December 7, 2015
DENVER—McREL International, the University of Southern California (USC), and a coalition of partner agencies have won a five-year, $2,669,593 Investing in Innovation (i3) grant from the U.S. Department of Education to develop a digital game that will improve the “identity-based motivation” (IBM) of middle and high school students to be successful, engaged learners.
McREL and USC’s partners on the project, titled “Identity-Based Motivation Journey to Academic Success,” include Filament Games, South Central Colorado BOCES (SCBOCES), and the University of Illinois.
Co-directed by McREL researcher Katie Andersen and USC Dean’s Professor Daphna Oyserman, the project will focus on the key elements of IBM theory: making the future feel relevant and connected to the present, making difficulty feel like evidence that schoolwork is important, and creating a sense that effective learning strategies “fit” with one’s identity.
“We are excited about figuring out how to harness student motivation to improve success not through good intentions alone but by taking the time to carefully test the conditions in which an innovation works,” said Oyserman. “Our short-term goal is to improve academic outcomes; in the long run, the project should create a larger cohort of students ready for the next step—college and beyond.”
The i3 grant competition supports the development and expansion of research-based programs that can transform the academic trajectory of students, educators, and their schools. Grants are awarded based on the rigor of research shown to support projects across three categories: Development, Validation, and Scale-up. In addition, the i3 grant requires awardees to secure matching funds or in-kind contributions of 15 percent from the private sector within 90 days of receiving the award.
The game will be developed with Filament Games, a production studio based in Madison, Wisconsin, that exclusively creates learning games, combining best practices in commercial game development with key concepts from the learning sciences. CEO Dan White said, “We couldn’t be more excited to explore the intersection of games and identity for this project, particularly because research shows that identity immersion is one of the greatest strengths of game-based learning.”
The game will be piloted and tested with Colorado students and educators, through a partnership with SCBOCES, with the goal of helping students develop “those non-cognitive skills that are often overlooked in the K‒12 classroom,” said Executive Director Henry Roman, such as the development of academic perseverance, positive mindsets, and self-directed learning strategies.
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign associate professor Kristen Bub will conduct the external evaluation of the project, ensuring fidelity of implementation and rigorously testing the impact of the project on student outcomes. Bub looks forward to working on a project that “innovatively combines what we know from multiple disciplines, including education, psychology, and computer science, about learning and development to improve school engagement and achievement among a diverse sample of middle and high school students.”
McREL International is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving education for all students through applied research, product development, and professional service to teachers and education leaders.