Education & Technology Trends

Digital Promise Research Project to Focus on Digital Learning at Scale

Education innovator Digital Promise has launched a new network that's intended to inspire research on digital learning at scale in both K-12 and higher education. SEERNet is a five-year program with a model that differs from the traditional approach of research. Rather than beginning with small collections of data from local groups of students, SEERNet will begin with data generated on learning platforms already in use by 100,000 or more students.

The project is being funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences, under its competitive grant program, "Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Policy and Practice."

This particular network will be led by Jeremy Roschelle, executive director of learning sciences research at Digital Promise.

The network will include five platform teams, each led by its own principal investigator:

  • An Arizona State University team will develop a digital learning network platform with the capacity to connect, access and examine undergraduate student data and courses within the scope of ASU Online, encompassing both online courses and digital classrooms.

  • An Instructure team will produce Terracotta, a plug-in to Canvas that lets a teacher or researcher collect informed consent, assign different versions of online learning activities to students and export deidentified study data.

  • An OpenStax Learning Platform team will build OpenStax Labs, a rapid iteration and testing learning environment integrated with the OpenStax open educational resources digital platform, allowing for faster research at scale, focusing on insights for improving outcomes that lead to equitable student success.

  • A team for MATHia, a digital learning platform for supporting instruction in middle and high school math, will integrate MATHia with UpGrade, an open-source platform that supports fair and rigorous randomized field trials that compare innovative practices with current approaches.

  • A team for the ASSISTments digital learning platform will expand its infrastructure to allow researchers to run studies using OER within ASSISTments.

SEERNet will receive $3 million; and each of the organizations that make up the network will receive $2 million.

"Research on learning during the pandemic is making it crystal clear that today's large-scale digital learning is not equitable. For example, Black students, Latino students and low-income students faced greater barriers to mathematics learning before the pandemic, and this only intensified during the pandemic," said Roschelle, in a statement. "To achieve equitable digital learning, we need to not only bring evidence-based learning technologies to scale — we also need to shift researchers' attention away from designing novel but small-scale technologies, to investigating how we can improve learning on the large-scale digital platforms that students already use frequently."

"We hope that this work will increase the relevance of the research questions asked, enhance the potential for improving education practice, and most importantly, lead to the improvement of learner outcomes," added Mark Schneider, director of the Institute of Education Sciences.

Digital Promise will also work with Empirical Education, a research and development company that will bring its education-focused research, data analysis, engineering and project management expertise to the project.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.