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USM Professor Receives Federal Grant to Develop Technology for Evidence-Based Interventions in Classrooms

Thu, 09/10/2020 - 16:19pm | By: Van Arnold

Dr. Stephanie SmithDr. Stephanie Smith, assistant professor of psychology at The University of Southern Mississippi, has been awarded a three-year grant from the Institute of Education Sciences to develop and implement technology that will support teachers’ delivery of an evidence-based intervention - the Good Behavior Game - in educational settings.

The $1.36 million award comes after three painstaking years of work by Smith, who is the residing Nina Bell Suggs Professor of Psychology at USM. Smith also serves as an adjunct assistant professor in the Child Study Center at Yale University.

The grant is titled: “The Development of New Technology to Promote the Fidelity and Sustainability of a Universal Preventive Intervention in Real-World Educational Settings.” Dr. Brad Dufrene, USM professor of psychology, will serve as co-principal investigator on the grant project.

The Good Behavior Game is an evidence-based behavioral classroom management strategy that helps children learn how to work together to create a positive learning environment. It promotes each child’s positive behavior by rewarding student teams for complying with criteria set for appropriate behavior, such as working quietly, following directions, or being polite to each other. The team-based approach uses peer encouragement to help children follow the rules of the classroom. It also enables teachers to build strong academic skills and positive behaviors among students.

The grant concept sprang from Smith’s postdoctoral research fellowship at the Yale Child Study Center. At that time, she served as a key investigator of a $4 million National Institutes of Health award whereby she trained teachers on how to implement the Good Behavior Game in their classrooms.

“I saw first-hand how this added responsibility may be burdensome for teachers and what implementation errors could be made. This experience led to the development of this grant idea,” said Smith.

Smith points out that the Good Behavior Game has been shown to significantly improve students’ disruptive behaviors, such as aggression and inattention, in the classroom and to prevent the long-term negative outcomes (school drop-out, substance abuse, criminality, suicide) associated with these behaviors.

“It is well-documented that the fidelity or quality of evidence-based interventions diminish over time, as these interventions may be altered or discontinued altogether,” she said. “This technology will be specifically designed to address this implementation drift so that the beneficial treatment effects of the GBG are achieved and maintained. Further, it will serve as a model of how technology overcomes fidelity issues when other evidence-based programs are put into practice.”

The project will be introduced in the greater metropolitan area of Hattiesburg, Miss., specifically in public elementary schools across four school districts – Forrest, Lamar, Perry and Columbia. The first year is primarily a developmental phase that will not require participants.

In that initial phase of development, a beta version of the technology - GBG Tech, will be developed following a rapid prototyping approach where continual feedback is solicited from experts in the field of school-based prevention and technology-enhanced interventions as every feature of the technology is developed by a team of high-tech engineers. A collaborative research model will follow in Year 2 where the technology will be refined according to feedback from relevant stakeholders and initial usability and feasibility data will be collected. Year 3 will involve pilot testing of GBG Tech using a Randomized Controlled Trial design to compare standard GBG and GBG Tech with respect to teacher-level factors (e.g. self-efficacy, burnout), sustained fidelity, classroom management and student outcomes. Randomization will occur at the school-level after schools are matched on key demographics variables, and implementation of GBG and GBG Tech will last for an entire academic year.

As Smith notes, “Maintaining a well-managed classroom is vital for student learning, and it falls on the shoulders of teachers. I wanted to develop technology that would decrease this burden and promote the use of evidence-based interventions in the classroom as they were intended to be used.”