Improving Education Research Through Summer Training

IPR faculty lead IES-sponsored workshops

CRT 2015

Education researchers collaborate at the ninth annual Cluster-Randomized Trials workshop, led by
IPR statistician Larry Hedges.

Classes might not have been in session, but two groups of education researchers from around the nation were hard at work this summer on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus refining their use of cutting-edge education research methodologies. Sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and its National Center for Education Research (NCER), the two training sessions were led by IPR faculty experts and their colleagues.

Thomas Brock, NCER commissioner, attended the certificate ceremony for the Summer Research Training Institute on Cluster-Randomized Trials (CRTs), which celebrated its 9th anniversary this year.

“I think the most important and useful thing IES can do to ensure that the studies we fund are high quality is to support research and training methods like this workshop,” Brock told CRT participants on July 30.

IPR statistician Larry Hedges and Spyros Konstantopoulos of Michigan State University, a former IPR associate, ran the CRT Institute; and IPR social psychologist and methodologist Thomas D. Cook and Will Shadish of the University of California, Merced coordinated the Workshop on Quasi-Experimental Design and Analysis, along with former IPR graduate research assistants Vivian Wong at University of Virginia and Coady Wing at Indiana University, and former IPR postdoctoral fellow Peter Steiner at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

Cluster-Randomized Trials Institute

Hailing from organizations such as the research firm WestEd, the Michigan Department of Education, and the University of Arizona, CRT workshop participants spent 10 days learning about the use of cluster randomization in education research.

Cluster randomization is a methodological tool by which randomization takes place at the level of groups or clusters rather than among individuals. In the field of education, this method is particularly interesting because it allows researchers to measure an intervention’s effect on individual students while accounting for group effects of teachers and classrooms.

At the 2015 session, participants listened to lectures, participated in skill-building labs, and worked on group projects applying cluster randomization. The institute culminated in a mock proposal process, allowing groups to receive feedback from their fellow participants and institute faculty, thereby improving their readiness to apply for competitive IES grants.

“The workshop has helped me to build my skills and also to build my confidence to submit a proposal and develop the relationships necessary to submit a proposal,” explained participant Brooks Bowden of the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education at Columbia University’s Teachers College.

Irina Mokrova, a fellow workshop participant and postdoctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill echoed this sentiment.

“The workshop definitely increased my interest in education research methodology. It also increased my confidence in pursuing topics related to education research methodology,” noted Mokrova, who studies academic achievement in preschool and elementary schools.

Workshop on Quasi-Experimental Designs

The second training program on quasi-experimental designs in education welcomed 28 participants for two weeks in August, and promoted the same type of collaborative, hands-on learning.

This year’s training exposed participants to a variety of quasi-experimental designs, which are distinct in their use of methods other than randomization to compare groups.

Working closely with workshop leaders and fellow attendees to understand and analyze these designs, participants were able to hone their methodological skills while also making important connections with other education researchers.

For Monique McMillian, a workshop participant and associate professor at Morgan State University, analyzing quasi-experimental designs alongside other workshop participants will carry over into collaborative research projects outside of the summer training.

One such project will involve developing an interrupted time series study—a type of quasi-experimental design—with a fellow researcher she met during the workshop.

“I will definitely use the knowledge that I gained in combination with his expertise in the field to design a better study,” McMillian said. “My goal is for the follow-up study to be in a top-tier journal, and I believe that the knowledge that I gained and the connections that I made will help facilitate this.”

Developing the skills taught in these workshops is a critical element of pushing education research forward, Brock emphasized in his address to CRT participants. 

“It’s incumbent on all of us to continue to improve our methods and to demonstrate how scientific education research can be used, and is being used, to address and solve real problems,” Brock said.

Commissioner Thomas Brock heads the National Center for Education Research. Larry Hedges is Board of Trustees Professor of Statistics and Education and Social Policy, and professor of psychology. Thomas D. Cook is Joan and Sarepta Harrison Chair of Ethics and Justice, and professor of sociology, psychology, and education and social policy. Both Hedges and Cook are IPR fellows. For more information about these and future workshops, go to