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Institute of Education Sciences

Awards to Accelerate Research in Education Technology

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES), in partnership with the Small Business Administration (SBA), has made awards to two U.S.-based accelerators – organizations that provide support to technology developers and researchers in the development and launch of new innovations. They are among 68 awards made under SBA’s 2016 Growth Accelerator Fund Competition

The $50,000, one-year awards are designed to support accelerators in building the capacity of education technology small businesses to conduct research in the development and evaluation of new innovative products.

The Role of Accelerators in Education

Accelerators fill an important role in the fast-growing, education technology ecosystem by offering a “one-stop shop” for small businesses looking to advance their research and development, and commercialization processes. For example, accelerators assist with idea formation and market analysis, software development, licensing and copyright planning, networking, manufacturing, raising investment funds, and getting the products tested by schools.

However, not many education accelerators provide assistance to developers in conducting rigorous and relevant education research. Because start-ups typically do not employ or partner with education researchers, many new technologies are often not iteratively developed and refined based on feedback from students and teachers or evaluated for promise or efficacy in improving education outcomes. The lack of research-based information often leaves school practitioners without the information they need to guide decision making on whether to adopt a new intervention.

To help strengthen these areas, the U.S. Department of Education/IES partnered with SBA to create a new topic in this year’s Growth Accelerator Fund Competition—Education Technology Research. This topic called for applications from accelerators with plans to support developers in conducting education research, including research to inform concept idea development, research to test prototypes and inform refinements, and pilot studies to evaluate the promise and efficacy of fully developed technologies. Applications were reviewed by a panel of expert judges. The two awards were made to the following accelerators:

  • Virginia-based Jefferson Education, which will build a foundation for a national education researcher database to connect entrepreneurial developers to a qualified education research partners. The database will facilitate the creation of partnerships to carry out a wide range of research studies, from case studies to inform the development of a new intervention to experimentally designed studies of the education outcomes of fully developed technology interventions.
  • California-based New Schools Ignite/WestED Research Partnership, which will create a website with free resources and information on the role of different forms of research across the lifespan of a technology intervention, training and assistance in research methods, and with opportunities to conduct research in education settings. The funding will also be used develop data collection and analysis systems to help entrepreneurs understand the impact and effectiveness of the technologies housed within the accelerator.

Along with building the research capacity of developers, the awardees will disseminate information to developers about IES programs that fund research, development and evaluation, including the ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research program and the IES Research Grants Programs in Education Technology for Education and Special Education.

For more information about how IES is supporting the development of education technology, visit the IES website or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Five ED/IES SBIR Companies Win National Industry Awards for Innovation

The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program at the Institute of Education Sciences (ED/IES SBIR) has served as a catalyst for the research and development of innovative technology that seeks to transform how and where students learn.

In 2016, the program continues to be recognized for spurring innovation, with five companies winning national awards and recognition for their ED/IES SBIR-developed technologies.

In June, Strange Loop Games’ Eco won the Climate Change Challenge at the Games for Change Festival in New York City. Eco is a multi-player environment where students collectively work to build a virtual ecosystem. The game provides students the opportunity to see how individual and collective decisions and actions affect their environment and climate.

In May, mtelegence’s Readorium won the Best Reading/English/Language Arts Solution through the Software & Information Industry Association’s (SIIA) CODiE program. Readorium is a web-based intervention that provides engaging content and games to middle school students to improve reading comprehension of science content.

Science4us, in May, won the best Science Instructional Solution through the SIIA CODiE program, and won THE Best Science Program through the BESSIE awards in April. Science4Us is a web-based game and simulation platform that provides foundational science learning opportunities for students in Kindergarten through Grade 2.

Also in May, Electric Funstuff’s Mission US won the Website Gold from the Parents' Choice Awards. In 2016, Mission US was a finalist for three other awards, including Best Learning Game at Games For Change, Outstanding Interactive Series through the Daytime Emmy Awards, and Best Web Game through the Webby Awards.  Mission US, which is partially funded by ED/IES SBIR, is a series of tablet-based interactive role-playing game that immerses 5th through 9th grade students in history.

In February, Querium was recognized as one of the 10 Most Innovative Education Technology Companies of 2016 by Fast Company Magazine. Querium is developing the Stepwise Virtual Tutor, which is a mobile and desktop virtual tutor that provides real-time assessments and support to middle and high school students in Algebra.

For information on more ED/IES SBIR supported companies that have won awards and been recognized for innovation in technology, check out the program’s News Archive. Stay tuned for updates on ED/IES SBIR on Twitter and Facebook.

About ED/IES SBIR: The Small Business Innovation Research program at the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences funds firms and partners to develop commercially viable technology products to improve student learning or teacher practice in regular and special education.  ED/IES SBIR emphasizes rigorous research to inform the development process and to evaluate whether products show promise for delivering on the intended outcomes.

Funding the Next Generation of Education Technology and Assessment

Games and other education technology are increasingly being used as a way to engage students in learning and support the work of teachers and educational leaders. The Institute of Education Sciences is proud to have been a part of this growth through its Small Business Innovation Research Program (ED/IES SBIR).

In recent years, thousands of schools around the country have used technologies developed through ED/IES SBIR funding, such as products by Filament Games, Fluidity Software, Zaption, and Mindset Works, to name a few. The program emphasizes a rapid research and development (R&D) process, with rigorous research informing iterative development and evaluating the promise of products for improving student outcomes. ED/IES SBIR also focuses on the commercialization after development is complete so that products can reach schools and be sustained over time.

This month, IES announced its 2016 awards, supporting 14 products covering a range of topics and forms of technology. Read about the awards here.


WATCH: YouTube Playlist of ED/IES SBIR PHASE II Awardees


The new awards continue two recent trends—developing new forms of assessment and applying next-generation technology for use in the classroom.

Emerging Forms of Assessment

All of the 2016 Phase II awards (for full-scale development) and several Phase I awards (for prototype development) are building technologies that center on assessment.

  • Using Phase II awards, Brainquake and Querium are fully developing adaptive engines to assess student performance on standards-aligned topics in mathematics and provide feedback to students and teachers to improve performance and practice. Teachley and Apprendis are building platforms to organize student performance data and generate reports to inform teacher instruction. And 3C Institute is developing a website for special education teachers to assess and track the social and emotional development of students diagnosed with High Functioning-Autism Spectrum Disorder.
  • Using Phase I awards, Analytic Measures is developing a prototype of an app to measure grade school student’s oral reading fluency and Early Learning Labs is developing a screening assessment for teachers of children who are Spanish-English Dual Language Learners.

The assessment trend echoes the broader movement in the field, and at ED, highlighted by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which calls for new forms of digital assessments, and the National Education Technology Plan, which includes a section on assessment.

Trend 2: Developing the Next Generation Technologies to Schools and Classrooms

Modern technological advances have transformed how we work and live every day.  For educators, the challenge is how to take advantage of next generation technologies in order to improve education. In the current group of Phase I awardees, many developers are seeking to make this happen.

  • Schell Games is integrating a virtual reality headset within a game so that students can do immersive chemistry experiments;
  • Spry Fox and Fablevision are developing mobile app-based learning games;
  • Parametric Studios is developing an engineering and design platform that incorporates a 3D-printer.
  • Analytic Measures is using automated speech recognition technology to assess students oral fluency in real-time; and
  • Two projects are building web-based platforms to organize user-generated content to inform practice.  Future Engineers is developing a platform to facilitate engineering design challenges and EdSurge is building a platform to support administrators in selecting technology tools to support school improvement.  

More Opportunities for Innovation in Education

SBIR is not the only IES funding program that feeds the R&D and evaluation pipeline.  The grants programs in Education Research and Special Education Research  support developers across the arc of a project lifespan – from basic research to test theories to inform concept ideation, to development and refinement of interventions or assessments, and for efficacy evaluations to test fully developed interventions in schools.  All awards are multi-year with funding levels varying from $1.4 million for development to $3.3 million for efficacy evaluations.

The Low-Cost, Short Duration Evaluation of Education Interventions supports rigorous evaluations of education interventions (including technology) over a short period. For developers, this program provides the opportunity to strengthen the research-base for existing technology products over the course of a school year. All awards are for up to one year and $250,000. The Request for Applications for Fiscal Year 2017 for these programs is now open, with a submission deadline of August 4, 2016. 

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter (@IESResearch) as IES projects drive innovative forms of technology.

Written by Edward Metz, program manager, ED/IES SBIR

Developer of IES-Funded App Named an “Innovator to Watch”

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

Congratulations to one of our IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) grantees, who has been named one of eight innovators to watch by Smithsonian Magazine.

Grace Wardhana, of Kiko Labs, developed the idea for Kiko’s Thinking Time, while watching her child, who she says was “obsessed with the iPad.” She wanted to turn that tablet time into learning time. With experience at Microsoft and McKinsey, a Master’s degree in science and engineering from Stanford, and a MBA from Harvard Business School, Grace got to work developing the app.

In 2014, she applied for and received a Phase I SBIR grant to develop a prototype of Thinking Time and in 2015, was awarded Phase II funding.  Smithsonian Magazine included Wardhana as one of eight “scientists, musicians, artists, and educators” to “expect great things from” in 2016. About Thinking Time, author Emily Matchar wrote that it “was developed in collaboration with Harvard and Berkeley neuroscientists and is aimed at helping children develop executive function—the skills of memory, focus and self-regulation necessary for success in school, work and beyond.”

You can watch a YouTube video to learn more about Thinking Time and also get more information on the IES website

PHOTOS
- Top of page--Grace Wardhana, of Kiko Labs. Source: https://www.kikolabs.com/about-us 
- Screenshot of Kiko's Thinking Time app

A Night to Play and Learn

By Dana Tofig, Communications Director, IES

It was an event that had the feel of an arcade, but the heart of a schoolhouse.

The Ed Games Expo on Wednesday, December 9, 2015, hosted 45 developers who are building games for learning that are designed to engage students across a variety of topics and subject matters. One-third of the games on display at the Expo are supported by the Institute of Education Sciences Small Business Innovation Research (ED/IES SBIR) program, which provides awards to companies to improve the use of technology in education.

Photo by Lauren Kleissas

(Photo by Lauren Kleissas)

"Games are inherently engaging," said Brooke Morrill, an educational researcher at Schell Games. "A student may or may not be interested in a topic matter, but it doesn't matter. They are engaged in the game."

Schell Games was demonstrating a prototype of "Happy Atoms," a game that combines hand-on resources with technology to create an interactive learning experience. Users can use create atom models with balls and sticks; similar to the way it’s been done in Chemistry classes for generations. But using an app equipped with vision recognition software, users can scan the model they've built to see what they've created or if they've made any mistakes. The app then connects to curriculum-aligned content about the molecule and how it is used in the real world.

Happy Atoms (pictured below) was a long-time pet project of the company's CEO, Jesse Schell, who is a vanguard in the educational gaming industry. However, the company didn't have funding to put a full-time team on the game's development. In 2014, Schell received a Phase I funding from ED/IES SBIR to develop a prototype and, earlier this year, received a Phase II award to further develop and evaluate Happy Atoms.

"We wouldn't be where we are without our IES funding," Morrill said.

A few tables away, the Attainment Company was demonstrating ED/IES SBIR-supported technology that is designed to build the reading, comprehension, and writing skills of special education students. For instance, Access: Language Arts is an app and software designed to allow middle school students with intellectual disabilities to read adapted versions of the books their peers are reading (like The Outsiders and the Diary of Anne Frank) while building their writing skills and even engaging in research.

 

"We know many students, especially those with autism, are motivated by technology because of the consistency it provides," said Pamela J. Mims, an assistant professor of special education at East Tennessee State University, who is working with Attainment on Access: Language Arts.  "We collected a lot of data on this and we see a lot of engagement."

Engagement is a big part of what drove John Krajewski, of Strange Loop Games, to develop ECO, another game that has received Phase I and II funding through ED/IES SBIR. Krajewski calls ECO a “global survival game,” in which students work together to build and maintain a virtual world for 30 days.

“You are trying to build up enough technology for your society, but in the process you can pollute and damage this world to the point it could die on its own,” Krajewski said. “You have to make decisions as a group about what has to be done in this world.”

In order to preserve the world, players have to pass laws that will protect resources while allowing society to continue to develop. For example, students might decide to limit the number of trees that can be cut down each day. Then, they can use graphs and data to see the impact of their laws and the health of their world. ECO not only builds an understanding about ecology and environmental science, but it builds real-world skills, like collaboration, communication, and scientific conversation and debate.

Krajewski said the funding from ED/IES SBIR not only allowed the project to be developed, but was a vote of confidence that allows ECO to be accepted in the field.

“IES has given us total runway to make this thing happen, which is awesome,” he said.

ED/IES SBIR is now soliciting Phase I proposals from firms and their partners for the research, development, and evaluation of commercially viable education technology products. You can learn more on the IES website