Trying to glean meaning out of volumes of data is a challenge for those involved with North Carolina’s School Connectivity Program, including researchers at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at NC State University.
Since 2006, the Friday Institute has participated in the connectivity program, a comprehensive effort to expand the North Carolina Research and Education Network (NCREN) to all of the state’s 2,400 K-12 schools. The project, funded by the state’s General Assembly, expanded in 2007 into a multifaceted effort to connect schools to NCREN, develop and disseminate curricula that takes advantage of broadband connectivity, use technology tools in the classroom and generally prepare North Carolina students for success in the technology-rich 21st century.
The Friday Institute’s work includes examining how quickly and comprehensively schools adopt new technologies and how many schools are participating in new educational programs such as Virtual Schools, which offers instruction and collaboration using NCREN, and the 1:1 Computing Project, which aims to give every student and teacher access to a laptop.
“Our project produces a great deal of data and throughout the process, we’ve used various methods to represent the data,” said Lee Sartain, educational technology and policy lead for the Friday Institute. Sartain heard about RENCI at NC State’s efforts to visualize demographic data for the Institute for Emerging Issues (also at NC State) and thought similar 3D depictions could be meaningful in presenting the School Connectivity Program’s data. As a result a new partnership developed between the Friday Institute and RENCI at NC State to use visualization to look at a number of questions, including how many schools are involved in technology rich programs? How deep is their involvement in these programs? And, what is the distribution of school broadband connectivity around the state?
Using a software framework created by Visualization Specialist Sidharth Thakur, RENCI at NC State helped the Friday Institute visually depict Virtual School enrollments across the state and the impacts of the 1:1 Computing Project. The visualizations allow researchers and policymakers to see where programs are growing, what areas of the state lack programs and to develop plans for future efforts. Long term, Sartain hopes to create visualizations of live network data for analysis.
RENCI…Catalyst for Innovation
The Renaissance Computing Institute, a multi-institutional organization, brings together multidisciplinary experts and advanced technological capabilities to address pressing research issues and to find solutions to complex problems that affect the quality of life in North Carolina, our nation and the world. RENCI leverages its expertise and resources in leading edge computing, visualization, networking and data technologies to catalyze new collaborations and solve problems. Founded in 2004 as a major collaborative venture of Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the state of North Carolina, RENCI is a statewide virtual organization.