Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

Jumpstarting Innovation in Education Technology through SBIR

By Edward Metz, ED/IES SBIR Program Manager

Did you know that IES provides funding to develop computer games and other applications to support teaching and learning?

The U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research program, operated out of the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), funds projects to develop education technology products designed to support student learning and teacher practice in general or special education. The program emphasizes rigorous and relevant research, used both to inform iterative development and to evaluate whether fully developed products show promise for leading to the intended outcomes. The program also focuses on the commercialization once the award period ends so that products can reach students and teachers, and be sustained over time.

Recently, ED/IES SBIR announced its 2015 awards. There are 21 awards in all, covering a range of topics and forms of technology. For example, Zaption is designing a mobile app to help teachers integrate video into science instruction; Speak Agent is building an app to help students with speech disabilities to communicate; and Lingo Jingo is developing a platform to help teachers guide English learners. (To view short video demos of the eight new Phase II projects, see this playlist.)

The 2015 awards highlight two trends that have emerged in the ED/IES SBIR portfolio in recent years –games for learning and bridging the research-to-practice gap in education.

Trend #1: Games for Learning

For the fourth straight year, about half of the new 2015 ED/IES SBIR awards focus on the development of game-based learning products. New projects include awards to:

  • Strange Loop Games to build a virtual world to engage students in learning about ecosystems,
  • Kiko Labs to develop mini games to strengthen young children’s thinking and memory skills, and
  • Schell Games to create a futuristic “ball and stick” molecular modeling kit and app to augment chemistry learning.

For a playlist including videos of these games and 19 others out of the ED/IES SBIR program, see here.

The games for learning trend echoes the movement surrounding games in the field, and is highlighted by recent ED sponsored events including ED Games Week in Washington, DC, last September and the Games for Learning Summit in New York City, in April. Both events convened stakeholders to showcase games and discuss the potential barriers and opportunities for collaboration necessary to accelerate the creation of highly effective games for learning. Stay tuned for more information and initiatives on games for learning out of ED’s Office of Technology.

Trend #2: Bridging the Research-to-Practice Gap

While ED/IES SBIR is known for making awards to start-ups such as Filament Games, Sokikom, and Handhold Adaptive, the program has also made awards to firms best described as university spin-offs. These firms are designed to transfer findings from federally funded research into learning products that can be used at scale. University researchers often do not have viable pathways or capacity to transfer research-based interventions for real world use.

But with the support of the ED/IES SBIR program, we have firms bridging the research-to-practice gap.  Examples include:

  • Mindset Works, which built on results from prior research including a 2002 IES research grant, to successfully propose a 2010 ED/IES SBIR project to develop SchoolKit. This multimedia platform enables broad distribution of the growth mindset intervention which teaches students to understand that intelligence can be developed through effort and learning. SchoolKit is now in use in more than 500 schools across the country, including half the middle schools in Washington, DC.
  • Teachley, which received a 2013 ED/IES SBIR award to develop math game apps and a teacher implementation dashboard building on findings from prior research including a 2010 IES research grant. The intervention is now used in hundreds of schools around the country, and the apps have been downloaded more than 500,000 times.
  • Learning Ovations is building on two prior IES research grants in their 2014 ED/IES SBIR project. The prior IES funding supported the research team as they developed and evaluated an intervention to improve children’s reading outcomes,. This award is supporting the development of an implementation platform to enable large-scale use of this evidence-based intervention across settings. The project is scheduled to end in 2016, after which the platform will be launched.

The new ED/IES SBIR 2015 awards continue the research-to-practice trend. An award to Foundations in Learning furthers basic research from a 2013 National Science Foundation grant (NSF); an award to SimInsights builds on 2005 and 2008 IES research projects and a 2011 Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) research project; and an award to Apprendris advances a prior 2012 IES research project and  prior 2010 and 2013 NSF research projects.

Stay tuned for updates on Twitter @IESResearch and @OfficeofEdTech as ED/IES SBIR projects drive innovative forms of technology, such as games for learning, and enable the scale-up of research-based interventions for wide-scale use.

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Please send your comments and questions to IESResearch@ed.gov.

Welcome to Inside IES Research!

By Tom Brock, Commissioner, NCER and 
Joan McLaughlin, Commissioner, NCSER

 

Welcome to Inside IES Research, the official blog for the Institute’s two research centers: the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER)!

We are launching the blog to open up a less formal means of communication with the education researcher, policymaker, and practitioner communities.  All NCER and NCSER employees will contribute to the blog, and we will have new postings every week.  Our goals are to share new research findings, explain our programs and services, and offer researcher perspectives on issues of importance to the education sciences.  Among the topics we will address in the near future are the following:

  • What we are learning from some of our major research investments on supporting youth with autism, and on improving reading comprehension among students in elementary, middle, and high school.

  • Profiles of early career researchers supported by NCER and NCSER, and the contributions they are making to the education sciences.

  • How the application review process works and how funding decisions are made.

  • What we learned from surveys of NCER and NCSER applicants and grantees, and how we are using this information to make improvements.

We are introducing the blog at a time of peak activity for NCER and NCSER.  We are in the final stages of making grant awards from the FY 2015 research and training grants competitions – roughly 150 grants in total – and recently announced our FY 2016 competitions. Future blogs will spotlight some of these new awards and highlight current funding opportunities.

We invite you to check in regularly, and to send your comments to IESResearch@ed.gov.