A new research initiative called the Global Education Research program will analyze and measure the impact of technology on students’ educational experiences in various areas, ranging from first grade through higher education, both inside and outside the classroom.

The program is an initiative of computer maker Lenovo and was announced during Lenovo’s recent 12th annual Think Tank education conference, hosted this year at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Although educational institutions have embraced using technology such as laptops, multimedia materials, and interactive whiteboards over the past decade to help students develop 21st-century skills, streamline operations, and connect administrators, a more complete view of the role and impact of technology in all aspects of the learning environment is needed, the company says.

"We saw that there really have been no truly K-20 studies done on the efficacy of technology in all aspects of global education," said Michael Schmedlen, director of worldwide education at Lenovo.

The research also will benefit Lenovo’s education customers and programs by helping to outline clear action and best practices for national, provincial, and local governments to improve their use of technology in education, the company said.

So far, there are three main participants in Lenovo’s program. One is UNC-Chapel Hill’s Center for Faculty Excellence .

The university’s faculty center immediately will begin developing and evaluating new faculty development strategies necessary to support instructional innovation. Beginning in September, Lenovo will award grants to UNC faculty members to research the efficacy of technology in teaching, learning, and assessment.

"This collaboration with Lenovo allows us to advance the university’s commitment to instructional quality. Improving student learning outcomes in higher education goes hand in hand with supporting instructors by providing them with the technologies and the tools they need," said Todd Zakrajsek, executive director of the Center for Faculty Excellence. "By mobilizing our talented faculty, we hope to contribute to an improved understanding about the efficacy of technology in teaching, learning, and faculty development."

Another participant is the Student Global Leadership Institute at Punahou School in Honolulu, Hawaii. This project will go live in July 2010 and will bring together eight top schools in the U.S. and China to foster a multinational online learning framework driven by technology. The institute will promote leadership development in academics and in public service for secondary school students and teachers and encourage international collaboration.

"This center will really focus on eLearning, or interactive online learning and collaboration," Schmedlen said. "Even though these schools are multilingual and [separated] across oceans, every student in these schools will convene once a year to produce one project on a topic they think is relevant. They will work together."

Said Wendi Kamiya, CIO of Punahou School: "In our rapidly shrinking world, international collaboration is no longer a luxury but a necessity that needs to be cultivated from an early age. The Student Global Leadership Institute will provide an opportunity for high school students from different countries to become informed, compassionate global citizens, prepared to engage with real-world issues. Technology is the perfect catalyst for this collaboration. Our contribution to Lenovo’s Global Education Research Program will be to advance global education and international partnerships through testing innovative technology applications."

The Tiger Woods Learning Center (http://www.twlc.org) in Anaheim, Calif., is the third research participant. Launched in 2006, the center serves underserved youth and is technology-rich to help motivate students who are imaginative, engaged, and are planning their paths to college and a career, the center says.

This after-school campus is designed to inspire career exploration and serves students in grades five through 12. Classes include forensic science, robotics, engineering, aerospace, video production, and marine biology.

"What this center will research is the efficacy of after-school [learning] in terms of how it affects students’ performance while they attend their more traditional schools, how it will affect their career choices, [and] how it will affect their financial decision making and planning," said Schmedlen.

"We are extremely pleased to be working with Lenovo on their Global Education Research Program," said Kathy Bihr, executive director of the Tiger Woods Learning Center. "Our partnership with Lenovo will help us continue to offer innovative technology to our students, examining the role this technology plays in their entire learning process."

Although each research project focuses on a different area of education, Schmedlen said, each will share the same key metrics of study, which will be developed by the program’s advisory council.

This advisory council, according to Schmedlen, will consist of Lenovo experts, as well as third-party researchers–many of whom will be post-doctoral students from top universities interested in the efficacy of technology in education.

"Above all, we want to use these third-party assessments to ensure all the research is valid and accurate," said Schmedlen.

Lenovo says its program will conduct both quantitative and qualitative studies using a set of criteria that are relevant to the skills students must possess to be successful in today’s society. Each project will use Lenovo’s technology, but the company also is partnering with Microsoft and Intel to make sure the technology is managed effectively.

Schmedlen said the projects will operate on a three-year schedule, producing annual research reports on what works and what doesn’t. If all goes well, "there could be the opportunity to expand beyond the three years," he said.

He added: "The takeaway we see for this is creating a roadmap–a list of recommendations–for many public and private institutions throughout K-20 [education]. We believe that technology, when implemented correctly and with clear goals defined, can be positive and meaningful for education."

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