Summers abroad yield new perspectives, fresh ideas

SOE professors gain broader understanding of diversity, education policy

Headshots of Lisa Abrams, Ph.D., and Jeffery Wilson, Ph.D.
Dr. Lisa Abrams and Dr. Jeffery Wilson

Two VCU School of Education faculty members traveled to Europe this past summer to conduct research in the fields of diversity and education policy.

In June, Dr. Jeffery Wilson, associate professor in the Department of Educational Leadership, took part in the Summer Research Institute at Oxford University. The week-long institute brought together 20 educators from universities across the United States to pursue individual research at Oxford’s Harris Manchester College. Dr. Wilson used this experience as an opportunity to study diversity efforts at Oxford. Specifically, he was interested in the institution’s recent efforts to encourage underrepresented minority students to apply to and thrive at the historic university.

Wilson said he was interested in attending the research institute primarily to see if colleges in Europe face similar issues as American schools regarding planning for diversity.

He discovered that they do. One of the similar issues was what to do about controversial statues on school property, like “Silent Sam,” a statue of a Confederate soldier that stood at the entrance of UNC Chapel Hill in North Carolina. Student protesters toppled the statue in 2018.

Wilson said Oxford University recently faced a similar situation with their statue of Cecil Rhodes, South African diamond miner, Oxford alum and namesake of the Rhodes Scholarship. According to Wilson, students at Oxford lobbied unsuccessfully to have the statue of Rhodes, who some consider to be the major contributor to the start of apartheid in South Africa, removed from school property.

In May, Dr. Lisa Abrams, associate professor in the Department of Foundations of Education, began a three-month stay in Ireland as a visiting professor in the Centre of Assessment Research, Policy and Practice in Education (CARPE) which is housed in the School of Policy and Practice in Dublin City University’s (DCU) Institute of Education.

The institute administers a wide range of undergraduate and postgraduate programs in education, and CARPE is a community of established and emerging scholars in the areas of measurement and assessment. Abrams said participating in CARPE activities introduced her to new ideas and concepts.

“My experience there influenced a redesign of my graduate-level course on measurement to include content on the potential of embedded metrics to examine item responses technology-based assessments, and the principles of evidence-centered design,” she said.

Abrams said she also had the opportunity to work closely with CARPE colleagues on the analysis of a survey of Irish teachers’ attitudes toward standardized testing which provided a comparative lens for the current test-based accountability and data-informed decision-making policies that are widespread in the U.S.

When she wasn’t working, Abrams said she enjoyed her experience living like a typical person in Dublin, Ireland – walking to campus, working to the sound of seagulls outside her office window, and shopping at Tesco, a leading British retailer.