Inside IES Research

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Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Development Grant Awardees: Supporting HBCU Students with Trauma Informed Online Teaching

This summer, IES awarded the first grant within the Early Career Development and Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions to Dr. Virginia Byrne, an assistant professor at Morgan State University, a historically black university (HBCU) located in Maryland. In recognition of HBCU week, we asked Dr. Byrne to share with us her career journey and her new IES-funded early career project that explores how evidence-based models of trauma informed online teaching (TIOT) may benefit students taking online classes at HBCUs.

Tell us about your current IES early career project.

I began my career as a student affairs practitioner focused on how the Internet was expanding access for activism, community engagement, and higher education, particularly among students of minoritized and marginalized groups. Now I study online teaching and learning in higher education with a focus on which students tend to thrive in online classes versus those who struggle.

My IES early career project is driven by the urgent need to understand how to best support the academic success of HBCU students in online learning environments. Today’s college students are likely to have survived some form of traumatic or adverse event either prior to or during their undergraduate enrollment, including the complexities of grief, illness, financial difficulties, and social disruption such as the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, many trauma-affected students struggle to engage in traditional school activities, regulate their effort and motivation, authentically participate in classroom discussions, and successfully graduate. To ensure that trauma-affected students are persisting in their college courses, educators are encouraged to adopt trauma-informed teaching practices.

While research exists on the value of trauma-informed teaching in face-to-face K-12 classrooms and, to a lesser extent, higher education contexts, it has yet to rigorously explore the impact of these trauma-informed practices on online college students. It is still unclear how trauma-informed teaching principles align with the leading online teaching literature, how students feel about these practices, or how they relate to achievement and persistence outcomes, particularly among trauma-affected students who might struggle with effort regulation. My three-year project, The Learning and Engaging at a Distance (LEAD) Initiative, seeks to fill this gap by posing an evidence-based model of TIOT practices in higher education and rigorously exploring how these practices might benefit HBCU students in online classes. I hypothesize that the adoption of TIOT practices will be helpful to all students, but especially those who are trauma-affected with reduced effort regulation. 

What are trauma-informed online teaching practices?

A trauma-informed approach to teaching consists of shifts in education practices, pedagogies, and policies as faculty learn about the role of trauma in students’ lives and how classrooms can perpetuate it. Trauma-informed teaching emphasizes an anti-racist, asset-based approach to provide all students with trauma-informed care, not just those who report their traumatic experiences (a universal approach). In my current IES project, I weave together the online learning, college teaching, and trauma-informed teaching literatures to pose the TIOT model, an evidence-based model consisting of seven related principles:

  1. Collaboration and Mutuality: Faculty welcome student input in collaboration and decision-making to share power and co-construct knowledge.
  2. Emotional, Social, and Academic Safety: Faculty foster an online learning environment that respects the need for safety, respect, and authenticity.
  3. Empowerment, Voice, and Choice: Faculty make space for and empower students to make choices so that the course is relevant to their professional interests and aligned with their personal development goals.
  4. Resilience, Growth, and Change: Faculty take an anti-deficit, growth-oriented approach by forwarding the idea that all students are emerging scholars capable of learning and succeeding. They use formative feedback to cultivate a community of learning and to reinforce self-efficacy.
  5. Social Justice: Faculty cultivate an equitable and anti-oppressive learning environment that prioritizes social justice in the course design and curriculum.
  6. Support and Connection: Faculty provide students with structures and resources to support their community building, academic achievement, and professional development.
  7. Trustworthiness and Transparency: Faculty foster a sense of trust and transparency among students by providing clear expectations, being reliable and consistent, and establishing healthy boundaries.

I theorize that by adopting a universal, trauma-informed approach to online teaching, instructors can create a more supportive and equity-centered learning environment for all students to thrive.

What advice would you give to emerging scholars from HBCUs who are pursuing a career in education research?

First, recognize the strengths of your institution as an HBCU. For example, my project leverages Morgan State University’s focus on high-touch teaching both in-person and online. By emphasizing what our faculty are already doing well and building on our existing expertise, I was able to gain campus buy-in on my project. Remember that being at an HBCU is an asset.

Second, even if your campus is small and research is not on the top of everyone’s to-do list, there are probably faculty who are doing rigorous research projects. Find them, even if they are outside of your field or discipline. Ask them how they found support on campus to do this work. Who is their go-to person for budget questions? For grant submission issues? Is there any unadvertised money for professional development? There are likely those on campus who want to mentor emerging scholars on research and grant-writing, even if it is not their full-time job. Reach out to them. 

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of researchers from HBCUs?

The broader community often misses out on the tremendous excellence that HBCU faculty and graduate student researchers have to offer. There is a LOT of excellence here!

That said, we are limited by a lack of administrative research support and training, such as grant-writing support staff, in-house budget teams, graduate assistantship funding, high-quality financial software, and conference travel funding. This is caused, in part, by historic and systemic underfunding. Members of the broader community could better support HBCU researchers by educating themselves on the funding histories of the public HBCUs in their states and talking about it with colleagues, reaching out to HBCU faculty to build collaborative research partnerships, recruiting HBCU students to join their research teams as interns, research assistants, and post-docs, and sharing access to existing resources on the hidden curriculum around research (for example, how to write a grant proposal, how to craft a budget, how to effectively manage a large grant).

Incredible research is already happening at HBCUs. These are just a few ways that the education research community could get more involved.


Virginia L. Byrne, PhD, is an assistant professor of higher education and student affairs at Morgan State University in the School of Education and Urban Studies. Her research falls at the intersection of higher education, online learning, and the learning sciences to investigate issues of climate and equity in online and technology-enhanced learning environments. Dr. Byrne earned her PhD from the University of Maryland, College Park in technology, learning and leadership and her master’s degree in student affairs from Florida State University.

This blog was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), program officer for the Early Career Mentoring Program for Faculty at Minority Serving Institutions (Early Career MSI). This program supports grants that prepare faculty at minority-serving institutions to conduct high-quality education research that advances knowledge within the field of education sciences and addresses issues important to education policymakers and practitioners. In FY 2024, IES is accepting applications for the Early Career MSI program as well as the new Early Career Development and Mentoring Program for Education Research.

 

Spotlight on FY 2023 Early Career Development Grant Awardees: Supporting Latine Transborder Caregivers and Their Young Children with or at Risk for Autism

NCSER continues its series spotlighting the recently funded Early Career Development and Mentoring Grants Program principal investigators with an interview with Ana Dueñas, assistant professor in special education at San Diego State University. Dr. Dueñas is conducting research aimed at improving outcomes for Latine transborder caregivers and their young children with or at risk for autism. We are pleased that this blog also honors Hispanic Heritage Month

How did you become interested in studying early intervention for Latine children on the autism spectrum?

Headshot of Ana Dueñas

As a first-generation Mexican cis-gender woman who was raised in a bicultural transborder community alongside the San Diego/Tijuana border, I learned to navigate a shifting identity—speaking English and Spanish fluently to feel accepted by both communities and managing schooling and housing across borders. Like many other children of Mexican immigrants, I served as a translator, social worker, and advocate for my parents. These experiences, along with my sensitivity to the unique needs of this population, inform how I approach community-engaged research. I am also very aware of how the biases that my education and training in special education and applied behavior analysis influence my approach to intervention research, particularly in light of the history of deficit-driven rhetoric and a medical model of disability in these fields. I aim to be mindful of the power differential that is often associated with higher education, social class, and researcher institutions in my interactions with the families I support.

My interest in building partnerships with Latine caregivers of children with autism began 10 years ago. Earlier in my career, I was a social worker for the California Regional Centers, a non-profit organization that provides services, advocacy, and support to individuals with developmental disabilities and their families. There I gained firsthand awareness of the behavioral health disparities faced by historically minoritized families (delayed diagnosis and access to culturally relevant services). Now, as a junior faculty member and researcher, I bring these experiences to my work and hope to form genuine relationships with the Latine community to better inform autism intervention research.

What are some of the unique challenges and needs of your study population?

I hope to understand these issues in depth more throughout this project. What we know from the literature about the Latine community more broadly is that they face significant disparities in access to timely diagnosis and treatment for their autistic children. This racial disparity is exacerbated in rural communities, or “service deserts” like the Imperial Valley of California, where this project is situated. The transborder community as a subgroup of the larger Latine community has very specific needs that may create a mismatch in evidence-based practices. Some points of mismatch are logistical and environmental—living and working across borders—which may lead to limited compliance, attendance, or engagement in intervention. Other points of mismatch may occur because Latine families may have a history of working with staff that lack cultural competence and therefore have few positive experiences receiving early intervention services. Further, though my project doesn’t focus on families who are undocumented, transborder families may be dealing with unique issues related to immigration status—threats of deportation, housing insecurity, and limited access to physical and mental healthcare. 

What broader impact are you hoping to achieve with your research?

Through my research, I hope to address the behavioral education disparities among marginalized populations, as they undermine the quality of life and opportunities for autistic children and their families, particularly among families exposed to vulnerable circumstances. My study addresses one small component of the many disparities that occur across a continuum from identification to treatment to improve the match between evidence-based interventions and the specific needs of marginalized individuals. Many interventions were developed with minimal input from ethnic and/or racially marginalized communities. Though there continues to be an implementation fidelity versus cultural adaptation debate, without sensitivity and responsiveness to the unique needs of communities, interventions may fail to be adopted. In my work, I begin with an assessment to ensure that the intervention is relevant to community needs and desires.

What advice do you have for other early career researchers?

Don’t give up. Understand and harness your value. Follow your instinct. Seek mentorship.

Ana Dueñas demonstrates passion and meaningful personal connection to her research. We are excited to follow her work and see what lies ahead in her academic career trajectory in special education.

This blog was produced by Emilia Wenzel, NCSER intern and graduate student at University of Chicago. Katherine Taylor (Katherine.Taylor@ed.gov) is the program officer for NCSER’s Early Career Development and Mentoring program.

Communicating with Migrant Communities: An Interview with Pathways Alum Gabriel Lorenzo Aguilar

The Pathways to the Education Sciences Program was designed to inspire students from groups that have been historically underrepresented in doctoral study to pursue careers in education research. Gabriel Lorenzo Aguilar, who participated in the IES-funded University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) Pathways program focused on P-20 pipeline issues, is the first Pathways fellow to be offered a tenure track position at a university. Gabriel, who is currently finishing his doctoral program in English at the Pennsylvania State University, recently accepted a tenure-track position in the Technical Writing and Professional Design program at the University of Texas at Arlington. Growing up in the barrios of South Texas, Gabriel brings a working-class, migrant-community, and undocumented-community perspective to academia. His research and teaching center the problems of communities who are in dire need of aid and assistance and who rely on technical communication in life-critical situations, especially migrants, refugees, and asylees. In recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month, we asked Gabriel to reflect on his career journey and the experiences of Hispanics scholars.

How have your background and experiences shaped your scholarship and career in using technical communication to improve the lives of vulnerable populations, such as migrants and refugees?

My grandmother was an undocumented migrant. Growing up in the Lower Rio Grande Valley (RGV) of South Texas, I saw how much community came to help not only my grandmother but other undocumented people. I saw firsthand the generosity, commitment, and sacrifice all of us in our neighborhoods made to make sure we had everything we needed.

That level of sacrifice required communication between the community, nonprofits, and others. I saw younger generations provide translation services to their grandparents, making sure that the older generation understood how to get resources such as Medicaid or subsidized utilities. It was only after I went to college that I learned that this communication had a name: technical communication. Broadly speaking, the field of technical communication focuses on making technical information understandable to a wide variety of audiences. It can include things like instructions on how to submit applications for aid or forms for service but has recently expanded to include the communication of marginalized peoples. The types of technical communication we did in the barrios were not included in broader discussions. So, I made it a mission of mine in graduate school to bring the kind of technical communication from marginalized populations into the mainstreams of research and practice.

My past projects looked into helping humanitarian organizations better translate for Mexican migrant populations. Future projects are tackling similar issues with the general population in the RGV and how citizens communicate with one another to form coalitions for change. In any case, my background and experiences help me see technical communication as a field that can improve the lives of my community.

How did participation in the UTSA P20 Pathways program shape your career journey?

Quite frankly, the UTSA Pathways program made my career journey. I struggled a lot in undergrad. I noticed that my peers that excelled were usually white and from more affluent school districts. They seemed to know everything while the rest of us, especially those from the RGV, were behind.

The UTSA Pathways program helped me understand there is a place for scholars like me: those from disenfranchised backgrounds with the passion to help communities in need. While in the program, I learned to recognize disparities in education outcomes—that inequity stems from lack of resources and structural issues such as racism. The program empowered me to see education as a means to tackle such issues.

The program also shaped my understanding of what it means to be an educator: patient, accessible, and demonstrative. I was the undergraduate who didn’t understand the material, who felt too small to ask for help. I’ve learned to recognize the tells of that kind of student—students who often experience the world like I do as a student of color from a working-class background. I try to approach these students first, establishing clear channels of communication and accessibility.

What advice would you give education researchers who wish to work with migrant and refugee communities?

These communities need resources, not predatory researchers. My advice would be to be reflexive on what you give and take when working with a migrant community. There is a long history of researchers extracting data from a marginalized population only to leave that community once their findings are peer reviewed and published. I encourage researchers to practice humanitarian values in their research and practice; that is, to work on the immediate needs of the community, write about those interventions, and then collect data on that immediate work. This way, the community can get the resources they need from a researcher that is actively engaged in improving their quality of life.

How can the broader education research community better support the careers and scholarship of Hispanic students and researchers?

The broader education research community must understand the conditions that many Hispanic students and researchers face in academia, especially Hispanics of color from working class backgrounds. My advice would be to practice patience and grace with Hispanic students. I’ll give an example. I worked with a nontraditional Hispanic student at Penn State who was brilliant but lacked confidence in his writing. He grew up in the Dominican Republic and was in the United States pursuing a degree as a middle-aged adult. His professors that semester heavily criticized his writing: some of the criticism was constructive, some was racist. The constructive criticism demonstrated the flaws of his writing and offered solutions to consider. The racist criticism questioned this student’s belonging in academia, often referring to his misunderstanding of U.S. and English language writing conventions.

Of course, Hispanic students and researchers are not a monolith. We come from all walks of life, some of us more privileged than others. Nonetheless, those with power in the education research community must understand the obstacles that Hispanic students face when navigating higher education.

What advice would you give Hispanic students and scholars who wish to pursue a career in education research?

Understand that the halls of academe weren’t built for us, especially Hispanics of color from working-class backgrounds. I’ve experienced my fair share of microaggressions and blatant racism. Most of the time, these aggressions come from a place of misunderstanding on how our experiences, communities, and culture shape our perspectives of the world. The fight to get our problems recognized, our perspectives respected, and our voices heard can seem never ending. But when I look back at the previous generations of Hispanics in academia, I can really appreciate the positive changes that have come.

My advice would be to accept that you alone cannot change education research. Our generation of scholarship might do little to change education research. It might do a lot. But the momentum is here. The community is here, and with that community, real change can come.


This guest blog is part of a series in recognition of Hispanic Heritage Month. It was produced by Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-Chair of the IES Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is also the program officer for the Pathways to the Education Sciences Research Training Program.

The 2023 IES PI Meeting: Building on 20 Years of IES Research to Accelerate the Education Sciences

On May 16-18, 2023, NCER and NCSER hosted our second virtual Principal Investigators (PI) Meeting. Our theme this year was Building on 20 Years of IES Research to Accelerate the Education Sciences. Because it was the IES 20th anniversary this past year, we used this meeting as an opportunity to reflect on and celebrate the success of IES and the education research community. Another goal was to explore how IES can further advance the education sciences and improve education outcomes for all learners.

Roddy Theobald (American Institutes for Research) and Eunsoo Cho (Michigan State University) graciously agreed to be our co-chairs this year. They provided guidance on the meeting theme and session strands and also facilitated our plenary sessions on Improving Data on Teachers and Staffing Challenges to Inform the Next 20 Years of Teacher Workforce Policy and Research and the Disproportionate Impact of COVID-19 on Student Learning and Contributions of Education Sciences to Pandemic Recovery Efforts. We want to thank them for their incredible efforts in making this year’s meeting a big success!

Here are a few highlights:

The meeting kicked off with opening remarks from IES Director, Mark Schneider, and a welcome from the Secretary of Education, Miguel Cardona. Director Schneider spoke about the importance of timeliness of research and translation of evidence to practice. IES is thinking about how best to support innovative approaches to education research that are transformative, embrace failure, are quick turnaround, and have an applied focus. He also discussed the need for data to move the field forward, specifically big data researchers can use to address important policy questions and improve interventions and education outcomes. Secretary Cardona acknowledged the robust and useful evidence base that IES-funded researchers have generated over the last 20 years and emphasized the need for continued research to address historic inequities and accelerate pandemic recovery for students.

This year’s meeting fostered connections and facilitated deep conversations around meaningful and relevant topic areas. Across the three day PI Meeting, we had over 1,000 attendees engaged in virtual room discussions around four main topic areas (see the agenda for a complete list of this year’s sessions):

  • Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Accessibility (DEIA)—Sessions addressed DEIA in education research
  • Recovering and Learning from the COVID-19 Pandemic—Sessions discussed accelerating pandemic recovery for students and educators, lessons learned from the pandemic, and opportunities to implement overdue changes to improve education
  • Innovative Approaches to Education Research—Sessions focused on innovative, forward-looking research ideas, approaches, and methods to improve education research in both the short- and long-term
  • Making Connections Across Disciplines and Communities—Sessions highlighted connections between research and practice communities and between researchers and projects across different disciplines and methodologies

We also had several sessions focused on providing information and opportunities to engage with IES leadership, including NCER Commissioner’s Welcome; NCSER Acting Commissioner’s Welcome; Open Science and IES, NCEE at 20: Past Successes and Future Directions; and The IES Scientific Review Process: Overview, Common Myths, and Feedback.

Many  sessions also had a strong focus on increasing the practical impacts of education research by getting research into the hands of practitioners and policymakers. For example, the session on Beyond Academia: Navigating the Broader Research-Practice Pipeline highlighted the unique challenges of navigating the pipeline of information that flows between researchers and practitioners and identified strategies that researchers could implement in designing, producing, and publishing research-based products that are relevant to a broad audience. The LEARNing to Scale: A Networked Initiative to Prepare Evidence-Based Practices & Products for Scaling and The Road to Scale Up: From Idea to Intervention sessions centered around challenges and strategies for scaling education innovations from basic research ideas to applied and effective interventions. Finally, the Transforming Knowledge into Action: An Interactive Discussion focused on identifying and capturing ways to strengthen dissemination plans and increase the uptake of evidence-based resources and practices.  

We ended the three-day meeting with trivia and a celebration. Who was the first Commissioner of NCSER? Which program officer started the same day the office closed because of the pandemic? Which program officer has dreams of opening a bakery? If you want to know the answers to these questions and more, we encourage you to look at the Concluding Remarks.  

Finally, although we weren’t in person this year, we learned from last year’s meeting that a real benefit of having a virtual PI meeting is our ability to record all the sessions and share them with the public. A part of IES’s mission is to widely disseminate IES-supported research. We encourage you to watch the recorded sessions and would be grateful if you shared it with your networks.

We want to thank the attendees who made this meeting so meaningful and engaging. This meeting would not have been a success without your contributions. We hope to see our grantees at the next PI Meeting, this time in-person!

If you have any comments, questions, or suggestions for how we can further advance the education sciences and improve education outcomes for all learners, please do not hesitate to contact NCER Commissioner Liz Albro (Elizabeth.Albro@ed.gov) or NCSER Acting Commissioner Jackie Buckley (Jacquelyn.Buckley@ed.gov). We look forward to hearing from you.

 

New Standards to Advance Equity in Education Research

One year ago, IES introduced a new equity standard and associated recommendations to its Standards for Excellence in Education Research (SEER). The intent of this standard, as well as the other eight SEER standards, is to complement IES’s focus on rigorous evidence building with guidance and supports for practices that have the potential to make research transformational. The addition of equity to SEER is part of IES’s ongoing mission to improve academic achievement and access to educational opportunities for all learners (see IES Diversity Statement). IES is mindful, however, that to authentically and rigorously integrate equity into research, education researchers may need additional resources and tools. To that end, IES hosted a Technical Working Group (TWG) meeting of experts to gather input for IES’s consideration regarding the existing tools and resources that the education community could use as they implement the new SEER equity standard in their research, along with identifying any notable gaps where tools and resources are needed. A summary of the TWG panel discussion and recommendations is now available.

The TWG panel recommended several relevant resources and provided concrete suggestions for ways IES can support education researchers’ learning and growth, including training centers, coaching sessions, webinars, checklists, and new resource development, acknowledging that different researchers may need different kinds of supports. The meeting summary includes both a mix of recommendations for tools and resources, along with important considerations for researchers, including recommendations for best practices, as they try to embed equity in their research. 

The new SEER equity standard and accompanying recommendations have been integrated throughout the current FY 2024 Request for Applications. By underscoring the importance of equity, the research IES supports will both be rigorous and relevant to address the needs of all learners.   


This blog was written by NCER program officer Christina Chhin. If you have questions or feedback regarding the equity TWG, please contact Christina Chhin (Christina.Chhin@ed.gov) or Katina Stapleton (Katina.Stapleton@ed.gov), co-chair of the IES Diversity Council. If you have any questions or feedback regarding the equity standard or associated recommendations, please email NCEE.Feedback@ed.gov.