Research in educational technology is nothing new. Though I’m new to the C21U team at Georgia Tech, I’ve been doing this kind of research for the better part of 20 years – and I still consider myself somewhat of a newcomer. But I think it’s safe to say that the field has exploded over the past 10 – 15 years, and for two reasons: first, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 introduced to the U.S. the Institute of Education Sciences, which declared (at the time) that education could and should be reduced to laboratory-style experimental designs. And second, the rapid expansion of Internet technologies in the 2000s, especially social networking and media sites, made it possible to connect students to content, instructors, and other learners across vast distances. Questions about their effectiveness abound.

Many researchers, myself included, are wary of experimental designs where students are randomly assigned to either a treatment group or a control group to receive, for example, new educational software or not. The problem with such design is that researchers try to control for the effects of the learning environment, in other words, to take the student out of the context of the school. Nevertheless, there is hope for advancing educational research through the scientific method while still accounting for the contextual and evolving nature of education. You see, for every new innovation we try, we alter the environment that the innovation was designed to address. Design Based Research (DBR) is back in favor. DBR says, in short, that we can formulate hypotheses about what will improve student success, test those hypotheses, account for the effects of the learning environment, implement strategies that have clear evidence, and then start the cycle again. Evolving environments for evolving innovations is how I like to think of this approach. For those of you in the tech world, think Agile Methodology applied to education research.

That’s what we’re doing at C21U. Student needs in physical and virtual classrooms lead to faculty interests in exploring instructional theories and practices. These faculty members collaborate with C21U on their research questions, which drive the data we collect. Analyses of these data lead to new conclusions about instruction within specific contexts, which are then implemented in the classroom. In turn, these actions often lead to new student needs, and the cycle repeats itself.

Research graph

But we can’t do this without our faculty partners at Georgia Tech. We’ve started a research roadmap to outline some of the latest trends in educational innovation that we think will make for the next generation of the university – flipped classrooms, MOOCs, competency-based education, and so on. Read more on our website, and if you have a moment, fill out our survey to let us know about your research interests.