What were the main aims of the initiative?

The primary purpose of the IRIS Center is to develop and disseminate instructional resources that improve the educational outcomes of struggling learners, particularly those with disabilities. IRIS is also charged with the dissemination of related products developed by other centers sponsored by the U.S. Department of Education. As such, the Center’s Website is a remarkable depository of information and resources about inclusive education.

The instructional resources produced by IRIS are developed in collaboration with researchers and national experts. IRIS resources focus on discrete topics about evidence-based practices and other subjects relevant to working with students with disabilities in inclusive classroom settings, and well suited to flexible infusion into initial teacher preparation coursework and PD programs for practicing educators.

Another primary purpose is to provide resources, services, and training to college faculty and PD providers to facilitate the infusion of proven practices and interventions into teacher preparation courses, curricula, and PD activities and experiences.

Themes to which the IRIS Center is linked:

Summary of IRIS Resources

Developed in collaboration with nationally recognized researchers and education experts, IRIS resources are designed to address instructional and classroom issues of great importance to today’s educators. IRIS resources can be accessed from the IRIS Website ( or and searched for using the IRIS Resource Locator. All of the resources described below can be accessed via the IRIS Resource Locator ( The three images below illustrate the Resource Locator and how specific resources are found for the 17 topics that organize IRIS instructional resources. The first image shows the Resource Locator. The second image shows the categories of resource types for the Behavior and Classroom Management topic and is an example of the other categories. The third shows the opened directory for accessing four of the ten IRIS Modules available for this topic.

Figure 1: IRIS Resource Locator (step 1)

Figure 1: IRIS Resource Locator (step 1)


Figure 2: IRIS Resource locator (step 2)

Figure 2: IRIS Resource locator (step 2)


Figure 3: IRIS Resource locator (step 3)

Figure 3: IRIS Resource locator (step 3)


STAR Legacy Modules offer in-depth looks at specific topics like response to intervention, classroom behavior management, secondary transition, student diversity, evidence-based practices, and many others. They deliver content in a variety of formats: text, video demonstrations, audio interviews with experts and practicing educators, and interactive activities. Based on the adult learning theory developed by Dr. John Bransford and his colleagues, IRIS Modules make information on evidence-based practices more accessible and easier to learn than is otherwise possible for many busy educators.

Case Study Units ask users to analyze and respond to a number of problem-based classroom issues and challenges through increasing levels of complexity and detail.

Activities are handy classroom assignments on a diverse range of topics that can be used as independent assignments or to promote classroom discussion.

Information Briefs are online resources developed by other programs and centers and collected and curated by the IRIS Center as supplemental materials.

Interviews are in-depth audio discussions with nationally recognized experts or instructors in the field that cover a wide variety of topics.

Video Vignettes·are videos about individuals with disabilities, their families, advocates, teachers, and service providers.

Web-based Tools are designed to support and be used in personnel preparation activities. IRIS online tools include:

Evidence-Based Practice Summaries
These summaries of research about the effectiveness of instructional strategies and interventions contain links to research reports and include information about an intervention’s level of effectiveness and the age groups for which it is designed (
Films: Portrayals of People with Disabilities
This tool represents an attempt to catalogue the representation of people with disabilities in motion pictures. Many of those representations are inaccurate and some are offensive. Their inclusion in this tool is intended to stimulate discussion and should by no means be considered an endorsement of their accuracy or appropriateness (
Children’s Books: Portrayals of People with Disabilities
Curated in conjunction with Mary Anne Prater,·a leading expert in the field today, this search tool contains information and synopses of children’s and young adult literature about or having to do with people with disabilities (
Web Resource Directory
This tool provides a list of other federally sponsored projects and centers that provide resources and information useful for educational professionals (

The IRIS Center also develops resources for college faculty and professional development providers.·These are designed to facilitate the incorporation of information about evidence-based practices into personnel preparation. Among these resources are Top Tips for Faculty, a Sample Syllabi Collection, Coursework Planning Forms, Curricular Matrices, Top Tips for PD Providers, a Sample PD Activity Collection, and information on how IRIS resources link to licensure and content standards.


Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP; Project # H325E120002), the IRIS Center is headquartered at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, and at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. The Center is charged with serving all teacher education programs in the United States; PD providers, particularly those who work through state education agencies and local or county school districts; and independent learners.

Guiding the Center’s efforts is a Logic Model and Conceptual Framework. The IRIS Logic Model·is a visual depiction of how the overarching goals for the Center are detailed in the cooperative agreement with the funding agency, OSEP: “(1) help address state-identified needs for highly qualified personnel—in special education, related services, early intervention, and regular education—to work with children, including infants and toddlers, with disabilities; and (2) ensure that those personnel have the necessary skills and knowledge, derived from practices that have been determined, through evidence-based research and experience, to be successful in serving those children.” The IRIS Logic Model can be viewed in its entirety at

A graphic representation of an opened iris flower, the IRIS Center’s Conceptual Framework is an illustration of how the Center uses a collaborative and evaluative process to inform the development and dissemination of its resources, as well as to guide the training of IHE faculty and PD providers on how to infuse these resources into their courses and trainings.

The Develop Petal represents IRIS’s mission to develop teaching and learning tools and training Modules reflecting evidence-based instructional and intervention practices. Both the Disseminate Petal and the TA and Train Petal represent the mission to build IHE faculty and PD providers’ awareness and knowledge about the infusion of IRIS and other federally funded products into their courses, program curricula, and PD trainings. Both dissemination and TA and training activities are delivered through a three-tiered system (i.e., universal, targeted, and intensive) that is designed to flexibly meet an array of needs. The Collaborate Ring illustrates IRIS’s mission to support development, technical assistance and training services, and dissemination efforts through collaborative processes. The Evaluate Ring exemplifies the commitment to the implementation of a formative and summative evaluation process designed to provide data about all aspects of the work. Finally, at the heart of all of the IRIS Center’s work is an over-riding commitment to Data-based Decision Making that guides and informs staff so IRIS remains current and relevant, meeting the needs of its consumers. More information about the IRIS Conceptual Framework can be found at

Figure 4: A graphic representation of an opened iris flower, the IRIS Center’s Conceptual Framework

Figure 4: A graphic representation of an opened iris flower, the IRIS Center’s Conceptual Framework


What issues/challenges does the example address?

The IRIS Center is a national center dedicated to improving education outcomes for all children, especially those with disabilities birth through age twenty-one, through the use of effective evidence-based practices and interventions.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), the IRIS Center is headquartered at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee and Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California. The Center’s primary objective is to create and infuse resources about evidence-based practices into pre-service preparation and professional development (PD) programs. To facilitate this process, IRIS disseminates and offers trainings on those resources.

Developed in collaboration with nationally recognized researchers and education experts, IRIS resources are designed to address instructional and classroom issues of great importance to today’s educators, issues like response to intervention (RTI), classroom behavior management, and early childhood instruction, among many, many more. IRIS resources are used in college instruction, professional development activities, and independent learning opportunities for practicing educators. Our signature resources—IRIS STAR Legacy Modules—are structured around a learning cycle developed using John Bransford and colleagues’ “How People Learn” adult learning cycle. This learning cycle, the IRIS “STAR Legacy,” is depicted in the graphic below.

Figure 5: The IRIS "STAR Legacy" learning cycle

Figure 5: The IRIS "STAR Legacy" learning cycle


Other IRIS resources include: Case Study Units, Activities, Information Briefs, Video Vignettes, Evidence-Base Practice Summaries, and a variety of tools (such as searchable catalogues of films and children’s books in which characters with disabilities are depicted). Through its Website, IRIS also provides tools that assist college faculty and PD providers in creating and revising coursework, curriculum, and PD activities. All IRIS resources and materials are available at no cost to the public through the Center’s barrier-free Website ( or



How was the Initiative implemented?

The method by which IRIS creates its resources and materials is a multi-stage process of topic selection, development, and refinement that relies on the input and expertise of a wide variety of sources. Because our work is informed continually, the result is an evolving set of materials based on the input, needs, and feedback of consumers, constituents, and the U.S. government. The figure below illustrates the systematic development of IRIS Modules and materials. For more about the process used to develop IRIS materials, please visit


Figure 6: IRIS module and materials development process

Figure 6: IRIS module and materials development process


What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

Theoretical Background and Research Evidence

Foremost, the work of the IRIS Center is grounded in research theory. The Center’s resources are informed by research, translate research to practice, and are proven effective by research. As indicated above, IRIS Modules are developed using the adult learning theory framework developed by John Bransford and his colleagues. For more information about the How People Learn theory and how the Center used it to create the challenge- or problem-based approach that forms the core of the Center’s STAR Legacy Modules, please visit

Second, a number of studies have been conducted by independent researchers about the effectiveness of IRIS Modules on college students’ knowledge acquisition, skill attainment, and dispositions regarding evidence-based practices and their use with struggling learners. The results support the effectiveness of using these instructional units in college instruction whether as homework, in-class assignments, or some combination of the two.

Third, as required by OSEP, IRIS collects consumer satisfaction data for IRIS Modules and for training events targeting IHE faculty and PD providers. OSEP requires that such ratings monitor three dimensions: quality, relevance, and usefulness. Below are summaries of those measures of consumer satisfaction.

Table 1: Module ratings by user groups


Mean rating Quality

Mean rating Relevance

Mean rating Usefulness

Graduate student (N=1866, 34%)




College student (N=1766, 32%)




Experienced teacher (N=895, 16%)




New teacher (N=392, 7%)




Other (N=310, 6%)




College faculty (N=129, 2%)




School leader (N=86, 2%)




PD Provider (N=39, 1%)




Total (N=5483, 100%)





Table 2: Training Events: Faculty and PD seminars and work sessions





IRIS Online Resources




IRIS Training Event




IRIS Training Materials




Key Outcomes and Evidence of Impact

The impact of IRIS is strong, both in terms of (1) the overall use of its resources and (2) the percentage of teacher education programs that are using them. To determine overall use of its resources, the Center collects data on the number of visits to its Website, which begins when someone enters the IRIS Website and ends when that visit is completed; it is not an indication of the number of different Web pages that were accessed. The graph below illustrates the visitors’ data for all of 2014. The 2015 visitors’ data, which is similar in pattern to all previous years, currently shows an increase of over 20% from 2014.

2014 Total Number of Visits: 1,256,694

Average Number of Pages per Visit: 10.34

Average Time per Visit: 17 minutes, 20 seconds


Figure 7: Annual visits to IRIS website by month: 2011 - 2014

Figure 7: Annual visits to IRIS website by month: 2011 - 2014


Though the majority of users come from the United States and other English-speaking countries, many come to the IRIS Website from all over the world. Indeed, because many of the Center’s Modules have been translated into Spanish, countries like Spain and Mexico are also in the top 10.

Table 3: Visitor statistics



Number of visits


United States















United Kingdom














A second indication of the Center’s effectiveness can be found in the use of IRIS resources by U.S. colleges and universities with approved teacher education programs. In Spring 2014, 76.3% of all colleges and universities with approved teacher education programs used IRIS resources. In 2015, that percentage had increased to 84%.


Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

The work of the IRIS Center is evaluated through many different means. Several independent evaluations have been conducted, as well as frequent evaluations by a third-party evaluator who is charged with this responsibility. The IRIS resources have also been the subject of numerous research studies. Summaries of four recent analyses of the Center are provided below.

2015 Evaluation of Website Quality

In a recently published article, Are Online Sources for Identifying Evidence-Based Practices Trustworthy? An Evaluation, David Test and his colleagues evaluated the trustworthiness of 47 Websites that disseminate information on evidence-based practices in special education or related services. Websites were analysed using two indicators: quality of evidence and level of evidence. IRIS was one of only 13 Websites that received top ratings in both indicators, receiving a “Trust” rating under the quality of evidence·indicator and an “Explicit” rating under the level of evidence.·

2014 OSEP 3+2 Evaluation

During the second year of each funding cycle, OSEP evaluates the Center’s work using a panel of external reviewers with expertise in areas relevant to the Center’s mission (e.g., early childhood special education, technology). IRIS underwent a 3+2 evaluation in 2014 and received an overall rating of 3.49 (on a 4-point scale) on a set of 20 evaluation questions. The full report is available at

2013 Evaluation of the Personnel Development Program To Improve Services and Results for Children with Disabilities

The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) conducted an evaluation of the implementation and impact of 12 centers funded by OSEP through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. As part of this effort, two funding cycles of the IRIS Center were evaluated; the results of the most recent cycle are provided here. IRIS signature products (i.e., Web-based training modules and supporting materials) received an average rating of 4.75 (on a 5-point scale); 100% of the expert panelists rated the quality of those same signature products as “high” or “very high.” The full evaluation report can be accessed at

2012 IRIS Center Resource Use and Perceived Influence Survey Results

The IRIS Center’s external evaluator, Bianca Montrosse-Moorhead, conducted a survey to which 610 college and university faculty and professional development providers responded. Eighty-three percent of faculty who use IRIS STAR Legacy Modules rated them as “very useful.” Further, 73.4% of faculty indicated that use of the Modules directly affected their instruction and had positive comments in three areas as a result: increased instructor confidence, the high quality of the resources, and positive impact on classroom instruction. The full report is available at


Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

The newest development for the Center is the launch of IRIS Professional Development Hours Store, through which PD certificates are available for many of the IRIS STAR Legacy Modules. After completing a pre-test, working through the Module, and completing a post-test, users receive a certificate verifying Module completion and indicating the number of hours it typically takes to complete that resource. In turn, this time can be applied toward PD hours required by districts and states for ongoing certification purposes.

The Professional Development Hours opportunity was developed as part of the IRIS Center’s sustainability plan. As such, this is the only portion of the Center’s current work for which users must pay to receive a service (i.e., the professional development certificate). Moving forward, the intent is that the revenue from the certificates will help the Center become less dependent on federal funding. More information is available at


What are the main learning points?

For those interested in implementing a similar initiative, there are several key pieces of advice that IRIS Center staff members have learned over the years:

  1. Always build in extra time. There are many components of the work that are beyond one’s immediate control—development of content by national experts, review of resources by expert panels, approval required by funding agency personnel—and delays can happen in any or all of them. The developmental process is always stressful. However, by recognizing that uncontrollable delays will inevitably occur, a great deal of stress can be reduced by building extra time into deadlines (when possible).
  2. Anticipate technology challenges. Technology advances are occurring at an unprecedented rate, and it can be difficult to keep up. For example, the first iPad was introduced on January 27, 2010, immediately changing the way consumers accessed online information. Unfortunately, the iPad did not access several common Website applications, resulting in the inability to access online video, audio, and interactive files. IRIS programmers worked around the clock, rewriting code to align with these new products. It is impossible to anticipate the next big technological wonder that will require an immediate overhaul of entire online environments, but those involved in this work must be flexible enough to adapt when they occur. Further, glitches and breakdowns are a fundamental part of any technology project—floods, electrical outages, downed servers, and the collapse of a Web-hosting service are just some of the issues the IRIS Center has dealt with in the last few years.
  3. Develop flexible resources. The benefit of small, topically based resources is that they can be infused into multiple courses or PD activities, wherever the instructor has a need to address that particular content. For example, a single Module on basic behavior management techniques has been incorporated into a behavior management course, a student teaching seminar, an advanced methods course, and a teacher induction program. Because it covers a specific, discrete content unit, it can be used more widely than could an entire online course, where one resource among many that are used becomes out-dated, the entire course remains viable with its replacement.
  4. Make the resources as accessible as possible. Access to the IRIS Website requires no login, username, or password, all of which users have reported as barriers encountered with other Websites. Further, the IRIS site offers many accessibility options for users with disabilities: captions for videos, transcripts and audio descriptions for audio files, keystroke navigation, alt tags with descriptors for visual images, and more.
  5. Use evidence-based practices for training and dissemination purposes, supported by data-based decision making. Faculty who attended IRIS trainings are still using IRIS resources six and seven years later. Even after IRIS-trained faculty leave a department or university, the resources remain embedded in the courses and curricula. The longevity of use and retention of the resources speak not only to the quality of the products, but to the quality of the training that people received. Over the years, there have been fads and trends that focused on the combination of training and technology (e.g., MOOCs). People rushed to produce these kinds of trainings, only to find later that the data did not support their use, whether due to retention/completion rates, effectiveness in producing behavioral change, or other factors.


Are there further information about supporting materials?

Supporting Resources

As mentioned earlier, IRIS resources are used worldwide, not only in the United States. Because the Center is funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education with a mission of developing resources for the nation’s teacher educators, PD providers, and independent learners, its dissemination and training efforts focus on working in the United States. Therefore, it is expected that the vast majority of users would come from the United States. Regardless, a substantial number from Europe and other places use IRIS resources. Between May 1, 2015 and October 31, 2015, more than 10,000 computers from Europe alone accessed a variety of IRIS resources. According to Google Analytics data, during that six-month period, 75% were new users. The most accessed Modules and Case Studies are shown below.

Table 4: Most Accessed Modules in Europe



Number of visitors





Providing instructional supports



Differentiated instruction



Classroom behavior management (Part 1)



Guiding the school counselor



Teaching English language learners



Accommodations to the physical environment






Classroom behavior management (Part 2)



Addressing disruptive and noncompliant behavior (Part 1)



Table 5: Most Accessed Case Studies in Europe


Case study

Number of visits


Effective room arrangement



RTI: Data-based decision making



Defining behavior



Encouraging appropriate behavior



Measuring behavior



RTI: Progress monitoring



Norms and expectations



Early reading



Fostering student accountability for classroom work



Comprehension and vocabulary


Therefore, summaries of some of the most popular (and new) resources available through the IRIS Website are provided next.


IRIS STAR Legacy Modules

Popular IRIS Modules include:

Functional Behavioral Assessment: Identifying the Reasons for Problem Behavior and Developing a Behavior Plan
This Module explores the basic principles of behavior and the importance of discovering the reasons that students engage in problem behavior. The steps to conducting a functional behavioral assessment and developing a behavior plan are described. Access this Module at
Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Overview for Educators
This Module provides information on the early signs of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as an overview of the difference between a medical diagnosis and an educational determination of ASD. Resources include notes on instructional considerations for teachers who have children and students with ASD in their classrooms, as well as things to keep in mind when working with the families of those children and students. Access this Module at
Classroom Management (Part 1): Learning the Components of a Comprehensive Behavior Management Plan
This Module highlights the importance of establishing a comprehensive classroom behavior management system composed of a statement of purpose, rules, procedures, consequences, and an action plan. It also provides information about how culture, classroom factors, and teacher actions can influence student behavior. Access this Module at
Evidence-Based Practices (Part 1):Identifying and Selecting a Practice or Program
This Module, the first in a series of three, discusses the importance of identifying and selecting evidence-based practices. Access this Module at
Evidence-Based Practices (Part 2): Implementing a Practice or Program with Fidelity
This Module addresses how to implement an evidence-based practice with fidelity. Access this Module at
Evidence-Based Practices (Part 3): Evaluating Learner Outcomes and Fidelity
This Module examines how to evaluate whether an evidence-based practice is effective for the young children or students with whom you are working. Access this Module at

IRIS Case Study Units

Popular IRIS Case Study Units include:

Effective Room Arrangement
This group of Case Studies includes engaging scenarios to introduce students to important concepts regarding classroom arrangement for effective classroom management. Find this Case Study Unit at
Defining Behavior
This Case Study describes how to clearly define a student's behavior so that when they occur they can be reliably identified, measured, or counted in some way. This Case Study can serve as a companion for the Functional Behavior Assessment Module. Access this Case Study Unit at
Early Reading
This Case Study set offers realistic scenarios that introduce students to reading strategies appropriate for Kindergarten and first-grade classrooms. Access this Case Study Unit at

IRIS Activities

Popular IRIS Activities include:

Disability Awareness: People-First Language
Learn the proper use of people-first language when referring to individuals with disabilities, and better recognize instances when improper terminology is used to refer to individuals with disabilities. Access this Activity at
Early Childhood Assessment: Children's Classroom Environments
Use measures for evaluating classroom environments to assess program quality and to identify potential child goals, thereby determining areas for improvement. This Activity is located at
Vocabulary Instruction: Possible Sentences for Science
Learn about and discuss some of the issues related to vocabulary instruction for students in science classes. Find this IRIS Activity at


send a message
Send a message

Naomi Chowdhuri Tyler, PhD

Associate Professor, Special Education; Peabody College of Education and Human Development, Vanderbilt University; Co-Director, IRIS Center, Peabody College, Box 275, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203


Deborah Deutsch Smith, EdD

Professor, School of Educational Studies, Claremont Graduate University; Co-Director, IRIS Center; IRIS@CGU, 1237 Dartmouth, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA 91711


*mandatory fields