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College of Education Research & Engagement Bureau of Educational Research College Research Awards Fall 2020 COVID-19 Seed Funding Awards

COVID-19 Seed Awards

Fall 2020 COVID-19 Seed Funding Awards

Fall 2020 Awards


Access and Engagement in Online Doctor of Education Programs During the Dual Pandemic

Hyun-Sook Kang, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, PI; Jon Hale, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Co-PI; Nicholas Burbules, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership; Co-PI; Yoon Pak, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Co-PI

The proposed project aims to critically examine and then improve access in the online Doctor of Education (Ed.D.) program at the University of Illinois, at a time when we are facing a dual pandemic – the coronavirus and a national crisis around inequity and violence against Black lives. Illinois established an online Ed.D. program four years ago, and over 40 percent of the students enrolled in the program are from marginalized backgrounds. This project will have two parts. First, a systematic review of the literature on the intersections of access and online teaching in higher education will be conducted to examine differential performance in online postsecondary programs, addressing the following questions: (1) What are the technical, structural, and personal factors that influence “access” in online higher education? and (2) What types of cognitive, emotional, and behavioral engagement are demonstrated in online contexts, and how do they relate to learning outcomes? Next, a data-driven study will be conducted to address these questions in the context of Illinois’ online Ed.D. program, administering an adapted version of a student engagement questionnaire to the program’s enrolled students, covering demographic background and cognitive, behavioral, and emotional aspects of learner engagement. Findings will be used to develop improved instructional strategies and modes to foster greater engagement and success.

Virtual Writing Intervention for Low-Income, Below-Proficient High School Writers

Amber Ray, Special Education, PI

There is an urgent need for research in effective online instruction to build writing skills among high school students who aim to go to college, but are below-proficient writers, and from low-income households. This project will build writing-to-learn skills with 40–50 students in 11th grade from the Harlem Children’s Zone program, focusing on informative and argumentative writing from sources.. In spring 2021, an 8-week online writing intervention will be conducted, using the self-regulated strategy development (SRSD) instructional approach. Students will receive online writing instruction in a small group setting and individualized supports from highly trained writing coaches throughout the writing intervention, facilitated by Prompt, a writing-specific learning management system and instruction delivery platform. All instruction will be provided by writing coaches from Prompt who will receive professional development on implementing SRSD instruction. Educational outcomes will be assessed prior to, and following, the intervention, measuring informative and argumentative writing skills, sources skills, and sentence-level writing skills (grammar and cohesion). Students who participate will partake in a survey after completing the intervention activities.

Educating Undergraduates About Racial Microaggressions, Using a Serious Educational Game

Jennifer Cromley, Educational Psychology, PI; Andrea Kunze, Educational Psychology, Graduate Student; Esther Whang, Educational Psychology, Undergraduate

Racial microaggressions have emerged as important predictors of stress and attitudes towards academic spaces within Predominantly White Institutions (PWIs). Racial attitudes, such as perceptions of the racial climate and knowledge of microaggressions, often differ between White students and Black, Latinx, and students of other races, due to individual and systemic differences in experiences with race. White majority students are known to be less likely to “see” or prioritize issues around racism.  This project aims to assess the effectiveness of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Fair Play serious educational game to teach undergraduate students about racial microaggressions in STEM. The attitudes and knowledge of 100 Fair Play participants will be compared, before and afterward. These findings will be compared with those from 100 students playing a PBS Nova Evolution simulation. This project will also pioneer an innovation in data collection method by re-purposing the Proctorio testing platform as a tool to gather participant data. This could result in an important new tool usable by a wide range of social science researchers. This project will yield evidence about how undergraduates can be educated on a large scale about racial microaggressions and their deleterious impacts on learning and retention.

Exploring the Transfer Receptive Culture for Latinx Community College Students at the University of Illinois During COVID-19

José Del Real Viramontes, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, PI; Marielisbet Perez, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Graduate Student; Tasha Robles, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Graduate Student

Studies show that Latinx students who begin their postsecondary education at a community college have high aspirations to transfer to a four-year institution and obtain a bachelor's degree, however, only a small percentage accomplish this goal. A recent report showed that 49% of Latinx students enrolled in community colleges in Illinois are enrolled in transfer programs, but it is less clear how many of them actually transfer to a four-year institution. This motivates a need for higher education scholars, researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to examine the extent to which four-year institutions offer a culture receptive to Latinx transfer students during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has left higher education with more questions than answers regarding transfer. One challenge is that without the proper support, aspiring transfer students can fall off-course, increasing the challenges they may need to face for making a successful transfer to a four-year institution. This case study will explore how the University of Illinois is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic by enhancing or developing a culture receptive to Latinx community college transfer students. Findings will provide recommendations that academic and student success practitioners can use to enhance or establish transfer policies, practices, and programming to support Latinx transfer students' specific needs at the University of Illinois.

Developing Robust Methods for Evaluating Policy Impacts in the Time of COVID-19

Ge Jiang, Educational Psychology, PI; Lixin Wu, Educational Psychology, Graduate Student; Tianshu Qu, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Undergraduate Student

Impact evaluation is an important cause-and-effect technique for policymakers to assess the changes that are attributed to a particular intervention. Since the start of the pandemic, several public health policies have been enacted to combat the spread of the virus. Evaluating the impact of these policies is now one of researchers’ most pressing questions. Although randomized controlled trials (RCT) remain the gold standard, they are not always feasible due to ethical or budgetary reasons, and researchers typically rely on observational data and advanced statistical methods to study the causal impact. Propensity score matching (PSM) is one such statistical method gaining popularity in recent years. It matches participants on the basis of observed characteristics to establish that groups studied are meaningfully the same. A critical assumption is that all group characteristics studied are those that do not trigger differences between what is actual and what is measured. However, this assumption is often violated in practice, for various reasons, such as an inaccurate measurement instrument, and problems with relying on self-reporting by those who are studied. This project will develop a robust PSM approach that uses structural equation modeling to adjust for these errors in the characteristics measured, aiming to reduce the bias estimating a policy’s impact. Study results will enable research eligible for external funding to further develop this approach. 

Teacher Hiring Before, During, and After a Pandemic

Paul Bruno, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, PI

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had immediate impacts on students in and out of the classroom, it has also disrupted many aspects of school operations that are not directly student-facing. This project will study the impacts of the pandemic on teacher hiring by extending an existing research-practice partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD). The school district’s hiring process has been substantially disrupted by the pandemic, and this poses challenges for its attempts to continue hiring teachers effectively and to staff their (now largely online) classrooms efficiently and equitably. Moreover, disruptions to the hiring process, and resulting changes in the teachers eventually hired, will have continuing implications for students and schools, long after the pandemic has ended. Indeed, if the deleterious impacts of the pandemic are as severe and as inequitably distributed as many fear, effective and equitable teacher hiring will become even more crucial as we collectively attempt to undo some of the pandemic’s damage to student learning. This project will explore these issues in a timely way, while expanding the working relationship with the Los Angeles district, and also beginning to develop similar relationships with school systems in Illinois.

Addressing COVID-19 Health Disparities in Champaign and Urbana with Culturally Responsive and Sustaining Engagement

Melissa Goodnight, Educational Psychology, PI; Cherie Avent, Educational Psychology, Co-PI; Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, Educational Psychology, Co-PI; Emily Stone, Bureau of Educational Research, Co-PI

The disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on African American communities is not unique: ethnic and racial disparities in health outcomes are longstanding issues that stem from the compounding effects of racism across multiple dimensions of people’s lives. Public health workers and medical providers often struggle to adequately address the several barriers that communities of color can face in accessing quality health services. In Champaign and Urbana, African American community leaders have shared that challenges to accessing COVID-19 testing and health services include timely and accurate information, transportation, time, and importantly, trust in the health care system. The state and university’s commitment to addressing COVID-19 inequities creates both an opportunity and mandate for Illinois researchers to engage the local community to try to better address structural barriers to health care. This project addresses COVID-19 racial health disparities in Champaign and Urbana in African American faith-based communities. We approach this work from our training in culturally sustaining research and culturally responsive evaluation; this project will facilitate (1) pilot data collection through engagement with local African American churches organizing around COVID-19 prevention; and (2) support a community-initiated effort (i.e., intervention) to address COVID-19 infections through a public health messaging campaign.

Supporting Preschoolers’ Motor Development During Remote Learning: Teachers’ Challenges and Strategies

Michaelene Ostrosky, Special Education, PI; Catherine Cheung, Special Education, Graduate Student

Children between 3 and 5 years of age demonstrate rapid growth and change in neurodevelopmental and physical areas such as motor, cognitive, and socio-emotional skills. Among these domains, motor development is the building block for development in many other areas, and children who show delays in motor skills may be at risk for difficulties in other developmental areas as well. Because of these challenges, it is important that preschoolers with disabilities are provided with multiple opportunities to participate in physical activities that support motor development with intentional support from teachers and parents. During this increased period of remote learning as a result of COVID-19, there are no guidelines regarding effective online motor learning programs to ensure that gross motor content is addressed while simultaneously meeting the educational and age-appropriate needs of preschoolers with disabilities. This project will address the urgent need to help preschool teachers implement online motor skills instruction for preschoolers with disabilities by first learning about the barriers they are facing in making motor development part of their remote learning curriculum. In Spring 2021, 30 participants including  preschool or preservice teachers, working in inclusive preschools will take part in individual Zoom interviews . This exploratory interview study examining teachers’ perceptions of virtual instruction on motor learning for preschoolers with disabilities, will provide insights into online curriculum development and professional development offerings, thereby setting the stage for external funding to study the impact of such interventions.

Teachers’ Social Networks in Schools: How Principal Leadership Practice and Racial Context Matters

Jennifer Nelson, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, PI; Katrina Hasan Hamilton, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Graduate Student; Rachel Fish, New York University, External Consultant

Research in the sociology of organizations and social psychology is used to investigate how principals’ actions, including racial discrimination in interpersonal interactions with teachers and teacher hiring via social networks, affect educators’ behavioral responses, and how principal race, teacher race, and racial context affect this. This project will conduct a survey in which fictional scenarios (i.e., “vignettes”) are synthesized using random variables to test these effects. Two vignettes are administered to a sample of up to 600 respondents: 300 teachers who identify as Black, and 300 teachers who identify as White. We theorize that Black and White teachers will react differently when: (a) assigned to a domineering or partial principal in their scenario (as compared to control condition, a vignette featuring a neutral principal); as well as when (b) assigned to a scenario which places the responding teacher in the racial numerical minority (as compared to being in the numerical majority). While we anticipate that White teachers, consistent with theories of White privilege, will not react differently under any treatment, we anticipate different reactions by Black teachers, especially when presented with possible acts of Anti-Black racism in the form of microaggressions. We theorize that these effects for Black teachers will be most pronounced in scenarios that make them part of the racial numerical minority and working for a White principal. Study findings have the potential to transform discussions about anti-racist school leadership practices into evidence-based standards for the field of educational administration.