EERA & #AERA15: My Two Cents

This semester, I had the pleasure of presenting and attending at two different conference. At the regional level, I attended the EERA (Eastern Educational Research Association) conference in February which was hosted this year in Sarasota, Florida. A nice one hour drive from Tampa. Some of the highlights for me from the conference were a session on:

  • Mindfulness practice in schools
  • Partnerships between institutions of higher education and private organizations to develop multi-institutional online courses
  • Large scale datasets

My objective when attending a conference is always to attend sessions that relate to my research interest but I also like to attend sessions that are on topics completely new to me. I was very interested on the mindfulness practice in school presentations primarily because I am a yoga practicioner and I was curious to know the research behind mindfulness/mindfulness-related activities and it how it affected learning (if it did). The presentation helped me understand the benefits and challenges of mindfulness in schools but it also made me realize that it can be applied to higher education. I immediately started to think how I could apply this with my students in the graduate classes. We are pretty lucky at UTampa because there is an active initiative called “the mindful mediation hour” which, I believe, is hosted every Monday. Other colleagues mentioned that this would be extremely difficult to implement in their institutions.

The session related to partnerships was a great opportunity to learn about a topic but it was also great to meet Barbara Lockee (Past AECT president). We had met in the past via email but I’ve never had the opportunity to talk to her face to face. It was wonderful to talk about AECT, Virginia Tech, the field of instructional design and she even gave me some great advise for the tenure track journey!

Similarly to the two previous sessions, I was interested in learning about large scale datasets and I thought it would be beneficial to sit in this session. It definitely was worth the time. I have never given much thought to the idea of using available datasets to conduct research but after sitting in this session I was considering it for my own research, research with my students in the classroom, and potential collaborations with colleagues. It was good to learn from others that use large datasets on a regular basis and to learn some of the do and don’t of large datasets analysis.

During the conference, I also presented on the use of VoiceThread as an interactive tool for audio/video discussion boards in a hybrid class.  This presentation was reporting on a data collection that I had done earlier in 2014 in which students provided feedback on their experience with VoiceThread through the semester and provided suggestions for improvement. It was nice to share some insight into the use of audio/video discussion boards in a hybrid class. Overall it was a nice of groups presentations in the session and good questions.

At the national/internationals level, I attended the AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in April. The AERA meeting was held in the Chicago. I still consider myself a newbie to AERA but I feel that every year I learn something new about the organization, the different divisions, and the special interests groups. In previous years, I have carefully crafted my schedule to figure out exactly what sessions I am attending before arriving to the conference but given the intensity of the Spring 2015 semester, the best I could do was download the app and figure out my schedule a day before the conference started. I think my ability to put together a schedule was also influenced by the fact that I was attending the New Faculty Mentoring Program (sponsored by Division C — I am working on a blog post about my experience — coming soon) and I knew I was going to have two days of back to back sessions. In a way, I was not sure how energetic I would be by the first day of the actual AERA conference.

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Once I did get around to selecting the sessions I was planning to attend, I focused primarily in divisions sessions and SIGs that related to topics that are a research interest to me and that I would like to present in the future at AERA. I wanted to get an idea if anyone else was doing similar research, using the same tools, similar methodology, or what it was like to present to individuals in specific SIGs. One of the SIGs that was of interest to me was Educational Neuroscience. I am currently working in a project with JoAnn Scott, Alumni of the UT ID&T program, related to cognitive processing in geriatric learners and we are considering submitting a paper in the future about this topic. One of the big takeaways of attending the Educational Neuroscience sessions were that: 1) the sessions are very well attended (I was standing in the back of the room for the three different sessions I attended on this topic), 2) there was significant talk about methodological concerns and the use of EEG to collect data, and 3) we (researchers) have to be carefully with broad generalization of the findings.

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During the AERA conference, I also presenter a poster titled “Computer-Based Simulations: An Instructional Design Perspective.” This poster related to research I’ve been conducting using since I was in my doctoral program. Here it is in a nutshell: I started reading about computer-based simulation in the educational technology literature and I noticed most of the theoretical and conceptual work was back in the ’80 and early ’90. Since then, we have primarily focused on computer-based simulation within a specific context (is it a math simulation? is it a biology simulation? — you get the point). Yet, we (researchers) are rarely focusing on research related to the design of computer-based simulations (regardless of the context) based on instructional design components to make the simulation instructional, interactive, engaging, functional, and realistic. That is the short version of the story.

In summary, I truly enjoyed my experience at EERA and AERA15. I know I didn’t say much about the locations but I want to say that been able to drive to Sarasota for a conference was nice (except for the rush hour traffic back into Tampa) and Chicago was just amazing! I was a first time visitor to Chicago and I love it!

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