March 1, 1997
The goal of Genentech's Access Excellence program is to provide high school biology teachers with on-line access to scientists, other science teachers, and high-quality scientific resources, particularly those related to biotechnology and genetics. By providing biology teachers with a community of colleagues and experts, and a rich and up-to-date library of resources, Genentech intends to alleviate the sense of isolation which biology teachers nationwide have reported is the most critical challenge they face as professionals.
The Access Excellence program has, during each of the past three years, recruited and trained one hundred exceptional biology teachers who act as the core participants in the Access Excellence program. These three cohorts, known as Access Excellence Fellows, received extensive training, free portable computers, and subsidies for their access to telecommunications networks. In return, these Fellows have contributed curricula, led discussions, designed and led collaborative on-line projects, and acted as hosts to other teachers visiting the Access Excellence Forum on the World Wide Web. With its emphasis on providing a diverse range of biology-related resources, and its willingness to allow the Fellows to play a significant role in determining the course and content of Forum activity, the Access Excellence program is a leading example of the potential of on-line forums to support flexible and effective informal professional development opportunities for teachers.
The evaluation of the Access Excellence program combined quantitative and qualitative techniques, including surveys, interviews, and observations of on-line activity. Over the course of the 1995-1996 school year, the evaluation team was able to develop an increasingly refined picture of how the Fellows were using the Forum; how they understood the goals and effectiveness of the Access Excellence program; the impact the Forum was having on the Fellows; and the potential of the Access Excellence program to expand to include a larger number of high school biology teachers as participants.
Key findings of this evaluation study include the following:
- The Access Excellence program was successful in alleviating the Fellows' feelings of isolation from their peers and colleagues.
- Access Excellence Fellows were highly enthusiastic about their experiences with the program, giving it high ratings for effectiveness and ranking it favorably in relation to other teacher development programs they were aware of, both corporate-sponsored and non-profit- or government-sponsored.
- The Fellows feel a high degree of ownership of the program.
- Fellows placed the most value on, and reported that they learned the most from, the community of teaching colleagues they came in contact with through Access Excellence.
Recommendations growing out of this evaluation focus on two subjects: supporting Fellows as recruiters of new participants, and adapting the structure and focus of the Forum to serve the needs of a broader population of biology teachers.