Summer 2004

Spotlight: Laura Breeden
by anonymous

Laura Breeden
Laura Breeden leads the Community, Technology and Learning group and the America Connects Consortium (ACC), based at Education Development Center in Newton, MA. ACC supports community technology centers across the nation by providing training, information, tools, and other resources that build organizational effectiveness. From 1996 to 2000, Ms. Breeden was an independent consultant focusing on Internet strategies and organizational development. She also served as founding director of the highly competitive federal Technology Opportunities Program at the Department of Commerce, designed to demonstrate the benefits of new information and communications technologies in the public sector. Her technology experience dates from 1983, when she got her first Internet address and an account on a UNIX machine. Laura holds a BA in Urban Education from Oberlin College and provides the following overview of her work.

General Work

The Community, Technology and Learning group at EDC focuses on using technology more effectively in informal settings to support learning, career development, and civic participation. We develop curriculum, training, evaluation tools, and other resources, and we work with programs in the field to improve and deepen practice.

Current Work in Research & Evaluation

Our largest project currently is the America Connects Consortium or ACC, which is a partnership with CTCNet and the National Institute on Out-of-School Time. ACC began in September 2000 and is the technical assistance provider to the US Department of Education's Community Technology Centers program. ACC has been providing evaluation assistance to grantees from its inception, and the literature review we completed in 2001 is still one of our "most downloaded" documents. The project has developed a number of tools and resources to support evaluation, often in collaboration with CTCs in the field This year we are engaged in several research activities, a software and literature review, and a major retrospective analysis of the CTC program since 1999.

Other projects in the CTL group also work in evaluation and research. The YouthLearn Initiative is developing an evaluation of youth media projects for the Time Warner Foundation, working with EDC's Center for Children and Technology. And ScienceQuest, funded by the National Science Foundation, is evaluating its four-year record for publication in 2005.


One of the most serious challenges is that different funding agencies have different priorities (or they change their priorities frequently). CTCs are then required to collect multiple kinds of data and generate reports targeted to the funder's interests. Data collection can become a burdensome task that is disconnected from other work at the CTC, instead of being integrated into the culture of the organization and used to improve programs in a thoughtful way.

We have worked with the field to develop data collection tools (like a database template and a Web-based benchmarking toolkit) that address the baseline problem of what to collect and how to collect it. This lets staff focus more on interpreting and using the data. We have also developed materials that show how data collection and evaluation can become part of the program planning and design cycle, rather than being an add-on to satisfy a reporting requirement.

Another challenge is that programs do not have opportunities to work together to define evaluation goals, processes, and standards. So we're not learning as much from one another as we could; our work isn't additive. We are trying to bring together a number of organizations with an interest in evaluating community technology programs to address this issue.

Advice for Other Practitioners

I think it's very important for us to take the time to exchange ideas, learn from and critique each other's work, and build a common vocabulary around research and evaluation. Community technology is an emergent area. It's not mature or "finished." We need consciously to create the systems that are required to improve what we do, because our task will take an entire generation; it's far from over.

Opportunities for Growth

Another presentation in the R&E track is by Ken Thompson of the Gates Foundation, who has brought together a group of technology funders to look at gaps in evaluation. Both the federal government, with its emphasis on performance and accountability, and the private foundations are increasing looking for "evidence-based" practices. Community technology programs are becoming more focused on outcomes, such as obtaining job skills or educational credentials. Many are thinking not just about outcomes for individuals but community-level outcomes, as in the Ford Foundation project CTCNet is coordinating that links community development, community technology, and public spaces. There is so much we need to know that research and evaluation have an enormous potential to tell us--if we can convince funders to invest, and we can come together wisely to share our experiences.

Post a comment

Remember personal info?

* Denotes required field.