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Learning Analytics in STEM Education Research (LASER) Institute to Build Learning Analytics Capacity in STEM Education Research

RALEIGH, N.C. — Demand for learning analytics skills, a computational research methodology, has increased as data science bootcamps, workshops, online courses and graduate programs have become more prevalent. However, very few programs in learning analytics or related fields currently exist in educational research programs, and there is a need to help education scholars work with and understand these new data sources and learning contexts. 

To support early and mid-career science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education researchers in building their learning analytics capacity, staff and faculty at the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation and the NC State College of Education are establishing the Learning Analytics in STEM Education Research (LASER) Institute. The goal of the institute is to help researchers understand and improve STEM learning and learning environments through the use of new sources of data and analytical approaches. 

“I can’t really think of a better home for the LASER Institute than NC State and the Friday Institute,” said Shaun Kellogg, Ph.D., director of the Friday Institute research and evaluation team and principal investigator for the project. “We take great pride, and place great emphasis, on supporting innovation, equity and capacity building in education. This project is a true expression of those values.” 

The three-year, $993,150 project is funded by the National Science Foundation and in collaboration with Old Dominion University and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. Hollylynne Lee, Ph.D., professor of mathematics and statistics education at the NC State College of Education and senior faculty fellow at the Friday Institute, and Shiyan Jiang, Ph.D., assistant professor of learning design and technology at the NC State College of Education, are co-principal investigators on the project.

“Learning analytics is proving to be a powerful approach for understanding and improving digital learning contexts while also examining persistent problems in STEM education from new angles,” said Hiller Spires, Ph.D., executive director of the Friday Institute and associate dean in the NC State College of Education. “Staff, faculty and graduate assistants at the Friday Institute and NC State College of Education, for example, have used fine-grained data of K-12 students’ interactions with digital learning environments to improve game-based learning approaches, gauge levels of student collaboration and understand student writing and drawing in electronic science notebooks.”

LASER will prepare STEM education research scholars to: 

  • Understand the methodologies, applications and ethical issues of learning analytics as they relate to understanding and improving STEM education
  • Gain proficiency in R, a free software environment applied to computational analysis techniques (e.g., network analysis, text mining, machine learning and data dashboards) using real-world STEM education data
  • Expand professional networks in support of STEM education research efforts

Another limitation to the growing field of learning analytics is its underrepresentation of women and scholars from minority groups. To counter these problems, the team will focus recruitment efforts on and give priority to early and mid-career scholars from these underrepresented groups. All participant costs will be fully paid, reducing barriers to participation. 

LASER will be anchored by a weeklong intensive training program consisting of hands-on learning labs, presentations from experts in the field, support for research planning and data analyses and opportunities for networking and collaboration. NC State’s College of Education, in partnership with the Friday Institute, is also working to address this gap through a newly approved online graduate certificate program in learning analytics.  

The Friday Institute brings together researchers, practitioners and policymakers to lead the transition to next-generation education systems that will prepare students for success in the digital-age world. It conducts research, develops educational resources, provides professional development programs for educators, advocates to improve teaching and learning, and helps inform policy-making. The Friday Institute is a part of the NC State College of Education. Visit to learn more.