Part 3: Developing Our Project Proposal: Identifying Our Audience and Diving into R & D
Before we get to the challenges, I’ll share our project proposal design timeline to give you context so you can see how our original idea evolved into the current content system.
Prior to getting the green light for the Stairway to STEM (STS) project, we identified an audience of educators who needed online training that teaches evidence-based practices for working with autistic students.
The idea for this project slowly came to us through our work on other projects. During the last ten years of capturing classroom footage for some of our projects, we noticed that educators were teaching more autistic college students. We also learned that autistic students have low college graduation rates. So, we assumed that many educators had a pedagogical issue that they were struggling to address in relation to autism. While it was true that some educators had strategies to help these students learn, many more did not. Why were they struggling? Why did some teachers have the tools to work with autistic students while others didn’t? Was this an opportunity? What was at risk?
We looked at different possible outcomes if things didn’t change. Educators could become frustrated and fatigued. Autistic students might fall behind academically and possibly drop-out. Or, autistic students might not even make it to college in the first place. We had our starting point for a proposal.
We envisioned the following three-year project design:
- During Year 1, as part of our research and development phase, we would continue researching our target audience (faculty) and, at some level, the students they teach. We would also recruit remaining members of the editorial board who hadn’t been signed-on during our speculative research for proposal development, identify additional partners, and confirm the evaluator’s plan.
- During Year 2, we planned to visit classrooms across the country, capturing the evidence-based practices for inclusion in our video series and testing the content with faculty.
- During Year 3, we planned to disseminate and evaluate our content.
Our team has been implementing approaches like this for twenty years. Study – Produce – Distribute – Evaluate. As you will see, we dropped this approach for Create – Engage – Manage – Optimize.
This proposal was going to be our solution to, “How do we increase the enrollment and retention of autistic college students?”
The final products would highlight evidence-based practices for educators working with autistic high school students.
So, we began canvassing the country to identify participants for inclusion in our professional development series proposal.