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Digital Learning Platforms to Enable Efficient Education Research Network


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FY Awards


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Dr. Erin Higgins
(202) 706-8509


In FY 2016, IES initiated the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice grant program to focus resources and attention on education problems or issues that are high priorities for the nation and to create both a structure and process for researchers who are working on these issues to share ideas, build new knowledge, and strengthen their research and dissemination capacity. Each Network consists of several research teams working on the same issue and is coordinated by a network lead. The ultimate objective of each Network is to advance the field's understanding of a problem or issue beyond what an individual research project or team is able to do on its own, and to assist policymakers and practitioners in using this information to strengthen education policies and programs and improve student education outcomes.

Purpose: Education research is often a slow and costly process. Even more difficult is replicating research in a timely and cost-effective way to ensure that findings are meaningful for the wide range of contexts and populations that make up our nation's education system. Conducting research through widely used digital learning platforms may accelerate the research enterprise and make it easier to conduct replication research. The goal of this Network is to leverage existing, widely used digital learning platforms for rigorous education research. Digital learning platforms have the potential to support researchers as they study new ideas and seek to replicate studies quickly across many sites with a wide range of student populations. These platforms may also facilitate broader participation from educators interested in education research. While there are many digital learning platforms, only a handful currently support research studies. Successfully achieving this goal requires a network of education technology industry leaders and developers, education researchers, and education practitioners. This Network will provide an infrastructure to facilitate these collaborations.

The Digital Learning Network includes five platform teams and a network lead, as follows:

The SEER Research Network for Digital Learning Platforms
Principal Investigator: Jeremy Roschelle, Digital Promise Global
The Network Lead will help platform developers, researchers, and educators share ideas, build knowledge, and strengthen dissemination.

The ASU Learning at Scale (L@S) Digital Learning Network
Principal Investigator: Danielle McNamara, Arizona State University
This platform team will develop a digital learning network platform with the capacity to connect, access, and examineundergraduate student data and courses within the scope of Arizona State University (ASU) online and digital classrooms (ASU Online).

The Canvas+Terracotta LMS-Based Experimental Education Research Platform
Principal Investigator: Benjamin Motz, Indiana University
This platform 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 to students, and export deidentified study data.

Efficient Education Research via the OpenStax Learning Platform
Principal Investigator: Richard Baraniuk, Rice University
The platform team will build OpenStax Labs (Labs), a rapid iteration and testing learning environment integrated with OpenStax digital platform designed to conduct research faster and at scale, cultivate an inclusive research community, and deploy insights to improve student outcomes that lead to equitable student success.

MATHia: A Digital Learning Platform Supporting Core and Supplemental Instruction in Middle and High School Mathematics
Principal Investigator: Steven Ritter, Carnegie Learning, Inc.
The platform team will integrate MATHia with UpGrade, an open-source platform that supports fair and rigorous randomized field trials that compare innovative practices with current approaches.

Revisions to the ASSISTments Digital Learning Platform to Expand Its Support for Rigorous Education Research
Principal Investigator: Neil Heffernan III, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
The platform team will build the infrastructure to enable researchers to run studies using open education resources (OER) within the ASSISTments platform.

The major goals of the network are as follows:

  1. Extend the capacity of multiple digital learning platforms to enable rigorous education research. Each platform team will revise a widely used digital learning platform to create features, portals, dashboards, data-sharing tools, and other system components needed to conduct research within the platform. These revisions should be able to support multiple types of research including, but not limited to, (1) large-scale efficacy and replication studies of interventions across a wide range of sites and (2) feedback loops that use the data collected through the platform to identify and improve the implementation of core components of interventions and contribute to theories about how people learn. The teams will also develop the infrastructure necessary to facilitate collaboration across researchers and education stakeholders.
  2. Conduct national leadership and outreach. All members of the network will engage in leadership and outreach. The Network Lead will coordinate these activities for the network. Leadership activities will include convenings of platform developers, researchers, and education stakeholders to discuss challenges such as data privacy, collaboration tools, and the types of meaningful outcomes that can be collected by platforms that would be useful for practitioners. The Network Lead will summarize research relevant to the broad goals of the network and knowledge generated through these activities and share it out with the broader community in various ways, such as through white papers and short briefs. Additional outreach activities include showcasing the digital platforms to researchers and education stakeholders, creating a website, and coordinating the network's communication and social media strategy to ensure the network's products reach a variety of stakeholders, including researchers, developers, and education personnel at the school, district, and state levels.
  3. Establish collaborations between platform developers, researchers, and education stakeholders. The Network Lead will bring together leading education technology developers, researchers, and education personnel to identify ways to answer research questions that address the needs of education stakeholders. These collaborations will serve as a model for the field.
  4. Demonstrate the promise of conducting high-quality, quick-turnaround research studies using digital platforms. Research teams (funded through a separate competition at a later date) will conduct studies using the revised platforms that will serve as examples for the field as well as provide opportunities to improve the platforms.


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