MIT's Laura Schulz envisions a bright future for educational research


 Laura Schulz addressed the need for educational research at a recent MITili Transformative Research event.

Laura Schulz, Associate Professor of Cognitive Sciences in the Brain and Cognitive Sciences Department at MIT spoke to the MITili team on Thursday about her vision of a transformation to learning at the early childhood level. Her ideas stem from four initiatives that will help define a new direction in educational research for children. First, she says, we should work to recruit more students from underrepresented backgrounds as research scientists. The current Research Scholars Program in Brain and Cognitive Sciences could serve as a model for a future program at MIT specifically targeting students interested in educational research.

Schulz's second initiative, to engage community partners in research, could expand the successful collaboration with the Boston Children's Museum. Since 2008, she and her colleagues have had the opportunity to test the behaviors of over 25,000 children in the museum's PlayLab. She advocates for more connections and relationships to bridge the divide between best practice and dissemination. Funding is needed to make sure museums and schools can grow as well as give researchers a place to study children in their own environment.

Schulz also spoke of the need to expand the participants we reach and the questions we ask. Schulz and graduate student Kim Scott have launched LookIt ( LookIt enables parents and their young children (ages four months to fourteen months) to participate in video-based online experiments from the comfort and convenience of home, eliminating the often prohibitive hurdles associated with getting a small child to a physical location and in a mood to participate productively. This platform will help characterize individual differences in development and refine development methods.

The flagship of Schulz's vision is a new distributed early childhood learning initiative. The initiative would enable day care providers, preschool teachers, and other early childhood practitioners with tools to acquire, develop, and compare the outcomes of simple instructional activities and share the findings with researchers and each other.