IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Distance education: Learning in non-traditional settings

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

Distance education courses and programs provide students with flexible learning opportunities. Distance education has become increasingly common at the postsecondary level. Many postsecondary institutions offer at least some online courses, while other institutions exclusively offer online programs and courses taught exclusively online. NCES collects data on distance education through the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) and the National Postsecondary Student Aid Study (NPSAS).

IPEDS data on distance education provides information on the number and percentage of students participating in distance education at different types of institutions. In fall 2013, about 4.6 million undergraduate students participated in distance education, with 2.0 million students (11 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the 2.0 million undergraduate students who exclusively took distance education courses, 1.1 million students (6 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 0.8 million (4 percent of total undergraduate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.

At the postbaccalaureate level, some 895,000 students (31 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) participated in distance education in fall 2013, with 677,000 students (23 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) exclusively taking distance education courses. Of the students who exclusively took distance education courses, 273,000 students (9 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in programs located in the same state in which they resided, and 362,000 students (12 percent of total postbaccalaureate enrollment) were enrolled in a different state.


Percentage of undergraduate students at degree-granting postsecondary institutions who participated exclusively in distance education courses, by control and level of institution: Fall 2013

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 311.15.


The percentage of undergraduate students participating exclusively in distance education programs differed by institutional control. In fall 2013, a higher percentage of students at private for-profit 4-year institutions exclusively took distance education courses (58 percent) than did students at any other control and level of institution. Similarly, at the postbaccalaureate level, the percentage of students who exclusively took distance education courses in fall 2013 was higher for those enrolled at private for-profit institutions (79 percent) than for those at private nonprofit (19 percent) and public institutions (16 percent).

Data on distance education in IPEDS is at the institution level, and therefore does not provide data on how distance education may differ by student characteristics. However, NPSAS contains both institution- and student-level data and can therefore be used to examine whether participation in distance education differs based on student’s demographic characteristics. For example, findings from NPSAS show that a higher percentage of older adults enrolled in distance education classes than younger adults. In 2011–12, a higher percentage of undergraduates 30 years old and over took distance education classes or their entire degree program through distance education (41 percent and 13 percent, respectively) than undergraduates 24 to 29 years of age (36 percent and 8 percent, respectively) or undergraduates 15 to 23 years of age (26 percent and 3 percent, respectively).

Findings from NPSAS also show that enrollment in distance education was higher in 2011-12 than in previous years in which these data were collected. A higher percentage of undergraduates took distance education classes in 2011–12 (32 percent) than in 2007–08 (21 percent) or in 2003–04 (16 percent). Also, a higher percentage of undergraduates took their entire degree program through distance education in 2011–12 (6 percent) than in 2007–08 (4 percent) or in 2003–04 (5 percent).

Enrollment in distance education will likely continue to grow as additional institutions offer individual courses, or even entire degree programs, online. Drawing on new technologies, the scope of distance education activities have expanded to reach millions of students. Current and future NCES data collections will continue to monitor this trend.

The Nexus Between Teaching and Research: What I Learned Working on an IES Grant

 

Samuel Choo is a doctoral student at the dissertation stage in the Department of Early Childhood, Special Education, and Rehabilitation Counseling at the University of Kentucky (UK). In this blog post, he describes how working on an IES grant gave him first-hand experiences in planning and carrying out research in schools. He also discusses how these research experiences helped him understand the important connections between research and teaching.

How did you get started working on this IES research project?

The first I heard of IES was six years ago as a resource room teacher at a middle school. Dr. Brian Bottge, who is now my doctoral adviser, was awarded a NCSER grant to test the effects of Enhanced Anchored Instruction (EAI) on the math performance of middle school students. My school was randomly assigned to the EAI group. The project staff did a good job of teaching us how to implement EAI in our resource rooms. Soon after teaching with the new curriculum, I noticed that my students were much more motivated and engaged than they had been. In fact, they looked like they were actually enjoying math! Posttest scores showed positive results in favor of the new curriculum.

And so this experience as a teacher got you more interested in research?

Yes! The next year I applied to the UK doctoral program. I joined Dr. Bottge’s IES grant team as a research assistant where I learned how classroom-based research is planned and conducted. I had many opportunities to participate in the research experience. In my case, I helped train math and special education teachers, observed classrooms and assessed research fidelity, provided teachers with technical support, assisted in scoring tests, and worked on data entry and analysis. Project leaders also asked me to suggest revisions to the daily lesson plans based on my experiences teaching with EAI the year before.

Can you talk more about your developing research interests related to math education?

After the grant ended and after I finished my doctoral coursework, I went back to teaching in North Carolina, where I taught low performing middle school students in a Title I resource room. I ran my own pilot studies using what I had learned while teaching with EAI as both a research participant and research assistant. To help offset the cost of materials for my first study, I was awarded a $1500 Bright Ideas Grant from the North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives. Thanks to the company’s generosity, I was able to fully implement all the lesson plans developed by Dr. Bottge’s grant team.

This experience was especially important to me because it was my first try at conducting my own research with a prescribed protocol, which I had learned from working on the IES project. Posttests showed statistically significant improvement of students in the EAI group in both computation and problem solving. Based on these results, the sponsor invited me to participate in a panel discussion in Raleigh, NC. The CEOs of the company attended the event along with policy makers and school administrators from across the state. This whole process, from applying for funding to carrying out the study to reporting the results, helped me make connections between university, classroom, and community.

What have been your big takeaways from these experiences?

From the training I received as a study participant, I have become a better teacher.  From working on an IES-funded grant team, I learned a lot about how to conduct classroom-based studies. I am looking forward to designing new instructional methods and testing their effectiveness. Similar to how my students learned math in a hands-on way, I learned research methods by having the opportunity to use them in practice, and for that I am very grateful. 

How to Develop Your Career in Education Research: IES Training Opportunities

By Corinne Alfeld, NCER Program Officer

In honor of career development month, we would like to remind you about training opportunities funded by IES. We have invested in training programs since 2004 with the aim of increasing the supply of scientists and researchers in education who are prepared to conduct rigorous education research that advances knowledge within the field and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. These efforts are intended to lead both to the training of talented education researchers from a variety of backgrounds and to the incorporation of diverse ideas and perspectives in education research.

In this blog we describe five types of training opportunities currently offered through the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) that span from undergraduate to the postdoctoral level and beyond.

Training Opportunities for Current or Future Doctoral Students
Are you a current or aspiring doctoral student wondering what training opportunities are available to you? You may be interested in applying to one of 10 training programs funded by NCER’s Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences that train predoctoral fellows in interdisciplinary programs involving a number of academic disciplines (e.g., economics, education, psychology, public policy, sociology, and statistics, among others). These fellowships can be from 2 to 5 years in length depending on the training program model and typically include tuition and benefits, a $30,000 stipend, and a small research/travel fund. Fellows who complete their training program have the skills necessary to produce research that is rigorous in method as well as relevant and accessible to education stakeholders such as practitioners and policymakers.

If you are interested in becoming a predoctoral fellow, you must apply directly to one of the training programs, not to IES.  Each of the 10 fellowship programs funded in 2014-15 has its own application process and acceptance criteria. For more information on becoming a predoctoral fellow, check out this resource on Applying for a Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program Fellowship.

 

Postdoctoral Training Opportunities
Are you finishing up your doctorate and wondering how you can get more experience in education research? Or perhaps you’re looking to return to academia through a postdoctoral position? If so, you may want to apply to one of the our programs funded under the Postdoctoral Research Training Program in the Education Sciences Program (NCER) or the Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education Program (NCSER). Through these two grant programs, IES funds training programs at doctoral-granting institutions to further prepare researchers who have obtained their Ph.D.s or Ed.D.s to become scholars capable of conducting high-quality, independent education or special education research. These postdoctoral training programs provide practical, hands-on experiences; enrichment of theoretical and empirical knowledge; and opportunities for fellows to build professional skills and networks that will support working with other researchers and relevant education research stakeholders.

To inquire about postdoctoral fellowship openings, follow the hyperlinks in this section to search for currently (awarded in 2010-15) funded programs at various universities around the country. For example, here are the 2015 NCER-funded programs and 2012 NCSER-funded programs.

 

Other Upcoming Training Opportunities:

  • Undergraduate, Post-baccalaureate, and Master’s Students. If you are an upper-level undergraduate student, recent graduate, and/or master’s student, especially from a group that is underrepresented in doctoral study (including racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged students, veterans, and students with disabilities), you may be interested in the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program (Pathways). Established in 2015, the Pathways program funds training programs at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and institutions of higher education that partner with MSIs. These training programs will provide fellows with education research experience and professional development to prepare them to pursue doctoral study in the education sciences or in fields relevant to education research.

Up to five Pathways training programs will be awarded to MSIs (and their partners) in 2016. These new programs will begin recruiting fellows in 2016 and 2017, so keep your eyes and ears open for more information about where and how to apply!

 

  • Early Career Education Researchers. Are you an early career researcher at your first appointment? If so, you may qualify for and be interested in one of our programs that target early career researchers in statistical and research methodology (NCER) and special education (NCSER).

Look for upcoming training opportunities for early career researchers in future Request for Applications for training grants (CFDA 84.305B and 84.324B) and statistical and research methodology grants (CFDA 84.305D).

 

  • Active Researchers Looking to Improve Their Methodological Expertise. Are you a current researcher (e.g., at a university or research firm) who would like to add tools to your methodological toolkit or further refine your skills with such tools? If so, then the Methods Training for Education Researchers Program may be for you.

If you are interested in methodological training, sign up for the IES Newsflash for announcements of upcoming workshops or periodically check our list of IES-funded workshops.

 

If you have questions about our training programs, please contact Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.

 

The IES Investment in Mathematics and Science Education Research

By Christina Chhin, NCER Program Officer and Rob Ochsendorf, NCSER Program Officer

Here is a common question we receive at IES: “What has IES funded in the areas of mathematics and science?” Given that both NCER and NCSER have dedicated “Mathematics and Science Education” research topics, you would think it would be an easy question to answer. That is until you see that both NCER and NCSER also support projects focusing on math and science through other research topic areas, including programs such as Cognition and Student Learning, Early Learning Programs and Policies, Educational Technology, and Effective Teachers and Effective Teaching. To help answer this question, IES has just released a compendium of research grants focusing on mathematics or science funded between 2002 to 2013. This compendium is part of a series of documents intended to summarize the research investments that NCER and NCSER are making to improve student education outcomes in specific topical areas.

As noted in the compendium, between 2002 to 2013, NCER and NCSER has funded over 300 projects focused on mathematics or science education, with 215 of them being instructional interventions (e.g., packaged curricula, intervention frameworks, and instructional approaches), 75 professional development programs, 165 educational technologies, and 65 assessments in math and science. The math and science compendium is a useful tool for a wide array of education stakeholders, as it not only provides brief descriptions of each project, it also is categorizes each project into sections based on content area, grade level, and intended outcome.

Picture of the cover of "A Compendium of Math and Science Research Funded by NCER and NCSER: 2002–2013"

So, how does the investment in mathematics and science that NCER and NCSER have made compare to other education research investments? Between 2002 and 2013, NCER and NCSER funded more than 1,110 education research grants, so research on mathematics and science makes up approximately a third of the research centers' total investment.  The compendium shows that NCER and NCSER have made significant contributions to STEM education by supporting rigorous, scientifically valid research that is relevant to education practice and policy focused on mathematics and science education; however, there is still room for growth. For instance, the compendium makes apparent that NCER and NCSER have funded few projects focusing specifically on geometry or earth and space science in grades K to 12. NCER and NCSER have come a long way in helping to support high-quality mathematics and science education research and will continue to do so to help address the gaps and needs in the field. 

Do you have a research project that will address some of these identified gaps? If so, be sure to sign up for IES Newsflash or follow us on Twitter, so that you will receive notice when our new Requests for Applications are released. 

Questions? Comments? Send us an email at IESResearch@ed.gov.

 

Reading for fun: Using NAEP data to explore student attitudes

By Lauren Musu-Gillette

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) is well-known as one of the key resources for information about the academic progress and performance of U.S. students. But did you know that NAEP also collects other important data on students’ behaviors and attitudes? For example, NAEP Long-Term Trend reading assessments have asked students how often they read for fun. Using these data, we can see how the frequency of reading for fun differs by student age and over time. These data can also be examined in conjunction with students’ reading assessment scores on NAEP.

A higher percentage of younger students reported that they read for fun almost every day than older students. In 2012, about 53 percent of 9-year-olds reported that they read for fun almost every day, compared to 27 percent of 13-year-olds and 19 percent of 17-year-olds. Conversely, about 27 percent of 17-year-olds said they never or hardly ever read for fun compared to 22 percent of 13-year-olds and 11 percent of 9-year-olds. For 17-year-olds, the percentage who reported that they read for fun almost every day decreased over time, from 31 percent in 1984 to 19 percent in 2012.


Percentage of students reading for fun almost every day, by age: 1984 and 2012

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), Long-Term Trend Reading Assessments. See Digest of Education Statistics 2014, table 221.30.


There were also differences in reading assessment scores by frequency of reading for fun. In 2012, students who were 17-years-old and read for fun almost every day had higher scores (302 points) than those that never or hardly ever read for fun (272 points). The same was true for 13-year-olds (276 vs. 249 points, respectively) and 9-year-olds (226 vs. 208 points, respectively). Note, however, that comparisons like these between reading assessment scores and frequency of reading for fun cannot be used to establish a cause-and-effect relationship. 

Other questions about students’ reading behaviors and attitudes are included on the main NAEP assessments. For example, in addition to a question about the frequency of reading for fun, the 2015 questionnaire included the following items:

  • About how many books are there in your home?
  • How often do you talk with your friends or family about something you have read?
  • Reading is one of my favorite activities (with response options: this is not like me, this is a little like me, and this is a lot like me)

Questions like these can be compared with students’ assessment scores to examine how attitudes, behaviors, and achievement may be related.