Student Experience Research Network Blog

Friends and colleagues,

Our organization was founded in 2015 to advance scientific knowledge and encourage its use in the education sector, in order to build a just and equitable education system. Now, after six years of growth and evolution, Mindset Scholars Network will continue this effort as Student Experience Research Network. Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to Student Experience Research Network (or “SERN” for short), share the story of how we arrived here, and describe our vision for the future.

Over the past year, we conducted a planning process to determine how we could best serve the field. Through this planning process, we engaged dozens of stakeholders across research, practice, policy, and philanthropy.

We learned about our values, positioning, and purpose. These insights are shaping our strategy going forward:

  • We were founded based on a growing body of evidence showing that how students make meaning of their experiences in school, through the lens of their beliefs about ability, belonging, and relevance of their schoolwork, influences their learning and well-being. This research makes clear that it is not enough to focus exclusively on inputs and outcomes in education; we must also consider how students are experiencing the system itself.
  • We know the U.S. education system advantages some students and disadvantages others, along the lines of race, ethnicity, indigeneity, class, gender, sexuality, language, ability, and immigration status. This is reflected in every aspect of the education system: what’s taught, how it’s taught, who is teaching, what’s assessed and how, how students and families are treated in schools, how schools are resourced, and much more. This legacy affects students’ opportunities to learn and thrive directly, through disproportionate access to learning opportunities, and indirectly, through repeated signals to students about which people and knowledge are valued by the system, and which are not.
  • Our work is built upon the power of relationships. While practically relevant, interdisciplinary, and equity-centered scholarship about student experience is often disincentivized in the academy, and while few natural feedback loops exist to share insights across research, practice, and policy, our work has shown that bringing diverse perspectives together in a sustained and intentional way enables new knowledge-building and the flow of ideas across sectors.

Together, these and other lessons from our planning process led us to refine how we describe our work and our conceptual focus.

Our work is to connect people and ideas across research, practice, and policy to advance relevant scientific knowledge and improve decision-making by education system and institution leaders.

We work to bridge gaps between the academy and the education sector and facilitate the flow of insights in both directions. At the most recent convening of our scholarly community, SERN scholars Mesmin Destin and Simone Ispa-Landa described their experiences partnering with institutions and communities to conduct research, and explained how practically relevant research could be better supported. It is also critical for research to reach education practice and policy audiences in an accessible and timely way. For example, following the conclusion of our Inclusive Mathematics Environments Early Career Fellowship, we are continuing to make meaning of and apply the research produced by fellows in partnership with education stakeholders.

A new video produced by our team takes a closer look at how academic research can catalyze change via intermediary organizations, by documenting how Equal Opportunity Schools took up research by SERN scholars DeLeon Gray and Jamaal Matthews and their colleague Elan Hope in service of structural changes to promote equity and inclusion with their school partners.

SERN invests in the relationships and capacity needed to create shifts like these, and helps to translate and make meaning of research. Our new research synthesis, Structures for Belonging, brings together insights from diverse academic disciplines to identify opportunities for education stakeholders in K-12 and postsecondary contexts to better support student belonging. The synthesis will inform the work of a learning collective of nine education organizations ready to pursue near-term projects related to the insights from the synthesis.

Our conceptual focus is on students experiencing respect as valued people and thinkers in school and how practices, policies, and norms in education shape that experience.

Students experiencing respect as valued people and thinkers in school, or student experience for short, is a through line in various scientific fields, disciplines, and concepts that have been part of our work over the past six years. It is inclusive of the three learning mindsets that we have focused on to date (belonging, growth mindset, and purpose & relevance) but it is more expansive to better reflect the breadth of expertise and perspectives in our scholarly community and the myriad practices, policies, and norms that send messages to students that shape their learning and well-being.

We know that practices, policies, and norms in education and society have inequitably shaped students’ experience of school depending on who they are and the opportunities they are afforded. Research that draws on rigorous approaches from across the social sciences and integrates the perspectives of education stakeholders is essential to understanding the complex ways these structures systematically and differentially shape students’ experience of school—and how they can be changed.

We will continue to invest in research resources, including the Data Archive for Interdisciplinary Research on Learning (DAIRL), that advance this knowledge building, and support the leadership of researchers doing practically relevant scholarship on student experience that is interdisciplinary and equity-centered.

The name “Student Experience Research Network” captures this conceptual focus while continuing to center academic research and emphasize long-term relationships and community by retaining the term “network.” It appropriately foregrounds “student experience,” a term and an idea that is gaining traction in the field because it communicates the importance of students’ perspectives as well as the structures that they encounter on a daily basis that shape their experiences.

I encourage you to check out the materials linked here and to explore the rest of our website to learn more about SERN. On behalf of our team, thank you for joining us on this journey and we look forward to beginning this next chapter with you.


Lisa Quay

Executive Director, Student Experience Research Network

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