By Jane Sevier
During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, a record number of visitors from 222 countries sought out the wide array of educational resources available online through Vanderbilt University’s IRIS Center. According to the center’s statistics, the IRIS website had more than 4 million visits in 2020, up 41 percent from 2019. The IRIS Center also saw a dramatic increase in the number of professional development certificates issued to educators, growing by 279 percent during the same time span.
The IRIS Center, which is located at Peabody College of education and human development, provides educational support for all students—particularly struggling learners and those with disabilities—by developing and disseminating free, online resources about evidence-based instructional and behavioral practices. These open educational resources are used in pre-service preparation, professional development, and by individual educators for personalized learning.
In spring 2020, the center shifted quickly to creating materials related to the needs of educators and parents during the pandemic, updating these resources throughout the year as school situations evolved. These free OERs include self-guided, self-paced multimedia information on instructional topics using text, expert interviews, interactive activities and video.
Additionally, as schools and districts responded to virtual-learning needs, many special education educators pursued the center’s professional development courses to improve the learning and behavioral outcomes of their students.
“We heard frequently that schools were using these because we are a trusted source, the materials are of high-quality, we explain difficult concepts in a way that makes them easy to understand, and—of course—they’re free,” said Naomi Tyler, IRIS Center project director and associate professor of the practice of special education.
Moreover, the IRIS Center modules and tip sheets have served as vital supports for parents as students shifted to remote or hybrid instruction. In April, the center posted a new module developed specifically to meet that need—“Parents: Supporting Learning During the COVID-19 Pandemic”—which received 26,099 visits from 37 countries and territories in 2020.
“We all need a little help getting through this pandemic,” Tyler said, “and we are particularly delighted to be able to provide support for parents.”