Educators and Researchers Use ASSISTments to Test Best Practices

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ASSISTments holds a unique position in the edtech space due to our passion for learning science and the bridge we build between educators and researchers to drive advances in education research. This post delves into two of the key components of that bridge.

Our teacher community knows ASSISTments as a free, online platform to assign math content, get actionable data, and provide students immediate feedback. 

One thing you may not know is that we hold a unique position in the edtech space due to our passion for learning science and the bridge we build between educators and researchers to drive advances in education research. The two key components of that bridge is using ASSISTments as a platform to crowdsource educational content for student learning combined with an evaluation engine for researchers to test if content, including the content created by teachers, is supporting teaching and learning.

Let’s start with what we mean by crowdsourcing feedback for students. By using a feature in development called TeacherASSIST - which has been highlighted in the Hechinger Report and in a recent academic paper - teachers will soon be able to develop content for students (like hints, explanations, scaffolding questions) that can be used across all teacher users. Crowdsourcing this feedback will support effective teaching practices, by offering teachers the ability to share the support they create for their students with other teachers.

On the research side of things is an infrastructure called E-TRIALS. This platform allows researchers to learn more about student learning from authentic learning environments. Researchers use the infrastructure to build studies and deliver them to students via ASSISTments assignments or other student facing tools. They can also support testing of crowdsourced content to ensure that students and receiving supports that we find to be the most effective for learning.

E-TRIALS was highlighted by ASSISTments co-founder and Professor of Computer Science at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Dr. Neil Heffernan in July during his keynote at the 21st International Conference on Artificial Intelligence in Education. Dr. Heffernan emphasized the unique opportunity that E-TRIALS offers to education researchers who wish to test their ideas and further our collective knowledge of what works best online and in the classroom.  

A number of researchers have already used E-TRIALS. Dr. Emily Fyfe, Assistant Professor of Psychological and Brain Sciences at Indiana University, used the platform to test the effect of immediate feedback on the performance of middle-school students with low and high prior knowledge in mathematics. She found that immediate feedback is particularly important for students with low prior knowledge, while it has a neutral effect on students with high prior knowledge. You can read more details about her study here.

There are also a number of studies that are currently underway. Dr. Candice Walkington, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Learning at the University of Texas, is using the platform to test whether embedding math problems in work contexts of interest to students improves learning. Dr. Walkington’s work focuses on identifying best teaching practices for students in vocational high schools who might have a specific focus, such as cosmetology, health science, or auto repair.  

Our research philosophy is rooted in the belief that developers have a responsibility to use their technology for good, at scale. There is a crisis in American science referred to as the Reproducibility Crisis where many experimental results are not able to be reproduced. We are trying to address this crisis by helping “good science” be done. Through our work with E-TRIALS and crowdsourcing, we research different ways to help students succeed, the results of which can be scaled across our own platform and used by other researchers, practitioners and developers. We also believe that “good science” should also be “open science,” meaning that just like our free tool for teachers, we make high quality scientific research free and accessible to all. 

If you’re a researcher interested in learning more about E-TRIALS or the bridge we build between learning science and the classroom, visit our research page. If you’re a teacher interested in contributing your expertise to education research, consider joining our Teachers for Research & Feedback community. We love working with educators and researchers who are passionate about testing novel teaching methods so that they arrive at the ones that produce the best results for students. We would also like to thank the U.S. Department of Education and the National Science Foundation and others for their support of over $50 million from 40+ grants and gifts supporting this work.

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