COE emerges as a leader in the growing edutech field

January 10, 2019 - 5:00am

It’s no secret that College of Education faculty members and alums are leaders across a wide range of disciplines.

Whether it’s STEM, obesity prevention or bilingual education, college researchers can often be found at the forefront of their fields.

But they also excel in leveraging technology to make their groundbreaking research accessible and to maximize its reach. Apps, games and web-based programs are being used to test, teach, assess and reinforce lessons for everyone from preschoolers through high-schoolers and beyond. That includes determining whether a student needs additional attention or more challenging work, as well as helping them work on their focus, keep track of their schedules and much more.

The technology generates information and data that educators, administrators, students, parents and others can then apply toward reaching goals more effectively and efficiently than ever before.

It’s called education technology — also known as edutech — and the College of Education has been part of the field almost from its inception.

“We live in a day and age where people don’t want to be bothered with in-person intervention, be it teachers, parents, children, physicians,” said Laura Lee McIntyre, head of the Department of Special Education and Clinical Sciences. “They want something that’s accessible. They don’t want a conversation. Our science has to keep up with the demand for effective but user-friendly tools that build on our research.”

The college doesn’t have a specific program or track that focuses on preparing students to develop technological tools. Instead, McIntyre said, it’s baked into the college’s DNA.

To start, students gain valuable experience conducting research side by side with tech-savvy faculty members that they carry with them into their careers upon graduation.

Other factors come together to help forge a spirit of entrepreneurship and a desire to build products that have broad and immediate benefits for children, students, schools and communities.

“I think it’s in our culture to really want to have a deep and sustained impact,” McIntyre said. “A lot of science gets published in peer-reviewed journals or people present it at conferences, but it doesn’t really change the lives of children and families and communities. I think here, in our culture at the College of Education, it’s not enough to publish. We want to see that translation of improving practices.”

A prime example is the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills program, better known as DIBELS. The widely used literacy assessment system was developed in the 1980s and is found at more than 15,000 schools nationwide. It also has deep ties to and is based at the college.

“More than 20 million students have been screened with DIBELS to determine if they need additional reading support to meet state benchmarks,” said Hank Fien, director of the Center on Teaching and Learning, which houses the UO DIBELS Data System. “We’re proud of the large-scale impact we’ve had in schools across the country and contributing to the COE legacy for developing tools and technologies that are scalable and based on rigorous research.”

The college’s Center on Teaching and Learning also has a marketplace with apps and games that help educators and kids with literacy and math skills. The Department of Special Education and Clinical Sciences has the same.

Fien and other research scientists at the center are very active in this area. They’ve developed NumberShire, a learning game to connect with students who are at risk of math learning disabilities.

“We’ve developed a range of academic intervention tools and technologies with local edutech firms,” Fien said. “The U.S. Department of Education has noticed the strong partnership between UO College of Education researchers and local companies and regularly asks for college faculty to present to other university researchers and industry how to establish such partnerships.”

One high-profile example is the School-wide Information System, an application that helps educators and administrators better track how discipline is meted out to spot possible patterns. Rob Horner, professor emeritus and former director of Educational Community and Supports unit, and colleagues within the college developed the program.

Additional examples include an app out of the UO’s University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities in collaboration with the Child Development and Rehabilitation Center at Oregon Health & Science University, which evaluates and assesses the management of developmental disorders. A handful of other apps from college faculty members and staff, with some contributions from the Department of Computer and Information Sciences, help diagnose and manage treatment for concussion victims.

The college’s edutech roots extend out into the local community and date back to the 1980s, when Eugene-based developers Dynamix and Broderbund produced games such as “Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego” and “Reader Rabbit.”

One of the latest companies to emerge with research ties to the College of Education is Cognitopia, a Eugene-based edutech company started by alumnus Tom Keating that was featured in The Register-Guard. It has developed a range of apps that help children and adults with cognitive disabilities more easily manage their daily lives, whether it’s navigating their way around school or helping them find jobs.

Another benefit of the technology coming out of the college is it also generates revenue — roughly $7 million out of the university’s $9 million annual funding from copyright- and trademark-based licensing traces back to the College of Education.

Between 8 percent and 25 percent of each dollar goes to the Innovation Partnership Services department to maintain infrastructure and provide support to the licensed program. Up to 50 percent goes to the faculty members, staff and students who created the work, and 25 percent goes to the faculty member’s unit or college.

Many faculty members and staff in the College of Education waive their personal share, allowing as much as 92 percent go to the faculty member’s program, where the funds are reinvested into their research and development programs.

“In terms of money sticking here in Eugene, it’s huge,” said Chuck Williams, associate vice president for innovation in Innovation and Partnership Services.

The use of technology in education is poised to continue to expand to keep pace with demand and as researchers refine the science behind it.

“What we do, we’ve done for a long time,” McIntyre said. “But dissemination is now coming in a lot of shapes and forms. We will see more apps, more websites and more user-friendly ways of improving the lives of children, families and schools.”

—By Jim Murez, University Communications