IES Blog

Institute of Education Sciences

Investing in Next Generation of Education Technologies to Personalize Learning and Inform Instructional Practice

The Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) funds entrepreneurial developers to create the next generation of education technology for students, teachers, and administrators in general and special education. The program emphasizes an iterative research and development process and pilot studies to evaluate the feasibility, usability, and promise of new products to improve educational outcomes. The program also focuses on commercialization after development is complete, so that the products can reach schools and be sustained over time.

In recent years, millions of students in tens of thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through ED/IES SBIR. And in the past four months, about one million students and teachers used the technologies for remote teaching and learning, as many ED/IES SBIR-supported developers made their products available at no cost in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the closure of schools.

 

ED/IES SBIR Announces its 2020 Awards

This week, ED/IES SBIR announced the results of its 2020 award competition. Of the 22 new awards, 16 are for prototype development and 6 are for full-scale development. IES also announced two additional awards through a special topic solicitation in postsecondary education. Read about these awards here.

 

 

Each of the new awards supports a project to develop a product to personalize the student learning experience or generate information that educators can use to guide practice.

Most of the projects are developing a software component (for example, algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine Learning, or natural language processing) that continually adjusts the difficulty of content, provides prompts to support individual students if support is needed, or generates real-time actionable information for educators to track student progress and adjust instruction accordingly. Other projects are developing technologies to promote student learning through self-directed, hands-on, simulated, and immersive experiences. If the future of education includes a blend of in-class and remote learning due to public health crises, or for whatever reasons, technologies such as these will be ready to keep the learning going.

The projects address different ages of students and content areas.

In science, LightHaus is fully developing a virtual reality (VR) intervention for students to explore plant heredity; LightUp is fully developing an augmented reality (AR) app for students to perform hands-on physical science investigations with their own on-device camera; and Myriad Sensors is developing a prototype artificial intelligence formative assessment system that generates feedback in real time as students do hands-on laboratory experiments.

In math, Muzology is creating a prototype for students to create music videos to learn algebra, and Teachley is creating a prototype transmedia kit with videos, comics, and pictures to enhance teaching and learning of hard to learn concepts.

In engineering and computer science, Parametric Studios is fully developing an augmented reality puzzle game for early learners, and Liminal eSports, Makefully, and Beach Day Studios are creating prototype components that each provide feedback to students as they engage in activities to learn to code.

In English Language Arts, Analytic Measures and Hoogalit are each employing natural language processing to develop new prototypes to facilitate speech acquisition, and Learning Ovations is developing a prototype data engine to make recommendations for what individual children should read.

For English learners, KooApps is developing an artificial intelligence prototype to support vocabulary acquisition, and Kings Peak Technologies is employing machine learning to generate passages that blend English and Spanish words together to improve reading comprehension.

For early learners, Cognitive Toybox is fully developing an observation and game-based school readiness assessment.

For postsecondary students, Hats & Ladders is fully developing a social skills game to foster career readiness skills.

In special education, Attainment Company is developing a prototype to support student’s self-management, and Alchemie is developing a prototype of an augmented reality science experience for visually impaired students.

To support school administrators and teachers, LearnPlatform is fully developing a dashboard that generates reports with insights for teachers to implement education technology interventions, and Zuni Learning Tree, Teachley and LiveSchool are developing prototype dashboards to organize and present results on student progress and performance in real time.

 

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.


Written by Edward Metz (Edward.Metz@ed.gov), Program Manager, ED/IES SBIR

IES is Providing Digital Technical Assistance for FY 2021 Research Grant Applicants

Given the many challenges that this year has brought, including the difficulties and uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IES is providing different resources and options to assist applicants as they begin preparing their applications. To ensure that program officers can focus their time on project-specific questions, applicants should review these resources first before seeking individual feedback.

First, have a copy of the documents that are needed to submit a proposal. Download a copy of the relevant request for applications (RFA) and the IES Application Submission Guide. This page has PDFs of these documents: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/21rfas.asp. Also, download the application package (search for CFDA 84.305) from https://grants.gov/. Contact Grants.gov (1-800-518-4726; support@grants.gov) if you need help with your electronic grant submission.

 

Next, take advantage of our digital technical assistance options.

  • On-demand webinars. These pre-recorded webinars answer questions about the grant competitions, how to apply, and how to prepare a strong application. You can access them here: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/webinars/.  

 

  • Virtual office hours. This year, we will host a series of drop-in hours during which a program officer will answer questions and give technical assistance. These office hours will help determine which competition or project type is the best fit and also understand some of the requirements and recommendations in the RFAs. Please see the schedule below along with the call-in information. This information is also posted here.

 

  • Cost analysis/Cost-effectiveness analysis. Many RFAs require a cost analysis plan, and some also require a cost effectiveness plan.  Please refer to our list of resources for developing these plans: https://ies.ed.gov/seer/cost_analysis.asp.

 

 

Finally, please make sure that you attend to the application due dates: https://ies.ed.gov/funding/futureComp.asp because IES does not accept late applications.

 

Virtual Office Hours

Staff from the research centers will host hour-long drop-in virtual sessions to provide technical assistance around particular competitions or research project types or for general purposes. Applicants are encouraged to join in the discussion and ask questions. These sessions are especially helpful if you are unsure of which competition or project type is the best match for you or if you are unclear on any changes to the requirements or recommendations. Below is a list of the current sessions and their topics. Please attend as many sessions as you would like.

All office hours will use the same call-in details. The program officer will allow participants into the meeting from the “lobby” at the beginning. We recommend you do not use video so that there is sufficient bandwidth. All times are shown in Eastern Standard time.

 

Join Microsoft Teams Meeting

+1 202-991-0393   United States, Washington DC (Toll)

Conference ID: 915 412 787#

 

If you would like to request accommodations (e.g., TTY), please send an email to NCER.Commissioner@ed.gov with this request as soon as possible.

You may have to download a free mobile application to use Microsoft Teams if you want the full audio and visual experience from your phone. Clicking on the linked “Join” hyperlink below should prompt you to do this. You can also refer to this article for information: https://support.microsoft.com/en-gb/office/set-up-your-teams-mobile-apps-1ba8dce3-1122-47f4-8db6-00a4f93117e8

 

 

Virtual Office Hours Schedule

 

 

Monday, June 22

Tuesday, June 23

Wednesday, June 24

Thursday, June 25

12:30 – 1:30 pm ET

Competition fit: this will cover all NCER grant competitions and items such as applicant eligibility, general requirements, submission questions, and the IES review process.

Efficacy/Follow-Up and Replication: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of these types.

Exploration projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Development projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

2:00 – 3:00 pm ET

Exploration projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Development projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Is 305A (Education Research Grants) right for me? This will address general questions about CFDA 84.305A

Measurement projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

 

 

Monday, June 29

Tuesday, June 30

Wednesday, July 1

Thursday, July 2

12:30 – 1:30 pm ET

Development projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Exploration projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Measurement projects: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

 

2:00 – 3:00 pm ET

Competition fit: this will cover all NCER grant competitions and items such as applicant eligibility, general requirements, submission questions, and the IES review process.

Systematic Replication: this will focus on the requirements for a 305R or 324R application

Efficacy/Follow-Up: this will cover characteristics of high-quality projects of this type.

Pathways to the Education Sciences: this will address common questions about this training program opportunity.  

 

Responding to COVID19 in Education: ED/IES and Government Supported Developers Offer Virtual Resources and Activities for Distance Learning

We recently posted this blog listing more than 80 learning games and technologies that are available at no cost until the end of the school year in response to the closure of schools due to the COVID crisis. The resources were created by education technology developers with support from the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Programs at ED/IES and other agencies, as well as through programs at IES and across government. In recent weeks, more than 100,000 teachers and students around the country have accessed these learning technologies at a distance.

Today, we are sharing more resources and activities that this group of developers is making available to the education community in response to COVID19.

A Series of Day-Long Virtual Unconferences

Over the coming weeks, developers are hosting a series of free virtual “Unconferences” on different topics for educators, parents, and students. The events will feature innovative models and approaches to teaching and learning during this time of distance learning and in-depth looks at the learning games and technologies created by the presenters, available at no cost until the end of the school year. While presenters will describe the delivery of online interventions via computers and devices, sessions will also focus on innovative approaches to implementing the interventions in low-resource settings.

The events are called “Unconferences” because the sessions are informal in nature and attendees can select sessions to join across the day. Attendees can participate by asking the presenters questions through the chat box and by responding to polls that capture reactions and views on topics.

Schedule and Information about the Virtual Unconferences in Education:

National K12 Student Challenge

ED/IES SBIR awardee Future Engineers (@K12FutureE) launched a nation-wide challenge for K12 students to submit entries to “invent a way to make someone smile or feel appreciated during COVID19.” Teachers can sign up a class to participate or students can participate on their own. See this page for more information and to submit an entry.

Stay tuned to the Inside IES Blog for more information and resources about the response to the COVID19 in education.

 


Edward Metz is a research scientist and the program manager for the Small Business Innovation Research Program at the US Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences. Please contact Edward.Metz@ed.gov with questions or for more information.

 

ASSISTments: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

ASSISTments is a free, web-based formative assessment platform for teachers and students in Grades 3 through 12. The tool is designed for teachers to easily assign students math problems from OER textbooks such as Illustrative Math and EngageNY, existing item banks, or items they have developed on their own. ASSISTments will continually assess students as they solve math problems and provide immediate feedback and the chance to try again. The computer-generated reports provide teachers with information to make real-time adjustments to their instruction. Teachers can use it with their school’s existing learner management systems, such as Google Classroom and Canvas. Watch a video here.

 

 

Over the past 13 years, ASSISTments was developed and evaluated with the support of a series of IES and National Science Foundation awards. With a 2003 IES award to Carnegie Mellon University and Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI), researchers created the first version of ASSISTments. The system was populated with Massachusetts high-stakes mathematics test questions and the tutoring for the questions was authored by WPI staff with assistance from local teachers. After students completed problems assigned by the teacher, reports provided teachers with information about question difficulty and the most commonly submitted wrong answers, initiating class discussions around the completed assignments. In 2007, researchers at WPI received an award to build additional functionalities in the ASSISTments program so that teachers could assign supports (called “skill builders”) to students to help them master content.  An additional eight grants allowed the researchers to create other features. 

With a 2012 IES research grant award, SRI evaluated the efficacy of the ASSISTments program as a homework tool for academic learning.  In the study, the researchers took all 7th grade textbooks in the State of Maine and added answers to homework problems into ASSISTments.  The results of the efficacy trial demonstrated that teachers changed their homework reviewing behavior, mathematical learning improved an extra three quarters of a year of schooling, and using ASSISTments reliably closed achievement gaps for students with different achievement levels. ASSISTments is currently being evaluated again through two IES studies, with over 120 schools, to attempt to replicate this result. To view all publications related to ASSISTments, see here.

As of 2020, ASSISTments has been used by approximately 60,000 students with over 12 million problems solved.

 

Interview with Neil Heffernan and Cristina Heffernan

From the start of the project, was it always a goal that ASSISTments would one day be used on a wide scale?

We created ASSISTments to help as many teachers and students as possible. After we learned that the ASSISTments intervention was effective, we set the goal to have every middle school student in the country get immediate feedback on their homework. We created ASSISTments to be used by real teachers and have been improving it with each grant. Because of the effectiveness of ASSISTments, we kept getting funded to make improvements allowing our user base to grow.

At what point was ASSISTments ready to be used at a large scale in schools?

We were ready in year one because of the simplicity of our software. Now that we integrated seamlessly with Google Classroom, most teachers can use the system without training!

ASSISTments is backed by a lot of research, which would make some think that it would be easy for many schools to adopt. What were (or are) the biggest obstacles to ASSISTments being used in more schools?

A big obstacle has been access to technology for all students. The current environment in schools is making that less and less of a barrier. Now, teachers are looking for effective ways to use the computers they have.      

What options did you consider to begin distributing ASSISTments?

We had major companies try to buy us out, but we turned them all down. We knew the value was being in control so we could run research studies, let others run research studies and AB test new ideas. It was important to us to keep ASSISTments free to teachers. It is also a necessity since we crowdsource from teachers.

How do you do marketing?

Our biggest obstacle is marketing. But we are lucky to have just received $1 million in funding from a philanthropy to create a nonprofit to support the work of making our product accessible. Foundation funding has allowed us to hire staff members to write marketing materials including a new website, op-eds, blog posts and press releases. In addition to our internal marketing staff member, we work extensively with The Learning Agency to get press and foundation support for ASSISTments.

What costs are associated with the launch and distribution of ASSISTments, including marketing? Will a revenue model needed sustain ASSISTments over time?

When creating ASSISTments, we didn’t want a traditional business model based on schools paying. Our vision for future growth, instead, focused on crowdsourcing ideas from teachers and testing them. We are trying to replicate the Wikimedia platform idea created by Jimmy Wales. He crowdsources the content that makes up the encyclopedia, so it must be free. We envision using ASSISTments to help us crowdsource hints and explanations for all the commonly used questions in middle school mathematics.  

Do you have any agreement about the IP with the universities where ASSISTments was developed?

The ASSISTments Foundation was founded in 2019 and supports our project work in tandem with Worcester Polytechnic Institute due to our integration with research. The close relationship takes care of any issues that would arise with intellectual property. Additionally, the fact that we are a nonprofit helps address these issues.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing ASSISTments? What would you say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?

Even though we are free, we do have several competitors. To gain traction, we have found that word of mouth is an effective disseminator and our positive efficacy trial result. Currently, there are many teachers on Facebook sharing how much they like ASSISTments. We also attend conferences and are working on an email campaign to get new users onboard.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research into widespread practice?

Make sure your work is accessible and meaningful! We are solving a super-pervasive problem of homework in schools. Everyone finds meaning in making homework better.


Neil Heffernan (@NeilTHeffernan) is a professor of computer science and Director of Learning Sciences and Technologies at Worcester Polytechnic Institute.  He developed ASSISTments not only to help teachers be more effective in the classroom but also so that he could use the platform to conduct studies to improve the quality of education.  

Cristina Heffernan (@CristinaHeff) is the Lead Strategist for the ASSISTments Project at WPI. She began her career in education as a math teacher in the Peace Corps and after went on to teach middle school math in the US.  She began working with teachers while a graduate student at the University of Pittsburgh. As one of the co-founders of ASSISTments, Cristina has nurtured the system to be a tool for teachers to improve what they already do well in the classroom. 


This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences. This is the fourth in an ongoing series of blog posts examining moving from university research to practice at scale in education.​

Activities for Students and Families Stuck at Home due to COVID-19 (Coronavirus)

As I write this blog post, my 4-year-old is spraying me with a water sprayer while I am desperately protecting my computer from a direct hit. Earlier, while I was listening in on a meeting, she yelled out “hi!” anytime I took myself off mute. Balancing work and raising kids in this bizarre situation we find ourselves in is an overwhelming experience. When schools started closing, some parents resorted to posting suggested schedules for kids to keep up a routine and deliver academic content during the day. These were wonderful suggestions. As someone whose dissertation focused on how people learn, I should be applauding such posts, but instead, they filled me with a sense of anxiety and guilt. How am I supposed to balance getting my work done while also designing a rigorous curriculum of reading, writing, and math instruction for a kid whose attention span lasts about 10-20 minutes and who needs guidance and adult interaction to learn effectively? Let’s take a step back and recognize that this situation is not normal. We adults are filled with anxiety for the future. We are trying to manage an ever-growing list of things—do we have enough food? Do we need to restock medications? What deadlines do we need to hit at work?

So here is my message to you, parents, who are managing so much and trying desperately to keep your kids happy, healthy, and engaged: recognize that learning experiences exist in even the simplest of interactions between you and your kids. For example—

  • When doing laundry, have your child help! Have them sort the laundry into categories, find the matching socks, name colors. Create patterns with colors or clothing types (for example, red sock, then blue, then red, which comes next?).
  • Find patterns in your environment, in language (for example, nursery rhymes), and when playing with blocks or Legos. Researchers have shown that patterning is strongly related to early math skills.
  • Talk about numbers when baking. I did this with my daughter yesterday morning. We made muffins and had a blast talking about measuring cups, the number of eggs in the recipe, and even turning the dial on the oven to the correct numbers. Older kids might be interested in learning the science behind baking.
  • Take a walk down your street (practicing good social distancing of course!) and look for different things in your environment to count or talk about.
  • Bring out the scissors and paper and learn to make origami along with your kids, both for its benefits for spatial thinking and as a fun, relaxing activity! In this project, researchers developed and pilot tested Think 3d!, an origami and pop-up paper engineering curriculum designed to teach spatial skills to students. The program showed promise in improving spatial thinking skills.
  • If you choose to use screen time, choose apps that promote active, engaged, meaningful, socially interactive learning.
  • If you choose to use television programs, there is evidence showing that high quality educational programs can improve students’ vocabulary knowledge.

Hopefully these examples show that you can turn even the most mundane tasks into fun learning experiences and interactions with your kids. They may not become experts in calculus at the end of all of this, but maybe they will look back fondly on this period of their life as a time when they were able to spend more time with their parents. At the end of the day, having positive experiences with our kids is going to be valuable for us and for them. If you have time to infuse some formal learning into this time, great, but if that feels like an overwhelmingly hard thing to do, be kind to yourself and recognize the value of even the most simple, positive interaction with your kids.

Written by Erin Higgins, PhD, who oversees the National Center for Education Research (NCER)'s Cognition and Student Learning portfolio.