Bridget Thomas, PhD: Senior Education Researcher

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As a Senior Education Researcher for Quality Information Partners (QIP), Bridget Thomas has been involved in many different projects, providing QIP with a very important academic research lens on our work. As an education researcher, Bridget is particularly interested in learning and social-emotional development in young children, and she is passionate about the effects of education policy on students and families.

After earning bachelor's and master's degrees in psychology, Bridget began her PhD program focused on educational psychology. Partway through the program, she had an epiphany; she often read about policy for fun, and it would make sense for education policy to be her main focus. Her advisor observed that Bridget tends to look at policy through the lens of a psychologist, which is a different vantage point from many others in the policy world.

Considering policy from a psychology perspective also means Bridget is committed to getting research into the hands of education practitioners, such as teachers and school administrators.

"We need to remember why we’re doing this research in the first place. If it’s not accessible to the people who are on the ground working with students, if we don’t also think about how we’re getting that information out there and implemented in a real way, there’s no point in doing it," Bridget says.

That is why Bridget makes a point to attend conferences where she might seem out of place, a researcher amid administrators, specialists, teachers, and data professionals. She wants to approach research with an understanding of the perspectives of practitioners. Having a better sense of their actual concerns influences the kind of research she does and the policy recommendations she makes.

In addition to a robust conference schedule where she presents her research and papers, Bridget writes and reviews research and informs QIP staff members about the latest issues and trends in education research and policy.

"One thing that connects all the things that I do—and a platform I have developed while at QIP—is pushing for better connections between researchers and practitioners, and within that, emphasizing the need for researchers to do a better job of translating research for multiple audiences. It is essential to understand the need to share research outside of academic circles and to communicate it effectively."

Bridget's PhD is from George Mason University, where she has been an adjunct professor in the College of Education and Human Development since 2007. She is currently the president of the Virginia Educational Research Association (VERA) and annual meeting co-chair of the Northeastern Educational Research Association (NERA). She is also a member of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the Eastern Educational Research Association (EERA), and the Mid-South Educational Research Association (MSERA).

Read some of Bridget's recent blog posts:

Partnerships Between Researchers and Educators Makes Research Meaningful

Remembering Who Our Work Serves: Reflections from AERA and SXSW EDU

Tips and Tricks for Remote Workers

Working from home has many benefits — no commuting, no need for matching socks — but it also comes with challenges. In the 15 years since Quality Information Partners (QIP) opened, our staff members, who all work remotely, have learned a lot about making the most of this environment. Here, we share some of our best tips for comfort, productivity, and balancing work with the demands of the outside world.

Get ready for the day

Working from home means comfort to many of us, and while some remote workers might find that working in sweatpants and slippers is a great benefit, others find it helpful to treat their home workday as they would an office workday. Showering and dressing each morning can help tell your brain that you are ready for work. Set your desk with the items you need to complete your tasks in comfort. In addition to your necessary work supplies, make sure your water bottle is full, your chair is comfortable, and you have ample light.

Sitting and moving

Many of us who spend our days working from home are using computers, tablets, and smart phones. Relieve eye strain by occasionally looking away from your screen for 30 seconds, ideally by trying to focus on something that is 30 feet or more away.

In a traditional office environment, other people often let us know when it's time to take a break. Set limits on how long you sit in your chair and stare at the computer screen. While it’s wonderful to have uninterrupted work time, it can be too easy to get so engaged in a project that you forget to take breaks, eat lunch, or stretch.

Moving around during the day can help reduce stress and even provide a new perspective on a project — even if that just means spending a portion of the day working standing up or from a different spot in your home. Taking a stroll around the block or doing some stretches outside can also provide a helpful mental break.

Learn more about safe computer use from our staff members’ experiences.


You might remember the dad who was being interviewed by the BBC when his toddler and baby burst into the room. Although the viral video was adorable, being interrupted during important calls, meetings, or, in his case, television segments, is not ideal.

Other humans, be they young or old, can be incredibly disruptive, but there are some great options for creating boundaries between your work life and home life, even when they share a roof. Doors and locks are excellent barriers, however those without locking office doors can consider displaying signs such as "Do Not Disturb" or "Working Quietly." Other visuals, such as noise-canceling headphones, can also let others know you are not available to socialize.

Leaving the "office"

You’ve worked a full day, but you have lots of work left. It would be convenient to just knock out one more spreadsheet or draft one more document. Some remote workers might find it challenging to leave work when they work from home. QIP is committed to promoting balance between work and life, but working remotely means no one is going to turn out the lights on you or lock you out of the building. So, how do you stop working when it’s time to pay attention to life? Consider the following options for creating a clean break from work:

  • Set an alarm for 30 minutes before the end of your workday to signal that it is time to wrap up your work and attend to any end-of-day tasks.

  • If you have an office, turn out the light, close the door.

  • Close your computer and walk away for at least an hour.

  • Schedule a phone call, happy hour, or time with a loved one.

Remember that working from home should encourage a work-life balance that allows you more comfort, more time in your home, and hopefully, the solitude you need to complete your work. The simple strategies offered here can help you get the most out of your work-from-home day and maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Time and Productivity

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What part of the work day is most productive for you? While many employers might like to hear a response along the lines of, “all day, every day,” research into organizational science and behavioral economics suggests otherwise.

"Although managers expect their employees to be at their best at all hours of the workday, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Employees may want to be their best at all hours, but their natural circadian rhythms will not always align with this desire," writes Christopher M. Barnes in the Harvard Business Review.

QIP's founders Beth Young and Tom Szuba have noticed this phenomenon in each other many times: Beth’s peak output is in the early morning, and Tom’s top productivity is in the late afternoon. It is so predictable for them that they often reserve those times of day for thinking deeply about an issue, writing an important report, or cranking out a proposal. After all, we all should be at our best when we have to accomplish our most important tasks. Does this mean that Beth and Tom aren’t productive during other times of the day? Of course not; they simply plan to undertake certain energy-demanding tasks during windows in which they expect to be most productive.

Peak productivity can certainly be a function of habits and routines, but it goes much deeper than that. In fact, it is at the core of our human biology—circadian rhythms and our natural body clocks. As reported in the Wall Street Journal, “A growing body of research suggests that paying attention to the body clock, and its effects on energy and alertness, can help pinpoint the different times of day when most of us perform our best at specific tasks, from resolving conflicts to thinking creatively.”

Unfortunately, according to Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist at Duke whose work is profiled in the Washington Post, the vast majority of people do not take advantage of their body’s peak hours:

"Almost 80 percent of people take their most productive hours of the day, between, say, 8 and 10 a.m., and basically squander them on things like Facebook and e-mail. I have nothing against them, but they're not something you need high capacity to do. You have very few hours in the day when you’re at peak performance, so every minute of these hours that isn't spent doing something important is just waste."

How might this affect your work? For starters, do you schedule your (and your team’s) most demanding tasks to reflect your most productive times in a work day?

"Consider this circadian rhythm when setting assignments, deadlines, and expectations," writes Barnes. "This requires taking a realistic view of human energy regulation, and appreciating the fact that the same employee will be more effective at some times of the day than others. Similarly, employees should take their own circadian rhythms into account when planning their own day. The most important tasks should be conducted when people are at or near their peaks in alertness … [and] least important tasks should be scheduled for times in which alertness is lower."

Of course, you can’t schedule work for your peak performance windows if you don’t know when they are… so, if you don’t already recognize your performance patterns, we encourage you to take some time to identify them. Perhaps even keep a journal to see when you feel most alert and how it affects your output. Once you get your head around these periods of “peak” time, schedule your most important and energy-consuming tasks for those windows.

As for the rest of the day? There are plenty of less demanding tasks that will fill your time—including time sheets, status reports, and desk straightening—so you’re still working a full day but, hopefully, more productively if you are using this awareness of your body’s natural performance rhythms to get the most out your “peak” windows.

If you find this to be of interest (like we do), check out the following links for more information about performance science and peak productivity windows:

Partnerships Between Researchers and Educators Make Research Meaningful

The education field has long had a conundrum commonly referred to as the “research-to-practice gap.” Put simply, researchers and practitioners (such as teachers or administrators) frequently feel disconnected from one another.

The work of the two groups often remains separate: research about educational issues may not be disseminated outside the research community, and the issues most relevant to practitioners do not always make it onto research agendas.

One useful way for researchers and practitioners to address this conundrum is to deliberately and consistently connect through research-practice partnerships. Some connections are formal arrangements, such as research projects designed and coordinated between universities and school districts. Support for such partnerships has grown in recent years, with projects funded by state or federal education agencies, university departments, or foundations.

While these formal partnerships have helped create connections and generate useful data, partnerships need not be formal to be valuable. Informal partnerships between researchers and practitioners have the potential to be more direct and immediate and do not always require specific funding. By understanding the history of the research-to-practice gap and observing how both groups can improve by working together, researchers and practitioners can move toward creating fruitful and productive connections.

Reasons for the Research-to-Practice Gap

Sometimes these groups do not always communicate effectively, and research indicates reasons for these communication troubles include different cultural and communication norms, different expectations for how information is perceived and communicated, and different needs related to research. Additionally, the two groups commonly work on disparate timelines: those working in a school district may not be able to wait for the results of a multiyear study before making decisions, for example.

The Promise of Connection

When practitioners have access to and understand research data, they can use it to guide their decisions and continually improve their practice. When researchers are in direct conversations with practitioners, they are more closely involved with classroom practice and are aware of what data are most needed. While researchers’ agendas need not be entirely driven by practitioner queries or interests, being informed of practitioner perspectives can allow them to fine-tune questions or investigate in more innovative ways.

Making Connections: Researchers

There are many ways researchers can expand their professional horizons and connect with practitioners on an informal level.

  • Go to practice-focused conferences. It is common for researchers to attend conferences filled with other researchers—often within their highly specialized part of the field. Attending conferences targeted toward practitioners and listening to their experiences and concerns can open valuable new lines of thought.

  • Create and actively continue connections. Attending conferences is a first step. Researchers can then engage practitioners in conversation, stay in contact after official meetings, and continue seeking input on research questions.

  • Read outside your comfort zone. Admittedly, much of researchers’ reading time is filled with those articles and books directly relevant to current studies. However, reading other work can spur new ideas and help facilitate conversations with practitioner partners.

  • Think about translating your work and research in general. Academic journals require researchers to be trained to write in a particular way. However, such writing conventions often make research studies inscrutable or unappealing to nonacademic readers. Connecting with practitioners requires specific efforts to translate research, whether in writing or conversation.

Making Connections: Practitioners

Similarly, practitioners can do many things to involve research more directly in their practice and create informal partnerships with researchers.

  • Attend research-related sessions at conferences. Many practitioner-focused conferences include sessions that either highlight recent research findings or offer more general explanations of research. Attending these sessions can lay the foundation for more research use and may allow practitioners to identify potential research partners.

  • Think about what data could help your practice. Helping researchers to create more influential research agendas begins with knowing what data would help answer your own questions or guide your practice. Practitioners should ask themselves what specific kinds of data would be directly applicable to them.

  • Talk to researchers about gaps in the literature. Many times, researchers would be interested in going in a particular direction in their research if they knew it was needed. One of the most useful prospects of informal research-practice partnerships is working together to identify gaps in existing literature.

  • Learn more about research basics. Many practitioners avoid research because they lack comfort with it. Becoming familiar with foundations of research studies and methodologies can demystify research. Research partners can identify useful resources and answer questions to increase research understanding.

We All Benefit When We Establish and Maintain Connections

A central goal of education research is to identify concerns, gaps, and promising practices. Getting research into the hands of education practitioners is the only way to usefully implement findings. Likewise, by sharing their experiences, needs, and concerns, practitioners can help ensure that research questions and agendas are timely, targeted, and useful to those most directly affected by research findings and the policies they may influence. Researchers and practitioners can improve their work by developing understanding of the other side. By cultivating connections via informal partnerships, we can all more meaningfully influence education.


Bridget Thomas (@DrBridgeQIP) is Senior Education Researcher at QIP and Adjunct Professor at George Mason University. Her work focuses on early childhood policy and translating research for multiple audiences.

What To Expect at the 2019 STATS-DC Education Data Conference

One of the most exciting conferences in the realm of education data is the NCES STATS-DC Data Conference. If your interests and work involve education statistics, this is a great opportunity for learning and networking. STATS-DC typically attracts 800 to 900 attendees, and there are multiple simultaneous sessions.

What is STATS-DC?

The annual STATS-DC conference is sponsored by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the statistical agency of the U.S. Department of Education. “STATS-DC” is not an acronym, but a shortening of the word statistics, plus a mention of Washington, D.C., where the conference takes place. This year’s theme is “Providing Evidence to Drive Education.” The 2019 conference will be held during three consecutive days in late July.

One important feature of STATS-DC is that U.S. Department of Education offices provide updates and training on federal policies and activities that affect data collection and reporting. Another highlight is presentations by state and local education agency personnel who work directly with data collection and reporting, as well as by experts from other organizations who share strategies and ideas involving education statistics. Finally, because the conference draws participants and presenters from diverse locations—including a variety of specialists in education and data—it offers great networking opportunities.

Twelve kinds of presentation topics

Many presentations occur simultaneously at STATS-DC—typically 10 presentations at once in 10 rooms. To decide which you are interested in attending, refer to the 2019 Agenda at a Glance, available on the IES conference web page (also provided on paper in the conference registration packet). The Agenda at a Glance color-codes presentations by topic. There are 12 topics, and each presentation is assigned to one of them, based on its content:

  • CCD (Common Core of Data)

  • Data Collection

  • Data Linking Beyond K-12

  • Data Management

  • Data Privacy

  • Data Quality

  • Data Standards

  • Data Use (Analytical)

  • Data Use (Instructional)

  • Fiscal Data

  • SLDS (Statewide Longitudinal Data System Grant Program)

  • Other

To decide which presentations you would like to attend, you may also read abstracts. Abstracts offer more detailed information about each presentation than is available in the Agenda at a Glance and are available on the Agenda tab of the NCES STATS-DC web page. The Agenda will not be included on paper in the registration packet. However, it will posted online in a PDF format and in a mobile app (coming soon), and complimentary Wi-Fi will be available to conference participants in the meeting space.

Making plans to attend STATS-DC

QIP staff will be attending STATS-DC this year, as we have every year for many years. We are currently preparing for the event as described in our blog post about how to maximize the benefits of a professional conference. If you are a member of the education statistics community, are interested in learning more about education data, or are attending for another reason, we look forward to seeing you there.

To access details about the event, visit the NCES web page on 2019 STATS-DC. If you are unable to attend STATS-DC in 2019 but are interested in attending in a future year, check for updates about future conferences on the IES web page on conferences, workshop/training, and technical assistance.

Matthew Frazier: The Storyteller Behind QIP's Video Work


As QIP's videographer, Matthew Frazier is responsible for designing storyboards, shooting videos, and creating motion graphics for our clients.

Matthew first learned about storytelling through video while editing videos. He found that he had a talent and passion for it, and he eventually got his own camera. His first major production was a documentary about skateboarding. He entered the film into a competition in which it won second place. He then started making travel videos, which he still makes when he travels.

"I'm always trying to find ways to better tell a story or get a message across, whether that's visuals or audio or sound design," Matthew said.

Working closely with subject matter experts, Matthew executes storyboards based on clients' creative briefs. Then, he researches the best programs to use to execute the video. He primarily uses Adobe After Effects, Adobe Premiere, and Adobe Illustrator, although he is constantly learning about new software and staying on top of the latest trends and technology in videography.

Among his recent work, Matthew completed a video for the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering (ICICLE) as part of QIP's sponsorship of the event.


Matthew holds a bachelor's degree from Middle Tennessee State University and has produced work for ABC News, the U.S. House of Representatives, Edelman, and the Four Seasons.

Adding Matthew to the team in 2016 gave QIP the ability to expand our video offerings, which had previously been strictly animated, to include live action filming. Read more about QIP's live-action production process in this profile of the Mississippi State Spotlight: Involving Stakeholders in the Development of a Research Agenda.

To view more of our videos, visit QIP's YouTube channel, or for a quick overview of our work, watch our video reel:


Remembering Who Our Work Serves: Reflections from AERA and SXSW EDU


Two of the largest and most important meetings in the education field are held in spring, the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting (AERA) and SXSW EDU. Attending both gave me the opportunity to think about the educational perspectives each meeting promotes and how their different goals may influence attendees. I am returning to my research with a renewed sense of purpose and a reminder that our work serves students, teachers, and other education stakeholders.


AERA ( was founded in 1916 and “is concerned with improving the educational process by encouraging scholarly inquiry related to education and evaluation and by promoting the dissemination and practical application of research results,” according to the AERA website. It has more than 25,000 members and 12 divisions and is the central organization in the education research world. Education researchers may belong to additional groups or associations in their specific content areas, but most belong to AERA.

When I started my career as an academic researcher, the AERA meeting, with its extensive schedule of presenters, was the pantheon to which we all aspired. AERA represents the traditional, academic side of education; the vast majority of members and presenters are current or former university professors or graduate students, and the papers presented there are written in the style and language typical of academic research journals.


SXSW EDU (, rather than focusing specifically on research studies, “fosters innovation in learning by hosting a community of optimistic, forward-thinking, purpose-driven stakeholders with a shared goal of impacting the future of teaching and learning.” Research is an important topic there, but presentations also focus on policy discussions, innovative ideas or developments, emerging products and technologies, and relevant films.

SXSW EDU attracts education innovators and developers, although attendees also include academic researchers, policymakers, administrators, and practitioners.

Impressions From The Conferences

SXSW EDU was held in early March in Austin, Texas. People had told me to expect to be overwhelmed, and the conference is indeed impressive in both its physical and contextual scope. There was simply too much going on for me to possibly attend everything I wanted. After making some tough choices, I attended several thought-provoking sessions across rather different topics. A session on media literacy emphasized that this type of literacy is not what we should be teaching but how we should be teaching. A session on higher education revealed that two-year colleges can end up ultimately costing students more than four-year colleges. A brilliant session called “Storytelling for Impact” made me think deeply about how I can better communicate ideas to students and colleagues.

AERA took me to Toronto in early April. Like SXSW EDU, it is annually overwhelming, but narrowing my focus via my own divisions and special interest groups helps significantly. I spent the week focused on early childhood policy, child poverty, and social-emotional learning, and was excited to see personal heroes in education research.

What most affected me was the presidential address by Amy Stuart Wells, “An Inconvenient Truth about the New Jim Crow of Education,” in which Wells discussed the devastating effects standardized testing has had on low-income students and students of color. Beyond this, she asserted, an overemphasis on testing has hurt American education overall: “Scores on standardized tests are what it now means to be educated.”

Takeaways From the Conferences

As I’ve explained above, SXSW EDU and AERA are drastically different events. They have different goals, different modes of presentation, different topics, and to a large degree, different attendees. I thought I would come out of the two conferences thinking about disparate things, all of which would be useful but not necessarily related. Yet, as I collected my thoughts upon returning home, the same thought kept pulsing through me: We have to keep pushing. Every session I attended reminded me that education work is critical. I thought about how all of the little things each of us do each day add up, and how the smallest decision or craziest idea might be what changes a student’s life for the better.

Researchers have an incredible ability to be absorbed by a study, spending months or years tracking that one theory or idea because it interests them and keeps them (sometimes myopically) focused. Similarly, education innovators can become so intent on “advancing the future” that the concept of newness can overshadow effectiveness and sustainability.

I was energized by the research studies and creative ideas I heard and discussed at AERA and SXSW EDU. Upon reflection, I kept returning to the question that should drive us all: Who is this all for? Sharing ideas and encouraging one another to think deeper and better are critical to progress in education, but we should always stay focused on how our work affects those we serve: the students, the teachers, and other stakeholders.

People attend conferences for a variety of reasons: to present their work, to learn about discoveries in their field, or to make connections with others, for example. For me, conferences often serve as inspiration for new research questions and project ideas. Coming together with our peers can also remind us what brought us to this work in the first place. Remembering who our work serves reminds us why we have to keep pushing.


Bridget Thomas (@DrBridgeQIP) is Senior Education Researcher at QIP and Adjunct Professor at George Mason University. Her work focuses on early childhood policy and translating research for multiple audiences.

What is Learning Engineering?

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Although the term “learning engineering” was coined more than 50 years ago, it is still an emerging field of study. Learning engineering is a process that applies the learning sciences using engineering design methodologies and data-informed decision-making to support learners and learning. In the past 50 years, discoveries about how people learn have influenced how people teach and learn, and there are many new findings still to be applied.

While engineering is the application of creativity and science to solve problems, learning engineering is the creative application of learning sciences and engineering principles to solve problems for learners and learning. Learning engineers create and iteratively improve the conditions and experiences for learning.

Learning engineering applies the science of learning. The sciences of learning are informed by what we know about how the brain works. According to a report published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the learning sciences include

  • neuroscience, a branch of biology that studies the nervous system, neurons, and the behavior of the brain;

  • cognitive psychology, the study of the human mind as understood through observable behavior; and

  • education research, which is focused on models and interventions at the classroom level and above.

Learning engineering is about people. Human-centered design focuses on the learner. Data informs design decisions. The engineering process guides design choices that promote robust student learning. According to a paper published in Cognitive Science, learning scientists say that learning is robust when the student retains information over time, can apply the learning to new situations, or can draw on the learning to accelerate learning in other areas.

Learning engineering is a team sport. The problems that learning engineers try to solve often are too big to be handled by the skills of any one person, so education agencies, institutions, and organizations that support schools compile multidisciplinary learning engineering teams. The composition of the teams varies based on the problem to be solved.

Learning engineering is data driven. Unlike traditional instructional design, curriculum development, or lesson planning, learning engineering emphasizes data use to inform an iterative design, development, and improvement process. This is different from having researchers evaluate the efficacy of a curriculum or methodology after it is fully developed and deployed. Continuous access to data is integral to the process and products of learning engineering.

A Practical Application of Learning Engineering

Duolingo, the award-winning language learning app, is an example of a learning environment and set of learning experiences developed using learning engineering. One of the ways in which Duolingo is innovative is in its use of game dynamics to motivate learners.

“One of the tricks is figuring out how to marry things that are pedagogically sound with things that are reinforcing motivators,” said Burr Settles, who leads Duolingo’s research group.

To figure these things out they use engineering techniques rooted in scientific research.

“We run controlled experiments for almost everything we change,” he said.

The spacing effect, a human learning characteristic, was first discovered over a century ago. This term refers to the finding that people are more likely to remember something if they spread out the learning over time, rather than cramming it in all at once. More recently, learning scientists discovered the lag effect: people commit information to long-term memory better if the time between study or practice increases gradually. Still other research showed that the best time for people to practice is right before they’re about to forget something.

Settles worked with Brendan Meeder, a former Duolingo employee who now works at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group, to develop a “trainable spaced repetition model for language learning.”

Their model, called half-life regression (HLR), predicts when someone will forget a word. HLR takes in data about a student’s practice history (when the student practiced and whether or not the student remembered correctly) and data that indicate how difficult a word is to memorize, compared to other words. Given data about the times a learner practiced a word, the app predicts the best time to practice next.

2019 Conference on Learning Engineering

Join QIP at the IEEE IC Industry Consortium on Learning Engineering (ICICLE) 2019 Conference on Learning Engineering to be held May 20 to 23, 2019, at George Mason University Arlington Campus, Arlington, Virginia. The conference will bring together professionals from industry, academia, and government to contribute to the development of this emerging field, share ideas with key stakeholders, and help further define the discipline of learning engineering.

QIP is one of 71 sponsoring organizations of ICICLE, an organization aimed at advancing learning engineering as a professional practice and academic discipline. QIP is supporting the conference by producing a video.


Jim Goodell (@jgoodell2) is Senior Analyst at QIP. He works on connections between education sciences, policy, practice, and personalized/optimized learning. Learn more about Jim here.