Education researchers turn their focus toward justice

A delegation from Iowa State University will join thousands of researchers in Chicago this weekend who will be focusing on justice.

Iowa State researchers will take part in 32 presentations and meetings at the American Educational Research Association (AERA)’s annual meeting, April 16-20 in Chicago.

The theme of this year’s meeting, “Toward Justice,” will consider how to align scholarly interests more closely with the interests of justice for those who are educationally marginalized, dispossessed, and excluded.

“It’s easy to get sequestered in narrow silos, so it is important to present your work to audiences with different backgrounds and perspectives,” said Katy Swalwell, an assistant professor in the School of Education who was recently elected co-chair of AERA’s Critical Educators for Social Justice special interest group.

The AERA annual meeting is the nation’s largest gathering of scholars in the field of education research. More than 14,000 are expected to attend this weekend’s event featuring more than 2,600 sessions. Discussion and feedback at the meeting is intended to help the scholars publish their work.   

An eye on justice, diversity, and equity

Social justice is a key initiative of the College of Human Sciences. Several offerings by Iowa State researchers address the issues of justice and equity.

Joanne Marshall, an associate professor in the School of Education, will be recognized Friday at the AERA meeting for her article, “Navigating the Religious Landscape in Schools: Toward Inclusive Leadership,” which was named the Theory Into Practice journal’s best article published in 2014.

The juried article is also chapter eight of the recently published book, Leadership for Increasingly Diverse Schools. The chapter discusses the often ignored dimension of diversity: religious identity. Marshall is also program chair of AERA’s religion and education special interest group.

“This chapter provides examples of how Christianity is the norm within schools, analytical questions social justice leaders can ask about the practices embedded in their own schools, and suggestions for making schools more inclusive around religion,” an introduction to Marshall’s chapter states. “Social justice leaders can be religiously inclusive without violating the religion clauses of the First Amendment.”

One of the three papers that Swalwell is presenting looks at how “equity audits” and “data-driven decision making” can be used to empower teachers to address deep-seated structural inequities in schools.

“Teachers’ reflections about their experiences provided further insights about the impact of the equity audit on teachers’ confidence and competence in using data, greater awareness of inequities in their schools, and a sense of empowerment to be teachers who take an inquiry stance as agents of change,” states a synopsis of the study.

And Daniel Spikes, an assistant professor in the School of Education, will present a study that looked at men of color in community colleges. Data from a three-year cohort of 21,810 black males, 25,980 Latinos, and 116,525 white males from 718 community colleges showed the importance of personal connections.

“Relationships with faculty, staff, and fellow students are essential. Students value having a sense of belonging and ‘someone who believes in me,’” stated some of the findings. “Race of instructor matters; students of color would like to see more professors who look like them. For students of color, engagement in cultural affinity groups and outreach programs matter.”

Teaching fitness, dropping courses

Iowa State’s delegation this year includes researchers from the School of Education, kinesiology, ISU Extension and Outreach, psychology, English, world languages and cultures, the Virtual Reality Applications Center, liberal arts and sciences, and residence halls.

Among Iowa State’s offerings:

Teaching fitness: Senlin Chen, an assistant professor in kinesiology, will present findings of a study co-authored by Peter Hastie of Auburn University that used project-based-learning to educate elementary school children about fitness.

The nine-week project recruited 222 fifth-grade students and used active, hands-on learning experiences to teach students about physical education. Students were involved with planning, sharing using iPads, and building fitness trails in their school with the aid of a health promotion grant.

“The quantitative data demonstrated that the project-based learning students significantly improved their overall fitness knowledge, while the control students did not,” Chen said. “Qualitative data further showed that the students were unanimous in describing the project as fun and challenging, but also serious.”

“The study revealed the efficacy of project-based learning in enhancing students’ learning and motivation in physical education,” Chen said.

Dropping courses: Linda Serra Hagedorn, associate dean of the College of Human Sciences and a professor in the School of Education, will present a paper she co-authored with Lyle McKinney of the University of Houston about course dropping among community college students.

“This paper is unique in that it examines the often practiced yet unresearched topic of course dropping,” states a synopsis provided by Hagedorn. “We learned that students in community colleges practice course dropping frequently and that it is detrimental to their likelihood of earning a credential of any kind.” 

The study addressed a gap in the literature by examining course-dropping behaviors among a sample of approximately 6,600 students attending a large, diverse urban community college system in Texas. Approximately 55 percent of students had dropped at least one college-level course after official reporting day, and 11 percent had dropped four or more classes.

Results revealed that excessive course dropping was most prevalent among students who were male, Asian, 19 or younger, enrolled full-time, taking out loans, and required remediation in at least one subject area.

Leadership for school improvement: Doug Wieczorek, an assistant professor in the School of Education, will on Friday receive the 2014 Dissertation of the Year Award from AERA’s Leadership for School Improvement special interest group for his doctoral research.

Wieczorek studies how educators navigate education reform and change. His dissertation used a federal government survey to measure changes in behavior among approximately 22,000 principals across the nation, between 1999 and 2007 under No Child Left Behind.