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Chuck Carney
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Last modified: Monday, March 2, 2009

New online tool created to help teachers and others help students reach college

"College Knowledge and Access Module" made available by Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 2, 2009

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- A new interactive Web tool will virtually prepare teachers and others who work with youth to mentor students through the college-going process.

The Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration in the Indiana University School of Education now offers the "College Knowledge and Access Module" at http://collegeknowledge.educ.indiana.edu. This free resource delivers a wide range of post-secondary education information through a series of realistic scenarios, in which two teachers and three students confront issues about their career and education aspirations.

College Knowledge

'In addition to dialogue, activities, questions for reflection and resources are embedded throughout the different scenarios.'

Current and former teachers and college admissions personnel helped develop the storyline and other information with the P-16 Center. Over the course of a year, Bloomington-based Wisdom Tools built the program. A Lumina Foundation grant funded the project.

The P-16 Center identified the need for the resource after determining that many who deal with youth don't have the answers when they're asked about post-secondary options. Often a student seeking information from a teacher or someone else may become stymied by a lack of information.

"Many teachers don't understand how important their job is to provide that kind of college access information," said Catherine Gray, associate clinical professor and director of field placements in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology. "They think, 'Oh, it's the counselor's job or it's the parents' job.' It's really their job, too."

Gray said the program is designed to make information about topics such as financial aid and standardized testing easiliy accessible through both the scenarios and links.

"That was our goal, to provide a pretty easy body of knowledge for these teachers so that they would be able to answer questions in an informed way and not be that gate-slammer," she said.

The program is designed to help users retain the information through the narrative format. Users experience common college-going issues for students and teachers through the eyes of fictional characters, the two teachers and three students. The characters deal with issues including college affordability, post-secondary education choices, and options for undocumented students. Activities, questions for reflection and resources are embedded throughout the different scenarios.

"People who are interested in the outcomes and the futures of kids can see themselves reflected in the stories where that information is delivered," said Claire King, associate director of the P-16 Center.

King said the program also should be useful to many who mentor and guide youth in other settings.

"We're looking at pastors, sometimes Boys and Girls Club directors, program activity sponsors, or retired persons who act as mentors in the schools," she said. "There's a wide range of adults that come into the lives of students that we hope would get to know this information and help arm the students with a host of options."

A teacher at Bedford North Lawrence High School who worked as a storyline consultant on the project said he sees the value of the program daily.

"In fact, there was a student who came into my class, and she was talking about how she was confused about how to deal with a major in college," said Chris Kupersmith, who teaches English. "Having developed the module and then going through it after it was finished, I was just aware of these things. It makes me more aware of my role as a person who can guide her, and in fact, that's exactly what happened in this case. It's happened several times."

Statistics indicate Indiana needs better preparation for students to complete high school. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems reported just 36.3 percent of Indiana's 18-to-24 year olds were enrolled in college in 2007. According to the center, "States that do particularly well on this measure serve more of their young adults in postsecondary education. They also tend to do a better job preparing kids in high school for participation and success in college."

The Education Trust, a policy advocacy organization, found that Indiana lags behind the leading states in college attendance. It reported that for statistics gathered for Indiana high school freshmen in 2002, just 42 percent enrolled in any U.S. college in four years. Freshmen in leading states enrolled at a median of 53 percent.

Other studies indicate a lack of information can impact student college readiness and the likelihood that they will enroll in college. First-generation college students particularly need more guidance, since they may not get college advice from their parents.

The project developers say that the program should help others supplement the work of school counselors and spur students to consider their post-secondary lives.

"I think our goal with this module is to help everybody see the possibilities and to engage in a process where they start to think at younger and younger ages about their future," Gray said.

The Center for P-16 Research and Collaboration in the IU School of Education, established in 2006, facilitates partnerships that lead to educational improvement from pre-kindergarten through post-secondary education. These strategic partnerships involve better understanding the current needs of schools and bringing together the groups within IU, schools, communities, and businesses that can address the complex challenge of improving education. The homepage for the center is at http://p16education.indiana.edu.

Media Outlets: The following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Web site at http://education.indiana.edu. Look for this news release under "News" on the home page. The sound bites below will have a clickable link to hear and to save the files.

King says the program setup allows those working with youth to easily understand the information:

"I think the scenario format that we chose to deliver the information in is a way that makes it accessible, because it helps people enter into a story in which they find familiar characters that they can identify with, either young teachers, or teachers who've been at the profession for a long time, or youth-serving professionals who work with students in an after-school or extended-school basis. People who are invested in the outcomes and the futures of kids can see themselves reflected in the stories where that information is delivered."

Kupersmith says he's seen the value of the program firsthand:

"The module offers a lot of specific sort of direction for teachers and pre-service teachers. But kind of the primary way that it's been useful, to be honest, is that it just kind of heightened my awareness. In fact there was a student who came into my class and was just sort of offhandedly talking, and sort of doing the thing where they talk to a peer, but they want me to hear it. And she was talking about how she was confused about how to deal with a major she's wanting to go into at Vincennes, potentially next year. And I think, I really do think, that having developed the module, and then gone through it after it was finished, I just was aware of these things. It makes me more aware of my role as a person who can guide her, and in fact, that's exactly what happened in this case. And it's happened several times."

Gray says it's important to give youth-serving professionals better ideas about answering questions regarding post-secondary education:

"We really want this module to be accessible and be available to any youth-serving professionals, because it really needs to be that chorus of voices that can surround every kid. So if you're working at Girls Inc. or the Boys and Girls Club or YMCA or some other after school program, and you get that question, you also can say, 'Well look, let's look at this Web site,' or 'Sure, how can I help you?' rather than 'I don't know. Go talk to your school counselor.' And then your school counselor is overloaded, and they just won't take that next step and that can end it. And we don't want that to end it."

The program is simple to start and easy to navigate and can help youth-serving professionals on many levels, Gray says:

"There are structured ways to work through it. There are exercises, reflection questions that you can do at the end of each episode, and you could, a principal or a department chair could receive all that feedback, those reflections and exercises, and there could be professional growth points. It's available, so it could be used to help renew a license. And then we hope to make it part of the School of Ed's undergraduate program in some class or another. Like we said, we want all of our graduates to leave here feeling they are college access information providers that they're not ever going to be a door slammer."