Carnegie Mellon University

Call for Proposals

The Simon Initiative is accepting proposals for Simon Initiative Seed grants. CMU faculty interested in pursuing learning research or educational practice projects aimed at improving student learning outcomes may apply. Seed grants provide up to $15,000 in direct support and the potential for technical assistance from Simon Initiative partners. Submit by Wednesday, March 1, 2023.

The Simon Initiative accelerates CMU’s historic successes in learning engineering, enacting a data-driven, virtuous cycle of learning science research and innovative educational practice that causes demonstrably better learning outcomes for students from any background or place. Simon Initiative Seed grants support CMU faculty in pursuing learning research or innovative educational practice or technology-enhanced learning projects aimed at improving student learning outcomes at CMU and beyond.


— Details —

Proposals should do one or both of the following:

  1. Pursue learning research (within or outside of CMU courses) that will lead to stronger subsequent grant proposals for extramural funding, e.g., by conducting preliminary work to address a research question on how students learn in technology-enhanced environments. These proposals seed subsequent research and future grant proposals.
  2. Design and test innovative educational practices (within CMU community) that will lead to enhanced student learning outcomes, e.g., by creating/refining a technology-enhanced learning innovation and demonstrating improved student learning, here in Pittsburgh or on CMU's global campus. These proposals seed educational transformation.

— Eligibility and Criteria —

Full-time faculty at any of the CMU global campuses are eligible to apply. 

Successful proposals must:

  • Deploy technology-enhanced learning in some form. Novelty of educational technologies per se is not the focus of this program but rather the effective and innovative use of educational technologies to enhance learning outcomes or learning science. Proposed work may involve the integration/application of existing educational technologies OR the creation of new educational technologies. Please describe how educational technology is involved in the proposed project.
  • Collect and analyze data on student learning outcomes. Please specify what direct measures of student learning will be used to assess the effectiveness of educational interventions, guide ongoing improvements, and/or test hypotheses about learning.
  • Iteratively improve and refine an innovation.  Reviewing the results of an innovation and incorporating these results into ongoing refinements, over multiple implementation-and-improvement cycles is a key driver of learning engineering success. Proposals should describe plans for iteratively deploying the innovation.
  • Articulate a sustainability plan. Please explain how the proposed work will likely be maintained and extended beyond the scope of the seed grant. Examples include: implementing a course innovation that is likely to be used in other courses and that inspires other faculty to re-use, or adapt it; disseminating the work inside and outside of CMU in a way that likely leads to further adoption or expansion; or producing a basis of work for writing future, successful grants to external funders.

In addition, proposals should, to the degree possible:

  • Describe meaningful contributions to learning research or educational practice. Proposals should provide a compelling case that the proposed work will make a difference within the project’s scope and beyond, e.g., by describing likely impact(s) in the target context and then estimating transferability to other contexts; by discussing opportunities to disseminate the work inside and outside of CMU.
  • Leverage results from previous learning research (need not be the PI’s). Proposals should include an evidence-based rationale for the feasibility and success of the proposed work.

— Funding Details —

Proposals for Simon Initiative Seed Grants may request direct funding support of up to  $15,000 (e.g., for faculty salary support, graduate student support, and other purchases).  In addition, projects may request technical assistance from Simon Initiative partners at the Eberly Center, Open Learning Initiative,  and LearnLab (e.g., for pedagogical/assessment support, production of instructional resources, multimedia design, programming for tool development, and data analysis), depending upon resource availability. Further details are described below in the project budget section under Application Process. Projects may be budgeted over 1-2 years. It is expected that 5-8 grants will be awarded. Approximately half of these grants will be targeted for faculty new to TEL or learning research.

— Application Process — 

Proposal Submission Process and Format

Proposals should be prepared as follows:

  • Cover Page (1 page) with the following information:
    • Principal (or Co-Principal) Investigators' names, affiliations, and contact information
    • Title of the project
    • Abstract (up to 200 words)
  • Project Narrative (2 pages maximum): Summarize the proposed activities, including the motivation or need for the project, any relevant prior work, likely contributions/impact of the work, and its projected sustainability. Be sure to describe the specific context for the proposed work, identify what measures of student learning will be collected, and explain why/how those measures will be used. (Note: Figures and references do not count toward the page limit.)
  • Project Budget (2 pages maximum)
    • For the first component of support (up to $15,000), identify specific budget items and dollar amounts requested for each, including brief justifications as needed.  Please note the following:
      • These funds may be used to cover summer salary and course buy-out. However, such expenses must be clearly justified and consistent with college and/or departmental policies.
      • Overhead will not be charged. However, benefits do need to be accounted for if using funds to pay for salary.
      • Funds may be used to support external designers or consultants.  However, the need for external consultants must be clearly justified.  It is expected that the PI will have first consulted with the Eberly Center and other internal resources to identify whether a sufficient resource exists within the CMU community.  If selected for an award, any use of external consultants or vendors will also require review and approval from the contracts office before funds will be made available.  This may delay the availability of funds and the initiation of the proposed project.  An approved contract is not required at the time of proposal submission.  
    • As part of developing your budget request, consider whether you want internal support.  If so, start by consulting with the Eberly Center to identify possible partner(s) and resource(s) that are a potential match, the kinds of technical assistance relevant to the proposed work and the estimated number of working days that the project will likely need. Include this information in your budget request as a rough estimate of your anticipated needs (e.g., in amount, nature and scope of work). Provision of internal resources will be dependent upon resource availability; final determinations will be adjusted and made before awards are finalized, based on a further discussion of project needs and the match to available personnel.
      • If available, potential technical assistance and support may include:
        • Instructional/pedagogical design (including re-design based on data)
        • Production of instructional resources
        • Programming (for tool development)
        • Multimedia/graphic design
        • Assessment design
        • Study design
        • Learning data analytics

— Compliance & Conflict of Interest Screening Questions —

Applicants are asked to answer basic questions regarding the potential need to provide additional guidance and assistance on regulatory and conflict of interest issues. Answers to these questions are NOT expected to adversely affect the likelihood of funding. For more details please see the application submission form.

NOTE: It is the responsibility of the PI of funded proposals to ensure that all necessary contractual and compliance (IRB, export control etc.) approvals are in place prior to the initiation of the project.

Proposals should be submitted using the online form available here.

— Review Process —

Proposals will be reviewed by a panel of experts, who will make recommendations for funding.  Final funding decisions will be made by the Simon Initiative leadership team and the Provost in consultation with the deans of respective academic units.