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Our History

Virtual Coach – Scale-Up  

The prototype solution, on which the Hoot Education is based, was originally developed under the working title The Virtual Coach as part of a 6 year, $6M Scale-Up research grant from the U.S. Department of Education (Grant #R305W03257). This research was conducted from 2004-2009 at SMU’s Institute for Evidence-Based Education (IEBE), under the supervision of Dr. Mathes. An additional $2.5M from the U.S. Department of Education (Grant#H3275120018) has been awarded for 2013-2015 to continue to prove the effectiveness of the virtual coach process using the newly developed Hoot Education solution.


During the Scale-up research, The Virtual Coach prototype was developed through a rigorous iterative process. This process resulted in the Virtual Coach model which undergirds the Hoot Education process and solution features. This model was proven to be successful for improving teacher effectiveness through a series of randomized control trials conducted in real schools with real teachers and children described below.


Initial Research (Version 1)

Version 1 of the Virtual Coach comprised an early model which did not incorporate video conferencing capabilities and social networking features. This first trial compared the outcomes of students whose teachers received coaching using Version 1, on-site coaching, or coaching by-request. Hierarchical linear modeling revealed that students in technology-based and on-site coaching groups outperformed students whose teachers received by-request support on measures of early reading, but not on more advanced measures (Mathes & Denton, 2009; Denton, Mathes, Swanson, & Kethley, 2011). Teacher usage of Version 1 was less than desired. Thus, the IEBE knew they were on the right track, but had more work to do to determine what features would entice teachers to log on and use the Virtual Coach services more frequently.


The Prototype (Version 2)

Based on the lessons learned from IEBE’s Version 1, video conferencing capabilities and social networking features were added to enhance teacher engagement. To date, IEBE has conducted one randomized control trial using the Hoot Education prototype (Mathes, Weiser, et al., 2013). Outcomes for Version 2 were very positive. Teachers used this new tool with greater frequency and reported high satisfaction with the tools. More importantly, students whose teachers were coached using Version 2 achieved better academic outcomes across multiple measures.


At the end of the IEBE study examining the efficacy (Version 2), two factors best explained student outcomes: (1) students’ initial academic status (i.e., pre-test scores) and (2) number of lessons completed. Virtual Coach teachers completed more instructional lessons across the academic year as compared to teachers in the no-coaching control condition who had attended identical staff development workshops and were implementing the same intervention curriculum.

Further, teachers in the Virtual Coach condition were:


More likely to demonstrate more accurate knowledge about the structure of the English language and effective instruction practices at the end of the year.


Rated as having better instructional pacing with higher student engagement


Delivering overall higher quality instruction on an observation fidelity rating scale


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This research also demonstrated that every interaction a teacher had using the Virtual Coach had a discernible and positive impact on children’s academic growth. 

Current Research Validated!

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