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The SEERNet Team’s Observations on the 2023 84.305N RFA

When the RFA to bring researchers into SEERNet was published on October 20th, the SEERNet team noticed that in many respects, this RFA follows precedent in other IES RFAs. For example, there are four sections that receive separate scores: Significance, Research Design, Personnel and Resources. We also noted that this RFA is different in some ways from others we have seen. In this blog post, we call out a few unique and noteworthy features of this RFA. 

As with all RFAs, it is essential that you read the call carefully and pay attention to all requirements as they are written there. This ensures that your application meets all requirements for a responsive and compliant application.

Disclaimer: The SEERNet team was not directly involved in constructing the RFA. We provide our observations below without any special privilege related to proposal procedures or award decisions.

Anchoring your proposal to a Digital Learning Platform (DLP)

  • You must choose to work with one of the five platforms listed. 
  • You will need to ask for a letter of feasibility from the platform ahead of time and it could make sense to do this in advance of the deadline—the feedback from the DLP might affect your proposal writing. You must submit this letter request by November 16, 2022. 
  • You will need at least one measure of a student learning outcome based on data provided within the platform (but could introduce supplementary measures as well). Consult the RFA for details on what constitutes a learning outcome.
  • You will have six months to work with the platform on feasibility issues after a funding decision is made. (As reviewers can see the feasibility letter, they may be looking at  your plans to address any issues raised in the feasibility letter and at the practicality of the six-month feasibility phase).

Relating to the RFA title, SEER Principles and Equity-Relevant Research

  • Notice that the title of the RFA is “Critical Problems of Educational Policy and Practice.” Relating to the title of the RFA is always a good idea; thus we suggest attention to the places in the RFA that ask you relate your work to practical educational needs and applications for research-based knowledge.
  • The name of “SEERNet” was chosen to reflect IES’s SEER principles and the proposal requirements ask you to relate to the principles. Note that IES recently added an Equity Principle to the SEER principles and that the RFA asks for equity-relevant features of your proposal in Significance and the Research Plan.
  • Running throughout this RFA and the earlier one that funded the SEERNet hub and the 5 DLPs there is a logic about the initiative; there’s a goal to make research easier, faster, and more replicable/generalizable/applicable at scale. It could make sense to check how your plan aligns to the overall purpose for the initiative.

Choosing a Sample and other Research Design Elements

  • Pay careful attention as you select a platform to assumptions about who recruits a student population (you or the platform or both). If you have to recruit, we’d advise working on your plan early in your proposal development process.
  • Note that to ask and answer questions about equity and/or generalizability you may need to collect additional data about the sample, beyond what the platform collects. Don’t assume the platform has the moderator variables you may need.
  • The RFA gives choice about the kind of research questions you ask and the methods you use to answer those questions; make sure the platform you select supports that type of question and methodology. Given the nature of IES reviews, we’d always be careful to ask research questions that can be answered rigorously, within whatever method fits.
  • Note the requirement for at least one outcome measure based on data collected in the platform.

Relating to other SEERNet partners

  • Notice a section on page 32 that you might otherwise skim over that is titled “post-award.” It mentions that you will be expected to work with others who are funded via this RFA in modest ways, related to synergy and dissemination. The SEERNet hub has been asked to include a budget to host an annual meeting, but not to pay for your travel expenses. Consequently it could make sense to include travel to a hub meeting as well along with other modest collaboration costs. We have been meeting among DLPs and the hub about once to twice a month online, for an hour each time.

As mentioned in the RFA, resources are available on the SEERNet site to help you.