We recently evaluated the Fresh Water Distance Learning Project, an effort to increase community awareness, understanding and involvement in freshwater issues by distributing freshwater education programs and services to diverse organizations and populations using interactive communication technology. Pier Wisconsin, a nonprofit organization based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, undertook this new initiative with funding support from a three-year Technology Opportunities Grant (TOP) from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Pier Wisconsin used the requested funds to:
- Develop, design, produce and broadcast live, interactive programs from the deck of the S/V Denis Sullivan, a re-created 19th century Great Lakes Schooner, which Pier Wisconsin uses as a floating classroom and research vessel.
- Design and install a network of interactive touch-screen kiosks at PIER Wisconsin and at select partner institutions, and use a combination of wireless web and broadband Internet technologies to deliver both live and pre-produced scientific and cultural programming from Pier Wisconsin.
- Pilot test a Lake Michigan-based, interactive digital network with a diverse, public/private coalition of community partners engaged in freshwater research and education.
- Create standards-based educational programs about Fresh Water targeting k-12 schools.
Focusing on both formative and summative evaluation methodologies, CCT staff used a series of instruments (e.g., interviews, online surveys) to measure project outcomes in relation to three key questions:
- Is the project increasing awareness of freshwater resources and ecology across a diverse cross-section of the community;
- How well are the project materials supporting and promoting greater understanding of freshwater content areas, themes and issues in different populations; and
- Is Pier Wisconsin effectively developing and maintaining the partnerships among schools, community-based organizations and research institutions needed to realize its project goals?