Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Researchers Potentially Skew Vote

Researchers from Dartmouth College and Stanford University crafted official-looking flyers with information about an upcoming election in various states including Montana and sent them to thousands of constituents with the intent of studying the effect of the flyers on the voters. The flyer described two candidates in an upcoming Supreme Court race according to the candidates' political bias even though the candidates were nonpartisan. The flyer had an official state seal and looked like an official voting document; in small print the flyer states that its purpose is for research. Official complaints against the researchers have been filed and they potentially face significant fines if the Montana Commissioner of Political Practices pursues the complaints. Lise Dobrin, a member of UVA's IRB-SBS, commented regarding the ethical implication of the research in Dylan Scott's TPM article.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Darden/Curry Partnership

While poverty and lack of educational resources are certainly factors in poor student performance, mismanaged districts and poor leadership also impact a student's ability to learn and achieve. The University of Virginia Darden/Curry Partnership for Leaders in Education (PLE)'s mission is to restructure the way that education is managed by the state and by the district so that students have better access to talented teachers and improved resources. The program uses a four-lever model to help school districts improve school performance. It addresses improvement in the following areas: organizational leadership, talent management, support and accountability, and data-driven instruction. As recently reported in this article, the PLE worked with districts in Oklahoma and Louisiana and the participating districts saw significant gains in student performance.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Books Behind Bars:" Russian literature and incarcerated youth

Admittedly it isn't often the IRB-SBS receives protocols from the Slavic Language and Literature department at UVa. It probably isn't that usual for incarcerated youth in juvenile detention centers to discuss Tolstoy. When you are working with someone named Andy Kaufman, perhaps it is best to expect the unusual. Andrew D. Kaufman, UVa professor Slavic Language and Literature professor and expert in all things Tolstoy, expanded his passion for sharing Russian literature beyond his UVa classroom to help improve the lives of incarcerated youth in juvenile detention facilities. Kaufman developed the course for "Books Behind Bars" and with the help of UVa undergraduates, they run discussion groups helping the incarcerated youth to learn about Russian literature. Featured on UVa alum Katie Couric's show, the program highlights the benefits of studying the humanities. Kaufman is set to release a new book entitled Give "War and Peace" a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to school and ready to learn social and emotional skills

Sara Rimm-Kaufmann, UVa Curry School of Education researcher
Creating a classroom environment where learning goes beyond the three "r's" to include social and emotional development has a reciprocal affect on student academic achievement. In the study, "Efficacy of the Responsive Classroom Approach: Results from a Three Year, Longitudinal Randomized Controlled Trial," researchers Sara Rimm-Kaufman (University of Virginia), Ross A. Larsen (University of Virginia), Alison A. Baroody (University of Virginia), Timothy Curby (George Mason University), Michelle Ko (University of Virginia), Julia B. Thomas (University of Virginia), Eileen G.Merritt (University of Virginia), Tashia Abry (Arizona State University), and Jamie DeCoster (University of Virginia), looked specifically at Responsive Classroom (RC), a widely-used social and emotional learning intervention. Rimm-Kaufmann reported in this article posted to the Science Daily website that academic gains were found among all socio-economic groups. "The success of many curricula, including those that map onto the Common Core expectations, require that teachers use effective classroom management and develop student confidence and autonomy," said Rimm-Kaufman. "Our trial of the Responsive Classroom approach suggests that teachers who take the time to foster relationships in the classroom and support children's self-control actually enhance student achievement."
"In a time of intense academic demands, many critics question the value of spending time on teaching social skills, building classroom relationships and supporting student autonomy," said Rimm-Kaufman. "Our research shows that time spent supporting children's social and emotional abilities can be a very wise investment." 

Snap Judgements: Race, Religion, and Age

People are like library books, sorted into different shelves because of what they look like, where they come from, what they believe, and how old they are. It's how we make sense of the world. The problem with the organization scheme is that there seems to be an implicit hierarchy, giving some categories more preferable shelves than others. In the Psychological Science article "The Rules of Implicit Evaluation by Race, Religion, and Age," UVa researcher Jordan Axt, with the assistance of Brian Nosek and Charles Ebersole, used the Brief Implicit Association test to measure individuals' quick reactions to images and text as a way of determining their bias towards race, religion, and age. The results indicated that after the individual picked their own group as the top preference, the remaining groups consistently fell into the same order. For example, if the individual was Asian, he would categorically pick positive associations with Asians but for the remaining races they were ordered in the following order with the most preferential first: Whites, Asians, Blacks, Hispanics. Regardless of the individual's race, the remaining races were always listed in that order. For additional information and interviews, check out this article on the Daily Progress website.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Manipulating Facebook Users' Newsfeeds: the Ethics of Testing Emotional Contagion

Facebook is the proverbial gold mine for social and behavioral researchers. Individuals spend hours on it each day documenting their lives, their interactions with others, and their interaction with media. The program collects and analyzes the information, providing an interesting glimpse into various aspects of humanity. The ethics of using Facebook and other social media outlets to gather data is more opaque, however. Facebook users generally post information to a closed group of friends with the expectation that their friends will view the information as part of a normal social interaction. Although the information is posted on the web, some would argue that there is an expectation of privacy. If researchers glean information from Facebook posts without permission, it is similar to a researcher recording a conversation without permission, etc. Engaging participants in a study without their knowledge, particularly by manipulating their newsfeeds, is even more egregious. A Facebook data scientist and two other researchers from the University of California and Cornell University conducted a study in 2012 where they attempted to test the response that users would have to reading negative or positive posts on their newsfeed; they manipulated nearly 700,000 users’ newsfeeds and tracked the users’ responses to see if they mirrored the negativity or remained neutral (i.e. “emotional contagion”).  The Facebook users became unwitting participants in a research study without giving permission; in addition to the lack of consent, the participants were manipulated with the intent to influence the individual’s state of being. While an IRB generally approves using manipulation to study participants, there are specific elements that are required to be in place such as the post-consent debriefing that helps the participant to understand the full nature of the study and provides a more complete consent. In a study where the researcher is manipulating emotions and there is the potential to make a participant upset, the debriefing session is particularly important so that the researcher can gauge the mental state of the participant and assess if additional help is needed.

Facebook users don’t exist in a vacuum. Every day their data are used by corporations to manipulate users to buy products or click on certain links. However, the relationship of trust between researchers and participants is a valuable commodity and when it is abused it is costly not only to participants but to researchers as well. Facebook users voiced their opinion about the manipulation and Adam Kramer, the Facebook data scientist who worked on the study, responded by posting this apology: "I can understand why some people have concerns about it, and my coauthors and I are very sorry for the way the paper described the research and any anxiety it caused. In hindsight, the research benefits of the paper may not have justified all of this anxiety."

Monday, June 30, 2014

Does Being Cool at 13 Pay?

Researchers at the followed a group of Charlottesville, VA, teenagers over a ten year period to gauge whether popularity at age thirteen equates to success ten years down the road. Joseph Allen, professor of psychology at the University of Virginia, led the study that was recently published in Child Development. Their conclusion? Popularity in middle school isn't a guarantee for later success in life and it may in fact have negative consequences as well. As young adults, the more popular youths were using 40% more drugs and alcohol than the "not so cool" kids and were 22% more likely to run into trouble with the law. Kelly Wallace, CNN reporter, submitted this detailed report.