Research Initiation Grant Call For Proposals

The purpose of the Center for Online Innovation in Learning’s Research Initiation Grant Program is to provide seed funding during the development and proof of concept stages of research projects that have the potential to enhance teaching and learning through online innovation. It is expected that most of the project teams funded by COIL will use the preliminary evidence generated to pursue external funding for larger-scale and subsequent studies.


Research teams including faculty, staff, and/or students from any Penn State Campus are eligible to apply for Research Initiation Grants. We encourage applications from interdisciplinary teams and teams that include scholars and tool builders from other institutions and organizations.
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Proposals for the Spring 2017 RIG cycle are due no later than 5:00pm ET on May 12, 2017
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Use of Funds

RIG Grant funds may be used to support:

  • Development of new technology-based learning tools and/or environments.
  • Research investigating innovative online learning tools, environments, or approaches, including research design and consultation, data collection and aggregation, instrument development and/or purchase, secure data storage, data analysis, and report generation.
  • Collaboration with leading innovators and researchers in the field.
  • Travel to support research activity and/or to meet with potential external funding sources.
  • Technologies or equipment required by the project that are not normally provided by the departments and colleges. (Do not request funds for laptop computers for research assistants, computers for data storage, etc.).
  • Staff compensation for time spent (estimated number of hours times hourly rate + Fringe).
  • Wages for project employees.
  • Graduate assistants, including tuition and stipends.
  • Faculty compensation during summer months.
  • Reasonable, actual replacement costs for faculty members removed from teaching during Fall or Spring semesters. (Since PSU faculty members have considerable research time built into their scholarly expectations, and because additional release time removes faculty members from teaching, we are not eager to fund faculty release.)

Funding Priorities

Special consideration will be given to proposals/requests that:

  • Align with COIL’s current research priorities of personalization and student retention.
  • Demonstrate considerable promise for enhancing learning through online innovation.
  • Demonstrate the potential to stimulate significant proposals for external funding.
  • Include collaborative efforts among faculty and staff from different departments, units, colleges, and campuses at Penn State.
  • Include collaborations with other institutions that enhance the value of the research.

Funding Guidelines

  • Awards of up to $40,000 may be granted for each study proposed. We anticipate funding two to three proposals each cycle.
  • Multi-year proposals will be funded one year at a time, with no guarantee of continued funding. Funding for a second year will require submission of a new proposal for peer review and continued funding is contingent on meeting stated goals and milestones.
  • Funding decisions will be announced within one month of the proposal submission deadline.
  • All teams submitting proposals will receive feedback from the RIG review committee.

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Proposal Submission Guidelines

Proposals must have the following components: (Click here to download a RIG Proposal Checklist)

  • Cover page:
    • Title of project/request.
    • Names, Titles, Colleges, and Campuses of Team Members.
    • Designated Principal Investigator (primary point of contact).
    • Date of submission.
    • Amount requested.
    • Names of Financial Officer and Administrative Assistant who will process expenses.
    • Name of Human Resources contact that will be involved in hiring and management of project staff/personnel.
  • Abstract (limited to 200 words)
  • Innovation (limited to 200 words)
    • Briefly describe why your project should be considered as innovative.
  • Impact on Learning (limited to 200 words)
    • Briefly describe how your research has the potential to impact learning.
  • Alignment with COIL Research Priorities (limited to 200 words)
    • Briefly describe how your research aligns with COIL’s goals of personalization and student retention.
  • Narrative: (Not to exceed 5 pages; double spaced, 12 point font, one side of page only)
    • The following information should be included in the narrative:
      • A description of the online innovation.
      • A list of research/evaluation questions.
      • An explanation of the significance of the work.
      • A brief description of the research design, methodology, and data analysis procedures to be used to accomplish the objectives of the project (if appropriate).
      • A brief description of pertinent research already conducted.
    • Description of the need for funding (e.g. considerable promise for enhancing learning; considerable promise for enhancing Penn State’s research reputation)
    • Plans for submission of this or related proposals to external funding agencies. (Provide name of agency, specific program if applicable, and anticipated deadline(s) for submission).
    • Include enough specificity to allow substantive review by the RIG Committee and any outside reviewers they choose to consult (the narrative should be accessible to non-specialists).
    • Include a proposed timeline for the study.
  • References: (Not to exceed one page)
    • Short list of relevant references.
  • Team Bios:
    • Brief summaries of the team members’ capabilities, as relevant to the proposed project.
  • Estimated Budget:
    • Budget spreadsheet that conveys the project’s needs
      • Use the PSU SIMS tool for developing your RIG budget. You may need to work with your department/college’s finance office to gain access.
      • Do not forget to include Fringe in your calculations for salaries and wages. This will be done automatically by the SIMS tool.
      • Do not include indirect costs outside of salaries and wages.
      • When budgeting for graduate assistants, remember to budget for tuition and stipend, unless your program or department is funding either or both of these.  (COIL will not be responsible for costs omitted from the approved budget).
    • Budget narrative that will allow the committee to understand the team’s intended use of each budget line item.
  • Dissemination Plan: (Not to exceed one page)
    • A brief statement of how you will let others know about your work.
  • Letters of Support:
    • A brief letter from your supporting financial officer or representative indicating willingness to support the project.
      • Projects are typically supported and serviced through the financial offices of the project PI. It is important that your Financial Officer is aware of your grant submission and willing to process reimbursement requests, support project purchasing, and other financial tasks. As the granting organization, COIL will not be responsible for grant related purchasing, payroll, or travel.
      • Download a Sample Letter.
    • A brief letter from your supporting Human Resources Officer or representative indicating awareness and approval of your submission.
      • Projects are typically supported and serviced through the Human Resources offices of the project PI. It is important that your HR office is aware of your grant submission and has the opportunity to vet proposed personnel and payroll. As the granting organization, COIL will not be responsible for grant related purchasing, payroll, or travel.
      • Download a Sample Letter.
  • Supporting Material:
    • Any ancillary material deemed important in establishing the project’s significance and quality (e.g. any external funding current or pending, copy of proposed survey instrument, screenshots of software prototype).
      • Be judicious in what you include in this section. Reviewers will not be required to read through ancillary materials

Click here to download a RIG Proposal Checklist

Proposal Submission

A complete application consists of cover page, abstract, innovation statement, impact on learning statement, COIL alignment statement, narrative, references, team bios, budget & budget narrative, dissemination plan, letters of support, and supporting materials. These should be compiled and submitted as a single document in pdf format through this COIL RIG SUBMISSION FORM. All submissions must be received at or before 5pm EST on the date of the submission deadline.

Proposal Review

A committee of faculty, staff, and students with significant research and grant development experience will be established to review all proposals. Nominations will be solicited during the month prior to the submission deadline. COIL Directors will appoint a COIL RIG review committee of up to 70 members including faculty, staff, and student representatives from across Penn State as well as select external reviewers. Scores from the review panel will be submitted to the COIL directorship for final approval and to inform funding decisions. Final funding decisions are in the hands of the COIL directorship.
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Criteria for Project Selection

  1. Innovation (10 points)
    • COIL defines innovation as the research, development, or introduction of something new or novel, be it an idea, device, or approach, with the intent of improving learning.
      • Does the proposal represent a research or development project that is new or novel?
      • Does the proposal represent an innovation that is not a refinement on an existing process, technology, or approach?
      • Does the proposal represent an innovation that is not applying an existing approach to a new context?
  2. Enhancing learning (10 points)
    • COIL defines learning as a permanent change of behavior, skill, or knowledge. This may include aspects that involve the teaching process as well as activities directed toward changing those behaviors, skills or knowledge. The context of learning includes face-to-face instruction, online, or a combination of both.
      • Does the proposal have the potential to improve teaching and learning through an online innovation?
      • Does the proposal represent innovation that has the potential for long-term impact in teaching and learning?
      • Does the proposal represent an issue of interest to the field of online learning?
  3. Alignment with COIL Themes of Personalization and Student Retention (10 points)
    • Personalization is defined as the adjustments or accommodations for individualizing the learning system to individual or groups of learners. Retention is defined as the techniques, methods, or strategies designed to assist the student persist in their academic studies through completion.
      • Does the proposal address at least one of the COIL themes of increasing personalization in learning and student retention?
      • Does the proposal represent innovation that has the potential for long-term impact in one of COIL’s thematic foci?
  4. R&D team is well prepared to execute the project (5 points)
    • Does the proposal explain what must be done, the skills required, and demonstrate that the team has those skills?
    • Does the team reach across departments, units, colleges, and campuses at Penn State and other institutions to locate people who will make the project a success?
  5. Applicability (5 points)
    • Does the project have the potential for a beneficial impact beyond the initial course or context for which it is being developed?
    • Does the project idea have potential application outside of Penn State?
  6. Cost effectiveness (7 points)
    • Does the preliminary budget detail expenditures?
    • Does the budget narrative explain the purpose of the requested funds?
    • Are the funds requested reasonable given the potential contributions of the project?
  7. Feasibility (5 points)
    • Can the proposal be realistically completed in the time allocated?
    • Does the budget, including any in kind contributions of time or funds, appear sufficient?
  8. Research/Evaluation Plan (10 points)
    • Does the proposal include research and/or evaluation questions?
    • Does the proposal include a plan describing how the impact of the implementation of the tool, resource, application and/or research project will be assessed?
    • Is the proposed assessment of effectiveness linked to the goals, objectives, or problem the project is designed to address?
    • Are the methods proposed to determine the effectiveness of the project appropriate given the nature of the goals, objectives, or problem the project is designed to address?
  9. Potential to generate subsequent research and funding (5 points)
    • Is it likely that this project will stimulate other projects of value?
    • Will the follow-up projects be attractive to foundations and agencies who fund educational innovations and/or educational research?
    • If this proposal is related to an earlier funded RIG, have attempts at external funding been made? Is there sufficient rational for additional COIL funding?
  10. Dissemination Plan (3 points)
    • Does the proposal include a plan for informing others about the project?
    • Does the dissemination plan engage appropriate audiences?

Scoring Rubric Provided to Reviewers

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Past Highly Rated Proposals

Please note, these proposals are from past rounds of funding and were developed under slightly different RFPs. They are provided simply as examples of well structured and reasoned proposals. Be certain to follow all instructions for the current funding cycle.

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Expectations of Grant Recipients

Leaders of funded COIL proposals will be expected to:

  • Post project abstracts, quarterly progress reports, bio sketches of team members, and final report on the COIL website.
  • Post at least two annual project updates to the COIL website.
  • Share project results with the COIL community in local symposia.
  • Publish and/or present results in appropriate journals and/or conferences.
  • Adhere to Penn State research and intellectual property policies.
  • Serve as reviewers for COIL proposals for the competition following their project’s selection.

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Call for Reviewers

The COIL directors are assembling a team of reviewers including faculty, staff and students at Penn State who are not associated with any of the proposals submitted in response to this call for proposals. Experience reviewing grants is desirable. To volunteer to be a grant reviewer visit

Information Sessions

A recording of our Spring 2017 Informational Webinars can be found here.

During this informational webinar, Brad Zdenek details the submission and review process for the Research Initiation Grant program along with highlighting tips and tricks for drafting a successful proposal.

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