MIT Integrated Learning Initiative names fourth annual grant recipients

MITili Staff
MIT Student

The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) awards nearly $200K to innovative MIT research on the science of learning and learning effectiveness.

The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) has selected five 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 a focus on all levels of learning from pK-12 to higher education and workplace learning. This is MITili’s fourth award of an annual grant making to continue in subsequent years. 

Pipelines and Equity in Gifted and Talented Programs - Joshua Angrist (Economics)

This project will study enrollees in elementary school gifted and talented (G&T) programs, and follow the educational outcomes of this group through high school. Racial diversity of G&T programs is a persistent concern, as Black and Hispanic students make up less than 25% of the NYC G&T population despite making up 70% of NYC’s student population. The research team will therefore pay particular attention to the effects of programs on racial minorities and study policies that aim to increase program diversity.

To understand causal effects of G&T programs, the team will consider impacts on a range of educational outcomes: enrollment in selective middle schools and high schools, advanced coursework, and standardized test scores. All outcomes are available in academic administrative files provided by NYCDOE. To further understand any effects on future school attendance, we will decompose effects into impacts on preferences and impacts on admissions exam scores. These outcomes are available in NYCDOE application files.

Evaluating the Effectiveness of AI-Generated Personalized Learning Content for Improving Engagement and Learning Outcomes - Pattie Maes (MediaLab)

In this research project, the aim is to evaluate the effectiveness of learning materials that, using Generative AI, are personalized to students' individual interests, learning styles, and skill levels. As an initial testbed that lends itself to doing a controlled experiment, they plan to research this concept in the domain of vocabulary learning. They will develop a custom online vocabulary learning app that allows students to enter their interests, learning styles, and skill level. The app will use this information in conjunction with generative artificial intelligence in the form of large-language-models (e.g. Open AI’s GPT3 and GP4) and text-to-image models (e.g. DallE) to automate the generation of learning examples (i.e. text and/or images) that are tailored to students’ individual preferences, skill level, and interests. The app will be developed using an iterative prototyping process, in order to uncover how textual prompts to these APIs should be designed to generate the desired outputs. Great care will be taken in ensuring the safety and guardrails of the application, to make sure the customized materials do not include sensitive, age-inappropriate, or controversial contents.

Examining the Role of Stress Appraisal in Adolescents to Improve Learning - Eric Klopfer (Comparative Media Studies | Writing)

To examine stress and Executive Function (EF) jointly, the research team will employ AquaPressure, a novel game-based assessment of EF developed at MIT through collaborative efforts between McGovern Institute for Brain Research and MITili. AquaPressure was designed 1) for adolescents and 2) to examine EF under varying conditions of stress. Three research studies have already been conducted using AquaPressure and an initial study with adolescent participants (n=200) demonstrated that experiences of stress were effectively altered during conditions of low- and high-stress without changing other experiences such as perceived engagement and effort. These preliminary findings underscore the utility of AquaPressure as a tool for studying changes in a learner’s cognitive function in socio-emotional contexts. What remains unknown is how perceptions of these emotional contexts can be used to help students optimize their cognitive functions and ultimately, their learning outcomes, while under stress.

Measuring the Impact of Humanities Learning in an Age of STEM - Wiebke Denecke and Tristan Brown (School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences)

The humanities are in crisis, with plummeting enrollments across the country, and the timing couldn’t be worse. According to a recent article entitled “Why STEM Education—and Democracy—Need Civic Science” in American Scientist more than two-thirds of STEM graduates do not end up in a STEM career, but instead in the public or private sector, where they will need to serve as brokers for tackling the biggest challenges of our time. They will need skills beyond their narrow STEM expertise: it is the humanities that provide essential tools for problem-solving, working towards solutions for social effects of the climate crisis, gross social inequality, mass migration and violent conflicts, solutions that are ethical (aimed at the thriving of all), productive (and ecologically sustainable), and holistic and wholesome for the health and well-being of humans and their communities. Humanistic learning—the honing of historical understanding of oneself and others, of language skills, and communication and diplomatic skills—is crucial to bringing our communities and leaders together to rise to the occasion and tackle these threats to human well-being and survival.

The ultimate success goal of this project is to synthesize insights into a paper, which analyzes and assesses the impact of humanistic learning on MIT undergraduates, enriching the debate at MIT and other institutions about the value and new challenges for our humanities curricula, and supplying policy-decision bodies at MIT with valuable data to guide their decisions over how to design the best possible learning experience for graduates.

Valfee: Decreasing Public Speaking Anxiety with AI-Assisted Observational Learning - Lori Breslow (MIT Sloan School of Management)

Valfee is a phone application that assists students in learning how to model their presentation style after professional speakers in the fields of politics, business, and entertainment. On the Valfee app, students can choose a variety of prompts (e.g., “What is the biggest problem facing the world?”), or teachers can assign them. The goal for this project is to test the effectiveness of Valfee on reducing anxiety about public speaking. The team will assess Valfee’s effectiveness using a pre-test/post-test design by comparing scores between a treatment and a control group using the Personal Report of Public Speaking Anxiety.

Additionally, they want to explore students’ attitudes about observing and learning from role models (i.e., the avatars who represent professional speakers) of their own choice. They will measure which role models are being used and why in two ways: (1) a simple weekly data collection of which role models are being accessed; and (2) the implementation of a survey four times during the treatment period that asks students to identify why they chose specific role models, and what they observed from watching them speak.

About MITili

Over the past seven years MITili has been funding, connecting, and sharing 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.