Active Projects
 
Center for Research on College-Workforce Transitions

I am the Director of an applied research center at UW-Madison called the Center for Research on College to Workforce Transitions (CCWT), where our mission is to conduct and support research, critical policy analysis, and public dialogue on student experiences with the transition from college to the workforce in order to inform policies, programs, and practices that promote academic and career success for all learners. CCWT is engaged in four program strands: students experiences with skills acquisition via teaching and work-based learning; students’ experiences with college career advising services; student and employer experiences with the hiring process; and, student and community members views on the relationships among higher education, the labor market, and civic engagement.

 
The College Internship Study
The College Internship Study aims to document the effects of internship participation and program characteristics on student outcomes such as college completion, employment and earnings, and career adaptability. The Study includes on online survey administered to all students nearing graduation, focus groups with students, and interviews with career services and area employers. Additionally, an “institutional map” documenting the present state of internship opportunities will be compiled for each campus. Within months, the CCWT will prepare a technical report for each institution with actionable recommendations for how each campus can improve its internship programs.  The College Internship Study is being supported by the National Science Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
The EMPOWER Study: A National Study of Higher Education-Workforce Relations (2016-2020)

The purpose of the EMPOWER project is to document how faculty and workplace trainers think about and teach/train four critical 21st century competencies—communication, teamwork, problem-solving, and self-directed learning—and the socio-technical systems within colleges, universities and companies that shape teaching, training and learning. Using a mixed-methods approach a team of researchers from UW–Madison and the Rochester Institute of Technology will collect data from postsecondary teachers (2 and 4 year institutions), business owners, and students and employees in four metropolitan areas in the U.S. (Denver, Seattle, Houston & Raleigh) with a focus on: (a) current approaches to teaching and workplace training, (b) the personal, organizational, socio-cultural, and political factors that shape how teachers and trainers approach their work, (c) the presence (or lack thereof) of support systems and programs known to enhance instructional improvement and students’ career development, and (d) the degree to which local, regional, state and national policymakers and other agents are supporting or otherwise influencing these phenomena/skills-related debates.

With evidence about the current status of metropolitan education-workforce systems and how they are shaping (or not) student acquisition of 21st century competencies, one of our primary goals is to produce reports tailored to regional stakeholders using a “systems mapping” approach. These research products will provide a snapshot of current activities pertaining to 21st century skill development, highlight strengths and weaknesses in local education-workforce systems, and advance specific recommendations for future policy, research, and practice. Ultimately, we seek to broaden debates about skills gaps, the purpose of higher education, and the future of work that are currently underway in the US and abroad by providing a systems-oriented account of the multidimensional factors influencing students’ educations and career-decision making behaviors.

 
Completed Projects
Exploring the alignment between workforce needs and postsecondary education (2013-2016)

Considerable attention is being paid to both 4- and 2-year colleges and universities as a primary venue for workforce development, with a particular focus on improving the alignment between employer expectations and the curriculum in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) disciplines.  Given that the idea of poor alignment between employer expectations and worker proficiencies (i.e., the “skills gap”) is informing public policy, with increased emphasis on vocational training, differential tuition for fields perceived as “job-ready,” and critiques of the value of a liberal arts education, it is important to develop a rigorous understanding of the nature of the alignment (or mis-alignment) between the education sector and the workplace.

 
With support from the National Science Foundation (DUE # 1348648) we address these issues in two industries that are widely considered central to the future economic growth of the nation: advanced manufacturing and biotechnology. Through interviews with over 200 employers and educators, and site visits to 60 companies and 21 postsecondary institutions throughout the state of Wisconsin, we aim to shed light on the state of the alignment (or misalignment) between the educational sector and industry. Another goal of the study is to provide recommendations regarding the curriculum that balances the needs of employers and educators, as well as recent evidence from the learning sciences regarding how to best cultivate diverse skills sets that facilitate student success.

Tracking the processes of data driven decision-making in higher education

In seeking to enhance the efficacy of pedagogical reforms at the K-12 level, researchers and policymakers suggest that educators should utilize data-driven decision making (DDDM) systems, instead of making curricular and programmatic decisions based solely on anecdote or tradition. Yet the provision of data alone is not a panacea, as data must be robust, salient to local practice, and supported by adequate technical and administrative systems. However, little is known about the nature of curricular decision-making processes within higher education in general, and STEM disciplines in particular. 

 

With support from the National Science Foundation (DUE # 1224624) we had the following goals for this study: (1) to identify whether or not formal systems exist for curricular decision-making in STEM departments, and if so, what types of data are used in these processes, (2) to collect data about instructor planning, classroom teaching, and student classroom experiences, (3) to prepare reports based on these data for departmental decision-makers to see if they enhance local systems.  Besides providing important insights into the nature of curriculum design in STEM departments, the study will also result in new empirical findings about the relationships between classroom teaching and student experiences.  In order to increase the prospects for long-term adoption of our approach to studying teaching and learning we will also provide training to administrators and STEM education leaders at each of our study sites in the collection and analysis of data. 

Culture, cognition and evaluation of STEM higher education reform

The Culture, Cognition and Evaluation of STEM Higher Education Reform (CCHER) Project (2008-2012) was a National Science Foundation supported mixed-methods study (DRL# 0814724) designed to examine and describe the factors that shape faculty teaching practices in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) disciplines. The study was motivated by the conviction that singular and over-simplified explanations of the slow rate of educational reform such as recalcitrant faculty or tenure policies do not provide change agents with adequate information for program design and implementation. 

 

Over the course of four years, the study team collected a diverse set of data (i.e., survey, interview, and observations) at 3 large, public research universities in the US and analyzed the data using a variety of techniques  (e.g., thematic analysis, multi-dimensional scaling, structural equation modeling).  In interpreting the data we drew upon theoretical frameworks from embodied cognition, cognitive anthropology and naturalistic decision-making to examine these complex phenomena as they operate at the individual, group and organizational levels. While the primary goal of the study was to generate new knowledge on these issues through the publication of 8 peer-reviewed journal articles, we also had a focus on practitioners in the field.  Towards this end, we developed and field-tested the Teaching Dimensions Observation Protocol (TDOP) instrument for conducting classroom observations, which has been widely adopted and adapted by STEM education researchers, faculty developers, and postsecondary administrators.

 

These multi-dimensional accounts and tools can be used by policymakers, faculty developers and other change agents to improve their understanding of the factors that support or inhibit particular pedagogical practices, and by program evaluators and administrators to develop situation analyses or baseline accounts of teaching practice and its local determinants.