Terracotta is an innovative experimental research platform that supports teachers' and researchers' abilities to easily run experiments in live classes. 

What does an IRB protocol look like with Terracotta?

One of our core aims in designing and developing Terracotta is to streamline the process of conducting experimental research in education settings responsibly. For example, we’ve designed features within Terracotta to enable informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality. But outside Terracotta, most academic researchers also need to receive approval from an Institutional Review Board (IRB) in order to conduct a study. As a proof-of-concept, we composed an IRB protocol for a pilot study to be carried out with Terracotta, and have recently received approval for this protocol from the Indiana University IRB. As further progress toward streamlining experimental research, we offer…

Within-Subject Designs and “Exposure Sets”

One of Terracotta’s core features is that it will support within-subject experiment designs. A within-subject design is when participants are assigned to multiple conditions at different times during the experiment. Instead of a between-subject design, where half the participants might get treatment “A” and the other half get “B,” a within-subject design might have half the participants get treatments “A-then-B,” and the other half get “B-then-A”. There are a couple big advantages to within-subject designs (also called crossover designs): When each participant receives all treatments, there is less concern about the research causing inequities. For example, imagine that version B…

The “How” of Terracotta

Saying that Terracotta is an “experiment-builder” should give you a general idea about what it does, and saying that it is an experiment builder in a learning management system (LMS) should indicate where it sits, but you might still wonder how it works. How do you give teachers and researchers the flexibility to build custom experiments within an environment that is not made for experimental manipulation? It’s a tough question. During our design process, we’ve noticed a recurring tension between the desire to completely model the entire experimental procedure within Terracotta (to control everything), and the opposing desire to make…

Untethering Experimental Research from Learning Technology Platforms

Science is dangerous, we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled. Mustapha Mond, The ControllerAldous Huxley (1932) In Huxley’s Brave New World, in Orwell’s 1984, in Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and even in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, stable dystopias have two common features: a lack of freedom to explore, and an ignorance of one’s own imprisonment.  People are kept within a restricted range of movement spanning minimal degrees of freedom, but at the same time they are complacent.  By virtue of the minor flexibilities afforded within their boundaries, people are misled into believing they are free, even when…

Terracotta Overview

Terracotta is an experiment-builder (currently in development) integrated with a learning management system (LMS), allowing a teacher or researcher to randomly assign different versions of online learning activities to students, collect informed consent, and export deidentified study data.  Terracotta is a portmanteau of Tool for Educational Research with RAndomized COnTrolled TriAls, and is designed to lower the technical and methodological barriers to conducting more rigorous and responsible education research. Terracotta is currently under development at Indiana University, with support from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative co-founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, and in collaboration with the Learning Agency Lab. Why…

Terracotta is an initiative of the eLearning Research and Practice Lab at Indiana University, with support from Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative, founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, and in collaboration with The Learning Agency Lab.