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More Government Programs Every Edtech Researcher and Developer Should Know About

Ed Metz

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

Rob Ochsendorf

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

Back in December, we wrote about the U.S. Department of Education’s Small Business Innovation Research Program, which provides seed funding to entrepreneurs for the research and development of commercially viable, game-changing education technologies for use in U.S. classrooms.

Today, we are blogging about more government programs we feel every developer (including startups) should know about: the Education Research Grants Program and the Special Education Research Grants Program at ED’s Institute of Education Sciences. These programs support the research, development, and evaluation of innovative forms of education technology designed to improve student learning, support teachers and strengthen schools.

If you are looking to develop an assessment that differentiates student’s learning trajectories within a math game; to evaluate the efficacy a virtual chemistry laboratory to increase student learning; or to develop a tool to support students with Autism—these programs could be for you.

In recent years, these programs have supported many cutting-edge research projects focusing on technology interventions and products. A few recent projects provide a good idea of what these programs are all about.

  • Researchers at Rush University Medical Center were funded through a measurement grant to develop the SELweb, which assesses grade school students’ social-emotional abilities and peer acceptance as well as a classroom’s social network. Pilot testing with over 4,000 children indicates that the assessment is valid and reliable. The researchers plan to distribute the assessment to schools as a screener to identify children who may need additional supports for developing healthy social-emotional skills.
  • Researchers at the University of Connecticut were funded through an efficacy grant to evaluate the GlobalED intervention, a simulation platform for middle-school students to learn and apply scientific concepts. Pilot and efficacy trial data indicate that participation in GE increased science knowledge and skills, written argumentation, and scientific inquiry. GE is seeking to launch in schools in 12 states in 2015.
  • Researchers at the University of Oregon and firm Thought Cycle were funded through a special education development grant to build Numbershire-K, a game that provides children with or at-risk for disabilities with individualized support in learning whole numbers. In a small-scale, randomized control trial to test the promise of Numbershire-K, students with and at-risk for learning difficulties significantly outperformed a control group in single and multi-digit addition and subtraction. Numbershire-K, which launched in late 2014, will be used in 59 school districts in 2015.

Key Program Details to Get You Started

The Request for Applications (a.k.a., RFA) details the requirements for the competition, provides recommendations to improve the quality of applications, and includes instructions for submitting your application. The RFAs for the 2016 competitions can be found on this page, with applications due August 6, 2015.

Both the Education Research and Special Education Research Grants Programs are organized into topics and goals; applicants must select a topic and a goal for which to apply. The goals span the spectrum of research and development activities, including Exploration, Development and Innovation, Efficacy and Replication, Effectiveness, and Measurement. (Note: In Fiscal Year 2016, the Education Research Grants Program is not accepting applications submitted to the Development and Innovation goal. The Special Education Research Grants program is accepting applications submitted to this goal as usual.) All goals allow for multi-year projects and award amounts range from hundreds of thousands to multi-million dollars depending on the goal selected (see the RFA for more details).

The Education Research Grants Program offers 10 topics to choose from, and the Special Education Research Grants Program offers 11 topics. While technology-related proposals are appropriate across all of the topic areas, two are specifically designated for technology:

  • The Education Technology Topic focuses on learning technologies, with the goal of improving academic performance in reading, writing, math, and science among students in pre-kindergarten through grade 12.
  • The Technology for Special Education Topic focuses on research on technology products intended to improve reading, writing, mathematics, science, social and behavioral, functional and adaptive, transition, or general study skills for students Kindergarten through high school with or at risk for disabilities.

Once submitted, applications go through a two-step external peer-review process. Information about all previously funded projects can be found in the searchable project database on this page.

Things to Keep In Mind

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 and for moving forward:

  • Use Research and Theory as the Foundation: Promising applications to IES provide strong connections between existing research and theory and the new work to be completed. Rigorous designs and methods are employed to test hypotheses generated from theories and the existing research base, to develop new special education interventions, to develop and validate measures or assessments, and/or to evaluate interventions for their efficacy.
  • Collaborate: Of course, a well-rounded project team is a must. For education technology developers and startups interested in this program, the team should include experts in research, theory, and practice. If you are a developer and you do not have these individuals in-house, look to partner with researchers and institutions with these backgrounds.
  • Reach Out to Us: Each topic has a dedicated program officer with expertise in his or her area. All applicants, especially new ones, are encouraged to 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 area. On that note, please contact the program officers sooner rather than later, as they will have more time in the early spring than they will as the submission deadline approaches.

Emerging forms of education technology provide so 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 and augmented reality, game-based assessments, and using data to individualize learning and improve teacher instruction. We look forward to hearing from you and learning more about the ways in which you are using technology to transform education.

The Institute of Education Sciences is the independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. IES’s 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…

Rob Ochsendorf

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

Rob Ochsendorf is a Program Officer at the National Center for Special Education Research at the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences.

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…

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