BioRAP

UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT: Expanded Evaluation and Distribution of BioRAP

Historical Perspective

BioRAP is a health science newsletter developed for 6th to 8th grade youngsters. It was developed by the Education Committee of Connecticut United for Research Excellence (CURE) Inc. The newsletter arose in response to increasing requests from school teachers to CURE’s speaker bureau for presentations on certain health related topics. The newsletter was envisioned as a way to efficiently deliver up-to-date health science information in an interesting fashion. BioRAP is meant to be a user friendly, intellectually honest vehicle to provide emerging information on health, science, the scientific method and health science careers to middle school youngsters. Issues are presented in a standard format on heavy duty recycled paper. The eight pages of each issue include standard columns (i.e., Today’s Research Laboratory, Career Rap), a full page cartoon presentation of information, word games (i.e., crossword puzzles, word hunts), activities for students to do and a column of questions from other readers.

Project Abstract

With SEPA funding awarded in fall 1995, revision of some materials, expanded evaluation and distribution of BioRAP were made possible. Early study of BioRAP and its usefulness to students and teachers showed impressive cognitive gains following use of the newsletter and high reports of both student and teacher satisfaction with the newsletter itself. Unfortunately, teachers’ comments suggested the Teachers’ Guide to accompany BioRAP needed revision. During the first year of SEPA funding, the four Teachers’ Guides for each of the target issues were completely revised. The intent of revision was to make needed information more accessible to teachers through reorganization of the guides and cross-referencing of some materials. Original research efforts had been aimed primarily at documenting student gains in knowledge. The positive student outcomes noted were independent of student gender and mostly unrelated to grade level of the student. With SEPA grant support additional correlates of outcomes were added in the evaluation component though the collection of data describing student socioeconomic status (SES) and ethnic group identity. Further, the outcome variables of issue specific self-efficacy and general self-efficacy for health tasks were included in the 1995-1996 school year evaluation. New self-report scales to measure student self-efficacy were developed and validated. Existing evaluation tools (i.e., content tests, satisfaction indicators) were refined based on item analysis information and student and teacher feedback from previous research. The student evaluation forms were put into an optically scanned format. A sampling frame of Connecticut teachers using BioRAP was used to select an ethnically and SES diverse sample for inclusion in the 1995-96 school year evaluation. Revision of the four Teachers' Guides to accompany the target BioRAP issues used in the evaluation was completed before the 1995-1996 year distribution.

During the first year of SEPA funding, nearly 170,000 copies of BioRAP were distributed to 316 teachers in Connecticut. More than 3,500 student responses were gathered to use in the evaluation of four issues of BioRAP: AIDS, Sun & Skin, Cancer, and Product Safety. Results showed considerable gains in knowledge over previously documented pre-test levels. On average, between 67 percent and 70 percent mastery of content was shown, regardless of testing conditions (i.e., graded work, ungraded classroom activity), grade in school, ability, SES, and ethnic variables. Students continued to report high degrees of satisfaction with the newsletter, as indicated by the award of the Grade of "B", on average, to BioRAP. Student self-efficacy for issue specific health care tasks was stronger than efficacy perceptions for general health care tasks, indicating effectiveness of BioRAP in delivering some sense of confidence to youngsters for their own health.

Evaluation of the existing BioRAP distribution model suggested that a direct mail approach would not be able to realize significant national distribution. Contacts were made with several state teacher organizations to explore alternate, effective methods of distribution. Additionally, focus groups of teachers and other experts were initiated to determine the feasibility of posting BioRAP on the World Wide Web to enhance distribution.

During the second year of SEPA funding, a multi-state, geographically diverse sample was secured to evaluate student outcomes. Data were collected from six states (Alabama, California, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio and Pennsylvania) using a convenience sample. A variety of ethnic and socioeconomic groups were represented in the sample. In the multi-state distribution, student achievement scores showed between 71 and 73% correct on the cognitive items, depending on issue. The only practically meaningful correlates of achievement scores were self-reports of GPA: students with higher general academic achievement scored better after using BioRAP than students with lower self-reported GPA. Importantly, grade level in school, gender, SES and ethnic group were not useful predictors of achievement scores. BioRAP seemed equally effective in producing learning outcomes regardless of differences in students on these biographic variables. In self-efficacy measurement, general self-efficacy for health related skills showed a mean of 3.98 (range 1-5 where 5=quite a lot of confidence in task performance) and self-efficacy for issue specific tasks ranged from 3.41 to 4.06, depending on issue, with an average of 3.67. Again, in prediction of the self-efficacy outcomes as in achievement outcomes, GPA was the most salient predictor. Reports of these outcome data from evaluation of BioRAP across the two years of SEPA funding have led to presentation of five papers at national and international conferences for researchers in health, social support and educational professions.

A plan for the most efficient distribution of BioRAP to reach the largest, most nationally representative audience of teachers and students was developed during the second year of SEPA funding. Based upon focus group responses and teachers’ responses to a mailed survey, mounting BioRAP on the World Wide Web was deemed to be the best way to efficiently and economically reach the most students and teachers. This was accomplished in the spring of 1997 and promoted through mailings of postcards to science teachers alerting them to the new homepage. Currently the BioRAP homepage can be reached directly at www.biorap.org or through connections within the SEPA or the University of Connecticut School of Nursing homepages. Information on BioRAP in general, and on the specific issues of BioRAP supported under SEPA funding, are available from the BioRAP site. Additionally, the Teachers’ Guides for the four target issues, plus a new issue on Aging and Genetics, along with supplementary materials and references for all issues, are posted on the WWW.

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