What's the Point of all of this data?
There is a long and arduous road between social science research and the ultimate goal of changes in the real world. In between there are some milestones, necessary changes to public perception, practices and policy. The powerful paradigm shift caused by the Clark's Doll Study or Implicit bias research are exceptions and not the rule. I don't even expect our work on Broadening Participation in STEM to be ground-breaking on its own but eventually, along with the work of others, I believe that our findings WILL have an impact. Here's why.
Slowly over 10 years we have confirmed that not only remediation, but student feelings (affect) should be included as important factors in any academic intervention. We learned this by using a different approach. We chose not to compare the educational "haves" with the "have nots" but to instead identify factors that lead to academic success despite challenging circumstances. In essence, we study resilience. We operationalize resilience as successful matriculation to the third semester (for college students) and class attendance (for high school students). We characterize the influence of the learning ecology on student affect using a theory that defined those influences as protective or risk factors. Finally we created an assessment, based on the theory and collected data to test theory-derived hypotheses in both college and high school. We pay particular attention to the impact of being a mentor has on the college students. Since we had already demonstrated that being a mentee resulted in academic behavior change at the college level. From these quantitative statistical findings, we made iterative changes to the real-life intervention. Eventually, slowly by slowly, a convincing story began to emerge.
The story emerging from our research has confirmed what we already knew about the challenges of under-resourced schools. However, by using a theoretical and iterative approach we have determined that a trusting community can buffer the effects of what is lacking by turning the focus away from "deficits" to what there is in abundance- a collective strength. Mentoring is known to work as a protective factor for those students sometimes labeled 'at risk" but what we have shown is that it is possible to "grow your own" mentors and that the benefits of the mentoring relationship are bi-directional. Furthermore, inclusion within a trusted and caring community provides measurable improvement in mental and emotional well-being. What we need to know now is if this process can be scaled and replicated.
The two grants planned for this October represent the next phase of this research. The original assessment instrument has now been refined for use in this "person-centered" research effort. The items have been identified as those associated with academic behavior change. Unlike in "variable centered research, the underlying construct is not our primary area of focus. Furthermore, the refining of the instrument using sophisticated analysis is only possible because we have responses from a few thousand participants. That number of participants requires collaborative efforts.
Grant #1 is on the runway for a HBCU EiR. This is a new funding mechanism that aims to strengthen research capacity at HBCU's and will first require a planning grant. Grant #2 is slowly taxing to the runway of the HBCU Racial Equity funding mechanism. The basis of this grant will be creating communities of researchers using the CSCCE model and practices that we have created as part of our own CareFull Scholars program. The goal is for the final outcome for Grant #1 to be a fully developed reliable and validated scale, theoretically derived and created and normed at an HBCU, The goal will then be for that scale to be used by research partners associated with Grant #2.
So the story continues......
I believe that it is the story, not the data, per se, that will lead to changing the larger society views of "at risk" students to instead see them as the super resilient students that we see. Likewise, we in the study of STEM education who create and practice academic intervening may need to consider how by working together our data can help create this paradigm shift by telling a story with our data, a more accurate story, a more convincing story of how our students enter, persist and graduate in STEM. It is not data for data's sake. It is data for story's sake.
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and in the meantime, continue to write…15 minutes minimum; 30 minutes optimum, Monday-Friday.