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IES Grant

Title: Efficient Education Research via the OpenStax Learning Platform
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Baraniuk, Richard Awardee: Rice University
Program: Digital Learning Platforms to Enable Efficient Education Research Network      [Program Details]
Award Period: 5 Years (09/01/2021 – 08/31/2026) Award Amount: $2,000,000
Type: Methodological Innovation Award Number: R305N210064

Co-Principal Investigators: Lan, Andrew; Basu-Mallick, Debshila; Davenport, Kim-chi; Slavinsky, John

Related Network Teams: This project is part of the Digital Learning Platforms to Enable Efficient Education Research Network (Digital Learning Platforms Network), which aims to leverage existing, widely used digital learning platforms for rigorous education research, and includes the following other projects — The SEER Research Network for Digital Learning Platforms (R305N210034), The Canvas+Terracotta LMS-Based Experimental Education Research Platform (R305N210035), The ASU Learning at Scale (L@S) Digital Learning Network (R305N210041), MATHia: A Digital Learning Platform Supporting Core and Supplemental Instruction in Middle and High School Mathematics (R305N210045), Revisions to the ASSISTments Digital Learning Platform to Expand Its Support for Rigorous Education Research (R305N210049)

Purpose: The main goal of this project is to build OpenStax Labs (Labs), a first-of-its-kind research infrastructure integrated within the OpenStax digital platform. Through Labs, the platform team will create a rapid iteration and testing environment to conduct research faster and at scale, cultivate an inclusive research community, and deploy research-based insights to improve student outcomes that lead to equitable student success. Education in the United States is rapidly evolving as teachers and students transition to digital learning. While digital learning opens new possibilities for innovation in pedagogy, gaps in student achievement and opportunities are rising, as is learning loss from the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite a century of progress in learning science, there is a major roadblock in education research. Educators do not have the information they need about learning to improve outcomes for all students, in large part due to the complex factors that drive student outcomes and the lack of large-scale studies. OpenStax Labs will significantly accelerate research on digital learning by enabling researchers to deploy studies with unprecedented depth, breadth, and scale in authentic digital learning environments. Labs will broaden the reach of learning science research findings and new digital learning technology to benefit millions of students in an equitable way.

Project Activities: The primary focus will be to build the Labs infrastructure from the ground up over the 5-year period. To this end, the team will proactively recruit relevant stakeholders (researchers with different areas of focus, students and instructors from diverse and underrepresented groups, privacy experts, digital ethicists, human-computer interaction and user experience specialists, and software engineers) to inform design decisions and the Labs research agenda. The team will simultaneously collaborate with the Network teams to learn from, share knowledge with, and foster community in this education and learning science research-practice space.

In Year 1, the team will develop Labs Alpha, the initial version of Labs that will enable researchers to develop their own studies and recruit participants via OpenStax products and institutional partners. Researchers on the team will deploy validation studies in the pretest-to-intervention-to-posttest format, administer measures of individual differences, and assess the privacy and FEAT controls. In Years 2 and 3, the team will develop Labs Beta, an enhanced version that securely connects participants' data on Labs with their data on other OpenStax digital learning products. Researchers will be able to control against individual factors that can be estimated from prior learner data instead of needing to conduct pretests and analyze long-term outcomes in their studies using future learner data in addition to immediate posttests. In Years 4 and 5, the team will deploy the final scaled-up Labs and open it up to a broad researcher community.

Products: OpenStax Labs will be a lightweight research infrastructure that will support a wide range of large-scale learning science studies (that go far beyond mere tweaking of existing functionality of an ed-tech platform) that integrate within the authentic learning workflows of students. First, Labs will enable researchers to recruit students directly from OpenStax users (4.8 million students at 62 percent of all U.S. degree-granting institutions) and 21 partnering institutions reaching 417,000 students, resulting in studies at unprecedented scale and participant diversity. Second, Labs will support a wide range of large-scale learning science studies that are integrated within the authentic learning workflows of students, going far beyond mere tweaking of existing functionality of an ed-tech platform. Third, Labs will protect user privacy and promote fairness, equity, accountability, and transparency by design. Labs will benefit — and benefit from — the millions of students using OpenStax through the integration of new digital learning technology that improves learning outcomes through a rapid research-and-deployment cycle. In the long run, Labs will also broaden the participation of researchers, supporting stakeholders with different levels of expertise (e.g., teachers and administrators) to conduct research on digital learning.