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FERA selects Leite as 2018 Educational Researcher of the Year

Walter Leite, professor of research and evaluation methodology, has been recognized as the 2018 Educational Researcher of the Year by the Florida Educational Research Association (FERA).

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UF awarded $10M to personalize online math learning

The UF College of Education is assembling top faculty researchers from multiple fields to seek solutions in two critical areas of 21st century education – personalizing online math instruction and adapting educational technology for students with visual impairments.

The studies are funded by two grants, worth more than $10 million combined, from the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of the U.S. Department of Education.

Massive data mining for personalized learning

Nearly $9 million of the grant money supports a new project called Precision Education: Virtual Learning Lab, which bring together top experts in informatics, math education and professional development for teachers. Their charge is to advance a new approach for exploring massive sets of student data to update and personalize virtual instruction for math students.

Carole Beal

Carole Beal

“With the increased use of computers in education, the large-scale mining of existing education data represents a big new opportunity for computers to help teachers adapt their practice for today’s digltal world and help their students to improve their virtual learning,” said UF education technology Professor Carole R. Beal, the principal investigator of both studies.

The new Virtual Learning Lab comprises faculty researchers at UF and the University of Notre Dame, and experts from Study Edge, a Gainesville-based online tutoring company.

Over the next five years, the researchers will conduct studies in the emerging discipline known as precision education, which uses education data from prior students—such as standardized test scores, personal traits, teaching methods used and school administrative records—to personalize the learning experience for future students.

No more one-size-fits-all lesson plans geared to some “statistically average” student profile.

The researchers will focus on online or virtual learners, relying on the hot, new education technology of “big data” learning analysis. Their approach has them using powerful “supercomputers” to rapidly scrutinize the massive education data, plus figures from students’ use of interactive or group learning tools.

“Our grand challenge is to improve the achievement of struggling online students,” said Beal, who was recruited from the University of Arizona in 2014 to head the new UF Online Learning Institute. “We will design new teacher development programs on the use of learning analytics and personalizing instruction, and how to track student progress when every student is doing something unique.”

Researchers at the Virtual Learning Lab will develop and test their personalized model of precision education on a popular online tutoring tool called Algebra Nation, which the UF Lastinger Center for Learning launched in 2013 in tandem with Study Edge. Algebra Nation has since been used by more than 3,000 teachers and 200,000 math students from all 67 Florida school districts—mostly ninth graders gearing up for the mandatory end-of-course exam in algebra 1.

The researchers delight at the wealth of revealing learning data the Algebra Nation students and program are generating. Near the end of the study, researchers will compare test results of students using the updated and personalized version of Algebra Nation with the scores of students who used the regular version.

Beal said the Virtual Learning Lab also will serve as a national hub for researchers nationwide—forming a network for sharing findings and collaborating on new efforts to advance the fledgling field of virtual precision education and personalized learning.

“Our findings in the Virtual Learning Lab project will serve as a national model for a new approach to developing online learning systems,” she said.

The project’s co-principal investigator is Walter Leite, UF professor of research and evaluation methodologies (REM) with expertise in big-data mining and learning analysis. Other College of Education faculty researchers involved are: Corrine Huggins-Manley (REM), and Don Pemberton and Philip Poekert from the college’s Lastinger Center for Learning.

Two other participating UF faculty scholars are: George Michailidis, director of the UF Informatics Institute; and Juan Gilbert, chairman of computer and information sciences and engineering, and a pioneer in the field of human-centered computing.

Other key team members are psychology and computer science professor Sidney D’Mello of the University of Notre Dame and online tutoring specialist Ethan Fieldman of Study Edge. 

Helping students with sight impairments solve online math problems with graphics

The theme of personalized online learning carries over to Beal’s second federal grant, a three-year, $1.4 million project to help solve the unique challenges that blind and visually impaired students must overcome in learning online.

Think about it: How can students who can’t see the images on their computer screen solve algebra or geometry problems filled with line, bar and circle graphs, figures, geometric shapes and maps?

Beal sought solutions to help these students for several years while at Arizona, and she is expanding her studies now with her new UF colleagues. She said one of her ongoing research interests is to explore how technology can make online learning more accessible to students with special needs.

“In my investigations, I have found that students who appear disengaged in the traditional classroom are often among the most active learners in the online learning setting,” she said.

N.-Gage

Nicholas Gage

Beal has assembled a research team with colleagues from both Arizona and Florida to explore how technology can make online learning more accessible to students with special needs. They are Nicholas Gage from UF’s special education program as co-principal investigator, and, from Arizona, Sunggye Hong and L. Penny Rosenblum, both education researchers in disability and psycho-educational studies.

The researchers will develop and test an iPad-based instructional system to train students with visual impairments to locate and decipher targeted information in math graphics problems. The system includes audio, print and braille cues in accompanying books to point users to targeted graphics and word problems.

Beal said they plan to recruit up to 150 middle and high school students with visual impairments for the project from regular schools and specialized residential programs in Florida, Arizona and other states.

“Some of our students will be from regular schools and receiving special education services, while others attend specialized residential programs such as the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind in St. Augustine,” Beal said.

Dean Glenn Good of the UF College of Education called the federal grants awarded to Beal’s research teams “a major accomplishment in light of how extremely competitive it is to win major awards in education research.”

“The big winners from these projects,” Good said, “will be the struggling students who will benefit from the enhanced learning tools and teaching strategies that will help them succeed in their technology-based learning activities.”


SOURCE: Carole R. Beal, 352-273-4178; crbeal@coe.ufl.edu
WRITER
: Larry Lansford, communications director, UF College of Education; 352-273-4137;
llansford@coe.ufl.edu

 

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UF Research Foundation recognizes education scholar with elite professorship

LEITE, Walter

Scholar Walter Leite is the College of Education’s newest winner of a UF Research Foundation Professorship.

One way Walter Leite explains the complex statistical methods he uses to measure the effectiveness of educational programs is with the old analogy of comparing apples to apples.

The associate professor in UF’s Research and Evaluation Methods program works with massive amounts of information (so-called “big data”) to analyze the effectiveness of teaching tools and educational programs, using measures such as standardized scores, end-of-courses assessments, surveys and observation protocols.

“I try to get around the selection-bias problem, the fact that there are apples and oranges,” when analyzing datasets with upwards of 1 million or more variables, he said while explaining one of the sophisticated tools he uses – “propensity score analysis” – to analyze massive amounts of data.

“My niche is extremely large data sets with lots of variables and I try to find the evidence for program effectiveness based on that data,” the Brazilian-born scholar said.

Leite sat down for an interview recently after being awarded a prestigious University of Florida Research Foundation (UFRF) Professorship, which provides three-year awards to tenured faculty for outstanding research and to provide incentives for continued excellence.

The award recognizes the growing importance of Leite’s work at a time of increasing government mandates related to school accountability, such as the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act.

Leite’s research has been in collaboration with the UF’s Lastinger Center for Learning, where his work has helped evaluate large projects such as Algebra Nation and the Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) program.

Last year, Leite and a research assistant received the Florida Educational Research Association’s Distinguished Paper Award for evaluating the TLSI degree program by using statistical models to follow 78 third- through fifth-grade teachers over a decade. Their study showed that students exposed to these teachers had improved their Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT) math and reading scores, and reduced their school absences.

More recently, Leite and his team received a $1.6 million grant from the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Early Learning to evaluate the effectiveness of a statewide pilot project to provide pre-K teachers special training and coaching as a way to improve the learning of children getting ready to enter kindergarten.

David Miller, former coordinator of REM and now director of the School of Human Development and Organizational Studies in Education, said Leite’s UFRF professorship is well deserved — and increasingly important because of government requirements, such as tying school funding to student assessment scores. These mandates are proving controversial public policy, and a lot is riding on whether these accountability standards are really improving schools, teaching and learning.

“We need folks like Walter working on that,” Miller said. “It’s very complex, but the implications are very important to measure the effectiveness of social science and educational programs.”

Leite’s work is supported by a half-dozen grants, enough work to keep him so busy as to not allow time to teach. But Leite is an enthusiastic teacher. His structural equation modeling course this semester has attracted two dozen grad students from across the university, from the fields of criminology, forestry, psychology, immunology and more, who need to learn how to analyze big data.


 

Contacts
    Source: Walter Leite, College of Education, walter.leite@coe.ufl.edu; phone 352-273-4302
    Writer: Charles Boisseau, College of Education Office of News and Communications; cboisseau@coe.ufl.edu; phone 352-273-3449

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UF education researchers out in force at massive AERA meeting

(Click here for PDF listing of UFCOE presentations)

AERA 2014 banner

For years, the massive annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association has been a hotbed of the latest research and new ideas about teaching-and-learning practices and policies. This year, nearly 70 UF College of Education faculty and advanced-degree students were among the 14,000 international scholars who  converged on Philadelphia April 3-7 for the 2014 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association to examine critical issues of education research and public policy.

More UF education faculty and students, from multiple disciplines, attend AERA’s massive annual meeting than any other professional gathering. The UF contingent included 31 faculty members and 37 graduate and postdoctoral students in education.

This year’s conference theme was “The Power of Education Research for Innovation in Practice and Policy.” UF presentations included pertinent topics such as:

— Ambitious teaching within standards-based settings: Lost in the translation?

— The influence of family-school involvement on children’s social, emotional and academic development

— Preservice teachers’ personality traits and creative behaviors as predictors of their support for children’s creativity

— Social networks’ influence on first-generation Latino students’ college selection and enrollment

— The role of practitioner research in preparing the next generation of teacher educators

— Black doctoral student perspective on their persistence in a research-intensive education college

— Success in teacher learning through an online coaching course

— School improvement for early childhood teachers

The busiest COE faculty attendees were Walter Leite (research and evaluation methodology) with six presentations, and Anne Huggins (REM) and Nancy Dana (teacher education) with four each. Five other faculty members and three graduate students were involved in three presentations each.


CONTACT:
Writer: Larry Lansford, director, news & communications, UF College of Education | 352-273-4137 | llansford@coe.ufl.edu 

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COE researchers out in force at AERA’s massive annual meeting

(Click here for PDF listing of UFCOE presentations)

For years, the massive annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association has been a hotbed of the latest research and new ideas about teaching-and-learning practices and policies. This year, some 65 UF College of Education faculty and students participated in the 2013 meeting April 27-May 1 in San Francisco, joining 14,000 other education scholars from 75 nations. 

This year’s meeting theme focused on the relationships of education and poverty—how education theory, research, policy and praxis contribute to alleviating economic, intellectual and moral poverty.

Mirka Koro-Ljungberg...4 AERA presentations

Mirka Koro-Ljungberg              …4 AERA presentations

More UF education scholars, from multiple disciplines, attend AERA’s annual meeting than any other professional gathering. The EduGator contingent in San Francisco included 34 college faculty and 31 graduate students participating in presentations, panel discussions and association-related business meetings.

The UF presentations included hot education topics such as:

  • The effect of charter schools on student achievement
  • How neighborhoods contribute to children’s language and literacy development
  • Games and simulation courses in education technology
  • Analyzing the urban middle school transition and persistently disciplined students
  • Does teacher preparation for English Language Learners matter?
  • Leadership standards and accountability in Florida: Do they address poverty and social justice issues?
  • Supply and demand context for special-education teacher preparation reform
  • Writing instruction: What do preservice teachers know?

The busiest COE faculty attendees were Walter Leite and Mirka Koro-Ljungberg (both from research and evaluation methods), with four presentations each. Mary Brownell (special education), Ester de Jong (ESOL/bilingual education), Bernie Oliver (education leadership) and Albert Ritzhaupt (education technology) each made three presentations.

The complete AERA annual meeting program is available online at www.aera.net

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WRITER: Larry Lansford, director, news and communications, UF College of Education; llansford@coe.ufl.edu; 352-273-4137

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UF education researchers recognized at state research conference

Several University of Florida education researchers were honored at this year’s Florida Educational Research Association annual meeting, hosted last month by the College of Education at UF’s Hilton Conference Center Hotel.

Walter Leite, an associate professor of research and evaluation methodology (REM), and his research assistant Francisco Jimenez, a Ph.D. student, received the conference’s Distinguished Paper Award. They were recognized for their paper evaluating the effects of the Teacher Leadership for School Improvement (TLSI) degree program offered for prekindergarten through 12th-grade teachers. The graduate program is a joint project of the college’s School of Teaching and Learning and the UF Lastinger Center for Learning.

Leite and Jimenez developed statistical models following 10 years of performance by 78 third- through fifth-grade teachers’ who are currently enrolled or graduated from the program. They compared the teachers’ effects on students they had taught prior to their TLSI coursework to their effects after joining the program.

The study revealed that the students exposed to these teachers had improved their FCAT math and reading scores, and reduced their school absences.

“The most important finding of our study is that the TLSI program, which is unique to the College of Education and the Lastinger Center, is positively affecting schools,” Leite said. “It also shows that the work done by the college and Lastinger Center matters.”

Koro-Ljungberg

Also recognized at the conference was professor Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, who received the Educational Researcher of the Year award for her contributions to educational research. Koro-Ljungberg is a professor in REM. In the past two years, she has authored or co-authored 11 peer-reviewed papers.

For Koro-Ljungberg, a qualitative researcher, the award came as a surprise because quantitative research is often seen as dominant, she said. Qualitative research is the practice of analyzing personal and narrative accounts, such as interviews, focus groups, observations, artifacts and oral histories. On the other hand, quantitative research often involves larger samples and relies on numbers and statistics.

“I hope this will motivate people to do more and present more qualitative research in the future,” she said.

Others honored at the meeting were UF doctoral students Kristi Cheyney (in special education), Nicole Jean-Paul (school psychology) and Jean Theurer (REM), who received awards for the best overall project posters.

For more information about the Florida Educational Research Association, visit feraonline.org.


CONTACTS:
SOURCE: Walter Leite, 352-273-4302, walter.leite@coe.ufl.edu
SOURCE: Mirka Koro-Ljungberg, 352-273-4304, koro-ljungberg@coe.ufl.edu
WRITER: Alexa Lopez, 352-273-4449, aklopez@coe.ufl.edu
MEDIA RELATIONS: Larry Lansford, 352-273-4137, llansford@coe.ufl.edu