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Research Spotlight: Walter Leite


Q & A with Walter Leite, Professor in the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

In education, researchers have available a large amount of secondary data. These include national educational surveys, data collected by state departments of education, and data collected by online learning environments. Although these data do not come from experimental studies, educational researchers frequently use them for evaluating educational programs. Therefore, my first basic research question is, How can we strengthen causal inference from research performed using large non-experimental datasets? In addition, large-scale educational data can be used in an exploratory way to identify students at risk or who have specific growth trajectories. Identifying clusters of students is important to target interventions and to understand contextual effects of educational systems. Based on this, my second question of interest is, How can we detect clusters of individuals in large datasets?
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Research Spotlight: Zhihui Fang

Q & A with Zhihui Fang, Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research addresses three interrelated questions that I believe are of both theoretical and practical significance: (a) how are knowledge and value constructed through language across different academic disciplines? (b) what challenges do these ways of using language present to students in subject-area reading and writing? and (c) how can these challenges be addressed through a language-based pedagogy?

What makes your work interesting?

What makes my work interesting is its focus on the role language plays in teaching and learning. Although language is arguably the most powerful and creative resource for making meaning, it is, ironically, also the most taken-for-granted aspect of schooling. I have had a fascination with language since my middle school years, when I started to learn English as a foreign language. This interest grew during my undergraduate and graduate years when I began my formal studies in linguistics and language in education. As a student, I used to wonder why school curriculum content had to be presented to us in textbooks that we found daunting and alienating. I learned later that each text students read or write has a purpose, and this purpose is realized through language (and other semiotic) choices that configure in particular ways in order to have particular effects. So, I have been motivated early on to find out how content experts use language to present knowledge, infuse points of view, and structure texts, as well as how students can be supported in disciplinary learning through a functional focus on language. My work in this area recognizes language as the hidden curriculum of schooling and responds to the challenges of developing advanced literacy, critical literacy, and disciplinary literacies among students who struggle with reading and writing, who are learning English as an additional language, or who have histories of school failure.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on three projects. In one project, I try to reconceptualize, from a functional linguistics perspective, three key constructs in the Common Core State Standards — text complexity, close reading, and disciplinary literacy — in an effort to make their classroom implementation more effective and empowering for teachers. In another project, my research team is examining adolescents’ use of academic language in informational writing, hoping to gain a better understanding of how access to and control over academic language impacts students’ reading/writing achievement and disciplinary learning. In the third project, my research team is studying disciplinary experts’ social practice (i.e., the daily workplace routines experts engage in), semiotic practice (i.e., how experts use language and other semiotic resources in disciplinary meaning-making), and cognitive practice (i.e., the mental routines and strategies employed by experts in disciplinary reading and writing), hoping to use the findings from the study to inform subsequent design and delivery of disciplinary literacy instruction in the K-12 setting.

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Research Spotlight: John Kranzler

Q & A with John Kranzler, Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My recent empirical research has largely fallen within the evidence-based practice (EBP) movement within the field of school psychology, which aims to “identify, disseminate, and promote the adoption of practices with demonstrated research support” (Kratochwill, 2007, p. 829). The goal of the EBP movement is to improve the quality of professional services (e.g., diagnosis, intervention, and evaluation) delivered to children and youth, families, and schools. Of particular interest to me at the current time is the innovative approach to the identification of specific learning disabilities (SLD) known as the pattern of strengths and weaknesses (PSW) approach. PSW methods define SLD as unexpected underachievement and corresponding weakness in specific cognitive abilities. The PSW approach has already been adopted in 14 states for SLD identification (Maki, Floyd, & Roberson, 2015), despite the fact that substantiating scientific evidence is currently lacking. Thus, I have conducted several investigations of important postulates underlying the PSW approach. Below I describe two recent studies my colleagues and I have conducted to provide some description of my work.

One postulate of the PSW approach concerns the focus of IQ test interpretation. Proponents of the PSW approach contend that the focus of interpretation should not be on the overall score, but on the pattern of intra-individual strengths and weaknesses at the composite score level. For composite scores to warrant interpretation, they must demonstrate incremental validity. Incremental validity addresses the question of whether scores on a test increase the predictive validity of important external criteria over other scores on the same test or scores on other established measures. To examine this question, my colleagues and I used estimated factor scores from a bifactor analysis of the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale-Fourth Edition (WAIS-IV) to examine the unique effects of its latent variables on academic achievement. Results of this study only partially replicated the findings of previous research on the incremental validity of scores that can be derived from performance on the WAIS-IV. Although we found that psychometric g is the most important underlying construct measured by the WAIS-IV for the prediction of academic achievement in general, results indicated that only the unique effect of Verbal Comprehension was important, and only for certain academic outcomes. Results of this study, which was published in Psychological Assessment (Kranzler, Floyd, & Benson, 2015), question the utility of composite scores underlying the PSW approach.

Valid identification of SLD using the PSW methods requires the application of diagnostic criteria that result in the reliable grouping of children and adolescents with this disability and those who do not. We examined the diagnostic accuracy of the Cross-Battery Assessment (XBA) PSW approach to identifying SLD. To examine this postulate, we conducted a classification agreement analysis using the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities and Achievement. We examined the broad cognitive abilities of the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory held to be meaningfully related to basic reading, reading comprehension, mathematics calculation, and mathematics reasoning across age. Results of analyses of 300 participants in three age groups (6-8, 9-13, and 14-19 years) indicated that the XBA method is very reliable and accurate in detecting true negatives. Results of classification agreement analyses were generally quite low, however, indicating that this method is very poor at detecting true positives. Mean sensitivity and positive predictive value were 21% and 34% across all broad cognitive abilities and academic domains. In sum, results of this study do not support the use of the XBA method for identifying SLD. Results of this study, as well as a reply to commentary on our article by PSW proponents, are in press in the International Journal of School Educational Psychology.

What makes your work interesting?

My primary area of scholarly interest concerns the nature, development, and assessment of intelligence (IQ). Standardized IQ tests have been called psychology’s greatest contribution to society. The overall score on these tests is a better predictor of achievement in school or college, military training programs, and employment in business and industry than any other combination of variables independent of IQ. The interpretation and use of IQ tests, has long been surrounded by controversy, however. Indeed, IQ tests have been used to admit, advance, and employ, but also to deny, track, and institutionalize. Much of my work in recent years has concerned investigating the validity of innovative practices involving the interpretation and use of the results of IQ tests.

What are you currently working on?

My future research agenda involves extension of research on the PSW methods, SLD identification, and valid interpretation of IQ tests. I recently received IRB approval for a study on the cognitive ability profiles of children and youth identified as SLD in a response-to-intervention model. In addition to empirical research, I recently co-authored a textbook on intellectual assessment titled, Assessing Intelligence in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide. Our aim in writing this book was to address the need for an updated, evidence-based, user-friendly resource to meet the training needs of students and practitioners. I also guest edited a special issue of the International Journal of School & Educational Psychology on current practices and future trends in the intellectual assessment of children and youth around the world, which will be published this fall.

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Research Spotlight: Danling Fu

Q & A with Danling Fu, Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning
Danling Fu

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

Currently I have two research projects I have been working on (1) Comparative studies of K-12 Literacy Instruction between the US and China, and (2) Translanguaging pedagogical model and Emergent Bilinguals in the US.

The research question for the first study:

How do the practices of literacy instruction in the US and China reflect their respective cultural and literacy traditions?

The research question for the second study:

How does “translanguaging pedagogical model” prepare emergent bilingual students to meet the literary demands of the 21st century globalize world?

What makes your work interesting?

My comparative study suggests a shift of research on literacy instruction at K-12 level in the US towards a more global perspective, which is part of an ethical and democratic imperative that furthers a conversation among researchers and educators across the globe about literary traditions, pedagogy, and practice and indicates “two divergent systems may use each other as a mirror to reflect up their own perspectives and practices” (Ma, 2014, p. 5).

My second study challenges the conventional monolingual perspective in second language acquisition and transitional bilingual education, and advocates translanguaging, a pedagogical model that values all language varieties in a learner’s repertoire, leveraged as resources that can be used to facilitate communication and learning and has the capacity to meet needs of emergent bilinguals for the 21st century globalized world.

What are you currently working on?

For the first study, with my co-author in China, we have published 15 articles on the comparative studies of writing instruction (2015-2016) and we have just completed and submitted our book manuscript contracted with Shanghai Education Press (in press 2017).  Now we are moving into our second phase: comparative studies of reading instruction between the US and China.  Three secondary English teachers at PK Yonge Developmental Research School have joined my research team as the second phase of this study will include practitioners’ perspective and voice.

For the second study, in collaboration with two colleagues at Pennsylvania State University and University of Georgia, we have been working on a book proposal titled Literacy and Education for Emergent Bilinguals in the 21st Century: Reality, Challenges and Directions for the Future, commissioned with Teachers College Press, and we are at the revised and resubmission stage.

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Research Spotlight: Tina Smith-Bonahue

Q & A with Tina Smith-Bonahue, Associate Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studiestinasmith-bonahue

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

How can professionals working in early childhood settings use authentic, culturally relevant strategies to improve outcomes for vulnerable children? My research seeks to address this question through two lines of inquiry.  One line examines how teachers and other care providers can structure authentic and play-based interactions that promote social and emotional competence and critical thinking in young children. The second line of research explores how teachers and other early childhood professionals can ensure that their work is culturally relevant through meaningful partnerships with families.

What makes your work interesting?

In the past 20 years or so, researchers, policy makers, and even the general public have become aware of the tremendous potential for early education to have a long lasting impact on high-risk children’s developmental outcomes. With this increased attention, high stakes testing and methods to ensure accountability are being applied to preschools, changing and challenging the way we think about early childhood. Similarly, state-funded preschool programs have a mandate to focus on pre-academic and school readiness skills. As a result, studies suggest that time for play is on the decline in preschool classrooms. Since years of scholarship also tell us that play is essential for children’s well-being, finding ways to ensure that play has a place in preschool classrooms has become part of my research agenda.

As more and more children, particularly children from under-resourced communities, have the opportunity to participate in structured preschool experiences, ensuring that these environments are culturally relevant and family-friendly becomes a challenge. When teachers engage families effectively as partners in their children’s learning and development, everyone benefits. But for teachers who are overwhelmed by accountability demands and the day-to-day demands that come with caring for young children, engaging families can seem like a daunting task.

What are you currently working on?

Working with colleagues and graduate students here and at another university, I’ve spent the past several years examining how helping in-service teachers make sense of the diversity among the families of the children they serve. We were also interested in identifying professional development strategies that improve teachers’ ability to engage families in meaningful ways in their classrooms. Our next projects extend this work by examining preservice teachers’ beliefs about diverse families and what kinds of pedagogical strategies best prepare them to form true partnerships with the families of the children they will serve. Of course, understanding the perspectives of professionals is only half the equation in school-family partnerships, so I’ve recently begun a project with our local Head Start to gather data from parents to determine which parent engagement strategies work well, and what barriers prevent them from partnering with their children’s teachers.

Another research team and I have been analyzing the literature on play in early childhood for the past 10 years. Based on this analysis, we will explore teachers’ understanding of the role of play in children’s learning and early education. We’ve also just completed a project examining the effectiveness of children’s literature for teaching very young children emotion vocabulary and social problem solving. We hope to learn specific strategies for using authentic literature to promote social and emotional growth in very young children with developmental disabilities.

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Research Spotlight: Kent Crippen

Q & A with Kent Crippen, Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

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What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research program embraces the grand challenge of providing an inclusive and robust science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) workforce through the design, development, and evaluation of cyberlearning environments—those providing authentic experiences in STEM through the use of networked learning technologies. Currently, the following overarching questions guide this inquiry:

  • What forms of cyberlearning are effective and transformative for addressing the chronic problem of under-representation of specific populations of people in STEM?
  • How can the use of design in this pursuit inform our understanding of learners, the processes of knowing, learning and teaching, as well as amateur and professional development in both formal and informal STEM education contexts?

In the practice of our research, these questions are focused on compelling practical problems that exist in real-world settings that are complex, enduring, and difficult to solve, like the disproportionately low numbers of females pursuing engineering degrees. This work involves the dual purpose of trying to solve the learning problem(s) while at the same time generating new insights related to the processes of learning and the relationships among the people, tools, and context of the problem. Through our work, we seek to describe how learning occurs in a particular setting (for whom?) and to detail the required environmental characteristics for affecting the desired outcomes (under what conditions?).

What makes your work interesting?

The most interesting parts of my work are the people I collaborate with and the problems we try to address together. Collaboration and mentoring are two core values of my research group and they are reflected in all aspects of our work. Collaboration requires an intimate working relationship and melding of priorities among a diverse team of people, including students, policy makers, and researchers with diverse forms of expertise. Successful research involves communication and negotiation in order to leverage the team’s capacity for addressing the problem in a sustainable way while also affording the opportunity to develop our theoretical understanding of the problem itself.

What are you currently working on?

We are currently engaged with three major projects that are funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health, respectively: FOSSIL (DRL-1322725), ChANgE Chem (DUE-124568, 1625378), and CATALySES (SEPA-1R25OD021901-01).

In collaboration with faculty from the Florida Museum of Natural History, FOSSIL is addressing the limited participation by the public in natural history research through a networked community of practice in which amateur and professional paleontologists collaborate in learning, the practice of science, and outreach. We have developed an evidence-based social messaging campaign that is enacted across an ecology of different technologies, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and our own myFOSSIL community site (www.myfossil.org). We are currently investigating activities for amateurs that are situated within the established best practices for paleontology—from planning a field trip to having a specimen included in a museum (both physical and virtual)—including the social spaces where they exist (e.g., face-to-face, virtual, or combination).

Working with colleagues from engineering and chemistry, ChANgE Chem is transforming the general chemistry curriculum for engineering students to a more contextually relevant and engaging experience. This endeavor employs the use of cognitive apprenticeship strategies to develop activities that emulate and make explicit the way engineers think, comprehend, and work. We have re-envisioned the discussion component of the courses (i.e., recitation) with a series of mini-design projects and are currently using our model to transform the laboratory curriculum based upon the Grand Challenges for Engineering.

CATALySES is the continuation of a long-standing collaboration with the UF Center for Pre-Collegiate Education and Training (CPET) on a scientist-teacher partnership model of professional development for secondary teachers. With this current project, we are investigating how the scaffolded process of constructing interactive online materials is mediated by teachers’ classroom experiences and local context to influence the translation of scientist-teacher experiences to their practice.

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Research Spotlight: Brian Reichow

Q & A with Brian Reichow, Associate Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies, Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies
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What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

Broadly speaking, my research is focused on discovering how young children with disabilities learn and the best ways to support them, their families, and individuals who support them and their families. To accomplish this, I have developed multiple lines of research. A primary line of research is examining ways to educate parents and caregivers of young children with disabilities to increase their ability to provide meaningful learning opportunities throughout their child’s day. I have conducted my research on parent education both in the United States, but also through a collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) and other non-governmental organizations throughout the world. A secondary line of research is developing methods to identify evidence-based practices for young children with disabilities and thinking of ways to help practitioners learn how to use these methods to improve the lives of young children and their families.

What makes your work interesting?

I have always found working with young children with disabilities to be very interesting, especially since each child has unique strengths and needs. While I find the differences in children to be one of the most interesting aspects of my work, these differences also create difficulties in that I often need to think outside of the box to solve the same problem in different ways. As my work has expanded internationally, I have had opportunities to meet and engage with people from different cultures and backgrounds, which has been fascinating. Finally, as a member of an interdisciplinary center, I find working with colleagues in different fields and disciplines to be interesting, especially learning varying approaches to similar research questions.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently an Investigator on two federally funded research grants from the US Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences (Goal 2 – Embedded Practices and Interventions for Caregivers, R324A120121, and Goal 3 – Impact of Professional Development on Preschool Teachers’ Use of Embedded Instruction Practices: An Efficacy Trial of Tools for Teachers, R324A150076). I was recently awarded an internal grant from the University of Florida, College of Education as PI to adapt and refine the WHO Parent Skills Training Programme in Zambia, where I will be visiting this month with a colleague to begin planning the adaptation and initial pilot testing of the program. I am currently Co-PI on a Doctoral Leadership Training Grant from the US Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Preparing Leaders in Early Childhood Special Education and Implementation Science, H325D150079).

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Research Spotlight: Joni Williams Splett

Q & A with Joni Williams Splett, Assistant Professor in the School of Special Education, School Psychology, and Early Childhood Studies

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Joni Splett (right) presents research regarding interventions for cyber aggression with UF School Psychology doctoral students at the 21st Annual Conference on Advancing School Mental Health in San Diego, CA

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

How do we improve the mental health and wellness of children and youth? Through my research, I seek to identify strategies that help all children, youth, and their families achieve and maintain positive mental health outcomes. On a systems level, my research is focused on meaningfully interconnecting child-serving systems, such as schools and community mental health agencies, so that resources are multiplicatively enhanced and the delivery of a continuum of evidence-based mental practices is improved. At the student level, my research focuses on preventing and reducing aggressive behaviors through the development and testing of intervention programs for children, families, and schools.

What makes your work interesting?

Children’s mental health is gaining more national and international attention. It is an area most people can agree is important. My research includes systems- and student-level questions with emphasis on the inclusion and integration of families, communities, and schools. In this way, I seek to use resources more effectively to improve access to mental health promotion, prevention and intervention, and associated outcomes. My research questions, thus, include intervention effectiveness, as well as resource allocation, access, and economic impact.

What are you currently working on?

My current systems-level work includes three grant-funded, national projects, while my student-level intervention research program is focused on revising and testing GIRLSS (Growing Interpersonal Relationships through Learning and Systemic Support), a group counseling intervention to reduce relational aggression.

Currently, my largest project is a four-year, multisite randomized control trial of the Interconnected Systems Framework (ISF) funded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). I am co-principal investigator of the study and PI of the Florida site. The ISF is a structure and process for blending education and mental health systems through a multitiered structure of mental health promotion, prevention, and intervention. It interconnects the multitiered system features of School-Wide Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) with the evidence-based mental health practices of community mental health agencies in the school setting. Specifically, key components of the ISF include interdisciplinary collaboration and teaming, data-based decision making, and evidence-based mental health promotion, prevention, and intervention practices. We are in the first of two implementation years for the NIJ-funded randomized control trial and have one year for follow up and sustainability tracking.

My second systems-level project is the development and validation of an action planning fidelity measurement tool for the ISF, called the ISF Implementation Inventory (ISF-II; Splett, Perales, Quell, Eber, Barrett, Putnam, & Weist, 2016). During phase one of this project, we piloted the ISF-II with three school districts in three states to examine the tool’s content and social validity. We revised the measure accordingly and are now testing its reliability, construct validity, and social validity in phase two. I am leading the phase two study in collaboration with the National PBIS Technical Assistance Center’s ISF workgroup, and it currently includes more than 10 school districts in seven states. We aim to include more than 100 schools in our phase two psychometric study of the ISF-II.

The third systems-level project that I am advancing examines the adoption considerations and implementation outcomes of universal mental health screening in schools. Mental health screening is a key data-based decision making component of the ISF, as it is hypothesized to improve identification and access to mental health services for children and youth. Currently, I have several papers under review or in preparation in this area. My major project includes examining the intervention receipt outcomes in schools using a mental health screener. Schools have limited intervention resources, and it is unlikely that every student identified as in need by a universal mental health screener will receive services. My research team is using real-life screening data from schools implementing the ISF, combined with service receipt, teacher survey, and extant student records data, to examine the characteristics of students who receive intervention versus those who do not but are identified by the screener as in need. Our findings will inform recommendations to schools and policy makers for improving the implementation strategies of these screening tools.

At the student level, I am excited to be revising and testing the referral and intervention protocol of GIRLSS. I developed GIRLSS during a practicum placement in graduate school and tested it for my dissertation, but was unable to advance the work during my internship or postdoctoral positions. At UF, I have developed a partnership with Stephen Smith, Ph.D., in the Special Education program, who has successfully developed and tested other interventions to prevent and reduce aggressive behaviors in the school setting. We lead a team of doctoral students who have revised the group counseling curriculum of GIRLSS and conducted a field trial of it with middle school girls attending a local summer camp. Currently, we are writing grant applications to fund further development and testing of our revised referral and intervention protocol.

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Research Spotlight: Albert Ritzhaupt

Q & A with Albert Ritzhaupt, Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

While my research interests are varied, my core research agenda attempts to answer two general research questions: (1) How do you design, develop, and albert-ritzhauptevaluate technology-enhanced learning environments? and (2) What factors influence technology integration into formal educational settings?

These two research questions have led me down a path to study a wide variety of technology-enhanced learning environments, ranging from multimedia learning environments to game-based learning environments. Further, I have studied factors that both facilitate and hinder technology integration in educational environments, such as the digital divide, leadership, and community engagement.

I use a wide variety of research methods to answer my research questions. I employ traditional experimental design research methods for testing many of my instructional designs and innovations in technology-enhanced learning environments. Additionally, I use classical and modern test theory to establish measurement systems to inform my research and the research of others, using procedures such as exploratory factor analysis, confirmatory factor analysis, and more. I have employed literature synthesis and meta-analysis procedures to synthesize across primary studies. I have also used more complex procedures for analyzing larger data sets, including multi-level modeling and structural equation modeling techniques. Although I was never trained to use qualitative measures, over the years, I have added some qualitative techniques to my toolbox, such as the constant comparative method or phenomenology to answer different types of research questions.

What makes your work interesting?

I cannot answer this question for everyone else (you would have to ask others), but I can tell you what makes me passionate about my work. I have seen information and communication technology (ICT) open doors for students, teachers, instructional designers, trainers, and many others. ICT has given us the potential to do things we would not be able to accomplish otherwise, such as visualization, economy of scale, sharing of resources, and more. In all of my research, I try to provide the readers with a theoretical or conceptual framework to understand the empirical aspects of my work.

What are you currently working on?

Like most of us, I have TOO MANY projects going on right now to write about them all. However, I will note two projects that I am presently excited about. The first project is a meta-analysis of the flipped classroom empirical literature. Many educators are moving to a flipped classroom model where homework is done in class via collaborative problem-solving activities (active learning), and lecture is moved to the online space typically as video capture. We have already presented this research to the Association for Educational Communications and Technology (AECT). We are presently working on the manuscript, which we hope to submit to the Review of Educational Research journal.

The second project is a NIH grant funded project where I am a co-Principal Investigator with some excellent researchers in medicine at UF and at UC Denver. The purpose of the grant is first to design and develop a short course focused on estimating power and sample size for longitudinal multi-level model designs. Sample size is an important issue in that if you overestimate, you potentially expose more people to risk than necessary. Conversely, if you underestimate, you may not reach your scientific goals and objectives. We will create a workshop to teach researchers about these ideas, and then create a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) for dissemination on a wider scale.

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Research Spotlight: Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko

Q & A with Pavlo “Pasha” Antonenko, Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My work focuses on two essential questions: “How do people learn with technology?” and “How can we improve learning environments using technology?” I believe strongly that in order to deduce guidelines for effective teaching, we must have a solid understanding of the motivations, contexts, and mechanisms underlying learning. I am very interested in informal learning because informal, and often incidental, learning experiences precede formal education, and I think there is much to be learned about improving formal education in K-12 schools and colleges by examining how people learn individually and in groups outside the formal classroom environment.

UF President Kent Fuchs is trying on one of the EEG headsets used in Dr. Antonenko’s NeurAL Lab, http://www.antonenko.org/lab

UF President Kent Fuchs is trying on one of the EEG headsets used in Dr. Antonenko’s NeurAL Lab, http://www.antonenko.org/lab.

What makes your work interesting?

When I study learning, I focus on both the outcomes (or products) of learning and the processes underlying learning within diverse groups of learners. Traditionally, educational researchers have focused primarily on learning outcomes. However, the problem with that is if we only focus on outcomes we have little understanding of why certain learners succeed in certain contexts and using certain tools, while others do not. What makes my work interesting and useful, I think, is I cross traditional disciplinary boundaries and try to use the research methods and tools used by cognitive psychologists, neuroscientists, and computer and information scientists to study the mechanisms underlying learning. One example is my contribution regarding the use of Electroencephalography, or EEG, in educational research. I use EEG to study the dynamics of cognitive processing during learning. Tools like EEG allow us to record and study the rhythms of our brain waves and based on the analysis of brain wave synchronization we can infer the levels of working memory load, or the intensity of cognitive processing, at any point of time during the learning process.

Dr. Antonenko’s PhD student Claudia Grant and PK Yonge teachers Taylor Whitley, Mayra Cordero, Tredina Sheppard, and Rudy Simpson assemble a 3D printer for the iDigFossils project.

Dr. Antonenko’s PhD student Claudia Grant and PK Yonge teachers Taylor Whitley, Mayra Cordero, Tredina Sheppard, and Rudy Simpson assemble a 3D printer for the iDigFossils project.

What are you currently working on?

I am currently working on a variety of research projects, funded by the National Science Foundation and University of Florida, to study optimal conditions for learning with technology. For example, Project LENS focuses on establishing an interdisciplinary collaborative network of scholars that use Electroencephalography, eye tracking, and functional Near Infrared Spectroscopy to understand multimedia learning within a diverse population of students that exhibit attentional and cognitive differences. iDigFossils is a project focused on improving K-12 education. Specifically, its goal is to expand and extend our understanding of integrated Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) learning by designing and testing a model for student engagement using 3D scanning and printing technologies, as well as computational modeling with statistical language R within a highly relevant but unexplored educational pathway to K-12 STEM – paleontology. My other projects are described here: http://www.antonenko.org/lab

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Research Spotlight: Maria Coady

Q & A with Maria Coady, Associate Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

Maria Coady (center) with teachers and teacher-educators in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine.

Maria Coady (center) with teachers and teacher-educators in Kryvyi Rih, Ukraine.

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I enjoy finding innovative solutions to complex educational problems related to second (English) language and literacy development.  My work broadly investigates how teachers and students navigate the linguistic spaces in which they participate.  So I investigate how to prepare teachers to work with English learners (ELs) in those spaces in ways that affirm and build upon their linguistic and cultural knowledge.

My research in the US looks primarily at Spanish speakers, who comprise about 80% of our English-learning student population, and I look at the biliteracy development of those students as demonstrated in their writing.  I also want to ensure that that parents and caregivers are part of the overall educational experience of their children. We understand the importance of parental participation in student success, so I look to identify culturally- and linguistically-responsive ways to facilitate parental participation.

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Maria Coady with a young student in Santiago, Dominican Republic during merienda (snack time), in our emergent literacy in Spanish classroom.

What makes your work interesting?

The people!  I am fortunate to work with incredible teachers, families, and community organizations who really make a difference in the lives of people.  Over the past few years, I have focused on a significant amount of teacher professional development in the international arena.  I have met teachers and educators from around the world who are dedicated to making a difference in the lives of their bi- and multilingual students.

This international work has reminded me of the diverse landscape of World Englishes, and the rich linguistic resources of children and families around the world. Over the past three years, I have worked with teachers and educators in Ukraine, China, the United Arab Emirates, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic (in Spanish for emergent Spanish literacy), and South Africa.  Some of this work is funded by the Fulbright Commission under the US State Department. This coming summer, I hope to take a group of UF students on a study abroad to the Republic of Ireland to observe bilingual schools there called Gaelscoileanna.

Maria Coady with Amber Peretz (UF COE ProTeach student) and Ava Long (UF) with a student in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

Maria Coady with Amber Peretz (UF COE ProTeach student) and Ava Long (UF) with a student in Santiago, Dominican Republic.

What are you currently working on?

Locally, I have been working with rural school districts in Florida and am particularly interested in the challenges that teachers, students, and families face in rural contexts where resources are limited.  I will be looking closely at teacher education in rural contexts and building family-school partnerships for English learning families and students. Rural settings are often overlooked in the national conversation on “high-quality teacher education.”  I am in the process of writing a book on this topic and hope to have it published within the next two years.

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Research Spotlight: Justin Ortagus

Ortagus_Justin

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My work is typically at the intersection of innovation and higher education. The primary research question driving my scholarship relates to the growing influence of online education and technology in higher education. Colleges and universities are often referenced as slow to adopt change in any form, but the use of computer-mediated instruction and information technology (IT) has become the new normal. My basic objective is to provide generalizable evidence pertaining to the impact of these relatively new technologies. In addition to questions related to online education and technology, I’m also interested in examining organizational responses to various broad-based policies and external pressures affecting the provision of higher education.

What makes your work interesting?

To answer this question, I’ll narrow the scope to focus on my work related to examining the effectiveness of online education in higher education. I’m not a futurist or someone who believes that online education can serve as a panacea for all of higher education’s problems, but computer-mediated instruction has the potential to offer relief to some fundamental issues facing colleges and universities, such as continually rising costs. Despite the potential for cost savings, faculty and administrators at many colleges and universities have questions regarding how effective online education has been in maintaining (or improving) the academic outcomes of various student populations across institution types. Surprisingly, nobody really knows the answer to these questions. My work seeks to fill that void by providing nationally generalizable evidence of the effectiveness of online education in higher education.

What are you currently working on?

I’m currently working on several projects. First, I have two studies in which I provide generalizable evidence of (1) the profile of postsecondary online students and (2) the effect of online enrollment on several academic outcomes. Second, I’m examining the extent to which IT spending influences the makeup of higher education personnel. Finally, I’m also working on a collaborative project with Dr. Dennis Kramer in which we explore the role of no-loan programs on the post-baccalaureate enrollment choices of first-generation students. This work is funded by the Association for Institutional Research and the Access Group Center for Research and Policy Analysis.

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Research Spotlight: Jacqueline Swank

Jacqueline Swank

The highest peak in Haiti

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

My research focuses primarily on two populations. The first population is children and adolescents and their families. In regards to this population, my research seeks to answer the question, “How can we address the emotional and behavioral needs of children and adolescents to help them reach academic success?”

The second population focuses on counselors, counseling students, and counselor educators. Instrument development has been included within this strand of research. I focus on answering the question, “How can we assess and promote counseling competency in order to provide quality care to clients?”

What makes your work interesting?

My work with children and adolescents has a strong emphasis on outcome and intervention-based research. This has involved collaborating with school counselors to measure the effectiveness of their interventions with students. Additionally, my work in this area has involved my research team facilitating interventions within the school setting. One aspect of this work that is particularly interesting is the piece focused on nature and play based interventions. I have developed an approach called Nature-Based Child-Centered Play Therapy (NBCCPT), and I have also developed a curriculum for using therapeutic gardening with at-risk children. I grew up on a farm and also worked in a wilderness program with adolescents who were at-risk. The power of nature inherent in these experiences inspires my work in this area.

Jacqueline Swank

Engaging in a role play with a training participant in Haiti

My work in promoting counseling competencies has included assisting with the development of an instrument to measure the competencies of counselors and counselors in training (Counselor Competencies Scale; CCS), which began during my dissertation work and has recently been revised (CCS-R). This instrument is used by more than 50 counselor preparation programs in the United States and by programs and researchers in 7 other countries. My work in this area also focuses on gatekeeping, and assessing the effectiveness of training approaches.

What are you currently working on?

Jacqueline Swank

Helping Ugandan children write their stories (who they are) in English

Currently, my work with children and adolescents continues to involve collaborations with school counselors related to measuring the effectiveness of school counseling interventions. I am also working with a colleague on initiatives focused on bullying prevention and intervention. This involves interventions with middle school students and a national survey of school counselors regarding their work in this area.

In regards to counseling competencies, I am currently working on developing two instruments. One instrument is focused on measuring counseling competencies from the client’s perspective, which aligns with the CCS. The second instrument is focused on measuring a specialized area of counseling competency. I am also examining the use of peer feedback in the development of counseling competencies for counselors in training.

Jacqueline Swank

Teaching children a game outside in Uganda

Recently, I have also begun some international work in countries where the presence of counselors is limited. This work has involved training teachers and church leaders in using basic helping skills and evaluating the effectiveness of the trainings. I went to Haiti this summer and conducted training with teachers and church leaders. I also traveled to Uganda in the summer of 2015 to teach children at two orphanages/schools.

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Research Spotlight: Corinne Huggins-Manley

Corinne Manley

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

All of my methodological research seeks to overcome challenges to the practice and interpretation of quantitative measurements of latent constructs. Outside of academia, it is taken for granted that we can assign numbers to concepts such as “academic achievement” or “self-esteem,” and it is often assumed that those numbers are either accurate representations of such concepts or inaccurate only within some quantifiable margin of error.

There is little appreciation for the statistical challenges to measurement and the process of validating inferences made from such measurements. Inside the world of academia, there is more awareness about the challenges to quantifying latent constructs but still some difficulties in recognizing and meeting those challenges. Research in educational measurement is aimed at improving our abilities to overcome such challenges so that valid information can be gleaned from the measurement of education-related constructs. I aim to advance the field of educational measurement with research on topics such as item response theory, fairness in reporting subgroup test scores within and across schools and teachers, scale development and score use validity, and statistical model building that can help practitioners to overcome issues such as non-response bias.

What makes your work interesting?

My work is interesting because it directly tackles many of the problems that occur with respect to measurement in educational research, policy, and practice. In educational research, the ability to use statistics to analyze data and answer research questions hinges in large part on the measurement quality of the variables being studied. However, measurement courses are often not required for doctoral students in the social sciences and many researchers have noted that a lack of attention to measurement has become the Achilles’ heel to social science research. In educational policy and practice, many measurement demands have been mandated onto educators over the past few decades, often by persons who are not trained in measurement or the validity of test score interpretations. The ramifications of such policies have been widely felt in the educational community, and I believe many of them stem from the lack of understanding about what measurement is and what it can (and cannot) tell us about students, teachers, and learning. I focus my research on topics that can improve these conditions in educational research, policy, and practice.

What are you currently working on?

I have four projects in progress that I am very excited about. One is related to assumptions of item response theory models and how we can best test for violations of them. Increasing the availability of accurate methods for testing measurement model assumptions is critical for ensuring the appropriate use and interpretations of parameter estimates produced from such models. A second is related to the development of two statistical models that allow for the incorporation of simultaneous nominal and ordinal within-item response data. The availability of models such as these would allow practitioners and researchers to more easily and appropriately model non-responses on tests and surveys such as “not applicable” responses on Likert scales. The third is an applied measurement project in which I am co-developing an adaptive, diagnostic assessment of reading skills for students in grades 3 to 5. The fourth is a continuation of my research on subpopulation item parameter drift and its relationship to differential item functioning and equating invariance. These three phenomena are statistical manifestations of measurement bias, which pose problems for achieving standards of fairness in large-scale educational testing.

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Research Spotlight: Angela Kohnen

Angela Kohnen

Q & A with Angela Kohnen, Assistant Professor in the School of Teaching and Learning

What basic questions does your research seek to answer?

I am very interested in understanding the teaching of writing and the role of writing in classrooms across the curriculum, K-12. Some of the questions I hope to answer include: how do teachers across the curriculum learn to incorporate writing into their classrooms? What are the most effective ways to prepare teachers to teach writing? How does the teaching of writing impact student and teacher identity?

We are in an interesting place when it comes to writing instruction. The Common Core State Standards have brought more attention to writing instruction than we’ve had for years, but the standardized writing tests have also created a lot of pressure. In some places, we see more formulaic instruction rather than authentic writing, which I find troubling.

What makes your work interesting?

Everything! I love my work. I feel very privileged that I get to ask interesting questions, explore the answers, and write about all of this for a living. Writing and writing instruction can be very powerful. I have worked with teachers in a wide range of classrooms, including elementary, secondary English, science, welding, construction, and culinary arts, and in each context we have been able to find ways that writing enhances the curriculum and helps students develop into the kind of people the teachers were hoping they would become. It isn’t always easy, but that’s also what makes the work interesting. For example, coming to understand how writing can help students become welders—learn to think like welders and enact the processes of welding—that’s fascinating! I’m most engaged when I am working in fields and places where I can learn too.

What are you currently working on?

My colleagues in English Education and I are beginning a long-term study on how teachers think about and enact their role as writing teachers. We hope to work with our secondary English Education students from the time they begin our program into their first years in the field to understand how they make sense of the competing demands they face as teachers of writing. Each day, in each lesson, teachers are influenced by so many different factors: the way they were taught themselves; the curriculum they’ve been given or are creating; their students’ expectations and preparation; standardized testing; and, we hope, what they learn in a teacher preparation program. How that all plays out in their actual instruction is something we want to understand more.

I am also continuing work with colleagues at the University of Missouri-St. Louis on the teaching of nonfiction writing at the elementary level, something emphasized in the Common Core State Standards. We see this attention to nonfiction writing as an opportunity to engage students in authentic questions and information seeking—to really foster student curiosity, something that notoriously diminishes as students move through school.