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Education

Government Funding Opportunities for Edtech Developers

Ed Metz

Program Officer, U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences

Erin Higgins

Program Officer, U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences

Sarah Brasiel

Program Officer, U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences
edtech research development government funding

If you are an edtech developer, you may have heard about the SBIR program at the U.S. Department of Education. SBIR provides non-dilutive seed funding to entrepreneurs for the research and development of commercially viable, game-changing education technologies for U.S. classrooms.

But SBIR is just one government program to know about. The Education Research Grants Program and the Special Education Research Grants Program at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) also support the research, development and evaluation of innovative forms of edtech designed to improve student learning, support teachers and strengthen schools. 

Success Stories of Grants Programs

In recent years, these funding programs have supported many cutting-edge technology projects. Information about all previously funded projects can be found in the searchable project database, but here are a few recent IES-funded projects:

  • Researchers at Harvard University received a Development and Innovation grant to create a multi-user virtual environment (EcoMUVE) to help middle-school students gain deeper understandings of ecosystems, scientific inquiry and causal patterns. Research demonstrates that students who used EcoMUVE had increased complex causal reasoning about ecosystems and showed gains in their knowledge of scientific content.
  • Small business R&D firm Iris Educational Media also received a Development and Innovation grant to develop and test the Student Social Competence Program. The online intervention for elementary-school teachers provides instructional strategies to promote children’s social competence and academic outcomes. A randomized controlled trial of 70 classrooms demonstrated that teachers in the intervention demonstrated gains in self-efficacy, and students also exhibited increased positive behaviors.
  • Small business R&D firm Mindset Works received an Efficacy and Replication grant to evaluate the impact of Brainology, a technology-delivered intervention (originally developed through an SBIR award) to strengthen students’ growth mindsets based on the idea that intellectual ability can grow through learning and effort. The randomized controlled trial, which began in 2015 and will end in 2018, includes 60 sixth-grade teachers across 15 schools and will test whether the intervention leads to an increase in student learning.

The Education Research Grants Program offers 12 topics to choose from, and the Special Education Research Grants Program offers 11 topics. While technology-related proposals are appropriate across all of the topics, two are specifically designated for technology. First, the Education Technology Topic focuses on learning technologies, with the goal of improving academic performance in reading, writing, math and science among pre-kindergarten through grade 12 students. 

Second, the Technology for Special Education Topic focuses specifically on research that contributes to the identification of effective strategies, knowledge and skills necessary for teachers and other instructional personnel to be able to utilize education technology tools that are designed help students with or at risk of disabilities.

4 Tips for Applying

The program is highly competitive. If your interest is piqued, here are a few things to keep in mind to determine the goodness-of-fit for applying:

Know the key details. The RFAs detail all the requirements and instructions for preparing an application. For technology researchers and developers, applications to develop interventions or assessments are in amounts of up to $1.4 million for four years, while applications to evaluate technology are up to $3.3 million for five years. Although optional, we encourage you to submit a letter of intent by May 5, 2016.

Collaborate with education researchers. Of course, a well-rounded project team is a must. For technology developers and startups interested in this program, the team must include personnel with education research expertise in the area of focus. If you are a developer and do not currently have the in-house research expertise, look to partner with researchers and institutions with this background.

Use research and theory as the foundation. Strong applications provide clear connections between existing research and theory and the new work to be completed. Use rigorous designs and methods to test hypotheses, develop and validate assessments, develop new special education interventions and to evaluate interventions for efficacy.

Reach out to us. Each topic has a dedicated program officer with specific area expertise. All applicants, especially new ones, should contact these program officers to discuss the goodness-of-fit for a project idea and to ask questions about the RFA and application process. The program officers are eager to provide guidance to strengthen applications within their areas, and contact the program officers sooner rather than later as they have more time in the early spring than they will when the submission deadline approaches.

Emerging edtech provides much potential to support and enrich student learning, teacher instruction and the ways in which schools operate. Researchers and developers are pushing the envelope to capitalize on new innovations in areas such as virtual reality, augmented reality and game-based assessments. We look forward to learning more about how edtech innovators are transforming education.

The Institute of Education Sciences (IES) is the independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. IES’ mission is to provide rigorous and relevant evidence on which to ground education practice and policy and share this information broadly. By identifying what works, what doesn’t and why, IES aims to improve educational outcomes for all students, particularly those at risk of failure.

Ed Metz

Program Officer, U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences

Ed Metz is a Research Scientist at IES, where he leads the SBIR and the Education Technology Research Grants programs. Ed is developmental psychologist and a former American Association for…

Erin Higgins

Program Officer, U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences

Erin Higgins is Associate Research Scientist at the IES, where she leads the Cognition and Student Learning Research Grants program. Erin is trained as a cognitive psychologist whose interests lie…

Sarah Brasiel

Program Officer, U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences

Sarah Brasiel is a Research Scientist at IES, where she is the Program Officer for the Technology in Special Education program. Sarah holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education and has…

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