IU School of Education faculty present at American Educational Research Association conference

Monday, April 7, 2014

Faculty and graduate students from the Indiana University School of Education in Bloomington and Indianapolis presented during more than 140 sessions of the American Educational Research Association conference concluding today in Philadelphia. The conference represents the largest gathering of scholars in the field of education research.

To follow up on any of these presentations, contact Chuck Carney, director of communications and media relations at the IU School of Education, at ccarney@indiana.edu or 812-856-8027812-85.

The full program of research presentations is available and searchable online. Here are some highlighted presentations by IU School of Education faculty:

Helping teachers teach complex systems

IU Bloomington assistant professor of learning sciences Joshua Danish, along with graduate students Asmalina Saleh and Luis Alejandro Andrade-Lotero, presented a paper on software that can help teachers share complex system concepts with students. The study indicates that the software helped teachers lead early elementary students through inquiry that helped the students learn. The teachers used “BeeSign” simulation software -- a computer simulation developed by Danish that helps students understand how honeybees collect nectar. The inquiry using the software produced positive results with the students.

“We propose a new approach to designing educational scaffolds for science inquiry software that attempts to account for how the teacher and students will interact with the software in a real classroom environment,” Danish said. “We then present evidence from a study with 30 first- and second-grade students that indicate that this approach was successful in helping teach young children about how honeybees collect nectar as a complex system when compared to reading a book on the subject with their teacher.”

“Deep approaches to learning” may lead to deeper educational goals

A study by a higher education and student affairs faculty member and research associates at the National Survey of Student Engagement presented at AERA finds a relationship between college seniors who approach learning deeply and those who seek further education.

“Students who take deeper approaches to their learning -- which means that they are more reflective about the learning process, seek connections to prior learning and deal more regularly with complex levels of thinking -- are more likely to aspire to graduate school degrees,” said Tom Nelson Laird, an associate professor at IU Bloomington who has worked on NSSE and associated surveys since 2003. The paper is co-written with NSSE research scientists Louis Rocconi and Amy Ribera.

Analyzing NSSE responses from more than 17,000 college seniors at 53 four-year institutions, they found a significant positive relationship between students who practiced deep approaches to learning and degree aspirations. They also examined relationships between students’ Holland type -- a categorization of one of six theoretical or ideal personality types (Realistic, Investigative, Artistic, Social, Enterprising, Conventional) and degree aspirations. Seniors majoring in “Investigative” Holland environments were more likely to hold higher degree aspirations. Deep learning had a larger impact on degree aspirations for seniors in “Artistic” and “Enterprising” environments than otherwise similar Investigative environments.

“Interestingly, the effect of taking deeper approaches to learning is stronger in fields where degree aspirations tend to be lower,” Nelson Laird said. “Our findings, then, suggest that those interested in promoting graduate degree aspirations, particularly in fields where such aspirations are less common, should consider emphasizing deep approaches to the learning process more.”

Badges on display

IU Bloomington learning sciences associate professor Daniel Hickey and learning sciences doctoral students made several presentations that built on his work with digital badges. The MacArthur Foundation’s Digital Media and Learning initiative granted $400,000 to Hickey to study "digital badges," a Web-based token of accomplishment, success or completion used often in online education.

Hickey discussed the landscape of research on digital badges at an invited panel on “Innovations in Learning in the Digital Age” organized by MacArthur and AERA President Barbara Schneider. (Learning sciences doctoral student Rafi Santo presented on the same panel about his dissertation research of the Hive Learning Network in New York City, an effort that has connected New York University and IU on a two-year project.)

Hickey and his students presented three other papers from their study of the principles and practices for using digital badges that emerged across 30 programs. One paper discussed the findings of the larger effort in the symposium titled “Innovative Educational Practice Through Digital Badges.” The second, led by doctoral student Rebecca Itow, focused on learning assessment practices, and another led by doctoral student Andi Rehak focused on the learning recognition practices.

“There are now quite a few of us who are now doing ambitious research on digital badges,” Hickey said. “We are all thrilled with the explosion of interest in badges because it means that our research should have real impact.”

Teaching using hip-hop 

A faculty member at the IU School of Education at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and current and former students presented papers examining issues within the recent growth of “hip-hop pedagogy,” a teaching technique using hip-hop music to engage students.

Jomo Mutegi, associate professor of science education and director of the Urban Center for the Advancement of STEM Education at IUPUI, presented one of five complementary studies on the subject called “Tales From the Mic: A Content Analysis of 10 Years of Hip-Hop Lyrics.” Mutegi’s co-authors on the paper are Vanessa Pitts Bannister of the University of South Florida and LaJaysha Richardson and Yavonna Murdock, both sophomores are IUPUI.

Mutegi said the examination of lyrics presents one clear issue with using hip-hop pedagogy.

“When evaluated empirically, evidence shows that messaging in hip-hop lyrics is overwhelmingly negative," he said. “It advocates violence, misogyny, hypersexuality, drinking and drug use, vulgarity and racial hatred. For this reason, efforts to use hip-hop as an educational tool should be questioned and closely scrutinized.”

Other papers in the same session included “Pedagogy of the Oppressors: Critiquing the Premise Behind Hip-Hop Pedagogy” by Jada Phelps, who is a doctoral student in the urban education Ph.D. program at IUPUI. Tayana Dowdell, who earned her elementary education degree from the IU School of Education at IUPUI in 2013, presented “The Impact of Hip-Hop Instruction on Students in Urban Settings.” Dowdell is now a second-grade teacher at Mary Castle Elementary School in Lawrence Township.

These presentations will be published next month in a special issue of the journal African American Learners.

Well-being in child care involves both child and caregiver

As part of a symposium called “Creating Respectful Caring Cultures From Birth to 3: Moving From Research to Policy,” Mary McMullen, professor of curriculum studies in early childhood education at IU Bloomington and coordinator of the doctoral program in curriculum studies, elaborated on a case study examining care of children from birth to 3 years old. McMullen examined two classrooms using the policy of “continuity of care,” which allows the teacher to be with a child in a child care room for at least a year, developing a deeper relationship with the child.

The study confirmed previous findings that teachers using continuity of care report a deep knowledge and understanding of individual child needs and development and can better plan with those needs in mind. It also found families and teachers became more invested in their relationships and children experienced smoother and fewer transitions.

McMullen also found that ensuring well-being for children also meant ensuring well-being for the caregiver.

“In order to ensure healthy physical and psychological soundness of infants and toddlers in child care, attention must be paid to the well-being of those who care for them: the parents and professionals,” McMullen said. “I identify four major goals for well-being for adults and babies including feeling safe and comfortable in the environment; feeling socially competent and emotionally healthy; feeling work or play and learning is meaningful and valued; and feeling control and influence over activities and outcomes.”

She added that she has identified policies and practices that can facilitate these goals.

Determining what college students learn

As higher education institutions, policy makers and others seek ways to determine how well students are learning in college and which institutions are performing well and which are not, an IUPUI administrator and faculty member is raising questions about using standardized tests to do so. Trudy Banta, senior advisor to the chancellor for academic planning and evaluation at IUPUI and professor of higher education at the IU School of Education, headlined a session titled “Measuring College-Level Skills” along with Mehary Tadesse Stafford, senior research and policy analyst at the University of Texas.

Banta and Stafford each have experience working within state postsecondary systems that require administering standardized tests of student skills to examine student learning. Their research over a few decades raises questions about what standardized tests actually measure, the effect of student and administrator motivation on scores, and how “value-added” calculations that seek to balance out extraneous factors fail to provide acceptably reliable information.

“Interest in what students are actually learning in college is increasing at state and national levels,” Banta said. “Three decades of research on currently available standardized tests of college student learning of generic skills like writing and critical thinking indicate that these tests are not valid measures for comparing the quality of colleges and universities.”

Ensuring high-quality mathematics for all

Researchers affiliated with the Great Lakes Equity Center at the IU School of Education at IUPUI presented a case study examining how teachers can support meaningful learning in mathematics to students with disabilities. Paulo Tan, research assistant, and Kathleen King Thorius, principal investigator of the center and assistant professor of special education, presented “Equity in Mathematics Education Through Technical Assistance and Professional Learning.”

Given the pressure upon researchers and teachers to improve student achievement in mathematics, and the center's concerns about inequitable educational participation for students with significant disabilities, the researchers formed and facilitated a professional learning community with special and general educators from two elementary schools focused on inclusive mathematics education for students with disabilities. Marsha Simon, an assistant director with the center, joined Tan and Thorius on the project.

Results suggested that "Particular tools and processes utilized during the technical assistance were useful in facilitating teacher development toward inclusive mathematics education for students with disabilities,” Tan said. The Great Lakes Equity Center has engaged in technical assistance partnerships focused on improving educational practice and outcomes with over 30 school districts and state departments of education over the past two and a half years, according to Thorius.

Supporting early literacy development before school

Gretchen Butera, associate professor of special education at IU Bloomington, current students and a former student presented a project that helped build on emerging literacy skills through a Head Start program. Butera, along with alumna Amber Friesen, now at San Francisco State University, and doctoral students Jill Clay, Alina Mihai and Potheini Vaiouli, conducted a two-year study documenting a family literacy project within a Head Start Community. The project was intended to complement school classroom activities and support early literacy development. The project also invited family participation by encouraging families to use their own household expertise and choose activities that fit their homes best.

The authors found families valued seeing their children learn within the structure of the project. While educators were willing to try the project, they were somewhat ambivalent regarding family participation.

“Building a bridge between learning at home and in school is especially important when we think about children’s early literacy development,” Butera said. “The bridge has traffic going both ways. It’s important to acknowledge family expertise as well as seek their help in supporting children’s learning.”