Category Archives: Educational Psychology

Kendeou, McMaster co-author Psychology Today post on role of inferences in reading comprehension

Panayiota Kendeou, Guy Bond Chair in Reading and associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s psychological foundations of education program, and Kristen McMaster, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program,  recently wrote a blog post for Psychology Today.

In the blog post, Kendeou and McMaster shared their research on the use of educational technology to help students in grades K-2 make inferences—a skill that helps improve reading comprehension.  The blog post details the two intelligent tutoring system technologies the duo and their team are developing as part of their U.S. Department of Education funded grants.

Read the full blog post in Psychology Today.

Get more information on the Kendeou and McMaster’s intelligent tutoring systems.

Dr. Samuel Odom gives talk, ‘Running with the Wolves of Special Education’

Dr. Samuel L. Odom speaks on special education topics at scholar talk.

On September 1, 2017, educational psychology students, faculty, and staff gathered for a scholar talk featuring Dr. Samuel L. Odom, director of the Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute and Professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Education. The talk, “Running with the Wolves in Special Education: Colleagues, Science, and Practice” covered today’s issues in special education and best research and teaching practices.

Dr. Odom has authored or co-authored over one hundred publications, and edited or co-edited over eleven books on early childhood intervention and developmental disabilities. His research addressed topics related to early childhood inclusion and preschool readiness. Currently, his research focuses on autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

From Geoff and Jennifer: A note on these turbulent times

Dear Educational Psychology students, staff, and faculty,

Welcome newcomers and welcome back to those of you who are returning members of our community. As we welcome you back, we feel it is important to recognize the turbulent times in which we live.  These times challenge us all to become better people.

To begin, we affirm University President Kaler’s statement on August 17, 2017: “We support President Teresa Sullivan and the entire University of Virginia community, and we offer our sympathy to the families of those killed and those injured. Let it be perfectly clear that at the University of Minnesota there is no place for hate, we do not tolerate bigotry, and we denounce in the strongest terms the racist and anti-Semitic message of white supremacy.” Further, we denounce any discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, sexual identity, disability, or age.

At our faculty retreat earlier this week, we shared a story that we found in a book we were reading, and share it here, for it encourages us to consider what we need to do to be a safe and inspiring place.

“One evening a Native American elder told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, and superiority. The other is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, and compassion.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?”

The elder simply replied, “The one you feed.”

It is with a spirit of respect and gratitude that we welcome you and the diverse views, experiences, and backgrounds that we collectively bring to our community. We are happy to have each of you with us this year, and hope that collectively we can feed the right wolf.

The faculty and staff of the Educational Psychology department have spent the past year closely examining our values.  Our top three values are reflected in the College of Education and Human Development’s first three goals:

  1. To provide a transformative student experience for success in a global society.
  2. To intensify efforts to be a diverse, inclusive, and equitable college.
  3. To generate, translate, and disseminate groundbreaking research in areas of high societal need.

Our expectation is that, as members of the Educational Psychology department community, each of us will make every effort to live our values and achieve these goals in our work and in our interactions with others. In particular, we want our culture to be one in which everyone is respectful of others’ views, experiences, and backgrounds, for undoubtedly some will hold views different from our own. Hate speech and related micro-aggressive behaviors have no place amidst respectful exchanges of ideas; they are inconsistent with the Department’s values and contrary to the College’s goals. We expect our community to be a safe harbor from uncivil discourse and behavior.

The recent tragic events in Houston remind us of our common humanity, and provide a model where differing views are irrelevant. If we can remember the common humanity displayed in Houston, perhaps we will be better able to accept and learn from those with whom we disagree.  Our community shares a love for learning. Each of us has something to learn as well as something to share. So let us choose to share our stories, explore varied perspectives, be enriched by our differences, and go forward together to achieve our individual and collective goals.

Warmly,

Geoff Maruyama, Ph.D.                                             Jennifer J. McComas, Ph.D.

Professor and Chair                                                   Professor and Associate Chair

Get to know Mary Jane White, Ed Psych research associate

Mary Jane White

At 5 years old, Mary Jane White filled a caregiver role. Her mother had a neurological disability, and lost functioning in her hands and feet. She passed away when White was 18 years old, influencing her future in ways she wouldn’t learn until later.

“I realized I wanted to find out why [neurological disabilities] happen. At the time, I wanted to be a neuroscientist, which, I suppose, sparked an eventual interest in cognition.”

While going to school to learn about composition, rhetoric, and cognition, White came across research articles and was surprised to find how many unanswered questions there were about the ways people comprehend.

“That sparked my interest in science and research with a focus in reading,” White said. “I like finding answers to open-ended questions.” That interest led her to finish her doctoral degree in Educational Psychology in Psychological Foundations with an emphasis in Reading Comprehension.

At a brief postdoc position in Memphis, TN, White conducted research in text analysis while at the same time, Dr. Ted Christ received his first major grant and was looking for a project coordinator. White’s past experiences qualified her for the position, and over the years, they built a working relationship. She continues to support his research as a research associate.

With Dr. Christ and his colleagues, White applies her knowledge about reading to work with K-12 students and educators.

“One thing I appreciate most about Ted’s work is that he wanted to impact education beyond the traditional academic route. He didn’t want his research sitting in a book or journal, but rather used in schools to improve the educational experience for teachers. It’s difficult to make that happen. But if teachers can work better with students, then it’s more likely that students will succeed, and that success will impact their lives beyond the classroom,” she says. “It’s exciting to support people who are doing the kind of research that can impact learning.”

White finds this research to be incredibly important and aims to help students who struggle with reading and math.

“We need to take whatever steps we can for a child to have a successful life and journey in education. It’s painful to see people struggle. I think we’re seeing the effects of some people who feel left behind in our society, and that can be dangerous. The more we can do to catch students who are falling behind, then I think we’re moving in the right direction.”

As a graduate from the Ph.D. program and research associate at the Department of Educational Psychology, White is passionate about the research and education that our department produces. She wants prospective students to appreciate that they are part of the impact and eventual history that defines the College of Education and Human Development.

“There’s a lot happening in this department. Many people have come and gone over the years who have built a strong foundation to help others continue in their respective fields.”

She continues, “Even though it seems like you’re just a student working in your degree program, know there is a bigger purpose beyond that. That’s why there’re people working in these areas. They don’t do it to make lots of money, but to advance knowledge and help people.”

Outside of work, White enjoys gardening and is in the process of learning beekeeping.

Julie Sweitzer keynotes MCEE annual conference on teaching economics and personal finance

Julie Sweitzer speaks at MCEE annual conference.

On August 1, 2017, Julie Sweitzer, executive director of the College Readiness Consortium in the Department of Educational Psychology was featured as a keynote speaker at Minnesota Council on Economic Education’s (MCEE) annual conference.

As part of the 2017 Claudia Parliament Distinguished Lecture, Sweitzer spoke on what every teacher and student should know about college readiness.

“It is imperative that when we use the word ‘college,’ you understand that it means any sort of post-secondary credential, certificate or degree. It is not just a 4-year liberal arts education, it’s technical schools, community colleges, and 4-year institutions.”

She continues her lecture on the importance on the shift from college for some to college for all.

“We used to hear terms like ‘that kid is college material’ as if it was some how encoded in his/her DNA, and limited to a certain number of students, often preselected by demographics.”

The annual conference provides secondary and elementary teachers the opportunity for two days of sharing, learning, and networking. The goal of MCEE is to equip Minnesotans with the economic and personal financial understanding needed to succeed in today’s complex economy. View more information on the conference.

 

 

 

Cook quoted in Boston Globe on emotional effects Powerball jackpot might have on winner

Dr. Clayton Cook

Clayton Cook, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology was recently quoted in the Boston Globe article, “So you didn’t win the Powerball. Don’t worry, you can still be happy.

The article discusses the emotional effects the Powerball jackpot might have on the winner, questioning if money can buy happiness.

Cook told Boston Globe, “Happiness is a byproduct of the meaning and purpose one derives from life. If one spends their wealth on doing good deeds for others or the environment or supporting a noble cause, then boosts in happiness appear to be stronger and last longer.”

Read the full article.

McConnell participates in Small Talk on closing the word gap in Minnesota

McConnell participates in panel discussion with members of the Think Small team (photo courtesy of Think Small)

Scott McConnell, professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program and program coordinator for the counseling and student personnel psychology program, recently joined a group of early childhood experts from Think Small, an organization which provides service, resources, and advocacy for early childhood education in Minnesota, to discuss the impact that early conversations have on a child’s life.

During the “Small Talk” led by Think Small president and CEO, Barbara Yates, McConnell defined the word gap. He shared that research around the word gap began in the early 90s with a study by Betty Hart and Todd Risley. The two University of Kansas researchers wanted to find out why students from low-income families continued to lag behind students from wealthy families later in school despite best efforts to make preschool more accessible for all children.  Hart and Risley, McConnell explained, found  a significant difference in the total number of words spoken to children of rich and poor families by the age of three. In fact by age four, children in professional families had heard almost 45 million words on average, while children in families who were on welfare had heard an average of only 13 million words.

McConnell went on to discuss how Hart and Risley’s work is continuing through new technologies. He described one technology he is helping implement and evaluate—LENA Start, a parent education program for parents and family child care providers in the Twin Cities. Families using the LENA system, have their children wear vests which, according to McConnell, act as “word pedometers.” These vests automatically monitor the quantity of words and conversations in a young children’s language environment. Parents and childcare providers regularly review the vests’ measurements, encouraging parents to talk to their children more.

Think Small panelists, Dianne Haulcy, senior vice president for family engagement, and Gerri Fisher, parent engagement coordinator, shared Think Small’s focus on helping childcare providers increase parent engagement which led them to work with McConnell and LENA Start. Finally, both women shared their positive experiences using the LENA system to work with parents and students and close the word gap.

For more information on the word gap, visit MNTalks! or the Bridging the Word Gap Research Network. 

Rodriguez quoted by MPR on Minnesota math, reading scores

Michael Rodriguez head shot
Michael Rodriguez

Michael Rodriguez, Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development, co-director of the Educational Equity Resource Center, and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, was recently quoted in the Minnesota Public Radio (MPR) article, “Minnesota math performance slipping; reading up slightly.”

The article discusses reading and math results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Reading Assessment tests. Students in grades three through eight and high schoolers take the reading and math version of these tests each year.

“The schools are limited because at the end of the year — like now — they get their test scores. And the community gets the test scores. But there’s no information in those test scores as to, How did we get there?” Rodriguez told MPR.

Read the full article. 

 

 

CSPP and CRC host college and career readiness workshop

Assistant professor Carolyn Berger led a professional development workshop for Minnesota school counselors on college and career readiness programs. The event was sponsored by the College Readiness Consortium.

On June 8, 2017 counselors working in both rural and urban areas across Minnesota attended a half-day workshop, where they were presented with current data that support the need for greater attention to college and career readiness. Drs. Carolyn Berger and Jennifer Kunze provided examples of programs and resources for doing this valuable work.

Another highlight of the workshop was for attendees to participate in the group dialogue to learn how Minnesota schools are promoting college and career readiness.

Survey data collected from workshop participants indicated that counselors are not finding high quality learning opportunities in their regions related to this topic and thus the department will strive to take the lead for future workshops in this area.

The event was hosted by the Department of Educational Psychology‘s counseling and student personnel psychology program (CSPP) and the College Readiness Consortium (CRC).

Kohli promoted to associate professor

Kohli poses with department chair, Geoffrey Maruyama, at the Board of Regents promotion ceremony.

Nidhi Kohli, Ph.D., in the Department of Educational Psychology’s quantitative methods in education program has been promoted by the University of Minnesota’s Board of Regents to associate professor of educational psychology, effective fall 2017.

Dr. Kohli joined the Department of Educational Psychology in 2012, after doing a postdoctoral research fellowship at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute working with massive Electronic Health Record (EHR) data. Her research focuses on the development and improvement of statistical methods for analyzing educational, psychological, and—more generally—social and behavioral sciences data, particularly longitudinal (measures repeated on the same individuals over time) data.

Please join us in congratulating Dr. Kohli on this tremendous accomplishment!

Kohli, colleagues receive grant for first treatment study of gay and bisexual men with prostate cancer

Nidhi Kohli headshot
Dr. Nidhi Kohli

While prostate cancer treatment can make sex more difficult for straight men, almost nothing is known about its effects on gay and bisexual men. Nidhi Kohli, associate professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s quantitative methods in education program, is part of an interdisciplinary team that has received a $3.7 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the effects of prostate cancer on the sex lives of gay and bisexual men. The goal of the project is to develop a rehabilitation program to help such men overcome these challenges and improve quality of life.

Kohli is co-investigator on the grant and will lead the quantitative methodology for the study, Restore. Specifically, she will be in charge of all data management, including analyses of research hypotheses. The group includes colleagues from the School of Public Health, Medical School, School of Nursing, College of Liberal Arts, and College of Science and Engineering.

“Prostate cancer is the second-most common cancer among all men including homosexual men. I am very excited to contribute and learn from this large-scale study that will involve developing and evaluating the effects of a rehabilitation program via randomized clinical trial,” Kohli says. “The study has the potential to make a difference in the quality of life of gay and bisexual men who have been treated for prostate cancer, and this gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

Minnesota gathers to address social emotional learning at Educational Equity in Action II

Attendees visit in between sessions at Educational Equity in Action.

On June 20 and 21, roughly 500 of Minnesota’s education leaders, researchers, policy makers, and nonprofit organizations gathered at Educational Equity in Action II. This was the second convening hosted by the University of Minnesota. Its focus: improving educational equity by “Working across schools and communities to enhance social emotional learning.”

Opening keynote

Brokenleg leads a small group discussion following his keynote.

Dr. Martin Brokenleg, Co-author of the book Reclaiming Youth at Risk: Our Hope for the Future and co-developer of the Circle of Courage model, explained that trauma from oppression, like that experienced by the American Indian community, can span generations.

“Our culture is plagued by intergenerational trauma,” said Brokenleg, whose mother’s family was among those imprisoned at Fort Snelling. He cited the incredibly high suicide rate among Native people, especially in the 18-30 age group, and among people in Ireland and Scotland after generations of oppression by the British, whose methods not coincidentally were adopted by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs. “We’ve had a normal human reaction to an abnormal history.”

Brokenleg described his Circle of Courage model which supports character building or “teaching the heart” through generosity, belonging, independence, and mastery. Brokenleg finished his talk with practical strategies from Circle of Courage attendees could take back to their schools and communities to help young people—especially those suffering from intergenerational trauma—learn and grow.

Plenary

Members of Rodriguez’s Minnesota Youth Development (MYDRG)

Dr. Michael Rodriguez, professor of educational psychology at the University of Minnesota, Jim and Carmen Campbell Leadership Chair in Education and Human Development, and co-director of the Educational Equity Resource Center and the covening, led a plenary discussion on the results of the Minnesota Student Survey (MSS).

Rodriguez explained, although  at a high-level the MSS tells a positive story about the developmental skills and supports of Minnesota youth, a closer look at the data demonstrates the reality of the inequities some students experience in Minnesota’s education system. This is particularly apparent for students identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual (LGB); students who skip school; students who receive disciplinary action in school; and students who have experienced trauma.

“Ninety-nine percent of our youth say their goal is to graduate from high school—and 65 to 85 percent across demographic groups also want to go to college,” said Rodriguez. “That’s a lot higher than our state’s high school graduation goal for them, which is now about 90 percent by 2020!”

He emphasized that students’ own goals are higher than those we’ve set as a state.

Following the plenary, students in Rodriguez’s Minnesota Youth Development Research Group (MYDRG) led detailed discussions on the MSS results for some of these groups, including: American Indian students, Hmong students, students in special education, LGB students, and students experiencing trauma.

Download presentations from the convening on the MYDRG website.

Breakout sessions

Dr. Clayton Cook leads a discussion on school climate.

Throughout the convening, participants selected from 28 smaller group breakout sessions on social-emotional learning led by University of Minnesota researchers, youth engagement groups, school districts, the Minneapolis Department of Education, and more. Several sessions included youth as presenters and/or  focused on youth participatory action research projects.

Small group discussions

Attendees share their educational equity challenges in small groups.

Before the final keynote, attendees participated in a process called TRIZ. They met in small groups—dividing themselves up based on the different developmental skills and supports students need to be successful (identified in Rodriguez’s work). Participants started with the unusual task of listing actions communities might take to destroy the skill being discussed in youth. Then, they shared opportunities they had to remove some of these destructive activities and developed action plans for their schools, communities, and organizations.

View TRIZ sampling responses for destructive actions and action steps.

Action commitments

At the final session participants responded to the statement “I am committed to” with their commitments to take action on educational equity.

Closing keynote

Khalifa gives the final keynote at Educational Equity in Action.

Dr. Muhammad Khalifa, associate professor in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development, closed out the convening by challenging the group to practice culturally responsive school leadership (CRSL). He asked that school leaders promote schooling that addresses the specific cultural and learning needs of students by focusing on the perspectives of parents, students, and community members.

“Change in schools can be promoted and fostered by ‘leaders,’ but culturally responsive school leadership is practiced by all stakeholders,” said Khalifa. “Community-based based knowledge informs good leadership practice.”

In this statement, Khalifa connected his keynote to Rodriguez’ and Brokenleg’s work. Each of the speakers stressed the importance of listening to all members of our community to improve educational equity.

Khalifa ended his talk by sharing strategies to help attendees to achieve CRSL in their own schools, organizations, and communities.

View an artist’s interpretation of Khalifa’s keynote by Jen Mein.

Thank you to our sponsors

The Educational Equity in Action convening was created by the University of Minnesota’s Educational Equity Resource Center. This year’s event was organized in partnership with the University’s Office for Equity and Diversity and made possible by the Minneapolis Foundation, Youthprise, Jim and Carmen Campbell Leadership Chair in Education & Human Development, College of Education and Human Development, Department of Educational Psychology, and the College Readiness Consortium.

Wackerle-Hollman, McConnell partner with SPPS on $400,000 grant to develop language measures for Hmong preschool students

Two researchers in the Department of Educational Psychology, Alisha Wackerle-Hollman, senior research associate in school psychology, and Scott McConnell, professor of special educationalong with Lori Erickson, assistant director in St. Paul Public Schools (SPPS) Office of Early Learning, and colleagues—recently received a $400,000, two-year grant from the Institute for Education Sciences (IES). Their grant, “Addressing the Growing Diversity of Preschool Populations through Low Incidence Language Barriers: Hmong Language Development to Improve Assessment Approaches,” aims to explore, understand, and document Hmong language development.

“Our IGDILab team is pleased to partner with SPPS on such an important venture. We jointly recognize the importance of Hmong language development to the local community and look forward to learning how early language development affects young Hmong-English bilingual students’ language and literacy development,” said McConnell.

Wackerle-Hollman and Erickson will co-lead the project, focusing on the community’s expertise in Hmong language to understand how the language develops. St Paul is home to the largest urban Hmong population in the nation and nearly a quarter of enrolled SPPS students are Hmong. They’ll use these findings to develop a Hmong language version of the Individual Growth and Development Indicators (IGDIs)brief, easy to use measures of early language and literacy designed for use with preschool children. The new measures will be used by educators to assess Hmong preschool children’s early language and literacy skills.

“IGDILab continues to pursue the development of  meaningful measures for communities that are underserved, including bilingual students,” said Wackerle-Hollman. “This began with early language and literacy measures for Spanish-speaking students and continues through our partnership with St. Paul public schools to develop high quality measures for Hmong students.”

IGDILab is a research lab at the University of Minnesota led by Wackerle-Hollman and McConnell. The lab researches, designs, and tests IGDI measures to support data-based decision making by teachers, early childhood professionals, parents, and others to help improve early childhood outcomes. IGDILab has secured over $5 million in funding in the past decade to pursue complementary research including the assessment of English and Spanish language and early literacy development for children three, four, and five years of age as well as supporting resources to facilitate data-based decisions using scores derived from IGDIs.

Stoffregen article in PLOS ONE is among most cited

An article by Thomas Stoffregen, Ph.D., professor and director of the Affordance Perception-Action Laboratory (APAL) in the School of Kinesiology, is among the 10% most-cited articles published in PLOS ONE.

The article, “Getting Your Sea Legs,”  was published in 2013. It has been viewed 6,901 times and cited 30 times as of June 2017.

 

 

Now accepting applications: Third Annual Diversity in Psychology Program

The Institute of Child Development (ICD) and the Department of Educational Psychology are pleased to support the 3rd Annual Diversity in Psychology Program at the University of Minnesota (UMN).

The program is sponsored by the UMN Department of Psychology and the College of Liberal Arts with support from ICD and the Department of Educational Psychology in the College of Education and Human Development.

The Diversity in Psychology Program is designed for individuals who are historically under-represented in psychology graduate programs and who are interested in learning about graduate training in psychology, child psychology, and educational/school psychology at the University of Minnesota.

The program will feature a coordinated set of formal and informal experiences designed to familiarize participants with strategies for constructing successful graduate school applications, and to provide them with the opportunity to learn more about the experience of graduate education in UMN psychology departments.

To be eligible to apply, individuals must:

  • be enrolled in a college or university as a junior or senior, or who have graduated within the last two years (i.e., 2015 or thereafter). Individuals currently enrolled in a terminal masters-level graduate program in psychology are also eligible.
  • identify as a member of groups underrepresented in graduate training in psychology, including ethnic and racial minority groups, low-income backgrounds, persons with disability, LGBTQ+, military veterans, and first-generation college students or graduates.

Individuals must also meet one of the following criteria:

  • be committed to pursuing doctoral training in either child psychology or educational/school psychology. OR
  • be committed to pursuing doctoral training in psychology in one of the following programs of research offered by the Department of Psychology: clinical science and psychopathology; counseling psychology; cognitive and brain sciences; industrial/organizational psychology; personality, individual differences, and behavior genetics; quantitative psychology/psychometric methods; or social psychology.

Learn more about how to apply.

GIFTED program receives $35,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation

this year's GIFTED cohort
This year’s GIFTED cohort

The Ghanaian Institute for the Future of Teaching & Education (GIFTED) Women’s Fellowship Fostering program has been awarded a $35,000 grant from Newman’s Own Foundation, the independent foundation created by the late actor and philanthropist, Paul Newman. The award to the GIFTED program was made by Newman’s Own Foundation as part of its commitment to the empowerment of individuals.

The grant to GIFTED will be used to host a national educational conference in Accra, Ghana that showcases the leadership projects and impact the 36 GIFTED Fellows have made in their schools and communities. In addition, the funding will be used to continue to support the leadership network that is being overseen by the University of Education at Winneba.

Focused on strengthening the leadership capacity and visibility of female educators as leaders within the Ghanaian public education system, GIFTED provides professional development, ongoing support, and leadership training to 12 women educators per year. These GIFTED fellows participate in a year-long transformational leadership curriculum, where they develop and implement action projects that support educational outcomes in their schools.

GIFTED was started in June 2013 and is a collaboration between New York University (NYU), the University of Minnesota, the University of Education Winneba, and Mujeres por Africa and is sponsored by Banco Santander.

Dr. Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Educational Psychology and associate professor in the special education program at the University of Minnesota is co-principal investigator on the project, which is led by Kristie Patten Koenig, co-principal investigator from NYU. Local partners are Sakina Aquah and Priscilla Yaaba Ackah from the University of Education, Winneba.

CEHD research on early detection of autism cited in NIH Director’s Blog

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Blog recently referenced a study Jason Wolff, assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s special education program and Jed Elison from the University of Minnesota’s Institute of Child Development worked on with colleagues across the country. The NIH post, “Autism spectrum disorder: progress toward earlier diagnosis,” discusses the groups’ research using functional connectivity magnetic resonance imaging (fcMRI) to monitor brain activity in infants less than six months old. Their study suggests certain biomarkers may help us predict which high-risk infants will develop autism by age two.

“For those parents who still find themselves worrying about a possible connection between ASD and vaccines, despite study after study showing there’s no link, these new findings come as further reassurance,” NIH director, Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. writes in his post. “The biological foundations for ASD are present in the brains of children who will develop ASD-related behaviors from very early in life,” he continues. “The best way to keep all kids healthy and protected is to have them vaccinated on schedule.”

Read the full blog post on the NIH Director’s Blog.

CEHD researchers use brain scans to predict autism in high-risk, 6-month-old infants

L-R: Jed Elison, Jason Wolff

College of Education and Human Development researchers contributed to a new study that suggests that patterns of brain activity in high-risk, 6-month-old babies may accurately predict which of them will develop autism spectrum disorder (ASD) at age 2.

The new study was published in Science Translational Medicine and led by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Jed Elison, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Institute of Child Development, and Jason Wolff, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Psychology, were study co-authors. The study was conducted by the IBIS Network and funded by the National Institutes of Health.

Approximately one out of 68 school-aged children in the U.S. has a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder, and their younger siblings are at a higher risk of developing the condition. “These findings need to be replicated, but that said, we are very excited about the potential to leverage cutting edge technology to advance the search for the earliest signs of autism,” Elison said.

For the study, researchers used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the brain’s functional connectivity – or how different brain regions work together – in high-risk, 6-month-old infants. The infants were considered high-risk because they have an older sibling with autism. Overall, 59 high-risk infants were included in the study. Eleven of the infants were diagnosed with ASD at 2 years old and 48 were not.

The researchers applied machine learning algorithms to the infants’ brain scans to identify patterns that separated them into the two groups. They then applied the algorithm to each of the infants to predict which infants would later be diagnosed with ASD. The algorithm correctly predicted nine of the 11 infants who were later diagnosed with ASD and all 48 of the infants who were not later diagnosed with the condition.

According to the researchers, if replicated, the results could provide a clinically valuable tool for detecting ASD in high-risk infants before symptoms set in. This in turn would allow researchers to test the effectiveness of interventions on a population of high-risk infants who have been identified as having a greater risk of ASD based on their brain scan at 6 months of age.

“The researchers will now try to confirm their findings in larger groups of children. But they already have provided proof of principle that it’s possible to detect ASD long before children show the first visible signs of the condition,” NIH Director Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., wrote in a blog about the study. “The findings could pave the way for developing more cost-effective mobile neuroimaging tools, which might be used in early ASD screening.”

In February 2017, Elison and Wolff contributed to a separate study that used MRI scans of high-risk infants conducted at 6 and 12 months of age to accurately predict which infants would later meet criteria for ASD at age 2. The method used in the new study would only require one scan at 6 months of age.

“This is really interdisciplinary science at its very best, and I anticipate it will eventually lead to improved outcomes for children and families,” Wolff said. “The ability to predict autism in infancy opens the door for something that has long been improbable: pre-symptomatic intervention.”

Psych foundations student receives Outstanding Student Paper Award

Reese Butterfuss

Reese Butterfuss, Ph.D. student in the psychological foundations of education program in the Department of Educational Psychology, has been awarded an Outstanding Student Paper Award (OSPA) from the Society for Text and Discourse.

OSPA recognized Butterfuss’s paper “The Role of Inhibition in Reducing the Interference from Misconceptions During Reading,” co-authored by Dr. Panayiota Kendeou, for its quality in predissertation work that is predominantly that of a graduate student.

Butterfuss will present this paper at the 27th Annual Meeting of the Society held in Philadelphia, PA, July 31 to August 2, 2017.

The Society for Text and Discourse is an international society of researchers who investigate all aspects of discourse processing and text analysis.

The purpose of the Society is to consolidate research in discourse processing and to enhance communication among researchers in different disciplines.  A second objective of the society is to contribute to the education and professional development of those in the field or entering the field.

Rose Vukovic receives ‘Thank a Teacher’ note from student

Rose Vukovic headshot
Rose Vukovic

The Center for Education Innovation’s (CEI), Thank a Teacher program allows students to provide unsolicited feedback by sending thank you notes to teachers who make a positive difference on their achievement and development. Dr. Rose Vukovic, director of undergraduate studies and associate professsor in the special education program continues to impact students’ lives. Recently, she received an official letter from CEI with a “thank you” note from a former student.

The note reads:

“Hello, Dr. Vukovic!

I’m writing to thank you for all of your support and encouragement when I was taking your class, EPSY 2601, in Spring 2015. You encouraged me to do the Blind Inclusion in group work presentation to help my classmates know how to interact with me. That was a small presentation, and I just finished studying English.

I’m happy to inform you that now I have developed 3 big trainings on how to interact with people with visual impairments, starting with access assistants, then one for professors, and now I’m working on one for students in college-level settings to help everyone take an action to make people with disability feel included in this university. I may not have done all of these projects if you had not given me the chance to present in class.

You saw my strengths even though I just finished studying English and my grammar writing wasn’t too strong. I would like to thank you so much for everything you have done for me. I will never forget how you inspired me. A huge thank you for you and wishing you all the best!

– Roqayah”

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