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IES Grant

Title: PDConnect: A Scalable Community Approach to Improving Instruction in AP Chemistry Nationwide
Center: NCER Year: 2018
Principal Investigator: Rushton, Gregory Awardee: Middle Tennessee State University
Program: Effective Instruction      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (09/01/2018–08/31/2021) Award Amount: $1,398,358
Goal: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A180509

Previous Award Number: R305A180277
Previous Institution: State University of New York (SUNY), Stony Brook

Co-Principal Investigator: Kulkarni, Chinmay; Yaron, David J.

Purpose: In this project, researchers propose to develop an online teacher-professional development community (PDConnect) that leverages social processes hypothesized to be central to the diffusion of teaching reform. Students need to be better prepared to participate in a workforce which evolves as rapidly as the technological advances that drive the U.S. economy. Consequently, educators are faced with the task of both fostering student proficiency on the current state of knowledge, and preparing them to remain proficient in the future. To adopt reforms in practice, teachers need to be aware of practices informed by evidence-based research and know other teachers in other schools who have adopted new practices.

Project Activities: The intervention consists primarily of a comprehensive collection of resources and an online professional development community for AP Chemistry teachers. In Years 1 and 2, researchers will utilize web-based small-group peer discussion system (Talkabout) to refine the site and to maximize the mechanisms used to create peer discussion groups. The pilot study in Year 3 is a fully-powered randomized control study.

Products: Researchers will produce a fully developed online teacher-professional development community for AP Chemistry teachers and peer-reviewed publications as well as meetings for STEM reform communities, such as those at the College Board and projects working with states to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and Common Core State Standards. Researchers will identify and store data in DataShop (, an open online data repository for learning data hosted at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, PA.

Structured Abstract

Setting: Through the online platform, the project will reach participating teachers across the U.S.

Sample: The sample will include 500 representative members of the AP Chemistry teaching population (~8000 teachers) and their students. In Year 1, 40 teachers will participate. In Year 2, 200 additional teachers will participate. In Year 3, 186 teachers will participate in the pilot study. The project intends to oversample for teachers of underrepresented student populations (e.g., lower socioeconomic status, African American, and Latina/o).

Intervention: The proposed intervention consists of an online professional development community for AP Chemistry teachers. A comprehensive collection of resources will serve as a meeting ground for teacher interactions, but the social interactions are the focus of the site design. The goal is to support and characterize the spread of teacher beliefs and practices within intimate, online professional circles.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will recruit teachers through invitations sent to AP teachers, with rounds of invitations used to ensure diversity in both school and teacher characteristics. They will use an iterative design process to refine the site in the first two years of the project. They will use a web-based small-group peer discussion system (Talkabout) to enable teachers to schedule and participate in online group discussions and to enable researchers to alter and study the mechanisms used to create such groups. The pilot study in the third year is a fully-powered randomized control study.

Control Condition: Researchers will use two control conditions: 1) a wait-list control with no access to the site and 2) a content-centric community, where teachers have access to the resource collection and other features common across current online PD sites.

Key Measures: Researchers will measure student learning using the student AP Chemistry exam scores. They will measure teacher practice using the Horizon LSC Teacher Questionnaire; user-generated data from the site about classroom practices such as assessment items/instruments, student work samples, and discussion posts; coding teacher-submitted previous and current summative assessment measures (e.g., unit/chapter tests or laboratory reports) for alignment to reform practices. Researchers will measure also teacher beliefs using the Teacher Beliefs about Effective Science Teaching (TBEST) Questionnaire.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use multilevel models to correlate student AP exam achievement to teacher participation in the proposed intervention.