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

Addressing Persistent Disparities in Education Through IES Research

Spring 2020 has been a season of upheaval for students and educational institutions across the country. Just when the conditions around the COVID-19 pandemic began to improve, the longstanding symptoms of a different wave of distress resurfaced. We are seeing and experiencing the fear, distrust, and confusion that are the result of systemic racism and bigotry. For education stakeholders, both the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest unfolding across the country accentuate the systemic inequities in access, opportunities, resources, and outcomes that continue to exist in education.

IES acknowledges these inequities and is supporting rigorous research that is helping to identify, measure, and address persistent disparities in education.

In January (back when large gatherings were a thing), IES hosted its Annual Principal Investigator’s (PI) Meeting with the theme of Closing the Gaps for All Learners. The theme underscored IES's objective of supporting research that improves equity in education access and outcomes. Presentations from IES-funded projects focusing on diversity, equity, and inclusion were included throughout the meeting and can be found here. In addition, below are highlights of several IES-funded studies that are exploring, developing, or evaluating programs, practices, and policies that education stakeholders can implement to help reduce bias and inequities in schools.

 

 

 

  • The Men of Color College Achievement (MoCCA) Project - This project addresses the problem of low completion rates for men of color at community colleges through an intervention that provides incoming male students of color with a culturally relevant student success course and adult mentors. In partnership with the Community College of Baltimore County, the team is engaged in program development, qualitative data collections to understand student perspectives, and an evaluation of the success course/mentorship intervention. This project is part of the College Completion Network and posts resources for supporting men of color here.

 

  • Identifying Discrete and Malleable Indicators of Culturally Responsive Instruction and Discipline—The purpose of this project is to use the culturally responsive practices (CRP) framework from a promising intervention, Double Check, to define and specify discrete indicators of CRPs; confirm and refine teacher and student surveys and classroom direct observation tools to measure these discrete indicators; and develop, refine, and evaluate a theory of change linking these indicators of CRPs with student academic and behavioral outcomes.

 

 

  • The Early Learning Network (Supporting Early Learning From Preschool Through Early Elementary School Grades Network)—The purpose of this research network is to examine why many children—especially children from low-income households or other disadvantaged backgrounds—experience academic and social difficulties as they begin elementary school. Network members are identifying factors (such as state and local policies, instructional practices, and parental support) that are associated with early learning and achievement from preschool through the early elementary school grades.
    • At the January 2020 IES PI Meeting, Early Learning Network researchers presented on the achievement gaps for early learners. Watch the video here. Presentations, newsletters, and other resources are available on the Early Learning Network website.

 

  • Reducing Achievement Gaps at Scale Through a Brief Self-Affirmation Intervention—In this study, researchers will test the effectiveness at scale of a low-cost, self-affirmation mindset intervention on the achievement, behavior, and attitudes of 7th grade students, focusing primarily on Black and Hispanic students. These minority student groups are susceptible to the threat of conforming to or being judged by negative stereotypes about the general underperformance of their racial/ethnic group ("stereotype threat"). A prior evaluation of this intervention has been reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse and met standards without reservations.

 

 

IES seeks to work with education stakeholders at every level (for example, students, parents, educators, researchers, funders, and policy makers) to improve education access, equity, and outcomes for all learners, especially those who have been impacted by systemic bias. Together, we can do more.

This fall, IES will be hosting a technical working group on increasing the participation of researchers and institutions that have been historically underutilized in federal education research activities. If you have suggestions for how IES can better support research to improve equity in education, please contact us: NCER.Commissioner@ed.gov.  


Written by Christina Chhin (Christina.Chhin@ed.gov), National Center for Education Research (NCER).  

This is the fourth in a series of blog posts that stems from the 2020 Annual Principal Investigators Meeting. The theme of the meeting was Closing the Gaps for All Learners and focused on IES’s objective to support research that improves equity in access to education and education outcomes. Other posts in this series include Why I Want to Become an Education Researcher, Diversify Education Sciences? Yes, We Can!, and Closing the Opportunity Gap Through Instructional Alternatives to Exclusionary Discipline.

A2i: From Research to Practice at Scale in Education

This blog post is part of an interview series with education researchers who have successfully scaled their interventions.

Assessment-to-Instruction (A2i) is an online Teacher Professional Support System that guides teachers in providing Kindergarten to Grade 3 students individualized literacy instruction and assessments. Students complete the assessments independently online without the teacher taking time away from instruction. A2i generates instantaneous teacher reports with precise recommendations for each student and group recommendations. See a video demo here. Between 2003 and 2017, researchers at Florida State University (FSU) and Arizona State University (ASU), led by Carol Connor, developed and evaluated A2i with the support of a series of awards from IES and the National Institutes of Health. Findings from all publications on the A2i are posted here.

While results across seven controlled studies demonstrated the effectiveness of A2i, feedback from practitioners in the field demonstrated that implementation often required substantial amounts of researcher support and local district adaptation, and that the cost was not sustainable for most school district budgets. In 2014, the development firm Learning Ovations, led by Jay Connor, received an award from the Department of Education (ED) and IES’s Small Business Innovation Research program (ED/IES SBIR) to develop an technologically upgraded and commercially viable version of A2i to be ready to be used at scale in classrooms around the country. In 2018, with the support of a five-year Education Innovation and Research (EIR) expansion grant from ED totaling $14.65 million, A2i is now used in more than 110 schools across the country, with plans for further expansion. 

 

Interview with Carol Connor (CC) and Jay Connor (JC)

From the start of the research in the early 2000s, was it always the goal to develop a reading intervention that would one day be used on a wide scale?
CC: Yes and no. First, we had to answer the question as to whether individualization was effective in achieving student literacy outcomes. Once the research established that, we knew that this work would have wide-scale application.

When did you start thinking about a plan for distribution
CC: Before embarking on the cumulative results studies, in 2008, Jay said that we needed to know who the “customer” was… i.e., how purchasing decisions were made at scale.  His 2008 Phase I ED/IES SBIR was critical in shifting our research focus from individual classrooms to school districts as the key scaling point. 

Did you work with a technology transfer office at the university?
CC: Only to the extent of contractually clarifying intellectual property (IP) ownership and licensing. 

Who provided the support on the business side?
CC: Jay, who has an MBA/JD and has been a senior officer in two Fortune 100 companies was very instrumental in guiding our thinking of this evolution from important research to practical application. 


 Do you have any agreement about the IP with the university? What were the biggest challenges in this area?

JC: Yes, Learning Ovations has a 60-year renewable exclusive licensing agreement with FSU Foundation. FSU couldn’t have been better to work with.  Though there were expected back-and-forth elements of the original negotiations, it was clear that we shared the central vision of transforming literacy outcomes.  They continue to be a meaningful partner.

When and why was Learning Ovations first launched?
JC: In order to pursue SBIR funding we needed to be a for-profit company.  At first, I used my consulting business – Rubicon Partners LLP – as the legal entity for a 2008 Phase I award from ED/IES SBIR.  When we considered applying (and eventually won) a Fast Track Phase I & II award from SBIR in 2014, it was clear that we needed to create a full C – Corp that could expand with the scaling of the business, thus Learning Ovations was formed.

Who has provided you great guidance on the business side over the year? What did they say and do? 
JC: Having run large corporate entities and worked with small business start-ups in conjunction with Arizona State University (Skysong) and the University of California, Irvine (Applied Innovation at The Cove) and having taught entrepreneurship at The Paul Merage School of Business at UC Irvine, I had the experience or network to connect to whatever business guidance we needed.  Further, having attended a number of reading research conferences with Carol, I was quite conversant in the literacy language both from the research side and from the district decision maker’s side.

How do you describe the experience of commercializing the A2i? What were the biggest achievements and challenges in terms of preparing for commercialization?

JC: Having coached scores of entrepreneurs at various stages, I can safely say that there is no harder commercialization than one that must stay faithful to the underlying research.  A key strategy for most new businesses: being able to pivot as you find a better (easier) solution.  It is often circumscribed by the “active ingredients” of the underlying research.  Knowing this, we imbued Learning Ovations with a very strong outcomes mission – all children reading at, or above, grade level by 3rd grade.  This commitment to outcomes certainty is only assured by staying faithful to the research.  Thus, a possible constraint, became our uncontroverted strength.

Do you have advice for university researchers seeking to move their laboratory research in education into wide-spread practice? 
JC:  Start with the end in mind.  As soon as you envision wide-scale usage, learn as much as you can about the present pain and needs of your future users and frame your research questions to speak to this.  Implementation should not be an after-the-fact consideration; build it into how you frame your research questions. On one level you are asking simultaneously “will this work with my treatment group” AND “will this help me understand/deliver to my end-user group.”  I can’t imagine effective research being graphed onto a business after the fact.  One key risk that we see a number of researchers make is thinking in very small fragments whereas application (i.e., the ability to go to scale) is usually much more systemic and holistic.

In one sentence, what would say is most needed for gaining traction in the marketplace?
JC: If not you, as a researcher, someone on your team of advisors needs to know the target marketplace as well as you know the treatment protocols in your RCT.

____________

Carol Connor is a Chancellor’s Professor in the UC Irvine School of Education. Prior she was a professor of Psychology and a Senior Learning Scientist at the Learning Sciences Institute at ASU. Carol’s research focuses on teaching and learning in preschool through fifth grade classrooms – with a particular emphasis on reading comprehension, executive functioning, and behavioral regulation development, especially for low-income children.

Joseph “Jay” Connor, JD/MBA, is the Founder/CEO of Learning Ovations, Inc, the developer of the platform that has enabled the A2i intervention to scale.  Jay has 20+ years of experience in senior business management at the multi-billion dollar corporate level, and has experience in the nonprofit and public policy arenas.

This interview was produced by Edward Metz of the Institute of Education Sciences.

Resolve to Study Effectively in 2018

Students of all ages want to study more effectively and efficiently, while teachers want to improve their students’ understanding and retention of important concepts. The Institute’s Cognition and Student Learning (CASL) program has invested in several research projects that test the effectiveness of different strategies for improving learning and provide resources for teachers who want to implement these strategies in their classrooms.  Two strategies that are easy for teachers and students to implement and do not require a lot of time or money are retrieval practice and interleaving.

 

Retrieval practice (also known as test-enhanced learning) involves recalling information that has been previously learned. Research has shown that when students actively retrieve information from memory (e.g., through low-stakes quizzes), their ability to retain that information in the future improves when compared to other common study strategies like re-reading and highlighting key concepts while reading class texts.

Interleaving is the process of mixing up different types of problems during practice. Unlike blocking, where a student practices the same type of problem over and over again, interleaved practice involves multiple types of problems that require different strategies to solve. In mathematics, where interleaving and blocking have been studied most, blocking is frequently employed at the end of each chapter in a textbook. With interleaved practice, students must choose a strategy to solve the problem and apply that strategy successfully. Research has shown that students learn more when engaged in interleaved practice relative to blocked practice.

For decades, research has shown the benefits of both retrieval practice and interleaving for learning; however, until this point, there were no easily accessible resources that practitioners could turn to for concrete details and suggestions for how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. Two of the IES CASL research projects that have focused on these study strategies (Developing a Manual for Test-Enhanced Learning in the Classroom, PI: Henry Roediger and Interleaved Mathematics Practice, PI: Douglas Rohrer) resulted in guides for teachers that provide information on how to implement these strategies in their classrooms. These guides are freely available through the website www.retrievalpractice.org (download the Retrieval Practice Guide here and the Interleaving Guide here). With these guides, teachers can learn more about how to use retrieval practice and interleaving to improve their students’ understanding and retention of the concepts they are learning. Happy studying!

By Erin Higgins, NCER Program Officer, Cognition and Student Learning

Rural Education Research: Current Investments and Future Directions

By Emily Doolittle, NCER Program Officer

In school year 2010-11, over half of all operating regular school districts and about one-third of all public schools were in rural areas, while about one-quarter of all public school students were enrolled in rural schools.(The Status of Rural Education)

 

About 12 million students are educated in rural settings in the United States. Teaching and learning in these settings generates unique challenges, both for the schools operating in rural areas and for the researchers who want to learn more about rural schools and their needs. Recognizing this, NCER has made targeted investments in rural education research through two of its National Education Research and Development (R&D) Centers.

The National Research Center on Rural Education Support focused on the educational challenges created by limited resources in rural settings, such as attracting and retaining appropriately and highly qualified teachers and providing them with high-quality professional development. Specific projects included:

  • The Targeted Reading Intervention (TRI) program, which seeks to help rural teachers, who often work in isolation, turn struggling early readers (kindergarten and 1st grade) into fluent ones. Using a laptop and a webcam, a TRI Consultant supports the classroom teacher as they provide diagnostically-driven instruction in one-on-one sessions.
  • The Rural Early Adolescent Learning Program (REAL) professional development model, which helps teachers consider the academic, behavioral, and social difficulties that together contribute to school failure and dropout for adolescent students. Accordingly, REAL is designed to provide teachers with strategies to help students make a successful transition into middle school.
  • The Rural Distance Learning and Technology Program, which examined the role of distance in advanced level courses for students and professional development for teachers; and
  • The Rural High School Aspirations Study (RHSA), which examined rural high school students’ postsecondary aspirations and preparatory planning.

The National Center foResearch on Rural Education (R2Ed) examined ways to design and deliver teacher professional development to improve instruction and support student achievement in reading and science in rural schools through three projects:

  • The Teachers Speak Survey Study investigated (1) variations in existing rural professional development (PD) experiences; (2) differences in PD practices between rural and non-rural settings; and (3) the potential influence of PD characteristics on teacher knowledge, perceptions, and practices in one of four instructional content areas: reading, mathematics, science inquiry, or using data-based decision making to inform reading instruction/intervention.
  • Project READERS evaluated the impact of distance-provided coaching on (1) teachers' use of differentiated reading instruction following a response-to-intervention (RTI) model and (2) their students' acquisition of reading skills in early elementary school.
  • Coaching Science Inquiry (CSI) evaluated the impact of professional development with distance-provided coaching for teaching science using explicit instruction with guided inquiry and scaffolding on teacher instructional practice and science achievement in middle and high school.

R2Ed also conducted two related sets of studies.

  • The first set explored ecological influences and supports that may augment educational interventions and outcomes in rural schools. The goal of this work is to understand contextual influences of rurality and how they interact to influence parent engagement in education and child cognitive and social-behavioral outcomes.  
  • The second set explored methodological and statistical solutions to challenges associated with the conduct of rigorous experimental research in rural schools.

As R2Ed completes its work, NCER is considering how to support rural education research going forward. As a first step, we hosted a technical working group meeting in December 2014 to identify research objectives of importance to rural schools and to reflect on the success of the R&D Center model to advance our understanding of rural education. A summary of the meeting is available here on the IES website.  The ideas shared during this meeting will help guide future IES investments in rural education research.  

Please send any comments or questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.