UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services Receives More Than $2 Million in National Science Foundation Awards

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As the economy and future workforce necessitate a shift of education goals from content drilling to fostering higher end skills, curriculum must also transform the ways in which students learn to approach problems and apply knowledge. To help foster this change and create sustainable models for education, several faculty members from UC’s College of Education, Criminal Justice, and Human Services (CECH) have recently secured grants from the National Science Foundation, totaling more than $2 million in funding.

In CECH’s School of Information Technology, Professor Chengcheng Li and Professor and Director of the School of Information Technology Hazem Said collaborated with Professor of Secondary Education and Director of the UC STEM Education Center Helen Meyer to launch a program that will help stem the shortage of IT professionals in Greater Cincinnati and evaluate IT pathways to meet the diverse needs of students.

A collaborative project that pulls together local high schools, community organizations, the regional IT industry, and UC, the program is expected to impact approximately 5,000 students during a period of three years.

“The project, ‘Design-based Information Technologies Learning Experiences,’ has three overarching goals,” said Li, the project’s principal investigator. “We will promote information technology with secondary-school students, prepare a cadre of STEM (science, technology, education and mathematics) educators to integrate IT skills and expand the regional infrastructure that supports IT education.”

Part of the NSF's Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers, the project will also develop layered programs for cohorts of 10th through 12th grade students, as well as in-service and pre-service secondary STEM teachers.

“This funding opportunity will allow us to develop, evaluate and research IT pathways to meet the diverse needs of students in Greater Cincinnati,” said Meyer. “We see the current collaboration as a building block that can be scaled up to include other Cincinnati area schools and be a model for IT preparation nationally.”

In CECH’s School of Education, Professor Kathleen Koenig is leading two projects to implement and evaluate teaching pedagogies that support students’ development of scientific reasoning skills. 

Koenig and Dr. Lei Bao of The Ohio State University are launching a project, “Developing Scientific Reasoning: Targeted Physics Instruction for STEM Majors” to address the gap in scientific reasoning skills that exists with current introductory science literature in first semester physics courses at the college level.

“Although scientific reasoning has become a widely targeted domain of high end skills in STEM learning, the knowledge base for the impact of scientific reasoning-targeted curriculum along with assessment of scientific reasoning is not widespread in the research community,” said Koenig, the project’s principal investigator. “Our project will provide a research-based curriculum specifically designed to help students develop much needed scientific reasoning skills.”

In introductory physics lab classes at UC and other institutions of higher education, students will be required to engage in more authentic experiments, writing their own hypotheses and designing their own experiments where they will not know the outcomes ahead of time. Fostering this level of work will require higher level thinking and reasoning skills. Additionally, Koenig and Bao will develop a scientific reasoning curriculum framework for first semester physics courses, amplifying work from a physics lab curriculum overhaul that has been conducted at UC during the last two years.  

“The proposed curriculum, in the form of scientific reasoning-targeted modules, will provide an innovative way in which transferable scientific reasoning abilities can be developed,” Koenig said. “The scientific reasoning modules will be designed to be readily adopted into existing lab courses – and they have the potential to impact thousands of STEM majors.”

Koenig will test and vet the curriculum at UC, optimizing and developing it as a model for other institutions to utilize. Implementing and evaluating the elevated curriculum will also be conducted at diverse institutions of higher education, from community colleges to private colleges to public universities.

“This is important education research and will provide rigorous assessment of results,” said Koenig. “Statistical analysis will determine whether the evolution patterns are statistically significant and consistent with instructional events by comparing performance before and after relevant instruction.”

Koenig is also leading another project titled “Teacher Professional Development for Technology-Enhanced Inquiry to Foster Students’ 21st Century Learning” with Casey Hord, professor of special education; Janet Zydney, professor of education; Kathie Maynard, assistant professor, research and director of community partnership and outreach in CECH, and Bao. Ted Fowler, professor emeritus of CECH, will also be joining the project soon.

Aimed at promoting student development of 21st Century skills with a particular focus on scientific reasoning, the project will develop and evaluate a module for use in a 7th grade classroom at Hughes STEM High School. Similar to Koenig’s other project, this one seeks to enhance and assess scientific reasoning skills for middle school students in an urban school setting.

“The module topic focuses on energy and will be designed using principles of inquiry-based learning as well as the principles of universal design for learning,” she said. “Our hope is that teachers will be able to take our framework and develop new modules using content that they have to utilize.”

A study will be conducted to determine the effectiveness of the learning modules on classroom practices as well as student learning. By the third year of the project, they hope to expand the curriculum into other Cincinnati Public Schools, amplifying its impact.

Also in the School of Education, Ben Kelcey, assistant professor of quantitative research methodologies, is working on a project in collaboration with Nianbo Dong, professor at University of Missouri and Jessaca Spybrook, professor at Western Michigan University titled “Power Analyses for Moderator and Mediator Effects in Cluster Randomized Trials. Their project sets out to study and improve the planning and design of multilevel studies throughout the social sciences.

They are achieving this by developing new statistical theory concerning the detection of mediation and moderation effects with hierarchical or multilevel research structures such as schooling.

“The probability with which a study can detect effects, if they exist, is a principle consideration in the design of group randomized studies,” Kelcey said. “Our research will develop a statistical framework and software to estimate this probability so that researchers can understand the sufficiency and tradeoffs of proposed designs.”

Kelcey, Dong, and Spybrook plan to implement their mathematical formulas in freely available user-friendly software. Professors and researchers in social sciences and education will then be able to utilize the software to elevate study designs.