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SEERNet’s co-PI, Dr. Stefani Pautz Stephenson (SPS), recently sat down with IES Program Officer, Erin Higgins, to discuss the recent call for applications via Digital Learning Platforms Network (also known as SEERNet) Research Teams (84.305N). Read on for more information about this proposal and how our work connects with it.

SPS: What is SEERNet and how does the current request for applications (RFA) connect to it?

EH: SEERNet is an IES-funded network of teams focused on leveraging existing, widely used digital learning platforms (DLPs) for rigorous education research. The network consists of a Network Lead, five Platform Teams, and one Research Team. A major focus of the network—and why IES chose a network approach—is bringing together researchers, educators, and platform developers to learn from each other and discuss common issues.  The network is called “SEERNet” in reference to IES’s Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER), a set of research standards that reflects IES’s commitment to rigorous education research that is transparent, actionable, and focused on consequential outcomes. This year we are inviting applications for Research Teams to join SEERNet through the Research Networks Focused on Critical Problems of Education Practice and Policy grants program (ALN 84.305N), under the Digital Learning Platforms Research Teams topic. IES intends to support up to ten Research Teams between the already completed FY2023 competition and this FY2024 competition.

SPS: How do you see SEERnet pushing innovation and forward thinking ideas? How does conducting research in DLPs help us understand what works for who and under which conditions? 

EH: Connecting research to practice is a continued challenge, and one of the reasons for this is the pace at which research is conducted and findings are shared. A major goal of this initiative is to consider how using DLPs could enable faster, cheaper, and more broadly representative research. By conducting research at scale, we are better able to test an innovative idea in a variety of learning contexts and with a diverse range of learners. The tight feedback loop between platform developers and researchers ensures that the research questions being asked are of relevance to the platform they’re implemented within and ensures that findings from the research can be used to inform future DLP development decisions.  

SPS: What makes this RFA unique from others researchers may have seen? What should proposers pay attention to?

EH: Applicants should review the entire RFA closely to ensure that they comply with all requirements and are attentive to the recommendations for strong applications. The competition for research teams to join SEERNet is unique relative to other IES competitions in a few ways. 

  1. We allow for a variety of research questions and research designs, but applicants are necessarily constrained by the timeline and budget constraints ($1 million over 2 years) as well as by the constraints of the DLP they intend to use for their research. 
  2. Applicants need to be attentive to the requirement to include a feasibility letter from the Platform Team they will work with as well as the full text of the request for the feasibility letter in their application. The feasibility letter is an opportunity for the Platform Team to identify any issues or challenges that could arise with implementing the proposed research, based on the information provided from the applicant. 
  3. Applicants need to plan for a 6-month planning period at the start of the grant to address issues identified in the feasibility letter, to overcome any unanticipated challenges with implementing the research study within the identified platform and to establish a memorandum of understanding with the Platform Team.

SPS: What tips might you give a new proposer about how to prepare an application?

My best advice is to leverage all of the available technical assistance resources available to you: 

  1. Review the materials on the IES funding page so that you are aware of what is needed to submit a responsive and compliant application on time by the due date (January 11, 2024). Key materials to review include the RFA as well as the Application Submission Guide. We also include information about the peer review process and other helpful resources. 
  2.  Attend an office hours session to get your questions answered. Office hours are a great way to learn more about the competition and its goals, the requirements, and the review process. Come to one or multiple sessions and stay as long as you’d like. 
  3. Engage directly with the program officer – Program officers at IES are able to provide feedback on your ideas and can even review a draft of your proposal. The best way to start this engagement is to submit a letter of intent (for this competition, submit it by November 14, 2023) at The program officer will respond to your letter of intent with brief feedback, information on how to schedule a call, and information about how to get feedback on a draft of your project narrative. If you miss the letter of intent deadline, you can still engage with the program officer and submit an application – just send an email directly to me ( with a brief description of your project idea to get the conversation started. 

SPS: What is the review process? What should applicants expect or not expect?

Applications are due January 11, 2024. After the due date, the IES Standards and Review Office reviews all applications for responsiveness and compliance to the competition’s requirements. All applications that are determined to be responsive and compliant are sent forward to peer review. The peer review process is outlined in detail here. Peer review is conducted in two stages – initial review/triage and the panel meeting. After the panel meets, applicants will receive scores or indication that their application was triaged. Full written reviews will also be provided, though typically the scores are shared ahead of receiving the full written reviews. Until scores are shared, IES staff are not able to provide updates on the status of a particular proposal. New awards through this competition will be made prior to the awards’ start date of September 1, 2024.