Mindsurf Networks provided portable computing and Internet access to students and teachers through wireless networking, handheld computers, software, and support, a strategy that moved away from the prevailing practice of installing technology in public schools by placing wired, desktop computers in a lab environment. The cornerstone of Mindsurf Network's approach was one-to-one computing: every student and teacher should have immediate, individual access to a rich array of information resources. By providing students and teachers with information and communications technologies that are portable but have the capacity to store several electronic books - as well as spreadsheet and word processing software, a personal calendar, email and infrared communications functionality, Internet connectivity, and a bevy of other resources - the company hoped to achieve four goals:
- Provide teachers with the means for frequent assessment of student work, and to provide students with ready feedback
- Help teachers tailor their instruction to students' needs
- Offer high-quality instruction and interaction for all
- Support effective classroom management.
Prior to entering the educational marketplace and selling its commercial products and services to schools and districts, the company formed partnerships with two 'Development Schools' in Maryland - a high school located in an affluent suburb in Howard County and an urban middle school in Baltimore - as well as 84 'Schools of Innovation' scattered throughout the country. At the two Development Schools, where multiple teachers experimented with the handheld wireless tools, Mindsurf conducted extensive beta testing of its prototypes and overall approach to wireless computing. Additionally, Mindsurf used the Schools of Innovation (SOIs), located in urban, suburban, and rural middle and high schools in 26 states, to test their products and services on a broad scale.
To understand better the Schools of Innovation Pilot Program, the experiences of the Development Schools, and the overall potential of the Mindsurf tools, the company commissioned CCT to conduct an evaluation of the program. We devised a research plan that included a five-month formative evaluation, from February to June 2001, of the ways teachers and students at the Development Schools and SOIs use the Mindsurf applications. CCT also consulted to Mindsurf Networks on the rollout of version 2.0 of the company's product line.