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)
"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.
By Corinne Alfeld, NCER Program Officer
In honor of career development month, we would like to remind you about training opportunities funded by IES. We have invested in training programs since 2004 with the aim of increasing the supply of scientists and researchers in education who are prepared to conduct rigorous education research that advances knowledge within the field and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. These efforts are intended to lead both to the training of talented education researchers from a variety of backgrounds and to the incorporation of diverse ideas and perspectives in education research.
In this blog we describe five types of training opportunities currently offered through the National Center for Education Research (NCER) and the National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) that span from undergraduate to the postdoctoral level and beyond.
Training Opportunities for Current or Future Doctoral Students
Are you a current or aspiring doctoral student wondering what training opportunities are available to you? You may be interested in applying to one of 10 training programs funded by NCER’s Predoctoral Interdisciplinary Research Training Program in the Education Sciences that train predoctoral fellows in interdisciplinary programs involving a number of academic disciplines (e.g., economics, education, psychology, public policy, sociology, and statistics, among others). These fellowships can be from 2 to 5 years in length depending on the training program model and typically include tuition and benefits, a $30,000 stipend, and a small research/travel fund. Fellows who complete their training program have the skills necessary to produce research that is rigorous in method as well as relevant and accessible to education stakeholders such as practitioners and policymakers.
Postdoctoral Training Opportunities
Are you finishing up your doctorate and wondering how you can get more experience in education research? Or perhaps you’re looking to return to academia through a postdoctoral position? If so, you may want to apply to one of the our programs funded under the Postdoctoral Research Training Program in the Education Sciences Program (NCER) or the Postdoctoral Research Training Program in Special Education Program (NCSER). Through these two grant programs, IES funds training programs at doctoral-granting institutions to further prepare researchers who have obtained their Ph.D.s or Ed.D.s to become scholars capable of conducting high-quality, independent education or special education research. These postdoctoral training programs provide practical, hands-on experiences; enrichment of theoretical and empirical knowledge; and opportunities for fellows to build professional skills and networks that will support working with other researchers and relevant education research stakeholders.
To inquire about postdoctoral fellowship openings, follow the hyperlinks in this section to search for currently (awarded in 2010-15) funded programs at various universities around the country. For example, here are the 2015 NCER-funded programs and 2012 NCSER-funded programs.
Other Upcoming Training Opportunities:
- Undergraduate, Post-baccalaureate, and Master’s Students. If you are an upper-level undergraduate student, recent graduate, and/or master’s student, especially from a group that is underrepresented in doctoral study (including racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged students, veterans, and students with disabilities), you may be interested in the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program (Pathways). Established in 2015, the Pathways program funds training programs at minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and institutions of higher education that partner with MSIs. These training programs will provide fellows with education research experience and professional development to prepare them to pursue doctoral study in the education sciences or in fields relevant to education research.
Up to five Pathways training programs will be awarded to MSIs (and their partners) in 2016. These new programs will begin recruiting fellows in 2016 and 2017, so keep your eyes and ears open for more information about where and how to apply!
- Early Career Education Researchers. Are you an early career researcher at your first appointment? If so, you may qualify for and be interested in one of our programs that target early career researchers in statistical and research methodology (NCER) and special education (NCSER).
Look for upcoming training opportunities for early career researchers in future Request for Applications for training grants (CFDA 84.305B and 84.324B) and statistical and research methodology grants (CFDA 84.305D).
- Active Researchers Looking to Improve Their Methodological Expertise. Are you a current researcher (e.g., at a university or research firm) who would like to add tools to your methodological toolkit or further refine your skills with such tools? If so, then the Methods Training for Education Researchers Program may be for you.
If you are interested in methodological training, sign up for the IES Newsflash for announcements of upcoming workshops or periodically check our list of IES-funded workshops.
If you have questions about our training programs, please contact Corinne.Alfeld@ed.gov.
By Tom Brock, NCER Commissioner
If you are a subscriber to the IES Newsflash, you have seen a series of announcements of our FY 2015 research grant and training awards. It is a banner year, with 117 new research and training grants being made. As shown in Figure 1, the new grants include 81 Education Research grants (84.305A), eight new training grants (84.305B), two Research and Development Centers (84.305C), 12 Education Statistics and Research Methodology grants, and 14 Partnerships and Collaborations Focused on Problems of Practice or Policy grants (84.305H). This is the largest number of awards NCER has made in several years.
Figure 1. FY 2015 NCER Research and Research Training Awards
Why so many new awards? In part, it is because we had many strong applications this year, as determined through our peer review process. It is also because there is a natural ebb-and-flow in the proportion of our budget that is available for new awards. In years when many older grants are ending – such as FY 2015 – we have more money to make new awards; in years when many older grants are continuing, we have less money for new awards. This trend is illustrated in Figure 2.
Figure 2. NCER Grant Funding: FY 2012 - FY 2017 (Estimated)
Unfortunately, the positive funding picture for FY 2015 has negative implications for FY 2016. The large number of new awards we are making this year will limit the amount of money we have for new awards next year. Indeed, we estimate that we will have only about 1/3 the funding for new awards in FY 2016 that we have in FY 2015. This is because a higher proportion of our budget will go toward continuation costs.
In anticipation of next year’s limited funds, we have established funding priorities and taken steps to contain expenditures for new awards in FY 2016. Our priorities emerged from discussions with the National Board of Education Sciences, and from input we received from technical working group meetings with education researchers and practitioners and the public. Below is a summary of the programs NCER will be competing and the steps we have taken to limit costs:
- We are inviting applications for our Education Research Grants program (84.305A), which supports a wide variety of field-initiated research projects in 10 different topic areas. For the first time, however, we are restricting applications to four research goals: Exploration (Goal 1), Efficacy and Replication (Goal 3), Effectiveness (Goal 4), and Measurement (Goal 5). We are not inviting Development and Innovation (or “Goal 2”) applications, mainly because our Education Research Grant portfolio is already heavily weighted toward these projects. We also reduced the maximum amount of funding available for each of the research goals. For example, we reduced the maximum award for an Exploration project using secondary data from $800,000 to $700,000, and the maximum award for an Efficacy study from $3.5 million to $3.3 million. We did not reduce any maximum award by more than $200,000.
- We are launching a new training program called Pathways to the Education Sciences (84.305B), which Katina Stapleton described in a June 4 blog. The Pathways program is the only training program we are competing in FY 2016; we are not inviting new proposals for pre- or post-doctoral training, or for methods training. We expect to make up to four awards for the Pathways program.
- We are requesting applications for a Research and Development (R&D) Center on Virtual Learning (84.305C), which will support efforts by researchers to conduct rapid cycle experiments to improve widely-used education technologies in the K-12 sector. The Center will also explore how the large amounts of data generated by education technologies may be used to support meaningful improvements in classroom teaching and student learning. The Virtual Learning R&D Center was competed in FY 2015, but no application received a high enough score to justify an award. We expect to make one grant in FY 2016.
- We are inviting applications for our Statistics and Research Methodology in Education program (84.305D), which is intended to produce statistical and methodological tools that will better enable education scientists to conduct rigorous education research. For FY 2016, we are limiting applications to Early Career researchers who are within five years of earning their PhDs. We will make up to four awards.
- We are requesting applications for our Researcher/Practitioner Partnership program (84.305H), which provides funding for researchers and practitioners to work together on an education problem or issue that practitioners identify as a priority. We are not inviting applicationsfor the Continuous Improvement Research in Education program, in part so we can learn from recent grants under this topic. Nor are we inviting applications for the Evaluation of State and Local Programs and Policies program. For FY 2016, we will make up to five awards for Researcher/Practitioner partnerships.
- We are launching a new program called Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Education Policy and Practice (84.305N), which I described in a blog post on May 27. For FY 2016, we are requesting applications from researchers who are interested in forming networks on two topics: (1) Supporting Early Learning from Preschool Through Early Elementary School Grades (Early Learning Network); and (2) Scalable Strategies to Support College Completion (College Completion Network).
We are hopeful that the funding limitations we have imposed on many of our programs are temporary. If you are applying for an education research or training grant in FY 2016, make sure you read the Request for Applications (RFA) carefully to make sure your proposed project and budget fall within the application guidelines. If our overall grants budget stays level, we anticipate somewhat greater capacity to make new awards in FY 2017.
Please send any comments or questions to us at IESResearch@ed.gov.
By Liz Albro, NCER Associate Commissioner of Teaching and Learning
Welcome to our second “Month in Review” post! In addition to writing blogs, both NCER and NCSER have been busy making new awards this month, and preparing abstracts describing our newly funded projects published on our website.
New Research Awards
Across the two research centers, IES awarded 148 new discretionary grants to support research and research training activities. I hope that you will take the time to dip into our abstracts describing the individual projects. From early childhood to postsecondary, from basic cognitive science to system-level analysis, from exploration to impact, the projects reflect the wide scope of education research questions that the IES research centers support. To learn more about the awards, click here to read about the new NCSER awards, and here for information about the new NCER awards. Be sure to check back on Monday, July 6th, to read a new blog from Commissioner Brock discussing the 2015 awards and the forecast for 2016.
IES Funded Research in the News
Research findings from the Cognition and Student Learning portfolio were featured in two EdWeek articles in June. These articles describe some of the exciting work being done to address long-standing questions of transferring knowledge learned in one class or context to support new learning in mathematics and science.
The ED/IES Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) portfolio was featured in three different articles in June! Read more about how games developed with SBIR funding are being used to teach students about a wide variety of topics, like algebra, environmental science, and social skills.
IES Staff Presentations
On June 16-17, NCSER co-sponsored a Technical Working Group Meeting with the Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) on Evidence-Based and Emerging Practices: State of Science and Practice for Children with Disabilities. The meeting was an important opportunity for leaders in the field of special education to share what has been learned across a number of pivotal areas in research and practice and also to identify some promising next steps. A synthesis of the meeting is underway and will be available later this year.
ED/IES SBIR program officer Ed Metz participated in the National SBIR Conference, and led a panel on games for learning.
Applying for IES Research Funding This Summer? Missed Our Webinars?
No problem. PowerPoint presentations and transcripts from the webinars led by our program officers are available on our website. Click here to access information about preparing grant applications for IES.
By Katina Stapleton, NCER Program Officer
In April 2015, the National Center for Education Research (NCER) launched its newest research training funding opportunity: the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program. The purpose of the Pathways Training Program is to fund new innovative training programs that promote diversity and prepare underrepresented students for doctoral study in education research. In this blog, I want to provide some background on how the Pathways Training Program was developed and respond to frequently asked questions.
NCER has supported research training programs since 2004, training over 900 pre- and post-doctoral fellows. In 2014, NCER and NCSER sought input from our stakeholders to determine what was going well with our training programs, and to identify areas where we could improve. For example, we held a Technical Working Group meeting, solicited public comment, and engaged with our PIs during our IES Principal Investigators meeting. We also discussed the future of our training programs with the National Board of Education Sciences. As part of these conversations, we asked participants to reflect on whether the needs of the education sciences are the same as when the training programs were established. One issue that emerged was the demographic shifts taking place across the nation and the need for education researchers to be attuned to an array of social, cultural, and economic issues as they plan and conduct their work. Another issue that emerged was the need to increase the diversity of fellows served by our training programs and in the education research profession as a whole.
NCER developed the Pathways Training Program in response to this input. The Pathways training program is modeled on efforts by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to increase diversity in the sciences. The Pathways program establishes research training programs at Minority Serving Institutions (and their partners) that will provide students, especially underrepresented students, with an introduction to education research and scientific methods, meaningful opportunities to participate in education research studies, and professional development and mentoring that leads to doctoral study.
The core feature of the Pathways Training Program is a required research apprenticeship, in which fellows gain hands-on research experience under the supervision of faculty mentors. While there are several additional recommended components, the Pathways Training Program Request for Applications (RFA) was purposefully designed to encourage innovation, and therefore provides applicants with wide latitude in how the training program is structured, the student population of interest (i.e. advanced undergrad vs. post-baccalaureate vs. masters), and the training partners involved. Since the request for applications was released, we have received several questions from interested applicants. We have responded to those questions below:
- Are individual Pathways programs restricted to minority students? No. The Pathways Training Program, is open to all students, however, it seeks to increase the number of fellows from groups underrepresented in doctoral study, including racial and ethnic minorities, first-generation college students, economically disadvantaged students, veterans, and students with disabilities. We encourage all Pathways applicants to consult the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Right’s Guidance on the Voluntary Use of Race to Achieve Diversity in Postsecondary Education when deciding their student population of interest and developing their proposed program’s recruitment plan.
- Is my institution eligible to apply? The Pathways Training Program was designed to award training grants to minority-serving institutions (MSIs) and other institutions of higher education in partnership with MSIs. MSIs are institutions of higher education in the United States and its territories enrolling populations with significant percentages of undergraduate minority students or that serve certain populations of minority students under various programs created by Congress or other federal agencies. The Institute chose to focus on MSIs because of their long history as critical stepping stones for underrepresented minority students who pursue doctoral degrees. The RFA defines several categories of MSIs, gives criteria for being considered an eligible MSI, and provides 3 lists that applicants can use to certify that their institution is an eligible MSI for the purpose of this RFA. If your institution does not meet these criteria, then you will have to partner with an eligible MSI in order to apply. If you have any questions, please contact Katina Stapleton, the program officer for the Pathways Program, for assistance. However, ultimately, it will be your institution’s responsibility to demonstrate that it is an eligible MSI.
- Can my institution submit more than one Pathways application? No. An institution may submit only one application to the Pathways Training Program. If more than one application from your institution is submitted, IES will only accept one of them for consideration. We recommend that before applying you contact your institution’s sponsored projects’ office to make sure there isn’t another Pathways application already in progress.
- Can my institution participate in more than one Pathways application? Yes. Please note that the Pathways program is structured so that applications can be submitted by single institutions or by partnerships of two or more institutions. While institutions can only submit one application, it is possible for institutions to serve as a partner on multiple applications.
- Can I still apply even though I missed the deadline for the Letter of Intent? Yes. Letters of Intent are completely optional. Therefore, even if you missed the deadline, you can still submit an application. If you missed the deadline, but would still like feedback on your proposed training program, please contact Katina Stapleton.
If you would like to learn more about the Pathways Training Program and other potential funding opportunities, please sign up for the Funding Opportunities for Minority Serving Institutions webinar that will be held on Tuesday, June 9th, 2015, 1:00 PM – 2:30 PM ET.