Student Experience Research Network Blog

This fall, the Student Experience Research Network will launch a new interdisciplinary research initiative to explore how learning environments can help students believe they can grow their ability, that they belong and are valued at school, and that what they are doing in school matters. The initiative will draw on newly-available large-scale datasets and expand the breadth of the network, which in its first year has already grown to more than two dozen leading social scientists from 14 universities across the country.

This initiative represents a new chapter in research on learning mindsets. Early mindset research focused on individual psychologists conducting small laboratory studies or field trials of a single intervention. This new initiative will pool the respective expertise and data collected by economists, education researchers, psychologists, sociologists, and statisticians to provide answers to questions that have emerged in consultation with practitioners, policymakers, and funders. These quick turnaround analyses will yield a set of insights the network will release publicly in the form of research briefs, avoiding the long delay waiting for findings to be published in academic journals months and years later.

Hosted at Stanford University’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences with the generous support of the Raikes Foundation, the Student Experience Research Network was a response to burgeoning interest in the science of learning mindsets. There is growing recognition that these emotional, motivational aspects of learning are a critical, but often overlooked mechanism driving educational outcomes and inequality. By extending our understanding and awareness of students’ psychological experience of school, the network hopes to contribute to improved student outcomes and greater educational equity.

Over the past year, the network has helped launch two national field experiments with dozens of institutions and tens of thousands of students. These studies are gold standard replications of two programs that have been shown in past studies to promote growth mindset and social belonging in key educational transitions, particularly among students from underrepresented and marginalized groups. They’ll help the field understand under what conditions and for which groups such ‘direct-to-student’ mindset programs are most effective. They will also yield reams of valuable data that social scientists will be able to mine for years to come to explore countless questions regarding how and when learning mindsets matter, and the contexts and practices that give rise to them.

The direct-to-student programs that emerged from early mindset research can be an important component of systemic efforts to expand educational opportunity, but alone they’re not enough to ensure that all students feel safe, valued, and engaged in school—the preconditions necessary for deep thinking and learning. Practitioners and policymakers told us that they want to better understand students’ psychological experience of schooling; how students come to develop mindsets from the messages they receive at school; and what curricular approaches, instructional practices, and policies can promote learning mindsets that help students flourish as learners. We heard a similar message from the wider research community. As some of our members wrote in a new article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, it is time to look beyond “[learning mindset] interventions that help students navigate the social world of school more effectively,” and figure out how to “also make [these] worlds easier to navigate.” This new initiative on the learning environment is designed to do just that.

In addition to this growing focus on the learning environment, members of the Student Experience Research Network will continue to contribute their scientific expertise in timely discussions about how best to encourage a focus on the social-psychological aspects of learning in education policy and practice. Our researchers are working with the Carnegie Foundation’s Student Agency Improvement Community to develop practical measures that teachers and schools can use to inform continuous improvement efforts. We’re also in conversations with multiple stakeholders who are helping states make decisions about the implementation of the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Finally, the network is thrilled to announce the addition of several new members: Bridget Terry Long (Harvard University), Camille Farrington (University of Chicago), Jo Boaler (Stanford University), Matthew Kraft (Brown University), Sidney D’Mello (University of Notre Dame), and Thomas Dee (Stanford University). These new members bring a wealth of scientific expertise in K-12 and higher education policy, non-cognitive measurement, school culture, curricular design, and pedagogy.

We hope you will join us on this journey to make the experience of school psychologically safe, engaging, and personally meaningful for all students. We invite you to stay up to date on the latest in mindset research via our blog and Twitter @MindsetScholars, and encourage you to join our e-newsletter and send us comments and suggestions via our Contact page.

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