The world at our doorstep : evaluating an Internet-based social studies programme : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Education, at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
If young people are to know how most of the world lives, to understand the problems faced by developing nations, and to see people in other countries and situations as real, whole people, they need more than figures and news reports. Internet-based programmes in the virtual field trip style are being increasingly used to enable students to experience other places and cultures without leaving the classroom. However, to date there have been few evaluations that examine whether these programmes have the intended impact on student learning and attitudes. This thesis examines one such programme, the Ethiopia Connection run by World Vision New Zealand during March 2001. The programme was evaluated using a theory-driven evaluation methodology. First, a programme theory was derived from the literature and from the expectations of participant teachers. Factors identified as central to the success of the programme were interactivity, active learning, student choice, collaboration, access to experts, integration of several aspects of a topic, authenticity and ease of use. Next the implementation of the programme was observed. A total of 296 schools and over 20,000 students participated in the Ethiopia Connection, with varying patterns of involvement according to factors such as internet access, time available and teacher skills. Lastly the impact of the programme was evaluated in terms of student learning, attitude change and participants' perceptions of the programme. Despite the inherent difficulties in evaluating learning in a programme so dependent on teachers' differing implementations, and in assessing attitude change over short time frames, there were strong indications that the programme succeeded in its goal of developing understanding and compassion for people in the developing world. As a result of this evaluation, the programme theory outlined above was confirmed. Recommendations are made for future World Vision internet programmes, for internet- based social studies programmes in general and for future research directions.