It is hard to imagine anyone having a more extensive reach on impacting the effective use of technology in education than Evans.
In 2003, the national annual Project Tomorrow Speak Up survey was created under Evans’ leadership to give voices to the most important people in the K-12 education system – students. Evans’ prior work with several programs, including AmeriCorps and a series of national focus groups with students, brought to light a disconnect between how students wanted to use technology for learning and how it was actually being used.
“We learned that students, especially in the most challenged communities, believed that the use of technology within their education was the key to opportunity. Most importantly, students had great ideas about how technology could be better used to create those high impact learning opportunities for them – but unfortunately, no one was asking students about their ideas,” says Evans. “Speak Up provides a unique, easy to use way for students from all kinds of communities all around the country to share their ideas and aspirations with education decision-makers – and for those decision-makers, from local school principals to national policymakers, to hear those voices loud and clear.”
Working with a grant from the U.S. Department of Education, Project Tomorrow implemented the first Speak Up survey to collect K-12 students’ thoughts and hopes for using technology in their learning processes. The results showed educators across the country that, in addition to teachers using technology, students too needed to have tools in hand to access information and create content.
Over time, additional Speak Up surveys provided opportunities for other stakeholders – including parents and pre-service teachers – to share their voices. Today, under Evans’ leadership, Project Tomorrow is the preeminent global education nonprofit organization dedicated to empowering student, educator and community members to speak their mind about digital education. The Speak Up survey represents the largest collection of authentic, unfiltered voices on digital learning today.
Evans and her team engage in extensive research each year to determine the most impactful questions to be included in the survey. But the true power of Speak Up is not simply in the collection of data from multiple parties, it is in how data is used and its impact on policies and decision-making at every level in the education system, from the highest offices in national, state and local governing bodies to individual classrooms and interactions between teachers and students. School leaders report using the analysis of their Speak Up annual data for strategic planning, bond referendums, professional learning, community outreach and more.
“A key differentiator for Speak Up from other research projects is that the entire process is facilitated through schools and districts. That means that every bit of data collected from students, parents and educators is tied to a school and district, thus making the data not just nationally relevant but highly contextualized to local environments,” says Evans. “Additionally, Project Tomorrow gives back to every participating school and district their own locally collected data, plus state and national data for comparatives. Education leaders tell us that a key benefit of the Speak Up project is in the power of that local data and being able to see how the views of their students, parents and teachers compare to others in their state or nationwide. That local plus comparative views provides a solid foundation for new discussions around digital learning every day.”
Evans’ reach goes beyond her work with the Speak Up survey. Project Tomorrow is home to multiple other education programs including YouthTEACH2Learn, Youth Leadership Summit for Math and Science, and the California Educators Rising organization among others. Her work also extends to international communities. In 2015, Evans joined global leaders at UNESCO’s Mobile Learning Week in Paris, France, where she presented two workshops on the topic of “Design, Development and Implementation of Gender-Sensitive Mobile Apps and Learning Projects.”
A lifelong learner herself, Evans is currently a doctoral candidate in education leadership at the University of California, San Diego where her dissertation topic is how students use digital learning tools outside of school to self-direct their learning.
Evans’ work and its profound impact are truly making a difference for students, teachers and parents.