Research of Distinction, 2014-15

From the Dean

GSE Research Facts 2014-15

  • Books/Monographs Published – 9
  • Refereed Articles Published – 79
  • Journal Citations (2009–2013) – 874
  • Research Expenditures – $4,111,515
  • Honorific Awards Received – 8
  • Local K–12 Schools Impacted – 43
Dean Jaekyung Lee

“The three research briefs described in this publication represent examples of the impactful research conducted by faculty in the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo. Grounded in a variety of disciplines, these externally-funded studies illustrate how scholarly research can have a profound impact on educational practices.”Jaekyung Lee

What makes an effective school leader?

School principals serve in a number of roles ranging from supporting teachers in their role as educators to working with children and parents to solve all sorts of problems throughout the day. Surprisingly, there has been relatively little research into what makes an effective principal compared to other areas of education research.

LIFTSStudents in the LIFTS (Leadership Initiative for Tomorrow’s Schools) program are learning to be effective school leaders.

Stephen Jacobson, UB Distinguished Professor from the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy, is looking to change this direction in research. Starting with intensive field study in a Western New York charter school, Jacobson began to collect information on just what it is that makes a principal an effective school leader. This early work, funded by the Wallace– Reader’s Digest Foundation and the New York Educational Finance Research Consortium, was then leveraged into an international program of research that combines local findings with an international group of other scholars also studying effective school leadership—the International Successful School Principals Project (ISSPP). Together, these scholars within ISSPP are developing strong research questions, answering them through rigorous research methods, and because there is a large group of scholars all working toward the same aims, they can combine and share findings more quickly with school leaders for implementation.

“We’re helping to create effective school leaders.”

ISSPP has helped validate the characteristics of successful school leaders, which informs current school leadership training in GSE. Jacobson and his colleagues have identified four core practices in successful leadership: (1) setting a direction for the school; (2) developing the people in the school to help meet goals; (3) recognizing and removing obstacles to success; and (4) managing the instructional program to improve teaching to maximize learning. More information about this research can be found in Jacobson’s 2011 co-edited book, US and cross-national policies, practices, and preparation: Implications for successful instructional leadership, organizational learning, and culturally responsive practices.

GSE Research: Steve Jacobson

The Changing Professional Roles of Librarians

Information science has rapidly evolved as people now have sophisticated search engines on their phones, tablets and computers. Along with these changes in access to information, librarians have found their roles shifting and evolving. Amy VanScoy, assistant professor from the Department of Library and Information Studies, has initiated a program of research to investigate these shifts in professional roles and learn about how the professional identity of a librarian may vary depending on the specific setting within which the person works. VanScoy has been involved in a large research project, The Experience of Reference and Information Services Work, partially funded through an American Library Association’s Diversity Research Grant.


The project has included a number of smaller studies that are intended to inform the field on current-day information science practice. For example, VanScoy has used an interesting research method to find out how the professional roles of librarians are changing, or not changing, as the case may be. In her research, she asked the individual to describe his or her work using metaphors. She has found that these metaphors often include “digging,” “hunting” and “detective work.” These are aspects of traditional information gathering consistent with a librarian’s role. However, VanScoy found in her work that what was missing were metaphors that related to the customer service aspect of helping an individual accessing the librarian’s expertise. This was an important finding as it suggests a key aspect of the professional in contemporary information sciences that may need more attention in professional education and more support within training and professional development programs.

“We’re helping to understand the roles of librarians.”

VanScoy’s research is having a real impact as it informs current library and information science educators on areas that need increased attention for future information professionals and for training and professional development for current professionals. VanScoy has numerous publications in this area, including a 2013 article, “Fully engaged practice and emotional connection: Aspects of the practitioner perspective of reference and information service,” in the journal Library & Information Science Research.

GSE Research: Amy VanScoy

Developing New Teaching Strategies for Mathematics

Deborah Moore-Russo, associate professor from the Department of Learning and Instruction, was teaching Calculus 3 when she realized she needed to change the approach to accommodate the three-dimensional concepts that were critical for students’ understanding. She found out that teaching calculus students about a three-dimensional environment was simply not possible to do on a blackboard, which is limited to two dimensions. Like many innovations in teaching and research, Moore-Russo and her colleagues started out by trying new strategies, even going to a hardware store to buy pipes and other materials that could represent three-dimensional calculus concepts. These initial eff orts were eventually leveraged into funding from the National Science Foundation to investigate how these teaching innovations improved student learning.

3D Calculus

Moore-Russo and her colleagues’ research has illustrated that these manipulatives enhanced learning opportunities for students. As teaching environments have moved toward incorporation of digital supports, the line of research has evolved to now investigate how three-dimensional representations in a digital environment (be it a computer or tablet screen) can support similar, positive learning outcomes to those obtained with the physical manipulatives. A new National Science Foundation grant was recently awarded to extend and enhance the research in this area of inquiry.

“We’re helping to simplify math.”

One intended impact of Moore-Russo’s research is clear: it targets the students who need to learn Calculus 3. Her eff orts are directly intended to enhance classroom-based learning. Moore-Russo’s most recent publication in this area is a 2015 co-authored article, “Impact of explicit presentation of slopes in three dimensions on students’ understanding of derivatives in ultivariable calculus,” in the International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education.

GSE Research