From left, Monticello High School seniors Caroline Fernandez, Mackenzie Trainor and Ashli Spruill

As seniors in the Advanced Placement Government class at Monticello High School, we participate in a Citizens Action Project. CAP involves researching a local issue and then taking action on it. Back in September, after consulting with our group members, we decided to go in-depth researching the use of technology in the Albemarle County Public Schools.

Before picking an action, we first researched the county’s history of technology integration. In the past few years, the schools in Albemarle County have distributed personal, one-on-one computers to each student in order to get technology more integrated in classes. The “push” for technology has been very evident not only in these devices, but also in the support staff and professional development day programming for teachers.

Our initial inclination was to research the County’s purpose in integrating technology in the classrooms. However, as we went along with the process of CAP, interviewing professionals and gathering more information, we found that our question and focus transitioned, first to investigating the budget and then to finding a “metric” of technology’s efficacy. Having settled on that final question, we began to sharpen our interviews and research, always including the question: “How is Albemarle County measuring technology’s success?”

So, we set off on a mission to find the data that was being used both to determine and predict the level of success of this huge investment. First, we looked to more quantitative measures, at data from things like SOL scores and Speak Up surveys (a survey given to students that asks questions related to the use of technology in the schools). We talked to administrators who told us about counting devices, amount of technology usage and support staff.

Then, we moved on to qualitative data, such as professional development day programming, administrative walkthrough surveys, departmental meetings and student interview feedback. While this type of data are much more subjective, it’s important to emphasize that it’s still data.

Qualitative data involves the systematic collection of stories and testimonies, and their subsequent analysis. But many argue that it’s superior to quantitative data since it allows for every student to be different and perceives things differently; it recognizes that a number on a page doesn’t necessarily represent the efficacy of the integration of technology.

Through the four months that we spent pursuing an answer to our question, we interviewed many administrators, teachers, and researchers at various levels of the school system and local community. A trend about the two types of data we encountered quickly arose: those we spoke with preferred qualitative data. While they agreed that quantitative data are much more clean-cut and straight to the point, they also agreed that it’s incomplete; qualitative data are the only way to get a whole picture of how the students, faculty, and staff are affected by technology. In the end, administrators and teachers need personal case studies of people and their experiences with technology – qualitative data – to truly measure its success.

Previously, Albemarle County has mostly measured the success of technology with quantitative data, like test scores, gadget distribution numbers and other cold, impersonal evidence. Today, however, although quantitative data are still a major part of the metric, qualitative data are making large strides in schools – as it should.

This trend isn’t going to be stopping anytime soon; in fact, it will become bigger. That’s where you, the student, parent, teacher, citizen, come in: it’s your job to be informed. To understand why qualitative data, which often seems less efficient, is so important in measuring technology’s success. Because when it comes up – and it will, everywhere from everyday conversation to the School Board docket – we’ll be relying on you to understand.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Caroline Fernandez, Mackenzie Trainor and Ashli Spruill are Seniors at Monticello High School