MIT Integrated Learning Initiative names initial grant recipients

Steve Nelson

The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) awards over $900,000 to innovative MIT research on the science of learning and learning effectiveness.

The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) has selected seven projects to receive grants to research the science of learning and ways to make learning more effective. MITili grants focus on wide ranging topics including policy, neuroscience, and socioeconomic factors, with focus on all levels of learning from pK-12 to higher education and workplace learning. This is MITili’s first award of its annual grantmaking to continue in subsequent years.

“Computational Modeling Dialogic Co-reading Interaction for Improving Child-Parent Conversational Turn-taking” – Prof. Cynthia Breazeal, MIT Media Arts & Sciences (Media Lab)

Learning language at a young age is very crucial for children’s later educational success. However, a major problem faced by many children from low socioeconomic status (SES) families today in learning a language is a lack of resources and developmentally important stimulation in their homes and schools. This lack of relevant resources and experiences for many young low SES children leads to a detrimental effect on their language and literacy development. Prof. Breazeal and her team will explore how to implement an early childhood language intervention aimed at promoting and guiding parent-child interaction through a social agent with the ultimate goal of empowering low-SES parents and helping bridge the learning gap between low-SES and high-SES families. The social agent will be designed to engage both the adult and the child in a joint learning activity (e.g., storytelling) and encourage adult-child dialogue.

“Converting Zombies into Learners: Improving MOOC Learner Retention” – Prof. Chris Caplice, MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics (CTL)

Prof. Caplice and his team have categorized MOOC learners into three distinct groups: Learners, Voyeurs, and Zombies. The learners watch lesson videos and complete work for grades; the voyeurs watch lesson videos, but do not complete some work for grades; and the zombies neither watch videos no complete any graded work. The percentages of these learners are roughly 5%, 25%, and 70% respectively. The objective of their research will be to reduce the number of zombie learners, and reduce the number of learners dropping out of MOOCs through the design, development, and implementation of a range of tools and techniques. The main goal will be the development of a prediction model to estimate learner dropout rates based on student behavior.

“Field Experiments for Education and Cognitive Science” – Prof. Esther Duflo, MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL)

“Poor children in the developing world are increasingly likely to attend school but often fail to master the elementary school curriculum,” says Professor Duflo.  In India, most primary school graduates cannot pass simple math and reading taught in the first two grades, and even seventh graders may perform arithmetic only by counting tallies. Professor Duflo and her team will work with students in India, testing a suite of games developed by her team that aim to increase children’s readiness for learning school mathematics. The research is unique in its use of games that build on universal, early-emerging concepts of number and geometry that are the subject of intense research in cognitive science.

“The Impact of Infusing Computation and Visualization into Introductory Physics Subjects” – Lecturer Kyle Keane, MIT Department of Material Science and Engineering (DMSE)

Keane and his team will explore the potential benefits of utilizing computer programming and visualization to solve and understand undergraduate physics problems. The study will utilize a 2x2 factorial design to study how the independent variables of learning and computer programming and visualization affect the dependent variables of physics comprehension, comprehension of computer programming, and spatial reasoning. If the study’s hypothesizes are born out, such findings may be relevant beyond the realm of undergraduate physics. Chemistry, biology, mathematics, as well as other fields may find that they can boost subject comprehension by incorporating coding and visualization into their curriculum.

 “Collaborative Learning Environments in Virtual Reality (CLEVR)” – Prof. Eric Klopfer, MIT Media Arts & Sciences (Media Lab)

Professor Klopfer and his team will use Virtual Reality (VR) as an educational tool in the classroom. VR itself doesn’t create better learning, however it can create new opportunities for learners. The research will focus on two central questions (1) when does VR enable more effective learning than traditional methods and (2) how might we understand how and when to use VR for different types of learning experiences.  CLEVR will also leverage a new game called Cellverse, an educational game designed to help students investigate cellular biology in an active, collaborative way.

“Improving Learning Effectiveness with Adaptive Physical Tools” – Prof. Stephanie Mueller, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL)

Prof. Mueller and her team will develop a set of adaptable tools across different application areas, first focusing on conceptual development, then carried out by the students in her class in the fall. Next, the team will measure the learning gain and study the learning effectiveness of these new adaptive tools versus current adaptive tools through a randomized control trial. Finally, the team will develop a framework for designing adaptive tools with optimal learning effectiveness which will be fully automated, ensuring every learner can learn independently without the need for additional teachers. This new adaptive system has the potential to lead to higher retention of learners since learners are not overwhelmed but challenged at just the right level.

“Enhancing learning via ‘novelty insertion’: Employing the neuroscience of learning to create more effective pedagogical approaches” – Prof. Pawan Sinha, MIT Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences (Sinha Lab)

Research in neuroscience has revealed compelling novelty-department modulation of the mesolimbic dopaminergic system. Professor Sinha and his team will use various course modules from the MITx library to insert short novel clips on diverse, unusual topics derived from a variety of sources such as NASA, PBS, and National Geographic. Students will be asked to provide a rating for how engaging each video was, as well as measured for heart-rate and performance scores corresponding to each module. Data will be analyzed to determine whether videos with ‘novelty insertions’ result in higher engagement and improved learning.

About MITili

Founded in February 2016, MITili funds, connects, and shares research investigating learning effectiveness.

The research ranges, for example, from scans of individual learners in Brain and Cognitive Sciences to applying data analytics to understand the implications of policy decisions in Economics to almost every department at the Institute. Studies focus on one or more of three broad demographics: birth through pK-12, higher education, and workplace learning. If you would like to help support MITili’s efforts you can give here.