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College Research Committee

June 2020

A total of ten projects have been selected for awards in the College of Education COVID-19 Research Seed Funding Competition. Gift funds support these high-relevance projects addressing an array of emerging needs and conditions across the education spectrum. Each project has been granted funding of up to $5000 to conduct immediate research activities and to prepare competitive applications for external research support.

College News Story, August 20, 2020: COVID-19 Ignites New Education Research

The Role of Online Museum Experiences in Supporting At-Home Science Learning in the Era of COVID-19.

Catherine Dornfeld Tissenbaum, Curriculum & Instruction, PI; Stina Krist, Curriculum & Instruction, Co-PI; McKenna Lane, Curriculum & Instruction, Graduate Student.

As schools close in response to COVID-19, online museum experiences (OMEs) serve as potential opportunities for families to engage in science learning from the safety of their own homes. These experiences can support families’ inquiry and investigations of phenomena, both real and simulated, and their engaging in the scientific process. Yet, because online museum experiences require Internet access and, in some cases, parental support, they may exacerbate disparities in learning because of the inequalities in home resources. This project will study families’ interactions with online museum experiences, focusing on resources and constraints in their access and participation; science learning outcomes and connection to teacher-assigned activities; and families’ own strategies for learning. By focusing on the tradeoff that these experiences present for expanding access to science learning and/or exacerbating disparities, the outcomes of this work will contribute guidance toward effective and equitable design.

The Role of Community-based Immigrant-Serving Non-Profits in Bridging Home and School during COVID-19.

Liv Dávila, Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership, PI; Lucero Garcia-Villegas, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Graduate Student; Susan Ogwal, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, Graduate Student.

COVID-19 has heightened public awareness of social inequalities that present barriers to educational success within immigrant and refugee youth and their families. Families of immigrant and refugee English Learners are disproportionality challenged by the pandemic’s effects, including food instability, job loss, and mental health concerns. In educational terms, the transition to remote learning alone has meant that many low-income students, including those who are English learners, lack the resources necessary to participate in online learning in their homes, which means that many immigrant and refugee learners are at risk for permanently disconnecting from school in the months and years ahead. This research will explore the perspectives of leaders of community-based non-profit organizations in Champaign County, IL that focus on providing social (including educational) supports to immigrant and refugee families during COVID-19. This will be the first step to developing a large-scale research study that focuses on interdisciplinary approaches to promoting immigrant community health and education.

Pilot evaluation of We CU: a campus-wide program that strengthens student community engagement to meet the needs of Illinois communities during COVID-19. 

Chris Napolitano, Educational Psychology, PI; Emily Stone, Bureau of Educational Research, Co-PI; Brent Roberts, Psychology, Co-PI; Jisoo Youn, Educational Psychology, Graduate Student; Madison Sewell, Educational Psychology Graduate Student.

Launched this summer in a 10-week pilot, the We CU program facilitates and recognizes student-led volunteer responses to COVID-19.  The  program has already generated excitement around campus and will be expanded into a four-year service recognition program for students. Through We CU, we aspire to leverage the passion and talents of University of Illinois students to make lasting change across our state during this challenging time. This project will evaluate both the participation of student volunteers and the impact of the program, including assessing volunteers’ behavioral, emotional, and social skills like leadership, empathy, and stress resistance, and the role that We CU participation plays in their career development. We CU uses the GivePulse platform to match volunteers with opportunities through Givepulse. Using data collected through Givepulse, this project will also work to demonstrate We CU’s impact and to create a data hub supporting visualizations to demonstrate the breadth and depth of We CU volunteers’ engagement with the community.

E-Learning During a Global Pandemic: Adapting preschool to a socially distant reality. 

Giselle Martinez Negrette, Curriculum & Instruction, PI; Stephanie Sanders-Smith, Curriculum & Instruction, Co-PI; Jadyn Harris, Curriculum & Instruction, Graduate Student; Rachita Rana, Education Policy, Organization & Leadership, Graduate Student.

Access to quality preschool brings numerous long-term benefits, including improved long-term health, reduced use of special education services, and decreased rates of high school dropout and crime. However, 33% of American four-year-olds do not attend preschool. Issues of access are most pronounced in high-need communities. Preschools moving online during the COVID-19 pandemic, have created opportunities for considering what is possible in an online preschool classroom and, further, the role of preschool in supporting culturally and linguistically diverse students. This work examines bilingual preschools that have been able to move online quickly and maintain quality educational experiences, investigating how early childhood programs have adapted preschool curricula and pedagogy to e-learning environments. School practices adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic might provide long-term solutions to questions surrounding preschool access. The goal is to learn how to support developmentally, culturally, and linguistically appropriate e-learning that could be used in other settings, to allow us to support school communities to develop high-quality online teaching practices that can be shared with teachers of children in high-need communities.

Do K-12 School Closures Slow the Spread of COVID-19? 

Rebecca Hinze-Pifer, Educational Policy Organization & Leadership, PI.

Given the phenomenally high cost of school closure, along with clear indications that school closure exacerbates existing social inequalities, it is crucial to clearly understand the effectiveness of school closure in preventing the spread of COVID-19. This study will estimate the impact of school closure on COVID-19 transmission by comparing counties whose schools held spring break in the week or two preceding the COVID-19 school closure to schools with spring breaks originally scheduled to occur after the closures. The resulting estimates will contribute to a growing knowledge on the role of school closure in COVID-19 control, in the face of public and scientific skepticism, providing critical guidance to allow public health officials and policymakers to build a path through the next year.

City Settlers: Transforming a Collaborative STEM Education Game for COVID-19 Online Use.

Mike Tissenbaum, Curriculum & Instruction, PI; Vikesh Kumar, University of Wisconsin, External Consultant; Litong Zheng, Curriculum & Instruction, Graduate Student; Ruby Wang, College of Engineering, Undergraduate; Taehyun Kim, Curriculum & Instruction, Graduate Student; Zhanchen Huang, School of Information Sciences, Undergraduate.

City Settlers is a multiplayer participatory simulation where student teams collaboratively manage, grow and sustain cities. As teams make decisions about how to manage and grow their cities, these decisions affect the environment: forests can be depleted, rivers can be polluted, and smog can spread across the landscape. Students learn about the connections between their desire to grow their cities and how these decisions can affect others (e.g., polluting the river can spread pollution to other cities).  City Settlers maps game features (e.g., buildings and resources) to specific time periods, and students can play in ancient Greece, renaissance Europe, or early Americas, allowing them to make connections between environmental, energy, and social issues in their own lives those of past civilizations. It uniquely connects humanities with STEM content, with opportunities for interdisciplinary learning and collaboration. Prior to COVID, City Settlers was to run in middle school classrooms, using a hybrid design that saw the classroom transformed into the territory, with cities, rivers, forests, and resources virtually placed around the physical room. In response to COVID, the game will be converted into a standalone online version, enabling learners to play at a distance while still engaging in interdisciplinary STEM learning. This will enable research around collaborative online education games and comparisons of learning between the online and hybrid versions.

The HigherEd COVID-19 Response (HECR) Study Evaluation of Higher Education Institutional Responses during COVID-19 on Student Sociocultural Factors.

Nidia Ruedas-Gracia, Educational Psychology, PI; Rodney Hopson, Educational Psychology, Co-PI; Ananya Tiwari, Educational Psychology Graduate Student.

In light of COVID-19, universities around the world, including the University of Illinois, exhibited rapid shifts in the way courses were delivered for spring 2020. Although immediate steps to address the emerging pandemic at the higher education level continue to be taken, it is not known how these shifts have impacted students’ well-being, motivation, sense of belonging to the institution, and other sociocultural factors. Student evaluations of how supportive these responses have been can inform universal understanding regarding the effectiveness of such steps and help higher education programs and policies in designing future courses to maintain student enrollment and preserve the educational quality of the institution. This study will evaluate the impact of university responses, in terms of course changes, during COVID-19 on student-level sociocultural factors (e.g., sense of belonging to the university, psychological wellbeing, academic motivation to remain in their institution, etc.). This multi-phase study will be a quantitative and qualitative exploratory pilot study at a Midwest public university during summer 2020. Data will represent all 15 colleges of the campus via randomly chosen courses representing all disciplines, and will include measures of institutional response and sociocultural variables, as well as demographics and social identities of students. This research aligns with the College of Education’s mission to service both current and future learners at our institution by advancing knowledge about the differential impacts of institutional response on students and informing future course programming and university policy through this exploratory research.

Student Experiences Amid the COVID-19 Pandemic: Examining the Aspirations and Beliefs of Black Males who Play Sports in a K-12 Setting.

Adeyemo Adeoye, Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership, PI; Nathan Castillo, Educational Policy, Organization and Leadership, Co-PI.

Some Black males who play sports view football and basketball as a pathway towards economic and social mobility. While Black males are praised for their athletic accomplishments, they are not often expected to achieve academic success. The suspension of athletic competition due to the Covid-19 pandemic has raised new questions about athletic and academic aspirations and beliefs of Black males who play sports. The purpose of this project is to explore the impact of the suspension of athletic competition on the educational aspirations and beliefs by soliciting input directly from Black males who play sports in K-12 settings. This study will employ a sequential exploratory mixed-methods design and utilize ethnographic techniques to explore this phenomenon. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, video conferencing software will be utilized to conduct semi-structured interviews with a sample of Black males who play high school or youth football and basketball. Responses to interview questions will be used to develop a survey instrument along themes derived from the interviews. The survey instrument will be administered to an additional sample of Black males in Southern Illinois communities who play sports in K-12 settings, all of which are in areas connected to the new Illinois Innovation Network (IIN). Survey responses will be analyzed alongside semi-structured follow-up interviews to identify policy recommendations within the selected sampling frame. Findings from this study will generate preliminary data to apply to external funding for a broader, multi-site study examining the influence of the suspension of athletic activities on the educational aspirations and beliefs of these Black males across school, neighborhood, and social class.

Changes in Undergraduate STEM Motivation Due to COVID-19.

Jennifer Cromley, Educational Psychology, PI; Andrea Kunze, Educational Psychology Graduate Student; Elizabeth Zelenka, Educational Psychology Undergraduate.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a global move to online instruction. Related to this move, this project will investigate changes observed and documented at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in undergraduate biology students’ motivation for biology and their intention to remain in STEM. An longitudinal online study of UIUC biology student motivation was already being conducted at the beginning of the spring semester 2020 and the pandemic timing allowed the study to be immediately amended to capture changes in students’ motivation and STEM intentions influenced by the move to online instruction.  Research questions and analysis focus on motivation constructs, including how students’ persistence is shaped by the perceived value of what is taught and, on not experiencing too many course drawbacks; students’ goals for mastery; individual interests in the curricular topic, beliefs about being good at a topic, and confidence to engage specific tasks. This project will study the more detailed responses received from students. Anticipating that some or all instruction for this course will be conducted online, these research questions will be asked again during the Fall 2020 semester, in the same course.

COVID-19 Risk Mitigation: Interactive Automatic Counselor.

Dan Morrow, Educational Psychology, PI; H. Chad Lane, Educational Psychology, Co-PI; Suma Bhat, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Co-PI; Mark Hasegawa-Johnson, Electrical and Computer Engineering, Co-PI.

The general public needs to make many decisions related to risk as they navigate day-to-day uncertainties related to COVID-19. This project will develop a prototype “Interactive Automatic Counselor”–a risk assessment tool that educates, engages, and helps people make these decisions. This interactive tool will be guided by learning and behavior change theories. People debating the risk of a particular activity will enter their concerns as the opening turn in a dialog. The artificial intelligence (AI) tool will contain a knowledge base and set of resources representing the most current science about risks and risk mitigation strategies. The AI tool will interactively identify the user’s concerns from their description, link the concerns to information that seems likely to be relevant, and make recommendations about effective risk mitigation strategies and behaviors. To initiate development, a survey will be conducted to identify use-case scenarios, including eliciting concerns that people may have about COVID-19 such as risk levels of specific activities and situations and the effectiveness of behaviors intended to mitigate risk.