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New $3 Million Research Project Looks at Online Reading Tutor for Middle Schools

An article describing a $3 million grant to study the effectiveness of a Web-based reading program for middle school students

by Joe Savrock (July 2008)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Three College of Education faculty members are participating in a new $3 million research project aimed at studying the effectiveness of an online reading comprehension program being used in middle schools.

The new project, titled “Efficacy and Replication Research on the Intelligent Tutoring System for the Structure Strategy—Rural and Suburban Schools Grades 4, 5, 7, and 8,” examines the Web-based reading program known as the Intelligent Tutoring for the Structure Strategy (ITSS), which was developed by a College of Education research team on an earlier grant that ends this summer.

meyer_sml.jpg“Schools are struggling with the task of improving reading among students,” said Bonnie J.F. Meyer, professor of educational psychology. “Some students fail to succeed in tasks such as identifying main ideas from expository text and giving cohesive and complete accounts of what they read because of how they read, rather than because they do not read.”

Meyer is principal investigator for the grant that ends in August and co-principal investigator for the newly funded efficacy grant. Other major investigators on the new project are Kay Wijekumar, principal investigator and associate professor of information science and technology at Penn State Beaver, and Pui-wa Lei, co-principal investigator and associate professor of educational psychology. Faculty associates collaborating on the project are Jonna Kulikowich, professor of educational psychology, and Edward Smith, director of evaluation research for the Penn State Prevention Research Center. Wijekumar also was a co-principal investigator on the first grant.

Both grants are funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences; the new grant runs from July 2008 to June 2012.

A number of middle schools in Pennsylvania currently are implementing ITSS in their reading or social studies curricula. At least eight suburban school districts and ten rural school districts are anticipated to participate in the researchers’ randomized control trials designed to test the effectiveness of ITSS.

The researchers will measure the cognitive outcomes of ITSS, such as the system’s effect on reading comprehension. They also will look at the affective outcomes of using ITSS, including whether the intelligent tutor enhances students’ motivation to read, promotes students self-efficacy, and influences their attitudes toward computer use.

The new project extends the instruction to fourth-grade and eighth-grade students. “In the first grant we addressed this national reading comprehension problem by creating a Web-based intelligent tutoring system to help fifth- and seventh-grade students learn and use the structure strategy, a strategy to improve reading comprehension,” Meyer noted. “Our studies with the system looked promising in terms of large gains in pretest to after-training performances in reading.”