Educational Technology & Society 3(3) 2000
ISSN 1436-4522

The FORESEE Project: Connecting Communities to Create Competence

Cathy L. Crossland, Ed.D.
Professor of Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education and Psychology
North Carolina State University, Box 7006
Raleigh, NC  27695-7006  USA
Tel: +1 919 515 1775
Fax: +1 919 787 5135

Larry K. Monteith, Ph.D.
Chancellor Emeritus and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering
North Carolina State University, Box 7006
Raleigh, NC  27695-7006  USA
Tel: +1 919 515 5118
Fax: +1 919 515 5831

Thomas K. Miller, Ph.D.
Associate Dean, College of Engineering
North Carolina State University, Box 7901
Raleigh, NC  27695-7901  USA
Tel: +1 919 515 7389
Fax: +1 919 515 57463

Lynne B. Brock, M.Ed.
Doctoral student in  Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education and Psychology
North Carolina State University, Box 7006
Raleigh, NC  27695-7006  USA
Tel: +1 919 513 3701
Fax: +1 919 515 5381

Roel Cuejilo, JD
Distance Education Technology Specialist
Office of Distance Education and Information Technology
College of Engineering, North Carolina State University, Box 7901
Raleigh, NC  27695-7901  USA
Tel:+1 919 515 5323
Fax: +1 919 515 5381

Mary Anne Wheeler, Ph.D.
Principal, Wake County Public School System
3600 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh, NC  27609 USA
Tel: +1 919 856 7699
Fax: +1 919 856 2989

Rebecca Viersen, M.Ed; M.S.A.
Assistant Principal, Wake County Public School System
3600 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh, NC  27609  USA
Tel: +1 919 856 7708
Fax: +1 919 856 2989

Laura Zielinski, B.S.
Classroom teacher, Wake County Public School System
3600 Wake Forest Road, Raleigh, NC  27609  USA
Tel: +1 919 856 7708
Fax: +1 919 856 2989


This case study describes Project FORESEE, a tutoring system utilizing a computer-based network under development at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. The project is a collaboration among university faculty and students in the Colleges of Engineering and Education and Psychology, teachers, administrators, students and parents in a public school system, and a cadre of volunteer tutors. The interactive system is directly linked to the curriculum and instruction in the classroom to support tutoring in mathematics for a group of third grade students in a single elementary school. Tutoring is enabled by a point-to-point telephone line connection between the tutor’s computer and the student’s computer. Voice, video, and white board enabled by Microsoft NetMeeting are used to provide an interactive virtual tutoring environment (VirTuE). Hardware includes a PC with multimedia capabilities, a 56K modem, a digital camera, Microsoft NetMeeting, and a Cross iPen Pro tablet. The VirTuE server is capable of receiving and directing telephone calls from the student’s PC and functions as a web server for delivery of instructions and resource materials for the tutors. Tutoring occurs with virtual worksheets that simulate pencil and paper on the computer screen. Results of the first phase of implementation indicate students made significant individual progress in the mastery of basic grade-level number facts in a 15-week period of time. Teachers, parents and tutors corroborate through anecdotal information the potential for the FORESEE approach to effective tutoring of elementary age students. The pilot-phase evidence supports the goal of development of a high-quality, low-cost, widely-deployable, interactive tutoring environment that will promote the recruitment of large numbers of persons to be volunteer tutors for schools and students. Future activities include the development of interactive simulation tools that can be manipulated by both the student and tutor, and the application of the technology to other academic subjects in elementary, middle- and secondary schools.

Keywords: Interactive tutoring, Distance learning, Virtual learning environment, Virtual tutoring, Computer-assisted instruction

In recent years there has been a growing interest in tutoring and mentoring at all levels of American education. It is borne in part by the realization among educational leaders in the United States as well as in other countries that even though the promise is great for interactive computer networks and other educational technologies to individualize the educational process and adapt to the learning styles of particular students, interpersonal interaction is irreplaceable in teaching and learning (Coley et al, 1997; Yelland, 1999). The FORESEE Project is about connecting and engaging teachers, parents, students and volunteer tutors - the entire school community - in the educational process. It is about creating competence in our young people and ensuring they can advance. Our vision asserts that educating our children is a community responsibility and that a community succeeds when all of its citizens are successful. While the planned expansion of Project FORESEE calls for implementation across multiple ages, grades, levels, types, and locations of schools, the pilot phase of the project has been conducted with a small sample of four children in a single elementary school in order to develop the associated technology in a careful, effective and cost-efficient manner. The project, conducted under the auspices of the Kenan Institute for Engineering, Technology & Science at North Carolina State University (NC State), utilizes both an innovative computer network developed by Electrical and Computer Engineering and Computer Science faculty and students in the College of Engineering and an innovative tutoring curriculum developed by faculty and students in the College of Education and Psychology. University faculty and students collaborate with  faculty and administrators in a local public elementary school who identify the students and their parents to participate in the project. An essential component and vital link to the community is the energy, motivation, and skills of a diverse set of volunteer tutor participants. This paper presents in case study format an overview of the first six months of development and implementation of the project, and implications for future developments.


Critical Elements of Project FORESEE

“Just-in-time” interactive academic tutoring

The notion of tutoring is well established as an effective means of individualizing instruction to meet the needs of a learner. Essentially, it involves a one-on-one approach to instruction, most often between an adult teacher and a student, although there are other variations of the dyad, including peer tutoring. Tutoring is, perhaps, the oldest recorded method of formal teaching and continues to a popular format for providing instruction to students who for a multitude of reasons may not profit in an optimal way from group instruction. Project FORESEE is designed to address the rapidly increasing need for more tutors to work with more students in our public school system at a time when individuals are increasingly more limited in their public service commitments by their personal lifestyles and employment conditions. We have created a collaborative and interactive system that allows an individual who is willing to volunteer his/her time to work with children to do so by accessing a computer-based tutoring program from the convenience of her/his home or office during the after-school hours at a time that is mutually prearranged with the parents of the student. We have attempted to apply what is known about excellent human tutors to our computer-based program (Lepper et al, 1993). The tutoring program includes easy-to-follow, step-by-step lesson plans that provide precise directions that allow the student to be instructed in a manner that is identical to the instruction he/she is receiving in the regular classroom. The specific academic skill(s) for each lesson is formatted in a multi-step procedure that can be easily previewed and even downloaded to a hard copy by the tutor (if so desired) a few minutes prior to beginning on-line instruction with the student. Because each student’s needs are determined by the classroom teacher on a daily basis, and the appropriate tutoring lesson plans are preselected for the tutor, the tutoring session addresses the “just-in-time” need for reinforcement, practice, application, and drill of the skill(s) in a manner identical to the student’s classroom instructional activities. Individual tutoring sessions are planned to require no more than one hour of time. Nearly all of the time is effectively devoted to instructing the student, instead of being “lost” through the traditional tasks associated with volunteer tutoring programs that require the tutor to leave his/her home or work site, drive to a school, locate a student within the school building, and try to determine what to do to assist the student with an assignment that is often unfamiliar to the tutor, and without an idea of what instructional techniques have already been used by the classroom teacher. Because Project FORESEE circumvents these problems, no tutor is ever confronted with wondering how to instruct the student, nor is the tutor in the awkward position of wondering if what he/she is doing is consistent with what the classroom teacher is doing.


A Virtual Tutoring Environment (VirTuE)

Through Project FORESEE, an interactive tutoring system utilizing a computer-based network is under development at NC State. The system utilizes two-way voice, video and handwriting enabled by smart computer communications, networking an entire educational community and  allowing it to focus on the needs of each student in individualized learning experiences. A first-generation model of the technology is being used in Phase I of Project FORESEE. Each student participant and each tutor participant is provided a computer for the purpose of interacting with each other.  Tutoring is enabled by a point-to-point telephone line connection between the two computers. Voice, video, and white board enabled by Microsoft NetMeeting are used to provide an interactive virtual tutoring environment (VirTuE). The hardware necessary to participate in the tutoring system includes a Personal Computer (PC) with multimedia capabilities, a 56K modem, a digital camera, Microsoft NetMeeting, and a Cross iPen Pro tablet.  The VirTuE server is capable of receiving and directing telephone calls from the student’s PC, and it functions as a web server for delivery of instructions and resource materials for the tutors, students, parents and teachers, as well as a means of recording student performance data, and parent and teacher comments. The associated hardware and software required in Project FORESEE are under development and refinement, based on the evaluation of the experiences of the students and tutors who are participating in Phase I of the virtual tutoring environment. A primary objective of the project has been to develop the hardware in a high-quality, low-cost manner that will allow the cost per unit to be less than $500. Currently, the cost is approximately $700 per unit, which includes a new computer and associated hardware. As the technology is refined in the coming months, it is anticipated that further cost savings will be possible with our ability to adapt the technology to any existing computers in the home environments of students and tutors participating in the program.


 A curriculum that links classroom and tutoring instruction

A team of curriculum specialists affiliated with Project FORESEE works closely with the faculty and administrators at the pilot elementary school to develop technology-compatible tutoring lesson plans for the students who have been selected by their classroom teachers to participate in the project. The academic subject selected for the initial phase of the project is mathematics,  for several reasons. First, it is easy to measure math proficiency in a young child because the skills are easy to identify and lend themselves to quantification, enabling evaluation of how much progress the student is able to make in the tutoring program. Second, the order of mathematics skill development is relatively unambiguous and therefore is appropriate to a  scope and sequence approach, allowing the hierarchical arrangement of skills to be taught and learned (Hiebart and Carpenter, 1992). Third, mathematics is a subject that is more commonly, and therefore, more easily, understood by both the  engineers and educators who are cross-disciplinary colleagues on Project FORESEE. The lesson plans used in the pilot phase of the project are based on the math curriculum and textbooks used in the classroom and are focused on developing and reinforcing the same skills that the students are being taught in their classroom settings. Because the curriculum is classroom teacher-driven, the  tutoring sessions reinforce and extend the daily instruction in the home setting during after-school hours. Continuous curriculum-based assessment data are gathered through permanent products in the form of data points automatically transferred to graphs. These data include the results of diagnostic teaching probes (typically a one-minute set of problems for the student to work) at the onset and conclusion of each tutoring session that enable the student, tutor, and parents to review and monitor the student’s progress in mastering the skills. The graphing of individual progress has proven to be a highly effective means of reinforcing both the students and the tutors. Each lesson concludes with an activity in which the student, tutor, and parents are able to qualitatively assess and record the progress of  the student in mastering the material just presented. The recorded and analyzed student data obtained from the beginning and ending teaching probes, in conjunction with the anecdotal comments of all the participants, are used by the classroom teachers, tutors, parents, and project staff to monitor student progress, to individualize and modify tutoring activities, and to garner participant reactions regarding educational and technology problems requiring solutions. The many useful suggestions that have come from all the participants have contributed to the continuous improvement and refinement various components of the program.


Easy- to -use computer-technology

A key element in the success of Project FORESEE is the creation of a computer-based system that will attract parents and tutors who are not highly skilled with computer technology. Parents are more likely to avoid participating in a program that requires a level of technology proficiency with which they are not comfortable, even if it means refusing the offer of a computer and assistance for their child. Likewise, if a potential tutor perceives or becomes convinced that tutoring in this program requires sophisticated knowledge of how to operate the associated equipment, it will be much more difficult to recruit the tutor. Therefore, we have intentionally kept both the hardware and software simple and easy to use and maintain.  Through the generosity of our initial funding sources, each student’s home is outfitted with a PC from E-machines with multimedia capabilities, a 56K modem, a digital camera, Microsoft NetMeeting, and a Cross iPen Pro tablet.  The only requirements placed on the parents are that they must provide a quiet place for the equipment so that the tutoring sessions can be conducted without a noisy background or distractions, they must be present during each session, and they must be able to use the simple equipment to initiate contact with the tutor to begin each session. The tutors are allowed to use their own computing system if they so choose and we provide the auxiliary hardware (such as the camera, etc.), or we provide them with the same configuration as the student, including the PC. Some tutors elected to use their laptop computers and ultimately, we hope that will be a means of allowing more individuals to tutor from remote locations. We offer several tutor training sessions, including one on how to use the equipment  with simulated lessons. A manual has been developed for the tutors that lists all the information on how to use the equipment, information about how to access technical support if a problem arises, and information about the student to whom they are assigned, as well as sample lesson plans. The project staff develops weekly lesson plans for each student and sends the information to the tutors via e-mail attachments or disks, if requested. A major part of the initial phase of the project has been devoted to working through the technical difficulties, such as transmitting lesson plans that are set up as white board files in a manner that can be quickly downloaded during the tutoring session. These minor technical challenges have been met successfully with the four students in the pilot phase of the project.  The most difficult challenge for most of the tutors and parents is learning to write easily and well on the white board with the Cross iPen Pro tablet.  The students have almost no difficulty mastering using the iPen.   Because there is both visual (through the digital camera hookup) and auditory (using headphones for amplification and clarification) interaction over the telephone connection, what results is a mini-classroom, complete with a simulated “chalkboard,” and personalized instruction specifically targeted to what the student needs to practice, according to his/her classroom teacher’s observations of what transpired that day.


On-line collaboration

Project FORESEE promotes a collaborative atmosphere between and among the participants at all levels. There exists a strong formal collaboration between University personnel and the public school classroom teachers. These individuals meet regularly to discuss the mathematics curriculum as well as the pedagogical approaches used by the teachers. Together, they develop the lesson plans that comprise the tutoring sessions. In addition to their face-to-face meetings, they communicate regularly electronically. The tutors and their students collaborate with each other in setting goals for individual tutoring sessions and in designing special activities for each student based on the opportunities to do so that are built into each lesson plan. The parents also collaborate with their children and the tutors by providing feedback based on their observations of each session. They do so via verbal interactions during the session and via electronic messages to the tutors and classroom teachers that can be delivered at any time. Another level of collaboration occurs between the tutors on each team assigned to a child. The tutors interact with each other electronically by sharing with the entire team the results of each session as well as recommendations for the next session. In nearly every situation, the tutors do not know one another and sometimes never meet in person. However, as a result of their ability to receive and transmit information and to communicate with electronic conversations as a group via their computers, they report feeling very much a part of a collaborative team. Our experiences suggest that an on-line tutoring program such as FORESEE need not ‘dehumanize’ the interpersonal nature of communication and collaboration essential to effective teaching and learning (Lipponen, 1999).


Promising Results of Phase One

The first phase of Project FORESEE has been conducted over a five-month period of time, from August - December of 1999.  While it is early in the project, we have been able to demonstrate several important findings from our work to date. This initial phase of the project included four third-grade students in a single elementary school, two girls and two boys identified by the school personnel. For one of the students, English is a second language and her family speaks primarily Spanish. We were able to arrange tutors for her who were fluent in Spanish and therefore her parents to fully participate in the tutoring sessions. Each of the students was evaluated prior to the onset of tutoring to determine a baseline measure of mathematical functioning.  In order to corroborate teacher judgment, the BRIGANCE® Diagnostic Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills, a formal criterion-referenced assessment tool, was administered to each of the students to determine what specific grade-level mathematics skills the students demonstrated. It was learned that Basic Number Facts was an area of deficiency common to all four students, as predicted by the their classroom teachers. Number facts are simple computational problems that a student should know instantly without having to compute,  such as 5+2 = 7; 8-2 = 6; 7x3 = 21, etc.). Each of the students scored below 35% in accuracy of number facts in the areas of third-grade addition, subtraction and multiplication number facts. It was also noted that each of the students worked very slowly in computation, which prevented each from successfully completing the number of problems (usually 70-75 simple computational problems) that a student is expected to complete in a three-minute timed task. Lesson plans were developed to be used with the tutoring program for these skills in accordance with the third-grade curriculum. A group of 12 volunteer tutors participate in this phase of the project.  The tutors work in two-, three-, and four-person teams. Each student participated in three one-hour sessions per week.

At the end of December, five months (15 weeks) after the program began, each of the students was assessed using the same test of number facts and the pre-and post-intervention scores were compared using simple percentage quantification. The number of student participants is too small to make use of formal quantitative techniques for analysis; however, the individual scores for each student demonstrated significant positive results. Each student improved his/her accuracy rate to at least 85% and one student improved to 94%. Compared to the pretest accuracy scores (no student having scored better than 35% accuracy), the gains are remarkable. A significant improvement in the rate at which each student was able to perform on the post-test measure was also found. On the pretest, no student was able to write an answer (correctly or incorrectly) to more than 35% of the number facts problems on the three-minute timed tests. On the posttest, each student was able to write an answer for at least 75% of  the problems. Overall, in terms of both accuracy and speed, each of the students demonstrated impressive gains in his/her ability to perform. Subjective teacher judgments also indicated that each of the students improved in his/her classroom performance on arithmetic number facts. The informal anecdotal comments of parents, tutors, and teachers to this point in time corroborate the collective opinion that this program has enormous potential academic application.


Summary and Conclusions

Although we are keenly aware of the small sample on which the improvements in students’ performance in mathematical functioning were substantiated, we believe the computer technology we have developed in Project FORESEE has demonstrated significant potential for effective tutoring with school-age children. In the fall of 2000, Project FORESEE will expand to include 25 students in grades four and five in the area of mathematics as a formal research activity with multiple measures of outcomes and a control group for comparison. Future plans include expanding the project to include tutoring in the language arts (specifically reading and spelling) and in content subjects (science and social studies, for example). We believe we are at the forefront of demonstrating the power of an on-line, interactive tutoring program that will allow large numbers of potential volunteers to participate in a program that is based on the specific curriculum used in the classroom, is adaptable to the lifestyles of families and individuals, is compatible with simple, low-cost, easy-to-use computer technology, and results in significant educational gains for the students enrolled in such a program. Providing the VirTuE server as the ìhubî of communications between the teachers, tutors, administrators, and parents facilitates the critical interactions among all of the parties involved, which we believe will substantially improve the  quality of the tutoring and the probability of success in growing and sustaining the program. Currently, tutoring takes place with what could be described as ìvirtual worksheetsî that simulate pencils and paper on the computer screen. In the future, we envision the use of more powerful tutoring devices such as games or interactive simulation tools that could be manipulated by both the student and tutor. In addition, we are working with local providers of high-speed Internet services (cable modem and ADSL) to experiment with bandwidths beyond the present 56K boundary. Currently, the price/performance curves for network connectivity are improving at twice the rate of those for the computer technology itself.  Assuming these trends continue, our goal of a high quality, low cost, widely deployable, interactive tutoring environment should be realizable within the next five years.



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