Collaborating for educational equality
User stories from the knowledge front
Improving education for grades kindergarten through 12 is the mission of the Education Alliance for Equity and Excellence in the Nation’s Schools (brown.edu/Research/The_Education_Alliance), a department of Brown University.
Believing that language, culture and diversity are fundamental to the success of educational reform, the Education Alliance helps schools and school districts provide equitable opportunities for all students to succeed. The group creates partnerships with educators, policy-makers, researchers and business and community agencies to promote leadership training for superintendents and staff, language and culture curriculum designs, networking and conference sponsorship, and educational reform initiatives, among others.
To help meet its mission, the Education Alliance’s 90 employees use Web-based collaboration software, SiteScape Forum, to communicate and share information internally and externally with colleagues. The software provides team work/discussion areas for sharing information and developing projects. The solution often functions as a staff “virtual water cooler,” allowing team members to connect easily with satellite offices in New York and Puerto Rico.
According to Martin Huntley, director of technology for the Education Alliance, “Forum’s main value is the way it provides easy sharing of message-based traffic and files. As a result, it’s become a functional group environment for staff working on various projects.”
The Alliance is currently working on two projects funded by the U.S. Department of Education: the Northeast and Islands Regional Educational Laboratory (LAB) and the New England Equity Assistance Center (NEEAC). The LAB focuses on low-performing schools and is one of 10 regional laboratories funded by the Education Department; its area is New York, New England, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. The LAB researches and disseminates its findings to improve education for school children in that region, and works with education officials and the community to effect change. Although the collaboration software is used primarily as a communications tool inside the organization, it is also used with several LAB partner organizations.
The Education Alliance also is using the software for online seminars in which participants are encouraged to communicate with one another. For instance, one online seminar provides support for elementary school teachers worldwide who are implementing a specific mathematics curriculum. Each person involved is required to “be an active participant in our online community of leaders, encouraging reflective, professional dialogue with other participants by reading and responding to focus questions connected to the seminar readings and to postings by other participants. This will entail at least two online postings each week.”Through the seminar, the Education Alliance hopes to “build a community of math coaches characterized by respect, openness, support and the willingness to learn from each other . . . Knowledge will be created and shared through discussion, questioning and building on each other’s ideas.