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Research Spotlight: Frank Fernandez

Q & A with Frank Fernandez, Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

What roles does higher education fulfill in society?  How does higher education work as a social institution?  In what ways do diverse groups have different experiences with higher education as a social institution?

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Rob Moore
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Research Spotlight: Rob Moore

Q & A with Rob Moore, Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research broadly attempts to answer, “What is happening in digital ecologies?” By digital ecologies, I mean any learning environment that is integrating technology. This would include a face-to-face classroom that is using PollEverywhere or Kahoot for engagement; or a massive open online course where tens of thousands of students are engaged in asynchronous discussions; or an online graduate-level course. As we are seeing advances in technology and online learning, understanding learner experiences within these digital ecologies is critical to ensuring that we are creating positive learning experiences. My research looks at the experiences of learners and the tools and resources being used by the learners. Are the tools being used in the way that the instructor intended? Are they producing the outcomes that the instructor wanted? To answer these questions, I leverage techniques including cluster analysis and multilevel modeling that allow me to ask questions such as, “How is learning supported in the environment?” or “How are learners engaging within the environment?” By using this human-centered approach, my research can identify ways to map learner outcomes to the effective design and delivery approaches within these ecologies.

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Research Spotlight: Seyedahmad Rahimi

Q & A with Seyedahmad Rahimi, Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research aims to answer questions such as “how can we assess and enhance hard-to-measure constructs such as creativity at scale using technology-rich environments (e.g., digital games)?” or “what aspects of technology-rich environments can foster or hinder learning?” or “how can we embed learning content in digital games without sacrificing the fun to enhance students’ interest, engagement, and learning?” The list could go on. In general, my research interest is at the intersection of learning sciences, learning analytics, instructional design and technologies, psychometrics, and computer sciences. Specifically, my research focuses on assessing and fostering students’ 21st-century skills (focusing on creativity) and STEM-related knowledge acquisition (focusing on physics understanding). Toward that end, I design, develop, and evaluate immersive learning environments (e.g., educational games) equipped with stealth assessment and educational data mining and learning analytics models. These learning environments can diagnostically assess students’ various competency levels, predict different outcomes, and act accordingly in real-time (e.g., adapt the game challenges to students’ level of competency or support students’ learning by triggering the appropriate learning supports). I am also actively researching various aspects of educational games (e.g., game mechanics, game difficulty, cognitive and affective supports, dashboard design, and incentive systems) and how they affect students’ motivation, performance, and learning.

What makes your work interesting?

When I think about my research, I see the following keywords in a cloud above my head: stealth assessment, validity, reliability, fairness, equity, games, technology, learning analytics, machine learning, improvement, learning, creativity, and STEM-related knowledge. I think the combination of these concepts makes my research interesting. I can categorize these keywords into three groups: (1) methods: stealth assessment, validity, reliability, fairness, equity, learning analytics, (2) tools: games, machine learning, technology, and (3) outcomes: creativity, learning, improving, STEM-related knowledge. Using new methods to develop tools (e.g., games) that can accurately assess and enhance people’s critical skills in life, such as creativity and STEM-related knowledge, makes my research interesting. When it comes to STEM-related knowledge acquisition, I am interested in helping the minority populations build interest in STEM-related topics which can help them in the future. For instance, in our previous studies (with my former advisor Dr. Valerie Shute), girls always had lower prior physics knowledge than boys. However, they had higher or equal posttest scores (after playing Physics Playground—an educational game) than boys—this is very interesting to me. When it comes to creativity (one of the essential skills moving human civilizations forward), I am interested in automatic and accurate ways of assessing creativity or creative potential. Most of the creativity assessments in the literature need human judgment, are time-consuming, costly, limited, and subjective. Using techniques such as stealth assessment and machine learning, I want to develop tools (e.g., video games) that can assess creativity without involving human judgment. These tools can then use the real-time diagnostic assessment to enhance people’s creativity as well. Creativity is not just reserved for a small group of people. We all can be creative. My goal is to create research-based tools available at scale to help more people become creative with practice—this is very interesting to me, which keeps me up at night.

What are you currently working on?

As a fresh assistant professor, I am currently setting up my research lab, Game-based Assessment & Measurement in Education Lab (GAME Lab), at the Institute for Advanced Learning Technologies (IALT) at UF. Read more

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Research Spotlight: Wei Li

Q & A with Wei Li, Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I am a quantitative researcher. My research centers on the development and application of experimental and quasi-experimental methods to address issues in education and policy studies. Currently, my methodological work focuses on the design and analysis of longitudinal interventions and multilevel cost-effectiveness studies. My substantive work encompasses research on class size effects, teacher effects, and the effectiveness of online learning and teaching. I am also interested in the evaluation of education and policy issues in China.

What makes your work interesting?

My methodological work helps applied researchers design rigorous educational interventions. For example, when educational researchers plan their experimental studies, they need to decide what the minimum required sample sizes (e.g., numbers of students, classroom, schools, etc.) are needed to identify the treatment effects with confidence. My work provides methods and free, user-friendly tools for applied researchers to compute the sample sizes when they design longitudinal experiments and multilevel cost-effectiveness studies. In particular, my work on cost-effectiveness analysis might be of interest to some researchers who are working on Institute of Education Sciences grant applications, which now require cost or cost-effectiveness analysis in the proposals.

I also serve as a quantitative methodologist on several intervention/evaluation studies. Working with my collaborators, we are using advanced quantitative methods (e.g., multilevel models, mediation and moderation analyses, experimental and quasi-experimental methods, etc.) to evaluate the causal effects of educational interventions, programs, and policies on student achievement and non-cognitive skills.

What are you currently working on?

Currently, I have several methodological and applied projects in progress. Read more

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Research Spotlight: Travis “Dr. Tee” Smith

Q & A with Travis Smith, Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?  

What are the lived experiences of Black students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs)? What are the lived experiences of Black graduate students? How do HBCUs support, nurture, and develop Black students?

What makes your work interesting? 

My work is interesting because I write about Black people for Black people. I attempt to center the Black community in my work by doing research “for the culture.” I refrain from centering my work in a deficit lens. My aim is for my work to be accessible to the masses and for my hometown to be proud of the changes I am igniting.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a critical participatory action research project with a group of amazing Black graduate students and staff in the UF Division of Student Affairs. We are studying the experiences of Black graduate students at UF through radical healing (French et al., 2020); photovoice (Wang, 1999); and photo elicitation (Boucher, 2018). We use these approaches as psychological and methodological frameworks to explore and attempt to dismantle systems of oppression.

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Research Spotlight: Pengfei Zhao

Q & A with Pengfei Zhao, Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I am a qualitative research methodologist with an interdisciplinary background in inquiry methodology, sociology, and cultural studies. My methodological writing addresses key issues in the field of qualitative inquiry such as validity, language and representation, qualitative data analysis software, and inference-making. In particular, I draw from critical theory, pragmatism, and feminism to formulate a praxis- and social justice- oriented research methodology.

What makes your work interesting?

I ground my methodology work in long-term, multi-method empirical studies conducted in China and in the United States. Long-term engagement with empirical work always allows me to find interesting and often neglected angles to connect theories with research practice. For instance, one of my research commitments examines the coming of age experience of rural Chinese youth during and right after the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). Years of fieldwork with ordinary Chinese people have led me to reconsider the researcher-participant relationship in an authoritarian state. Drawing on social theories about the state and state effect, I propose to move away from a static, western centric, and territory-based conceptualization of the state, and treat it as a culturally and historically specific structuration, in which researchers and participants are engaged.

My work is also characterized by the notable feature of interdisciplinarity. While research methodology is an inherent part in the training of many social science disciplines, in a recently published book, Making Sense of Social Research Methodology: A Student and Practitioner Centered Approach, my colleagues and I take a sociological lens to examine research practice itself. Instead of taking research as a set of procedures or the application of principles, our book conceptualizes research practice as social actions situated in a larger social, cultural, and political structure, performed through the coordination of social actors, and resulted in real-world consequences.

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Research Spotlight: Hope Schuermann

Q & A with Hope Schuermann, Clinical Assistant Professor and Counselor Education Program Coordinator in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I focus my research under two umbrellas: (1) mental health trauma, and (2) counselor education pedagogy and supervision. Within trauma, I have worked on research related to post-traumatic growth in military personnel, Dissociative Identity Disorder, and childhood trauma. In counselor education, I have explored the impact of the supervisory relationship on client outcomes, the efficacy of instruments normed on multicultural populations, creative methods of teaching empathy, and counselor educator identity development.

What makes your work interesting?

Trauma impacts us all, in one way or another. I want to know how we, as mental health professionals, can best assist clients in resolving their trauma, and how we can use education and advocacy to build towards prevention of childhood trauma. From my experiences living and working as a counselor in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, to working as a counselor in a children’s advocacy center using play therapy to help children heal from abuse and neglect, to serving on a team intervention for mental health professionals, teachers, and administrators at Sandy Hook Elementary, my many experiences working with traumatized clients inform and motivate me in the work to find and understand efficacious treatments for traumatized minds. My love for researching counselor education comes from my passion for teaching and educating future mental health providers. I want to know how to mold the best counselors that can go out into the world and help people heal.

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Research Spotlight: Kathrin Maki

Q & A with Kathrin Maki, Assistant Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My work centers around two interrelated lines of research. My first line of research examines how students in U.S. public schools are identified with learning disabilities and the issues associated with those identification procedures. The overarching questions underlying this work are (1) what are the issues associated with identification of learning disabilities and how do those issues impact appropriate service provision for students with learning disabilities, and (2) how should students be appropriately identified with learning disabilities?

My second line of research examines how researchers and practitioners can maximize the effectiveness and efficiency of academic interventions for students demonstrating reading and math difficulties. The overarching questions underlying this work are (1) how do we best use data to appropriately match interventions with students’ academic needs, and (2) based on theoretical principles, how can interventions be implemented and modified to ensure they are maximally effective?

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Research Spotlight: F. Chris Curran

Q & A with F. Chris Curran, Associate Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research is fundamentally driven by an effort to understand the ways in which public policy can be leveraged to increase equitable educational outcomes for groups of students who have historically been discriminated against by public institutions.  In particular, I seek to examine how the laws, policies, and practices of public schooling shape educational outcomes for students of color, students from lower socio-economic backgrounds, and other marginalized groups.  My current research focuses on three strands: school discipline and safety, early elementary science education, and teacher labor markets.  My recent work has explored the effects of state zero tolerance laws on racial disparities in school discipline, the relationship between preschool attendance and early elementary science performance, and the ability of alternative route teaching programs to address teacher vacancies in disadvantaged rural school districts.  Across all of this work, I link findings to actionable items for policymakers and educators so that the answers to these basic questions can potentially improve the lives of students nationwide.

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Research Spotlight: Lori Dassa

Q & A with Lori Dassa, Director of Clinical Experiences and Partnerships in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

In my current position, I have the opportunity to work with clinical experiences and key partners (community, district) to develop cohesive and sustainable relationships to better the experiences of our teacher candidates.  These experiences in the teacher preparation arena at the College of Education lead to teacher retention.

Although this is more of an administrative role, it still aligns with my previous research.  My research has always asked the question: how do we develop and sustain the pipeline from teacher preparation to teacher retention?  I have followed an alternative perspective of Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) that specifically relates to pre-service teachers.  The literature defines the idea of the Zone of Teacher Development (ZPTD) as, “the distance between what teacher candidates can do on their own without assistance and a proximal level they might attain through strategically mediated assistance from capable others i.e., methods instructors or supervisors” (Warford, 2001, p. 253).

To expand on this theory, my research question is, how do we develop a teacher preparation and induction program that scaffolds our pre-service teachers to enter and stay in the field, cultivating into strong veteran teachers?

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Research Spotlight: Gage Jeter

Q & A with Gage Jeter, Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

In what ways do online doctoral students experience academic writing processes, and how might structured online writing supports influence their writing processes and products within and beyond their experience in a primarily online program?

How do preservice teachers engage in critical and social justice literacy practices in both online and face-to-face spaces?

What critical incidents influence queer faculty experiences, and how might intentionally and collaboratively reflecting on those experiences act against heteronormative and hegemonic systems and spaces?

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Hannah Bayne
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Research Spotlight: Hannah Bayne

Q & A with Hannah Bayne, Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research is concerned with the overarching question of human connection and understanding. How can we connect with one another in a way that generates genuine relationship, allows for expression and exploration of deepest pain, and facilitates healing? I am interested in exploring this question from a variety of angles — factors that enable connection, as well as factors that complicate or restrict relationship and understanding. For this reason, I am primarily interested in empathy as a skill that fosters deep understanding and connection. I also look at factors that can divide people, such as values conflicts and cultural dynamics, and explore how counselors can work within and beyond these conflicts to build rapport and expand their understanding of clients who may be very different from them.
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Linda Searby
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Research Spotlight: Linda Searby

Linda SearbyQ & A with Linda Searby, Clinical Associate Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I have two different lines of research. One is on the mentoring mindset of the protégé in a mentoring relationship.  In earlier research with new principals and their mentors, I answered the question, “What constitutes a mentoring mindset of a protégé who is poised to gain the most benefit from a mentoring relationship?” My other line of research is on the assistant principalship.  I am seeking to answer the questions, “What are the experiences of assistant principals as instructional leaders and how have they been prepared for this role?”

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Research Spotlight: Christopher Redding

Q & A with Christopher Redding, Assistant Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research uses survey and administrative data to better understand the policies and educator labor market patterns that exacerbate the unequal distribution of high-quality teachers and the reforms intended to reduce this problem. Broadly, this research describes failures in the teacher labor market that impede the learning opportunities for underserved students and the ways in which changes in teacher education, development, and leadership opportunities can lead to better teacher retention and student outcomes, particularly in underserved schools.

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Ashley MacSuga-Gage
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Research Spotlight: Ashley MacSuga-Gage

Ashley MacSuga-GageQ & A with Ashley MacSuga-Gage, Clinical Assistant Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research is focused on two main issues:

  1. What are the essential skills that teachers need to exhibit in order to effectively manage a classroom?
  1. What are the most efficient and effective ways to support teachers’ (both pre-service and in-service) development of evidence-based classroom management skills?

My background is in positive behavior supports (PBS) and focuses on developing classroom management skills using a proactive versus reactive approach. To date, I have conceptualized and focused on professional development for adults (i.e., pre-service and in-service teachers) utilizing a Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) framework.

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