C&I creating the future of education with solid foundation in research

by the College of Education at Illinois   /   Oct 04, 2016

Curriculum and Instruction

The Department of Curriculum & Instruction (C&I) has long been a leader in exploring complex issues of educational practice, with research that translates into improved teacher preparation and learning outcomes in schools and other educational contexts.

David Brown, interim department head and an associate professor, said current C&I faculty members are drawing on the achievements of the past while forging ahead with the department’s legacy.

“A lot of what people talk about in teacher education comes from here,” he said. “Most of our faculty members are internationally known for their research. That research contributes strongly to the department’s ranking of 10th in the nation in 2016 by US News & World Report.”

Asking hard questions, exploring key issues

Panel discussions were organized in the spring of 2016 to promote the department’s mission of sharing valuable research. Students and colleagues of C&I faculty were invited to participate in conversations about complex issues of educational practice that focused on four research areas: testing and evaluation, learning environments, equity and access, and teacher education. The discussions drew campuswide interest and attention from the Urbana-Champaign community. 

“Those are areas the whole department sees as having strengths,” Brown said. “We didn’t know how much interest we would draw, but all four panels were standing-room only in the largest room in the College. For a couple of events we had an overflow room with streaming video.”

The four panels covered whether or not testing should be abolished; what learning environments of the future might look like; the treatment of blacks, Latina/o, and immigrants in schools; and getting the profession of teaching back on track. 

“We don’t shy away from problems,” Brown said. “We ask the hard questions and then find research methods that help us address those issues so we can make teaching and learning better. That’s the strength of C&I.”

C&I researchers often use alternative methods that allow them to examine the complexities of situations and then analyze important issues. For example, Professor Sarah Lubienski’s in-depth analyses of national, large-scale data and local classrooms show how home, school, and other factors relate to gender and race/ethnicity disparities in mathematics outcomes.

In a July Forbes article, Lubienski weighed in on the controversy surrounding the positive assessment of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered by many the “nation’s report card” on mathematics. NAEP data revealed increased Main NAEP scores and stabilization of the more traditional Long Term Trend measure of math proficiency.

“There is still room for improvement, as well as for greater equity in the distribution of high-quality mathematics instruction in the U.S.,” said Lubienski, who noted Main NAEP scores at grades four and eight have increased substantially since 1990, plateauing only recently.

Influencing policy, shaping education

The research produced and shared through C&I influences policy and shapes how teachers teach in Illinois and nationally.

“While one book or one study isn’t going to change the world,” Brown said, “it can get the ball rolling. The more we can advocate for ideas that genuinely make sense, as opposed to some kneejerk political reactions and actions that a lot of times influence policy, the better off we will be.”

The department advocates in many ways, including through courses for educators, through research findings, and through sharing ideas and potential solutions to problems with a variety of stakeholders.

“We will continue to promote high-quality research and continue to hire high-quality researchers who deal with complex issues of educational practice,” Brown said. “We look at the big picture of what’s happening in schools, what’s going on in learning environments that have a lot of complex issues, and how we can think about those things and come up with ways of teaching and learning that are genuinely going to be transformative for teachers and students.”

Recent C&I News

  • Luc Paquette, a data-mining researcher, is a new assistant professor in the department.
  • Gloriana Gonzàlez, an associate professor, was granted a $711,000+ CAREER award from the National Science Foundation.
  • Robb Lindgren, an assistant professor, and David Brown, department head, received a $1.4 million grant from the National Science Foundation for the study “Embodied Explanatory Expressions for Facilitating Science Reasoning and Enhancing Interactive Simulations.”
  • Professor Emeritus Art Baroody received a $1.38 million grant from the National Science Foundation for a four-year project that will refine the electronic Test of Early Numeracy.
  • Barbara Hug, a clinical associate professor, received an $853,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to study an integrative approach to late quaternary climate change. She was also awarded a $265,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to research global climate change, evolution, and societal well-being.
  • Emma Mercier and Luc Paquette, both assistant professors, received a $1.35 million National Science Foundation grant for a study that will explore how tools to manage the teaching of collaborative activities can be developed and used to support problem-solving in core engineering courses.
  • Professor Sarah Lubienski received a PROSE Award from the Association of American Publishers Professional and Scholarly Excellence for Best Book in Education Theory.