Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

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.

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

 

ED Games Expo 2015: Showcasing ED/IES SBIR-Supported Games for Learning

Game-based learning is gaining popularity as more and more young people and adults play and learn from games in and out of the classroom. Well-designed games can motivate learners to actively engage in challenging tasks, master content, and sharpen critical thinking and problem solving skills. The meteoric rise and popularity of mobile handheld and tablet devices has enabled game-playing anywhere and at any time, providing expanded opportunities for game developers.

In recent years, the Small Business Innovation Research program at the Institute of Education Sciences has supported the R&D and evaluation of many games for learning.  Other SBIR programs across the Federal government are also investing in games for learning across education, health, and the military.

The ED Games Expo is an annual event. This year the Expo is showcasing 45 developers (including 15 supported by ED/IES SBIR) who created games for learning. At the Expo, attendees will meet the developers while playing games that cover a range of topics – including earth science, ecology, chemistry, math, early learning, social and emotional learning, smoking cessation, mental health, stress resilience, or cultural awareness.

Event Details

  • Date: Wednesday, December 9, 2015, from 6PM to 8PM 
  • Location: In Washington DC, at 1776, 1133 15th St. 12th floor
  • RVSP: rsvp@theESA.com
  • Note: The Expo is sponsored by 1776 and the Entertainment Software Association and is free to attend. Please RVSP to ensure entry to the event, as space is limited. 

 

 

Questions? Comments? Please email us at IESResearch@ed.gov.

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.