Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

The ED/IES SBIR 2021 Year in Review and a Look Ahead to 2022

The Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR), administered by IES, provides awards for the research and development of new, commercially viable education technology products. Known as ED/IES SBIR, the program’s goal is to grow a portfolio of scalable, research-based products that address pressing needs across topic areas in education and special education.

From an education technology perspective, 2021 will surely be remembered as the “year after” the onset of the global pandemic—where demand for effective education tools and platforms skyrocketed and developers pivoted to meet the needs of the return to in-person and hybrid learning environments. Dozens of ED/IES SBIR-developers contributed to these efforts, with millions of students and educators using their products to support remote and in-person learning in 2021. This blog shares some highlights from the ED/IES SBIR program in 2021 and provides a preview of its recently released 2022 solicitations.

The ED Games Expo

IES hosted the 8th annual ED Games Expo virtually in June 2021 to provide resources to the public in response to pandemic-related challenges. As part of the virtual Expo, 170 IES- and government-supported education technology products were available at no cost to educators and students around the country. The Expo also presented 35 virtual events for the public that have been viewed more than 10,000 times on YouTube, highlighted by a Kick Off Show introduced by Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and including master classes for educators and behind-the-sciences “how to” events for students. Dates for the next ED Games Expo will be announced soon.

New ED/IES SBIR Awards

ED/IES SBIR announced 29 new 2021 awards, including 18 for prototype development and 11 for full-scale education technology product development. The awards continue trends from recent years.

One exciting trend is the employment of advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, or algorithms to personalize student learning. Examples include projects by Myriad Sensors (Pocket Lab) to develop an AI engine to assess and provide feedback to students while doing physical science experiments, Analytic Measures Inc. (AMI) to create an natural language processing engine to recommend personalized practice activities based on a student’s level of oral reading fluency, and by KooApps and Kings Peak Technology to use machine learning to provide immediate vocabulary support to English learners.

Another trend in 2021 is the development of new products to scale existing IES-funded research. Projects that build on prior IES research include: Nimble Hiring to develop a platform to improve school district hiring and educator retention, xSEL Labs to create a platform for social and behavioral learning innovations, and Emberex to create a user interface with reporting and recommendation features to meet modern standards for a reading assessment.

ED/IES SBIR also continues to support projects in new areas. For example, three new projects are developing music-based technologies to support learning (Muzology, Edify, and Lyrics to Learn).

Highlights From Individual Projects in the Portfolio

Many ED/IES SBIR-supported companies enjoyed newsworthy successes in 2021.

ED/IES SBIR Releases Two 2022 Program Solicitations

On December 1, 2021, ED/IES SBIR released two new solicitations. Phase I solicitation #91990022R0001 is a request for proposals for $250,000 awards for 8 months for the research, development, and evaluation of new prototypes of education and special education technology products. Direct to Phase II solicitation #91990022R0002 is a request for proposals for $1,000,000 for 2 years for R&D and evaluation to develop new technology to prepare existing researcher-developed evidence-based innovations (products, interventions, practices) for use at scale, and to plan for commercialization. The goal is to support the successful transfer of research to practice at scale in education and special education. Proposals for both solicitations are due February 1, 2022.

Stay tuned for updates in 2022 on Twitter and Facebook as IES continues to support innovative forms of technology.


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.

 

IES Funds Innovations Across the Age Spectrum for Students with ADHD

Nearly 10% of all children in the United States have at one time been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)—over 6 million children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the name implies, ADHD can lead children to have primary problems with attention, hyperactive behavior, or both. Over the past two years, NCER and NCSER have awarded more than $12 million to four projects focusing on children and youth with ADHD through their primary grant competitions, from preschool to high school.

Comparing Virtual and In-Person Sessions for Parents of Young Children

Photo of George DuPaulPhoto of Lee KernDeveloped with NCSER funding, the Promoting Engagement with ADHD Pre-Kindergartners (PEAK) program has preliminary evidence of positive impacts on parent and child outcomes. Building on these findings, Principal Investigators (PIs) George DuPaul and Lee Kern are now testing the efficacy of the intervention with both face-to-face and online delivery methods. PEAK gives parents information on ADHD and a host of strategies, including behavioral management and response, reading and math skill development, and communication with school personnel to aid in the transition to kindergarten. The research team is comparing the face-to-face version, online version, and a control group without PEAK to determine the efficacy of the intervention and comparative efficacy between each method of delivery. They will also determine whether effects are maintained for up to 24 months after the end of the parent sessions.

English Language Learners (ELLs) in Early Elementary Grades

Photo of Nicole Schatz

PI Nicole Schatz and her team are addressing a gap in existing research: very few interventions for the development of language and reading skills in ELL students are tailored to those who also have disabilities, particularly for ELL students with behavior disorders such as ADHD. Their 2021 NCSER-funded study will examine whether language and behavioral interventions, delivered independently or combined, improve learning outcomes for kindergarten and first grade ELLs with or at risk for ADHD. The research team will examine the impact of one of these three interventions: 1) an educational language intervention involving small-group, interactive reading; 2) a behavioral classroom intervention; and 3) a combined intervention in which students receive both the language intervention and the behavioral classroom intervention.

Academic and Social Effects of Sluggish Cognitive Tempo (SCT) in Elementary and Middle School

Photo of Stephen Becker

SCT is an attention disorder associated with symptoms similar to ADHD, such as excessive daydreaming, mental confusion, seeming to be "in a fog,” and slowed behavior/thinking. In this recent extension of PI Stephen Becker’s initial NCER grant, he explores how SCT is associated with academic and social impairments over development. The research team will collect measures of student engagement and organization, withdrawal and social awareness, and contextual factors like student-teacher relationship and school climate. The yearly observations will follow cohorts of 2nd-5th graders through their 5th-8th grade years, half with and half without SCT.

Peer Support from Upperclassmen for 9th Graders with ADHD

Photo of Margaret Sibley

Sometime in adolescence, there tends to be a shift from the influence of parents and teachers to the influence of peers. With their recent grant from NCER, researchers Margaret Sibley and Joseph Raiker will be testing Sibley’s peer-intervention program, Students Taking Responsibility and Initiative through Peer-Enhanced Support (STRIPES). Developed with IES funding, STRIPES was designed to support students with ADHD by leveraging successful peer influence to address organization, time management, and planning. Supervised by a campus staff member, 11th and 12th grade students who have demonstrated academic and social competencies mentor 9th grade students with ADHD. These older peers are trained to help with goal setting, strategies for completing homework and organization, and maintenance of skills once the program is finished.

Stay tuned for findings and lessons learned from these newly funded studies.

Written by Julianne Kasper, Virtual Student Federal Service Intern at IES and graduate student in Education Policy & Leadership at American University.

Building a Community around Digital Learning Platforms

Last month, we were excited to announce grants within the Digital Learning Platforms Network, which includes five platform teams and a network lead. The purpose of this network is to leverage existing, widely used digital learning platforms for rigorous education research. This network is part of IES’s investments in innovation within education research and development and is funded through the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice grant program. That program is designed to focus resources and attention on critical education issues faced by our nation as well as create infrastructure and process to bring together researchers who are working on similar issues. A major focus of the network—and why we chose a network approach—is bringing together educators, researchers, and platform developers to figure out how to leverage the potential of platforms for research insights. IES hopes that a major contribution from this network will be building that community of stakeholders and creating resources that reflect best practices for doing this kind of work. 

With that goal in mind, Digital Promise Global, the network lead, will host an event on October 22 at 3pm Eastern Time with introductory remarks from IES Director Mark Schneider. At the event, each of the five platform teams will briefly share the purpose of their project, and you can learn more about the network’s planned activities. You will also learn where you can go to find out more about the work that the network will pursue and to receive updates on their progress.

To join the event, please RSVP here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/seernet-launch-webinar-tickets-186961746617 


For more information or questions about the Digital Learning Platforms Network, please contact Erin Higgins (Erin.Higgins@ed.gov), Program Officer at the National Center for Education Research.

IES Announces a New Research and Development Center for Self-Directed Learning Skills in Online College Courses

In response to a call from IES for research on how to best support postsecondary teachers and students to thrive in online environment, NCER is establishing a new research and development (R&D) center. This center, led by SRI International (SRI) and the Community College Research Center (CCRC) at Teachers College (Columbia University), aims to help faculty embed support for self-directed learning skills into their online and hybrid courses.

This R&D center will support postsecondary instructors in making optimal use of technology features often available in online course tools to bolster student self-management strategies. Through its research and capacity-building programs, the center aims to strengthen teaching and learning, improve student outcomes, and ensure all students—regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status—have equitable learning opportunities and attainment in broad-access institutions.

“Lack of self-directed learning skills can hinder a student’s success in any college course,” says SRI’s Rebecca Griffiths, a lead researcher in the new center, “but the challenge is greater in online courses, which typically place more responsibility on students to manage their own learning.”

 

Self-directed learning skills, also known as self-regulated learning skills, encompass three interrelated and mutually reinforcing areas:

  • Affect, which includes self-efficacy and the motivation to learn
  • Strategic actions, which include planning, goal setting, strategies to organize, code, and rehearse
  • Metacognition, which includes self-monitoring, self-evaluating and self-correction

 

These three areas can form a virtuous cycle. When students believe that studying helps them learn important and useful knowledge, they are more likely to study strategically and effectively. Effective study habits in turn enhance academic performance and build positive mindsets including confidence, motivation around learning, and a sense of personal growth.

SRI and CCRC will partner with Achieving the Dream and nine broad-access, public colleges, and universities across the U.S. to conduct these research program activities.

 

The research goals of the R&D center are to—

  • Generate new knowledge about how faculty can effectively use technology features and instructional practices in online STEM courses to create a positive feedback loop for students
  • Shed light on institutional policies and practices and instructional environments needed to support a coherent, intentional, and sustainable approach to helping students build self-directed learning skills across their coursework
  • Develop and pilot a technology-enabled, skills development model that will use technology features already widely available in learning management systems, adaptive courseware, and mobile apps to deliver instruction on these skills
  • Using research findings to inform the development of a rich, interactive toolkit to support institutions and faculty as they implement self-directed learning skills instruction at scale in online programs.

 

In addition to carrying out the research activities, the center will provide national leadership and capacity-building activities for postsecondary teaching and learning. Through partnership with Achieving the Dream, technology developers, researchers, education equity advocates, and others, the center will establish the critical importance of integrating self-directed learning into instruction to improve teaching and learning and improve equity in postsecondary student outcomes. They will also engage faculty, instructional designers, and educational technology developers to share knowledge and to co-develop and disseminate capacity-building resources that support teaching these skills and strategies. 


The center is led by Dr. Deborah Jonas (PI, SRI International, top photo), Dr. Nicole Edgecombe (Co-PI, Teachers College, Columbia University), Dr. Rebecca Griffiths (Co-PI, SRI International), and Dr. Neil Seftor (Co-PI, SRI International).

This blog was written by the R&D center team. For further information about the grant, contact the program officer: Dr. Meredith Larson.

Highlighting the Science of Learning at the 2021 ED Games Expo

Research on how people learn is critical for informing the design of effective education technology products. To design products that improve student learning, we need to understand how students approach solving problems, the information they need to adopt optimal solution strategies, the skills that underlie success in particular academic domains, the best ways to arrange information on a screen to guide student attention to relevant information, and the best study strategies for optimizing learning and retention. Through its research grants programs, IES has invested in research projects to develop and test education technology products based in the science of learning.

 

The 2021 ED Games Expo, which takes place virtually from June 1-5, features a number of these products, and you can learn more about them through a mix of live and pre-recorded sessions and videos. Most are ready to demo now. Students and educators can send questions about the research, game-play, or ed tech experience directly to the participating researchers. Here are just a few of the many ways you can interact with IES-funded researchers at the Expo:

 

  1. The Virtual Learning Lab (VLL) will be hosting a live, virtual session on Friday, June 4th from 4:00-5:30pm Eastern Time to celebrate their 5-year research collaboration to explore precision education in the context of algebra instruction. The VLL developed an AI-powered video recommendation system that personalizes math instruction within Math Nation. The researchers measured student ability and engagement, detected effects of virtual learning environment usage on achievement, and identified characteristics of effective online tutoring. The session will feature short talks and opportunities for Q&A: 
  • A Video Recommendation System for Algebra (Walter Leite, University of Florida)
  • Reinforcement Learning for Enhancing Collaborative Problem Solving (Guojing Zhou, University of Colorado Boulder)
  • Natural Language Processing for VLE Research (Danielle McNamara, Arizona State University)
  • Identifying Pedagogical Conversational Patterns in Online Algebra Learning (Jinnie Shin, University of Florida)
  • Scaling Items and Persons for Obtaining Ability Estimates in VLEs (A. Corinne Huggins-Manley, University of Florida)
  • Measuring Student Ability from Single- and Multiple-Attempt Practice Assessments in VLEs (Ziying Li, University of Florida)
  • Detecting Careless Responding to Assessment Items in VLEs (Sanaz Nazari, University of Florida)
  • Personalization, Content Exposure, and Fairness in Assessment (Daniel Katz, University of California, Santa Barbara)
  • Fair AI in VLEs (Chenglu Li, University of Florida)

 

  1. The ED Games Expo YouTube Playlist, which will be posted on June 1st on the event page, features 26 products developed with IES grant funding. For ed tech products informed by research on how people learn, check out the products funded through the Cognition and Student Learning topic:
  • Graspable Math allows math teachers to assign interactive algebra tasks and turns equations into tangible objects that middle school and high school students can manipulate to practice and explore. Teachers can follow live, step-by-step, student work.
  • eBravo Boulder Reading Intervention is a self-paced personalized reading comprehension curriculum that teaches secondary students the problem-solving skills good readers use to learn from challenging texts, in this case in the science discipline of ecology. Reading strategies and exercises are guided by well-researched models of reading comprehension, helping students build deep, durable, and reusable knowledge from text. 
  • iSTART and Writing Pal are interventions designed for middle school students, high school students, and young adults improve their reading and writing skills. Within these interventions, students play games to practice reading comprehension and writing strategies.
  • All You Can Eat, Gwakkamole, and CrushStations are part of a suite of Executive Function skill-building games, designed to improve student shifting, inhibitory control, and working memory respectively.

 

We hope you can join us for this exciting event in June to learn more about and try out all the research-based products ready to be used in our nation’s schools. For more information on the featured resources and online events, please see this blog.


Written by Erin Higgins (Erin.Higgins@ed.gov), Program Officer for the Cognition and Student Learning program, National Center for Education Research