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BellSouth Foundation awards $600,000 grant to University of Florida College of Education


May 23, 2006

ATLANTA — The BellSouth Foundation today announced that the University of Florida College of Education will receive a $600,000 grant to develop a comprehensive strategy for measuring and assessing the outcomes of the BellSouth 20/20 Vision for Education initiative.

The $20 million initiative commemorates the Foundation’s 20th anniversary and is designed to bring engaging, rigorous, online instruction to students throughout the Southeast – particularly low-income and minority students – to address the growing achievement gap and improve graduation rates. The initiative focuses on strengthening state-led virtual schools and supporting e-Learning in the communities BellSouth serves.

Under the five-year grant, UF education researchers headed by education technology specialist Richard Ferdig, will develop standardized methods for evaluating the effectiveness of online education for students. In collaboration with BellSouth’s virtual high school partners, the researchers will then use the new evaluation tools to determine the best teaching practices and strategies for online instruction, particularly to students of diverse backgrounds.

“Studies have already proven that learning through online schooling is effective,” said Ferdig. “Our study will move beyond the question of whether virtual schooling works, focusing instead on when and how online instruction works most effectively. Our aim is to provide a comprehensive set of tools for regional virtual schools to improve the quality of online instruction and student performance.”

Ferdig’s co-researchers at UF are Tom Dana, professor of education and chairman of the college’s School of Teaching and Learning, and education technology doctoral students Erik Black and Meredith DiPietro.

The centerpiece of the evaluation plan for BellSouth 20/20 Vision for Education will include drawing on existing research and current virtual school practice to create a database of metrics useful for school improvement. The online database will provide multiple reporting mechanisms that will provide implications for funding, policy, and practice. It will also be used by the virtual schools to provide timely, continuous feedback for data-driven decision making and evaluation of existing policies and practice.

In addition, University of Florida researchers will test evaluation instruments to improve student performance and increase the quality of online instruction.

“University of Florida has a national reputation for innovative education research and this grant recognizes their expertise in virtual learning,” said Marshall Criser III, state president – Florida, BellSouth. “Our partnership with them will be instrumental in supporting our work with state-led virtual schools and furthering our e-Learning efforts.”


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