was incredibly valuable.”

Full story at UNCG School of Education Educate Magazine online.

By Bruce Buchanan