Inside IES Research

Notes from NCER & NCSER

CTE Research Is Flourishing at IES!

Since its inception in 2017, the CTE portfolio in the National Center for Education Research (NCER) at IES has grown to 11 research grants and a research network! Several other CTE-related grants have been funded under other topics, such as “Postsecondary/Adult Education” and “Improving Education Systems” in the education research grants program, and in other grant programs such as “Using SLDS to Support State Policymaking.” Two CTE-related grants under the latter program were awarded in FY21—

The newest grants funded in FY21 in the CTE topic of the Education Research Grants program include—

As a causal impact study, the last project (on Virtual Enterprises) has been invited to join NCER’s CTE Research Network as its sixth and final member. Funded in 2018 to expand the evidence base for CTE, the CTE Research Network (led by PI Kathy Hughes at the American Institutes for Research) includes five other CTE impact studies (one project’s interim report by MDRC was recently reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse and was found to meet standards without reservations). You can read more about the network’s mission and each of its member projects here.  

On AIR’s CTE Research Network website, you can find several new resources and reports, such as: 

The CTE Research Network has also been conducting training, including workshops in causal design for CTE researchers and online modules on data and research for CTE practitioners, shared widely with the field by a Network Lead partner, the Association for Career and Technical Education (ACTE). 

Last but certainly not least, if you are interested in getting your CTE project funded by IES, see the new FY22 research grant opportunities on the IES funding page. To apply to the CTE topic in the Education Research Grants program specifically, click on the PDF Request for Applications (ALN 84.305A). Contact Corinne Alfeld with any questions you might have.


Written by Corinne Alfeld (Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov), NCER Program Officer 

 

Two-Year Position in the Institute Of Education Sciences (NCSER) to Support Research on Accelerating Pandemic Recovery for Learners With Disabilities

The National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) in the Institute of Education Sciences is pleased to announce a two-year position to support the work NCSER is undertaking to accelerate pandemic recovery for learners with disabilities. The position, funded through the American Rescue Plan, is for an Associate Education Research Scientist (position series AD-1730).  The incumbent will work with current NCSER staff to support research that addresses pandemic recovery for students with disabilities and manage projects funded through new pandemic recovery grant competitions and initiatives. 

Those interested in applying can submit their application through USA Jobs through an existing position posting for an Associate Education Research Scientist (AD-1730-00) at https://www.usajobs.gov/GetJob/ViewDetails/603739300.

Please note, IES can support a temporary detail to this position through the Intergovernmental Personnel Act (IPA) Mobility Program. This program provides for the temporary assignment of personnel between the Federal Government and state and local governments, colleges and universities, Indian tribal governments, federally funded research and development centers, and other eligible organizations. More information on an IPA can be found at https://www.opm.gov/policy-data-oversight/hiring-information/intergovernment-personnel-act/#url=Overview.

If you are interested in pursuing this opportunity and have additional questions, contact NCSER Commissioner Joan McLaughlin at NCSER.Commissioner@ed.gov.

NCSER is intending to fill this position as soon as possible, so please apply by August 6, 2021.

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.

Partnering with Practitioners to Address Mental Health in Rural Communities

IES values and encourage collaborations between researchers and practitioners to ensure that research findings are relevant, accessible, feasible, and useful. In 2017, Dr. Wendy Reinke, University of Missouri, received IES funding to formalize the Boone County School’s Mental Health Coalition by strengthening their partnership and validating the Early Identification System (EIS) to screen for social, emotional, behavioral, and academic risk among K-12 students in rural schools. Building on these successes, Dr. Reinke now leads the National Center for Rural School Mental Health (NCRSMH), a consortium of researchers leading efforts to advance mental health screening and support in rural communities.

Bennett Lunn, a Truman-Albright Fellow at IES, asked Dr. Reinke about the work of the original partnership and how it has informed her efforts to build new partnerships with other rural schools around the country. Below are her responses.

 

What was the purpose of the Boone County Schools Mental Health Coalition and what inspired you to do this work?

In 2015, our county passed an ordinance in which a small percent of our sales tax is set aside to support youth mental health in our community. As a result, the schools had visits from many of the local mental health agencies to set up services in school buildings. The superintendents quickly realized that it would be wise to have a more coordinated effort across school districts. They formed a coalition and partnered with researchers at the University of Missouri to develop a comprehensive model to prevent and intervene in youth mental health problems. The enthusiasm of our school partners and their willingness to consider research evidence to inform the model was so energizing! We were able to build a multi-tiered prevention and intervention framework that uses universal screening data to inform supports. In addition, we were awarded an IES partnership grant to help validate the screener, conduct focus groups and surveys of stakeholders to understand the feasibility and social validity of the model, and determine how fidelity to the model is related to student outcomes. The EIS is now being used in 54 school buildings across six school districts as part of their daily practice. 

 

Were there advantages to operating in a partnership to validate the screener?  

The main benefit of working in partnership with school personnel is that you learn what works under what circumstances from those directly involved in supporting students. We meet every month with the superintendents and other school personnel to ensure that if things are not working, we can find solutions before the problems become too big. We vote on any processes or procedure that were seen as needing to change. The meeting includes school personnel sharing the types of activities they are doing in their buildings so that others can replicate those best practices, and we meet with students to get their perspectives on what is working. In addition, the university faculty bring calls for external funding of research to the group to get ideas for what types of research would be appropriate and beneficial to the group. Schools are constantly changing and encountering new challenges. Being close to those who are working in the buildings allows for us to work together in forming and implementing feasible solutions over time.

 

What advice do you have for researchers trying to make research useful and accessible to practitioners? 

Be collaborative and authentic. Demonstrate that you are truly there to create meaningful and important changes that will benefit students. Show that your priority is improving outcomes for schools and students and not simply collecting data for a study. These actions are vital to building trust in a partnership. By sharing the process of reviewing data, researchers can show how the research is directly impacting schools, and practitioners have an opportunity to share how their experience relates to the data. A good way to do this is by presenting with practitioners at conferences or collaboratively writing manuscripts for peer reviewed journals. For example, we wrote a manuscript (currently under review) with one of our school counselor partners describing how he used EIS data in practice. Through collaboration like this, we find that the purpose and process of research becomes less mysterious, and schools can more easily identify and use practices that are shown to work. In this way, long-term collaboration between partners can ultimately benefit students!

 

How does the work of the original partnership inform your current work with the National Center for Rural School Mental Health? 

We are bringing what we have learned both in how to be effective partners and to improve the model to the National Center for Rural School Mental Health. For instance, we are developing an intervention hub on our Rural Center website that will allow schools to directly link evidence-based interventions to the data. We learned that having readily available ideas for intervening using the data is an important aspect of success. We have also learned that schools with problem solving teams can implement the model with higher fidelity, so we are developing training modules for schools to learn how to use the data in problem solving teams. We will be taking the comprehensive model to prevent and intervene with youth mental health and using it in rural schools. We will continue to partner with our rural schools to continuously improve the work so that it is feasible, socially valid, and important to rural schools and youth in those schools.


 

Dr. Wendy Reinke is an Associate Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Missouri College of Education. Her research focuses on school-based prevention interventions for children and youth with social emotional and behavioral challenges.

Written by Bennett Lunn (Bennett.lunn@ed.gov), Truman-Albright Fellow, National Center for Education Research and National Center for Special Education Research

On Being Brief: Skills and Supports for Translating Research to Practice via Brief Reports

Have you ever found yourself at a gathering fumbling to find the words to describe your academic work to family and friends? Do you find it difficult to communicate your scholarship to, and build partnerships with, non-researcher audiences? Are you an early career or seasoned researcher interested in disseminating research to practitioners, policymakers, or community members but struggling to find the best way to do so? Or are you a senior researcher mentoring a trainee through this process?

If your answer to any of these questions is “YES!”, then read on! Writing research briefs is an instrumental part of professional development but, for many researchers, not a formal aspect of training. Drawing on our experience writing research briefs, here are some tips for the challenging, but rewarding, process of translating your research into a brief.

 

Why Write a Brief?

Research briefs deliver the essence of research findings in a relatable manner to a non-researcher audience. Briefs can

  • Broaden your research’s impact by disseminating findings to non-researcher audiences, including communities historically marginalized in research
  • Strengthen university-community partnerships and relationships by transparently communicating with partners
  • Facilitate future partnerships and employment through increased visibility

 

What Exactly IS a Research Brief?

A research brief is a concise, non-technical summary of the key takeaways from a research study. Briefs communicate research insights to the public, thereby translating research and evidence-based practices into real-world settings.  

The focus of a brief varies depending on the intended audience., Provide explicit recommendations for practice if you want to reach a practitioner audience. Explore policy and infrastructure needs when writing for a policymaker audience.

Plan to share briefs in diverse settings. Share briefs with research partners (participating districts, schools, teachers), professional networks (at conference presentations), and broader audiences (on personal websites).

 

Lead researchers on our research team are part of a statewide partnership to support the dissemination of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports framework. This partnership involves researchers and representatives from the Maryland Department of Education, a large behavioral health organization, and all school districts within the state. Researchers regularly write and share briefs with the statewide group, taking into account evolving needs and interests. Check out some of the briefs here.

 

Briefs Should Be…

 

  • Brief. Condensing a full-length manuscript into a two-page document is challenging. But doing so helps distill the study’s real-world implications and identify steps for future work. Two pages is optimal as it can be easily shared as a one-pager when printed.

 

  • Accessible. Graduate-level coursework in statistics should not be required to understand a brief. The usual audience for briefs will not have the time or energy to absorb methodological details or nuanced theory. Write as if you were presenting to a family member or your favorite high school teacher.

 

  • Visually appealing. A visual representation of an idea will capture attention better than text and help with brevity. Your paper likely already has some type of visual (for example, a logic model) that you can tweak. If not, pull from your visual-making skills you have already honed when creating posters and conference presentations! This process may have you re-thinking how you visually present your research, even in peer-reviewed publications.

 

  • A team effort. Individuals bring diverse skills and strengths to the research team. The study’s lead author may be able to articulate results, but a co-author may have the vision to creatively illustrate these findings in a figure. Make use of each member’s skills by making brief-writing an iterative, team effort.

 

  • Tailored to your audience. If you are developing a brief for a specific audience, ensure that key takeaways and recommendations are relevant and actionable. In some cases, you may have a more technical audience to whom you may present the data more formally. In our own experience, district partners have sometimes asked for more numbers and statistics.

 

Building Expertise with Brief Writing

Training in doctoral programs, which often encourages lengthy, detail-oriented writing, runs counter to the skills inherent in writing research briefs. While certain programs offer training for writing for non-academic audiences, we advocate for a greater focus on this skill during graduate training. All of the post-doctoral authors of this blog got their first exposure to writing research briefs on this research team. Inspired by our own on-the-job training, we provide the following recommendations for mentors:  

 

  • Frame writing the brief as an opportunity. Briefs may feel tangential to the graduate student research mission and challenging to existing skillsets. Thus, the process should be framed as an opportunity to develop an integral set of skills to advance professional development. This will help with motivation as well as execution.

 

  • Provide a template for the brief that can be easily tweaked and tailored, so that graduate students have a model for the finished product, minimizing formatting issues. Publisher and Word have visually appealing templates for flyers that can be easily populated and organizations that publish briefs may provide templates and layouts. 

 

  • Know your audience and their interest in the work. The audience should be well-defined (for practitioners, policy makers, or other researchers) and their perspective and interests well-understood. Although knowledge of the audience could come from prior work experience, direct communication with the audience is desirable to gain a firm grasp on their lived experience. If direct interaction is not feasible, mentors should “think aloud” to mentees about which details, words, and images would be most effective and appealing for this audience.  

 

  • Early scaffolding should be followed by continued support. After being a co-author on a brief, a graduate student can transition to writing their own brief. They may still need support to complete this task autonomously, with continued feedback from mentors and co-authors.

 

  • Provide graduate students with targeted experiences and formal training opportunities to facilitate proficiency and efficacy in brief-writing. This might include:
    • University-based or paid workshops for students and early career faculty focused on writing for non-academic audiences
    • Opportunities to interface directly with practitioners

 

Concluding Thoughts

Writing research briefs is a key translational activity for educational researchers, but for many, requires skills not cultivated in formal training. Our research team has embarked on the journey of developing and sharing research briefs regularly over the past few years. This is an evolving and rewarding process for all of us. We hope this post has provided some helpful information as you continue your journey to be brief!

 


Summer S. Braun is a postdoctoral research associate at YouthNex at the University of Virginia’s School of Education and Human Development. She will be joining the Psychology Department at the University of Alabama as an Assistant Professor.

Daniel A. Camacho is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development.

Chelsea A.K. Duran is a postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia School of Education and Human Development in Youth-Nex: The UVA Center to Promote Effective Youth Development. She will be starting a position with the University of Minnesota in the summer of 2021.

Lora J. Henderson is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and postdoctoral research associate at the University of Virginia who will soon be starting as an assistant professor in the Department of Graduate Psychology at James Madison University.

Elise T. Pas is an Associate Scientist (research faculty) at the Johns Hopkins University, Bloomberg School of Public Health.

*Note: Authors are listed alphabetically and contributed equally to the preparation of this post.