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NSF and Dept. of Ed Establish Guidelines for STEM Education Research & Development

NSF and the Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) have collaborated to establish common Guidelines for the design of research and development studies in STEM education. Over two years, a Joint Committee sought to determine a shared vocabulary and standards for quality research designs based on evidence. The resulting report, Common Guidelines for Education Research and Development, is available on the IES and NSF websites. 

NSF released a set of FAQs for clarification of the Guidelines and appropriate usage for R&D projects (and emphasized these would not be applied to Programs). FAQ #3 addresses a concern that the Guidelines may stifle creativity, but explains the Guidelines should not be interpreted as limiting innovative projects:

The key point of the Guidelines is to ensure that projects are explicit about their research questions, methods and analytic approaches in their proposals. These criteria should be relevant for all types of education R and D efforts, including those that may be at the cutting edge of innovation. Further, these are guidelines intended to help PIs in their proposal preparation. They should not be viewed as a straitjacket that hinders creative thinking. Rather, PIs should review them, and make sensible use of them as they describe the education R and D activities they propose.

The report provides descriptions and examples for six types, or genres, of research for grantees and peer reviewers:

Type #1: Foundational Research provides the fundamental knowledge that may contribute to improved learning and other relevant education outcomes. Studies of this type seek to test, develop, or refine theories of teaching or learning and may develop innovations in methodologies and/or technologies that will influence and inform research and development in different contexts.

Type #2: Early-Stage or Exploratory Research examines relationships among important constructs in education and learning to establish logical connections that may form the basis for future interventions or strategies to improve education outcomes. These connections are usually correlational rather than causal.

Type #3: Design and Development Research develops solutions to achieve a goal related to education or learning, such as improving student engagement or mastery of a set of skills. Research projects of this type draw on existing theory and evidence to design and iteratively develop interventions or strategies, including testing individual components to provide feedback in the development process. These projects may include pilot tests of fully developed interventions.

Type 4: Efficacy Research allows for testing of a strategy or intervention under “ideal” circumstances, including with a higher level of support or developer involvement than would be the case under normal circumstances. Efficacy Research studies may choose to limit the investigation to a single population of interest.

Type #5: Effectiveness Research examines effectiveness of a strategy or intervention under circumstances that would typically prevail in the target context.

Type #6: Scale-up Research examines effectiveness in a wide range of populations, contexts, and circumstances, without substantial developer involvement in implementation or evaluation. (pages 9-10 of the report).

The full report is available on the Department of Education site and on the NSF site .

The NSF FAQs are available in the following formats: