School of Education News

Wang to take part in national symposium examining ‘hard-to-measure’ competencies

December 11, 2015

UW-Madison’s Xueli Wang will be participating in a national meeting examining “hard-to-measure” skills on Dec. 16 in Washington, D.C.

With support from the National Science Foundation, the Board on Science Education of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine is convening a Symposium on Assessing Hard-to-Measure Cognitive, Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies.

Such “hard-to-measure” abilities include areas such as motivation, critical thinking, conscientiousness and teamwork.  Wang will take part in a panel discussion titled, “Key Intrapersonal Competencies (e.g. motivation, mindsets).”

Xueli Wang
Wang is a faculty member with the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis. She is also a principal investigator with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER) and a scholar with the Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education.

During the panel discussion, Wang will be sharing what she has learned about factors that influence transfer in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields for students moving from two- to four-year institutions. This topic is related to a $1.4 million NSF research project she is currently conducting that’s taking a closer look at students attending Wisconsin’s two-year colleges who aspire to transfer into STEM majors at four-year institutions. This NSF award is allowing Wang to follow a cohort of 3,000 students in Wisconsin.

In particular, Wang explains she will be discussing how to measure two-year college students’ motivational beliefs regarding STEM fields, engagement in active learning activities and transfer capital. 

“A major challenge in the current research on two-year college students is to assess students’ mindsets, beliefs and behaviors that policymakers, practitioners and researchers can use to help improve students’ pathways and success,” says Wang. “The preliminary mixed-methods research findings I am sharing at the symposium represent my research team’s efforts to address that challenge.”

Wang adds it is important to also keep in mind that these key measures — attitudes, self-efficacy, engagement in active learning, transfer capital, etc. -- often intersect with two-year college students' other identities and roles in life.

“While researchers often construct scales to measure these, we also should be mindful that they can also be exhibited in dynamic and fluid relationships -- the complexity of which can be better captured through a mixed-methods research approach,” she says. “We will continue to wrestle with these conceptual and methodological challenges as we aim at developing high-quality measures to assess these important attributes and engagement behaviors in order to better support two-year college students.”

Wang has conducted extensive research in these realms in recent years. In addition to the NSF project that is currently examining students at Wisconsin’s two-year colleges, in 2013 she was awarded a grant from the Association for Institutional Research and the NSF to study course-taking patterns among community college students planning to transfer into baccalaureate STEM programs.

Wang also previously worked on the Manufacturing Engineering, Technologist and Technician Education (METTE) project with fellow WCER Researcher Allen Phelps. This initiative, funded with a $1.2 million NSF grant from the Advanced Technological Education program, worked to improve education outcomes for manufacturing workers.

The Symposium on Assessing Hard-to-Measure Cognitive, Intrapersonal and Interpersonal Competencies will be webcast here beginning at 7:30 a.m. (Madison time) on Wednesday, Dec. 16.

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