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IES Grant

Title: The Canvas+Terracotta LMS-Based Experimental Education Research Platform
Center: NCER Year: 2021
Principal Investigator: Motz, Benjamin Awardee: Indiana 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: R305N210035

Co-Principal Investigator: McDaniel, Mark A.

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 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), Efficient Education Research via the OpenStax Learning Platform (R305N210064)

Purpose: Schools have been increasing their adoption and use of online learning management systems, particularly so since the pandemic. Canvas is the most widely used learning management system (LMS) in the US, with over 7 million learners in higher education and 14 million learners in K-12 settings. Long gone are the days when the LMS was simply an administrative platform for gradebooks and file storage. Canvas has become the de facto environment for engaged online learning, ranging from discussions to practice quizzes to homework assignments and more. But how should teachers create, select, organize, and implement these learning activities? Such unanswered questions stand as urgent education research priorities. Ideally, it should be possible to assign students randomly to different versions of online classwork, enabling strong inferences about what works and for whom in these digital learning environments. The goal of this project is to realize this vision by advancing an LMS-based platform for experimental education research.

Project Activities: In partnership with Instructure (the company that makes Canvas), the team will develop Terracotta, a plug-in to Canvas that enables a teacher or researcher to collect informed consent, assign different versions of online learning activities randomly to students, and export deidentified study data. Terracotta stands for Tool for Educational Research with RAndomized COnTrolled TriAls and is designed to lower the technical and methodological barriers to conducting more rigorous and responsible experimental education research within the very environment where most learning and design currently take place: the LMS. With this work, the team will advance a Canvas+Terracotta platform for experimental education research, conducting development, assessment, and outreach in coordination with the Digital Learning Platform Network Lead.

Products: The team's resulting products will benefit both education research and instructional practice broadly, with an open-source research platform and a large audience of users. The education research community will benefit from the ability to conduct rigorous and responsible experimental research easily in Canvas, the most popular learning management system in the US, and the environment where student learning increasingly takes place. This ease will allow researchers to conduct studies at larger scales, with parallel multisite class replications. Additionally, teachers will benefit from the opportunity to be more actively involved in the implementation of education research, which will produce findings that are more relevant for instructional practice, and for improving classroom learning. These efforts will support the Digital Learning Platform Network's goal of national leadership in transformative education research.