In 1996, the Illinois Reality-Based Learning (RBL) Consortium, through an agreement with Kirby School District No. 140, was awarded a five-year Technology Innovation Challenge Grant (TICG) from the U.S. Department of Education for its Reality-Based Learning (RBL) project. The RBL project sought to promote collaborative relationships between students, teachers and community partners who use technology as a tool to address real-world problems.
The RBL Project was designed to create a network of schools in which teachers and K-12 students use their knowledge and skills to serve as consultants, addressing real-world (reality-based) problems generated through an active collaboration among business, government, and local communities as well as universities and be supported by new types of interactive computer and communications technologies, including the Internet.
One RBL project was 'What Do I Do If I Get Lost at the Zoo.' First-grade students worked with Brookfield Zoo staff and learned about 'hugging trees,' identifying staff members, remaining where you are, and so on. They then used Claris Draw to create a map and booklet for Brookfield to distribute to children upon entrance to the zoo. This project aligned well with first-grade standards for safety, math and language arts.
Another project had seventh graders creating games, websites and videos for patients at the University of Chicago Children's Hospital to use while also teaching those patients how to create their own games, websites and videos. This project aligned with seventh-grade standards for science, language arts, fine arts, math and technology use. Other partners have included Commonwealth Edison, North Chicago Public Library, Friends of the Chicago River, the Coca Cola Company, the City of Mt. Carmel, and the County Farm Bureau.
In 1997, the Consortium, composed of Kirby School District, Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), Western Illinois University (WIU), Northwestern University (NWU), and eight other Illinois school districts, contracted CCT to conduct an evaluation of the RBL project. CCT's research and evaluation plan included conducting online surveys with teachers and students, making site visits to three schools, attending the RBL Consortium's quarterly meetings, and documenting the Summer Institute, a three-day professional development workshop. The following research questions, developed to guide our evaluation research, were informed by the opportunities and circumstances presented by the variety and range of RBL projects:
- What happened during the implementation of the RBL projects? How is technology being integrated into the projects and/or curriculum?
- What changes have taken place in the classroom, based on the RBL projects, that affect the way students are learning and teachers are teaching?
- What circumstances support successful integration of the projects? What pressures work against it? How effective is the training and other support participants receive for the projects from Consortium partners (NWU, WIU, and ANL)?
- What are project participants' plans, expectations, and recommendations to sustain and expand integration of the RBL projects for the future?
By analyzing the data from different sources, we sought to gain a deep understanding of the intricate factors that facilitate or hinder project implementation and integration in different school settings. The evaluation provided a broad overview of implementation across project types and included feedback obtained from participants that should be useful as a guide for the Steering Committee's decisions and planning. It also provided insights into the process of applying the RBL concept to classroom teaching and enrich our general understanding of student learning.