|Hallmarks of High Impact Outreach|
|Outcomes: The Big Water Questions|
|The Proof is in the Wiki|
A challenge for many outreach programs is demonstrating impact. The development and implementation of one or more high quality assessment tools are often time consuming and expensive. Many outreach programs run on a shoestring budget and have minimal funding to carry out the project, let alone conduct in-depth assessment. Yet without specific feedback, how do organizers and sponsors know whether or not participants are learning what was intended to be taught?
We think the hallmarks of an excellent outreach program include clearly defined outcomes and one or more assessment tools that provide targeted feedback. That way, funders and in-kind sponsors can feel confident about their investment, and organizers obtain the information they need to improve the program. RiverXchange offers a unique kind of assessment through clearly defined outcomes and the use of two assessment tools.
Outcomes: The Big Water Questions
Each of the three units features hands-on activities that reinforce one or more key water concepts known as The Big Water Questions. These questions are intentionally broad — such as Is every place in the world part of a watershed? — to encourage students to reach for deeper meaning. Each broad question is then followed by one or more specific questions — such as What is a watershed? Where does your river start? Into what ocean does your river eventually flow? How much precipitation does your community receive each year?. The goal is for students to understand all questions and be able to formulate logical answers.
Students are to take an online assessement after they finish each of the three units. Each assessment includes between nine and thirteen multiple choice questions. Results are analyzed in terms of specific New Mexico cities and partner classes (as a whole). Check out our assessment results in the 2012-2013 Annual Report.
The Proof is in the Wiki
As RiverXchange organizers, we often say “the proof is in the wiki.” In other words, the evidence of what students are learning is reflected in their writing. This added level of assessment provides a rich and valuable kind of feedback to our funders. We have reviewed thousands of student pages and we are continually amazed by the critical thinking we see. Quality feedback like this requires teacher motivation and good school logistics to make sure students get to the computer lab to write about their experiences.