The Learning Innovation and Networked Knowledge (LINK) Lab at UT Arlington has been chosen to lead a $1.6 million initiative to connect and support researchers across the country as they examine digital learning's effect on higher education today and in the future.
The new Digital Learning Research Network (dLRN) is funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. LINK Lab Executive Director George Siemens will coordinate work between UT Arlington and nine additional institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, Teachers College Columbia University, the Smithsonian Institution, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and others.
Siemens said the aim of the grant is to close a gap that has existed between digital learning research and its impact on practice, as well as amplifying the breadth and depth of research being conducted. The Digital Learning Research Network will benefit universities who are making the transition to digital learning and learners from groups traditionally underrepresented in higher education.
"UT Arlington is a recognized leader in digital learning, and we are committed to fostering robust research as to how technology can be leveraged to help all learners realize their dreams," said UT Arlington President Vistasp Karbhari. "The Digital Learning Research Network combines those two aims. It puts UT Arlington at the center of a vital global conversation about the future of higher education."
Other partners on the new grant are University of Arkansas System, University System of Georgia, California Community Colleges Online Education Initiative, and SRI International, a nonprofit innovation and research organization.
As with other industries, universities are becoming more and more digitally connected and a coordinated research-intensive approach is needed to make sure students and society benefit, Siemens said.
"This research project will address the barriers to digital learning and articulate the conditions needed for all learners to succeed, better their own lives and participate in the global economy," Siemens said.
Some of the areas to be addressed by research include: competency-based learning; learning analytics; growth of higher education globally; learning at scale and Massive Open Online Courses or MOOCs; personalization and adaptation; and credentialing and accreditation through digital programs.
"Contrary to a popular narrative that higher education is not innovating, there is world-‐leading activity in teaching, learning and technology happening on campuses across the U.S. Unfortunately, this innovation often doesn't make it outside of research labs. With dLRN, we aim to change this," Siemens said.
Carolyn Rosé, associate professor in the Carnegie Mellon University School of Computer Science, said being a partner in the dLRN will increase the impact of the research her team is already doing on intensive discussion based learning and collaborative exchanges in massive open online courses.
"We will begin by specifically focusing on how interventions we have already developed need to be adapted for underrepresented learners," Rosé said. Going forward, researchers will also expand their work to "enable effective personalization" of the real-time support online learners receive, she said.
The University of Texas at Arlington has been a leader in online education for many years. In partnership with Dallas-based Academic Partnerships, UT Arlington provides fully online bachelors and master's degrees in education, nursing and public administration. In Fall 2014, 17,185 UT Arlington students took at least one class online, with 13,245 students fully online. UT Arlington has more than 40,000 students worldwide.
The new $1.6 million grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's Postsecondary Success Strategy, which aims to dramatically increase the number of young adults who complete postsecondary education. In light of the fact that more than half of college students are now part-time, the strategy calls for more personalization targeted to their needs and goals. More information is available here: http://postsecondary.
The LINK Lab, which was established in 2014, leads international research efforts as well as supporting Professional Learning Communities at UT Arlington that are focused on implementing strategies, activities and projects that improve the learning experience.
About The University of Texas at Arlington
The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 40,000 students around the world and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-‐growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity.