WPI Team Receives $2 Million to Improve Education Research Using ASSISTments Online Math Learning Platform

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Grant from the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation will make research faster and more productive.

Students doing homework

The ASSISTments online math learning platform is an invaluable tool for research into education technology and strategy.

A private foundation has awarded $2 million to a professor at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) to improve ASSISTments, a free online math learning tool, for researchers who use it to conduct experiments related to education technology.

The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation awarded the three-year grant to Neil Heffernan, the William Smith Dean's Professor of Computer Science and director of the Learning Sciences and Technologies Program at WPI. Korinn Ostrow, a research scientist in computer science at WPI, is co-principal investigator.

ASSISTments was developed with two goals in mind—the first is to improve teaching by giving teachers a platform through which to deliver immediate feedback to students as they do their homework online; the platform also delivers individual and class data to teachers, providing better insight into where students struggle. The second goal is to develop a research tool for researchers to test innovative ideas that can inform improvements to online education.

The Schmidt funding will allow the WPI team to create tools and templates to reduce the time it takes to conduct such research, expediting the development of new ideas to benefit students and teachers. The grant will support 60 external researchers and their projects, many of which may be incorporated into the existing ASSISTments platform as a free public service.

“There are countless interesting ideas about how best to help students working on math homework,” said Heffernan. “This funding will help us improve our systems to let other researchers test ideas and determine what kinds of homework support works for which students—and when.”

The WPI team will also create a research hub so teachers, university students, and education providers such as charter school networks can propose new research questions.

“Customizing ASSISTments for accelerated research can provide insights that can be applied across the program and drive the discovery of principles that improve student learning,” Heffernan said.

Heffernan and his wife, former math teacher Cristina Heffernan, developed ASSISTments in 2003. In 2019, a nonprofit organization, The ASSISTments Foundation, was formed. WPI continues to receive grants to improve the design and engineering of the free online learning tool. More than 100,000 students have used ASSISTments, and the tool has been shown to improve middle-school students’ math scores. Neil Heffernan has won more than $35 million in federal grants for the development of ASSISTments and has worked with more than 100 WPI undergraduate students on research into ways to improve student learning.

The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Fund for Strategic Innovation is a California-based nonprofit created by Eric Schmidt, former CEO and executive chairman of Google, and his wife, Wendy. The Eric and Wendy Schmidt Foundation is one of a variety of Schmidt funding sources that supports Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt that finds exceptional people and helps them do more for others together.

About Worcester Polytechnic Institute

WPI, the global leader in project-based learning, is a distinctive, top-tier technological university founded in 1865 on the principle that students learn most effectively by applying the theory learned in the classroom to the practice of solving real-world problems. Recognized by the National Academy of Engineering with the 2016 Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, WPI’s pioneering project-based curriculum engages undergraduates in solving important scientific, technological, and societal problems throughout their education and at more than 50 project centers around the world. WPI offers more than 50 bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degree programs across 14 academic departments in science, engineering, technology, business, the social sciences, and the humanities and arts. Its faculty and students pursue groundbreaking research to meet ongoing challenges in health and biotechnology; robotics and the internet of things; advanced materials and manufacturing; cyber, data, and security systems; learning science; and more. http://www.wpi.edu


Alison Duffy, Director of Strategic Communications
Worcester Polytechnic Institute
Worcester, Massachusetts
508-831-6656 (office)
508-340-5040 (cell)

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