Internal grants support MLFTC faculty research for 2020–21


Erik Ketcherside

With the start of the 2020–21 academic year, several faculty members at Arizona State University’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College are continuing or commencing research studies with the support of MLFTC internal grants. These grants are disbursed through a competitive process managed by the college’s Office of Scholarship and Innovation.

Punya Mishra, associate dean of scholarship and innovation, says, "COVID-19 has impacted virtually all areas of life, including academics and research. So we are pleased these 2020–21 internal grant recipients were able to adapt designs accordingly, and still carry out research in a principled manner.

“School closings and the shift to remote learning threw a spanner in the works for our research faculty, whose work is deeply grounded in the realities and practices of actual classrooms and educational contexts,” Mishra says. “What was impressive, however, is how each of them creatively persevered, pivoting to redesign their studies, or changing their plans to address new emergent issues and challenges. It is this flexibility and a willingness to find the silver lining in this difficult situation that demonstrates the quality of our research faculty.”

2020–21 internal grant recipients

YPAR and the Potential for Equity-Oriented Change in Policies and Practices

Melanie Bertrand, associate professor

Bertrand’s research examines the potential of youth of color, via youth participatory action research, to advance to equity-oriented change in policies and practices. YPAR involves youth, with adult guidance, conducting research about social justice issues directly affecting their lives. Bertrand says, “A small body of research points to the potential of YPAR to propel the influence of youth of color in policies and practices. However, this research has included little focus on the conditions that influence YPAR’s potential to shift policy and practice … [nor has it] adequately elucidated the connection between the processes internal to a YPAR project to possible changes in policies and practices after the group’s recommendations have been publicized to educational leaders.” This project explores these areas through a case study of a YPAR initiative for high school students facilitated by a principal in a K–12 public school. Bertrand’s previous work in YPAR has been featured in Educational Administration Quarterly and elsewhere. 

Exploring Active Learning Exercises in Introductory Anatomy and Physiology Courses

Carla Firetto, assistant professor

Firetto will explore students’ responses to active learning exercises, as well as their understanding in biology, to gather a better sense of the effectiveness of ALEs, and to identify ways to further improve subsequent implementation. “Students learn better in contexts in which they are actively and collaboratively engaged,” Firetto says. “Instructors teaching large-enrollment undergraduate biology courses are beginning to incorporate more active learning techniques into their instruction, but there is wide variation in how these are employed and how effective they are at improving students’ understanding.” Firetto’s project builds on the findings from her pilot study funded by a 2018–19 MLFTC internal grant, “Supporting Undergraduate Students’ Construction of an Integrated Understanding of Anatomy and Physiology.” With the current project, she hopes to gather crucial evidence about the aspects that make these ALEs effective, and to inform the next step in her program of research, supporting students’ collaborative engagement in the ALEs through small-group discussions. An assistant professor of educational psychology, Firetto conducts research to facilitate students’ high-level comprehension of complex texts and content. She is a member of the editorial board of the Review of Educational Research and author of the chapter, “Learning from Multiple Complementary Perspectives: A systematic review,” in the Handbook of Learning from Multiple Representations and Perspectives (Routledge, 2020).

Experiences of Black Immigrant Women in Undergraduate Engineering: A Basis for Understanding

Meseret Hailu, assistant professor | Brooke Coley, assistant professor

While engineering might be perceived as an objective discipline, Hailu and Coley’s project focuses on its politicized, racialized and gendered dimensions. Their goal is to better understand how immigrants use their cultural epistemologies to attain engineering degrees. “The unique experiences of Black immigrant women in undergraduate engineering programs are understudied and under-theorized in the higher education literature,” Hailu and Coley write, “and the existing literature on Black students in U.S. higher education tends to flatten within-group diversity.” The two are conducting critical discourse analysis of 10 institutional documents and conducting interviews with 40 Black women engineering students. They are particularly interested in identifying strategies that first- and second-generation Black immigrant women use to persist in undergraduate engineering programs. Hailu is a former fellow of the Fulbright-Hays Doctoral Dissertation Research Abroad program, which funded her research in Ethiopia. Coley is a bioengineer and social justice scholar on the faculty of the Polytechnic School, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering.

Talent, Ambition, Academic Capital and Luck: Research awards and the construction of influence and merit in education

Jeongeun Kim, assistant professor | Gustavo Fischman, professor

The field of educational research has historically wrestled with fundamental questions regarding the nature, purpose and assessment of scientific contributions. Still, colleges of education at research universities largely agree on the value of metric-based models in accomplishing three goals: increased research impact, increased institutional prestige and high levels of scholarly productivity and innovation. Kim and Fischman are exploring the notions of scholarly influence, prestige and merit in education by analyzing under-explored and unique data: awards for books and articles conferred by research organizations in the broad field of education between 2000 and 2020. Their study will create a unique dataset from the internet archival sources of the awards to provide new insights for understanding how the field recognizes scientific merit, how a scholar becomes influential and what type of professional opportunities emerge from receiving an award. Kim is a Lincoln Fellow of ASU’s Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics. Fischman, a fellow of the International Academy of Education and the American Educational Research Association, is editor of Education Review.

Investigating Preservice Teachers’ Algebraic Reasoning Through Pattern Generation Activities

Mi Yeon Lee, assistant professor

Lee calls algebra “the gatekeeper to advanced levels of mathematics as well as educational and economic opportunities.” But she says students can be hindered from acquiring the conceptual understanding they need to progress beyond memorizing rules and applying procedures if their math teachers have limited understanding themselves. Accordingly, math teacher educators place priority on producing teachers who have deep conceptual understanding of algebra as well as the pedagogical knowledge for developing students’ conceptual understanding. To assist these educators in preparing preservice teachers, Lee investigated preservice teachers' reasoning with algebraic symbols and notations through the implementation of a series of pattern generalization activities using color tiles in a mathematics content knowledge course. Her findings will contribute to research on alternatives to instruction, and may inform designers of curriculum seeking to improve secondary school students’ algebraic thinking. Lee teaches undergraduate mathematics content courses and mathematics methods courses for pre-service teachers, and has served as managing editor for Research in Mathematical Education.

Imagine the Possibilities — Implementing an innovative educational model

Jeanne Powers, associate professor

Powers has been documenting the first year of implementation of a prototype school-within-a-school that opened in August 2019: SPARK School. This project extends and deepens the collaboration with the Avondale School District and the MLFTC Design Initiatives team with an internal grant that supports the initial analysis of the qualitative data. SPARK combines:

  • A teacher-designed curriculum organized around student-centered, project-based and multi-disciplinary learning opportunities.

  • A staffing team comprising a teacher executive designer who leads the team designing the curriculum; two experienced teachers; three full-time teacher candidates; and expert volunteers.

  • Technological resources and a flexible physical environment to allow teachers, students and other adults to engage in small-group collaborative work, large group instruction, performances and maker technology.

The internal grant will support a collaborative research project on a teacher-developed problem of practice during the second year of implementation. Powers is the editor of Review of Research in Education and a fellow of the National Education Policy Center.

Evaluating the Efficacy of an Engineering Education Professional Development for High School Guidance Counselors

Lydia Ross, clinical assistant professor | Medha Dalal, postdoctoral scholar | Adam Carberry, associate professor

High school guidance counselors play a pivotal role in influencing students’ STEM career-related self-efficacy and choices of education paths — particularly for female and under-represented minority students — say the investigators for this design-based research study. They call counselors “an untapped resource” for addressing the longstanding gap in opportunities for women and for people of color in higher education and STEM fields. The investigators have enlisted counselors from public high schools to participate in a professional development series with the Engineering for Us All program. The research team will explore how participation in a month-long workshop influences counselors’ perceptions of engineering education and the engineering profession; their beliefs in diversity, inclusion and belonging specific to engineering education and engineering-related careers; and their practices when discussing engineering with students. Findings of the study are intended to inform the design of future K–12 engineering professional development that focuses on broadening participation through engagement of school counselors. A clinical assistant professor, Ross is also the executive director of the Association of Education and Finance Policy. Dalal earned her PhD in Learning, Literacies and Technologies from MLFTC in 2019 and is a postdoctoral scholar in the Polytechnic School of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, where Carberry is an associate professor.

Read more about MLFTC's internal grants program.