Social & Emotional Learning

Character Lab Expands School Research Capacity with Qualtrics Partnership

The Character Lab Research Network, a nonprofit aimed at advancing the science behind social and emotional learning and character development, has partnered with Qualtrics to expand research efforts and make it easier for scientists to work with middle schools and high schools. The partnership was announced at the Qualtrics X4 Summit in Salt Lake City, UT, last week.

Character Lab provides resources for schools to help develop character while also helping to improve academic outcomes. At present the nonprofit offers two "Playbooks" for teachers to use in their classrooms: Build Connections, which guides students through the process of connecting classroom learning with personal interests, and WOOP, a strategy for setting and achieving goals. Character Lab's founder and CEO, Angela Duckworth, told THE Journal that additional Playbooks will be released in the near future. (In the coming days, we'll be posting a complete interview with Duckworth, who is also a former K–12 teacher, current University of Pennsylvania professor and author of the New York Times bestseller Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.)

Qualtrics is the developer of the Qualtrics Experience Management Platform, an enterprise research tool that's been widely deployed in both K–12 and higher education for collecting and analyzing data. Although it's probably best known as a survey tool, it offers a range of capabilities, from predictive analytics to longitudinal analysis to professional development. One school system, Iowa City Schools, even used it to create an anonymous bullying reporting system. (That system, now available as a certified solution for any school to use, allows students to securely and anonymously report bullying by simply texting @BULLYING to 35134. They can also report sexual assault anonymously by texting @SAFESCHOOLS to the same number.)

As the first step in the partnership, Character Lab launched research projects in Florida's Orange County Public Schools involving 18,000 students in six different interventions whose aims are to investigate "the benefits of advice-giving, re-framing of critical feedback and improving perceptions of teacher relationships."

Character Lab's Duckworth said Qualtrics developed and built a custom platform to deliver activities and securely connect to school data. They also eliminated a number of technical barriers that Duckworth said often make research in schools so difficult to do. Also as a part of the partnership, Qualtrics will make ongoing charitable contributions to Character Lab, and Qualtrics CEO and Founder Ryan Smith will serve on the nonprofit's advisory board.

"The learning experience is probably the single most important experience of a young person's life. It sets the tone for their entire future, determining their passion to learn and decides so much about their future," Smith said in a prepared statement. "We're excited to join forces with Character Lab to help scientists pursue student development."

Duckworth explained that with the Qualtrics partnership, the aim is to cut the current time it takes to investigate the effectiveness of a given intervention in half. As Qualtrics and Character Lab explained: "The goal is to make character increase the pace of research by slashing the time required to go from 'good idea' to 'scientifically tested insight' by at least half — from a full year or more to six months or less. Character Lab also assumes the many legal, logistical and technological burdens that typically fall to scientists and schools, making research simply easier. And by bringing scientists, designers and educators together to develop, iteratively prototype and test activities that encourage the development of character, they hope to make the research more fruitful."

"The term 'character' encompasses a multitude of strengths. Interpersonal strengths, like gratitude, enable harmonious relationships with other people; intrapersonal strengths, like grit and self-control, enable achievement; and intellectual strengths, like curiosity, enable a fertile and free life of the mind. But why do some kids have more character and other have less? And can we cultivate character?"Character Lab's Duckworth said. "That's what we are trying to learn, but the significant time and effort it takes to connect students and researchers is the greatest impediment to our studies. The Qualtrics platform helps us surmount these obstacles and provides a seamless process for our scientists to advance faster."

Educators can get involved with Character Lab in a number of ways, including piloting, providing conceptual feedback, hosting Playbooks and other avenues. Complete details on getting involved can be found at characterlab.org/playbook-educators.

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