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