MSU HDFS Professor Sarah Douglas wins major IES grant

July 25, 2018 - Liz Schondelmayer

In mid-June, Michigan State University Human Development and Family Studies professor Sarah Douglas learned that she had received a grant from the Institute of Education Sciences in the amount of 1.4 million dollars. Her initial reaction was one of shock and excitement – as well as some stress.

“Now I have a lot of work to do,” she said.

Douglas won the grant to work on a project close to her heart.

As a former teacher to students struggling with complex communication needs (CCN), Douglas understands firsthand the barriers inhibiting teachers and paraeducators from helping every student as effectively as possible.

Passionate about bridging this gap, she will use the grant to create an online training program for paraeducators and their supervising special education teachers to support the communication of young children with complex communication needs.

Communication skills are key for children’s social and academic success, and many teachers and paraeducators are without appropriate training. Her online resource, however, could fix that.

But it won’t be easy. “The research project will span over 4 years and involves the creation, revision, and evaluation of online training materials for paraeducators and their supervising teachers,” Douglas explained.

The study will include many steps, including training and testing materials for both paraeducators and supervising teachers, as well as a concluding study including educators and student participants to evaluate the resource’s effectiveness.

Luckily, Professor Douglas will have plenty of helpers on this project, including fellow MSU faculty, undergraduate students, and nationally-recognized experts to help conduct and implement the resource.

“My ultimate vision is an online program that will support a range of communication partners for children with complex communication needs. This project is the first step in many to realize that dream. Ultimately such a training program would fill an important niche, which has long been ignored,” Douglas explained. “Additionally, the programs would help communication partners better support these children, which would make a huge impact on their social, emotional, and academic outcomes.”