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IES Grant

Title: Enhancing Learning by Reducing Distraction
Center: NCER Year: 2022
Principal Investigator: Mrazek, Michael Awardee: University of Texas, Austin
Program: Cognition and Student Learning      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (07/01/2022 – 06/30/2025) Award Amount: $1,997,156
Type: Development and Innovation Award Number: R305A220435

Co-Principal Investigators: Schooler, Jonathan; Mrazek, Alissa; Green, Dorainne; Yeager, David; Maul, Andrew

Purpose: In this project, researchers aim to expand and improve an existing digital intervention called Finding Focus that is intended to help high school students train their attention and then use it to more effectively regulate distracting thoughts and emotions. Specifically, key innovations will include (i) advanced personalization of the intervention to students' aspirations, (ii) an expanded curriculum that addresses the pervasive distraction of digital media, and (iii) new methods for ensuring effective teacher facilitation.

Project Activities: In Year 1, the research team will use online surveys, focus groups, and semi-structured interviews to create and refine the three key innovations described above. In Year 2, the team will carry out two test-runs of the complete intervention and collect data from students, teachers, and education leaders as they use the intervention in school settings. In Year 3, researchers will conduct a pilot study to evaluate the fully developed intervention's usability, feasibility, fidelity of implementation, and impact on student outcomes. That year, the research team also will finalize their analyses, finalize the cost analysis, and disseminate project findings.

Products: This project will result in a fully developed online intervention that can provide evidence-based attention training to high school students at scale. It will also result in an automated process for instructing and inspiring teachers to be effective facilitators of the intervention. Additionally, this research will provide new insights into how to design and implement digital interventions in school settings. Researchers will disseminate project information and findings through reports and peer-reviewed publications to reach educators, policy makers, educational researchers, and intervention designers.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The research will take place across approximately 30 public schools primarily in New York City.

Sample: During the three years of study implementation, 2950 high school students will participate across eight studies. Most of these students will be enrolled in schools managed by the New York City Department of Education, one of the most diverse school systems in the country. Approximately 145 teachers and education leaders also will participate in the proposed research.

Intervention: The resulting intervention will help students learn how to focus their minds, manage their emotions, and better regulate their use of technology in academic settings. This student-facing intervention will consist of five 12-minute weekly lessons and 28 four-minute daily exercises. Teachers will facilitate the intervention during class by having students access the digital learning platform through a web browser or app. Researchers also will develop a 15-minute automated training program for teachers that prepares and inspires them to be effective facilitators of the intervention.

Research Design and Methods: The research team will evaluate the fully developed intervention's usability, feasibility, fidelity of implementation, and impact on student outcomes using a fully powered cluster-randomized trial in which classrooms are assigned to condition using stratified randomization. Researchers will randomly assign half of the classrooms to the attention training condition and half to an active control.

Control Condition: The pilot study will use a well-matched nutrition course as a rigorous active control that minimizes confounds of expectation, motivation, and demand characteristics.

Key Measures: The research team will administer previously validated and researcher-developed measures of usability, feasibility, and fidelity of implementation. The primary outcome measures in the pilot study will be reading comprehension and GPA in core academic classes. Secondary measures include mind-wandering, multitasking during academic activities, attentional control, emotional regulation, and mood.

Data Analytic Strategy: The research team will analyze qualitative data from focus groups and semi-structured interviews using inductive coding. Researchers will use multilevel regression models to evaluate the efficacy of the intervention and the usability, feasibility, and fidelity of implementation of the intervention.

Cost Analysis: Researchers will carry out a cost analysis using the CostOut tool and following the "ingredients" method to (i) identify all ingredients, (ii) identify the cost of each, (iii) calculate total program costs and average cost per student, and (iv) determine the distribution of costs across relevant constituencies.

Related IES Projects: Mind Wandering During Reading (R305A110277); Scalable Multimedia Mindfulness Training for Youth (R305A170445)