MIT Integrated Learning Initiative names second annual grant recipients

Steve Nelson
Stata Center

The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) awards over $400K to innovative MIT research on the science of learning and learning effectiveness.

The MIT Integrated Learning Initiative (MITili) has selected four 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 second award of an annual grantmaking to continue in subsequent years.

Understanding the impact of integration policies in New York City Public Schools – Professor Josh Angrist (Economics)

Partnering with the New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE), Angrist and his team will study the effects of admissions policies on measures of diversity, students’ access to quality schools, and disadvantaged students’ academic achievement. They will explore the short-term effects of current integration efforts and evaluate potential alternatives. Studies on the effects of school segregation suggest integration may have both academic and psychological benefits to students, but evidence of the causal effects of integration, particularly in more recent years, remains elusive. Using a differences-indifferences strategy based on the sudden adoption of school-level diversity targets, the team aims to provide evidence that addresses core questions in the debate over integration and diversity: Do diversity policies like those adopted in NYC reduce racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic segregation and improve student opportunity, both within each local district and across the city’s schools? Do disadvantaged students enroll in higher-quality schools as a result? Do the district’s plans increase academic performance of disadvantaged students and reduce the achievement gap? Would other policies lead to better outcomes both in terms of diversity and academic performance? What are the effects on school measures of effectiveness?

Research exploring virtual experiences and learning (REVEAL) – Professor Eric Klopfer (MIT Education Arcade)

VR in itself does not “create” better learning. VR creates new opportunities for learners to represent and interact with ideas, and expands the reach of the classroom. To optimize the affordances of VR, Klopfer and his team will consider two central questions: (1) When does VR enable more effective learning than traditional methods of presenting biology and Business As Usual (BAU) experiences (2) How might we understand how and when to use VR for different types of learning experiences?

The study will focus not only on whether VR is an effective tool but also on the topics where learning gains are the greatest. The current research has established the “proof of concept” that VR can help learning. This study will improve learning effectiveness by understanding instructional differences in learning among VR and traditional instruction.

Evaluating the effectiveness of real-time biofeedback to monitor and improve ability to sustain attention – Professor Pattie Maes (MIT Media Lab)

Professor Maes and her team will use a pre-produced system called ‘AttentivU’, a device in a longer-term study with middle and high school children during home-based schoolwork, to evaluate whether biofeedback helps them focus, improves comprehension of the material as well as school performance. The team will additionally test whether extended use of the system improves their natural ability to be attentive and whether effects last when the student is no longer using the device. The team hopes to recruit 45 children (neurotypical and some with ADHD) aged 12-18 years who will be assigned to an actual biofeedback, a random biofeedback, or a control group. Children will use the biofeedback device at home during three 1-hour sessions each week for a period of 8 weeks. The sessions will include 2 types of tasks, video lectures and/or a reading task, for flipped classroom courses. For evaluation, the team will use the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL), objective metrics to measure comprehension of the material in the video lectures/readings, subjective feedback from the participants, their caregivers and teachers as well as high density EEG for brain imaging before, during and after the 8 weeks.

Evaluation learning effectiveness of dynamically generated tutorials for acquiring skills in physical prototyping (laser cutting, 3D printing) and electronics (breadboarding, circuits) through virtual / physical gameplay – Assistant Professor Stefanie Mueller (CSAIL)

Assistant Professor Mueller and her team will measure the learning effectiveness of a new type of learning environment, in which learners acquire skills in physical prototyping (laser cutting, 3D printing) and electronics (breadboarding, circuits).  Their work is motivated by recent advances in virtual-physical game play, in which players use physical props as part of the game (e.g., a fishing rod made from cardboard + sensors is cast by the player to acquire virtual fish). While today these physical props are used to increase immersion in the game, they are not used to teach players skills in fabrication and electronics. The key idea behind the work is to use the process of building the physical prop as a learning experience in which players acquire technical skills. The team imagines, for instance, that in an AR game, a player would collect all the parts necessary to build a spotlight, the team would then hope to show the following:

  • Fabrication Skills: Upon unlocking the spotlight in the virtual game play, the game generates a tutorial for how to create a matching physical spotlight (e.g., using a laser cutter). Once the player fabricated the physical spotlight and holds it in his/her hand, the game engine registers the spotlight (e.g., by tracking a fiducial marker engraved on the design) and it becomes available in the virtual game. This now enables the player to uncover items in the AR game that were ‘hidden in the dark’ when the player swipes the physical spotlight across a space in front of him/her.
  • Electronics Skills: After using the spotlight for a while, the game notifies the player that the spotlight is always on and the player is running low on virtual battery power. The game next instructs the player to add an on/off button and provides a tutorial for how to accomplish this using the Arduino electronics toolkit. After the player finished wiring, the game registers the button as part of the virtual game play and the player can now turn the spotlight on/off in the virtually world, saving battery power.

About MITili

Over the past three 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.