Shreya's Speculations


Teaching Adolescents to Become Learners: The Role of Noncognitive Factors in Shaping School Performance

Top take-aways

Five categories of noncognitive factors related to academic performance:

  1. Academic behaviors

These behaviors are typically associated with those exhibited by a “good student”. Good attendance, doing homework on time, being organized for school, class participation, and studying outside of school, are some of these.

  1. Academic Perseverance

This refers to a student’s proclivity to be ready with complete assignments on time, in spite of any challenges along the way. Grit, delayed gratification, discipline, and self-control are some factors in this category.

  1. Academic Mindset

This refers to the belief that a student has about oneself with regards to academic work. Positive mindsets tend to motivate students to persist at school work. To reciprocate, good academic performance “validates” positive mindsets and thus increases academic perseverance and academic behavior.

  1. Learning Strategies

These refer to the tactics are student employs to aid in thinking and learning. The more effective they are, the more students can take advantage of their behavior to improve learning. They include study tactics (like the use of mnemonic devices), metacognitive tactics, and self-correcting tactics.

  1. Social Skills

These refer to behaviors that maximize social interactions. They include interpersonal skills, ability to empathize, ability to co-operate, ability to assert oneself when needed, and to be responsible. 

What are some worries & barriers to adopting a blended learning model?

Participants: 145 teachers across Idaho


  1. Lack of time
  2. Lack of technology
  3. Lack of training
  4. Lack of support
  5. Lack of student interest
  6. Lack of understanding of how these courses affect school funding
  7. Worries about technical issues
  8. Lack of policy & procedure
  9. Lack of funding for efforts
  10. Attitudinal: belief that other technologies are more effective
  11. Not user-friendly
  12. Attitudinal: belief that one needs to be tech-savvy
  13. Inability to review sample classes
  14. Worry that this won’t help students who procrastinate


Werth, E. , Werth, L., & Kellerer, E. (2013). Transforming K-12 Rural Education through Blended Learning: Barriers and Promising Practices. Retrieved from


How do educators want to search for content?

 When searching for metadata related to education, educators are interested in content tagged by: 

  • Content/subject area
  • Grade level
  • Alignment by specific standards
  • Intended use
  • Resource type
  • Intended user
  • Name of Resource
  • Interactivity type
  • Time required to complete
  • Publisher
  • Primary language

Common search tools they used:

  1. Google
  2. Library of Congress
  3. Publisher’s sites
  4. Bing
  5. Yahoo
  7. Curriki,org
  9. Connexions (


Winter Group for the Association of Educational Publishers (2014) , Learning Resources Metadata Initiative. Retrieved from

Parenting, Culture, and Technology Use

Hey Parents,

  • Do you have one or more children?
  • Are you 18 years old or older?
  • Is your child under the age of 11?
  • Do you consider yourself or your parents multicultural? Do you come from a variety of cultures or backgrounds?

Participate in a research study! We want to learn about your approaches to parenting, your background, and your technology use. We hope to understand how we might better support cross-cultural parenting through technology design. Your participation will help us to better understand the lives of parents. 

Cross-cultural parenting might refer to any kinds of differences in the backgrounds of how you and your spouse, partner, or ex-partner were raised, or differences in your parents’ cultures. This might be related to ethnicity, where you were raised, religion, or anything else that you feel has influence your parenting styles. 

If you decide to participate, we will ask you to do in an interview with our research team. The interview will take about 45-60 minutes of your time. The interview can be conducted in person or over the telephone or Skype. Participating in any of our studies is completely voluntary. Even if you decide to participate now, you may change your mind and stop at any time. 

For more information, please contact me by email at

This study is being conducted in collaboration with independent researchers as well as researchers at AT&T Research Labs, Intel Science and Technology Center. 

Jul 2

Lessons from the field

I recently facilitated a few focus groups with a group of teenage boys. The boys participate in a program run by the incredible Starfinder Foundation, [If you’re in the Philly area, I would urge you to check them out] where they play a game or two of their much-loved soccer followed by some sort of classroom enrichment activity. I found that while I could apply traditional focus group guidelines, I had to supplement it with some classroom techniques that I picked up during a two-year stint teaching freshmen engineering students. Here’s the stuff I did:

1. Schematized it


If you have read any focus group material, you probably know this already, but always draw your layout out. I did this as the kids were settling in. I usually draw the basic structure first and leave ample space for names/demographic details, which I filled in as we started with introductions. You’ll be surprised with how much you forget later!

2. Remembered key names

Another good focus group technique is to remember names so you can provide a more engaging environment for your participants. I found this to be especially useful for these particular focus groups. As I draw the schematic, I added names and other details, as and when I heard them. It can be challenging to remember everyone’s names as they run through them in a matter of a few seconds, but I tried to get at least one name every three to four individuals. I also kept a ear out for names when they had conversations amongst themselves, but I had to be careful to make sure they weren’t nicknames/inappropriate.

3. Psychologically profiled them

As they were coming in and talking to each other, I profiled them into extroverts and introverts and made notes about their habits. As a rule, I also make an extra effort to remember the introverts’ names because they tend to need a little more probing, but they almost always give better feedback. Observing their habits and behavior is a great way to get conversations started. image So, for instance, on Row (R)1, Seat (S) 3, this participant was constantly on his phone, but it didn’t look like he was responding to texts. So, I started asking him about mobile apps and for advice on what apps to download. And boy, did his eyes light up! It could have been a coincidence, but after that he put his phone away and gave some great feedback. 

4. Noted down short quotes

I would suggest that you do this whether you’re recording the session or not. Aside from just having valuable quotes, this also helps avoid the ‘lead by summary’ effect, where a facilitator summarizes something incorrectly, and the participant fails to correct them, either because they feel embarrassed to or because they get influenced by it. It also helped me avoid looking completely ancient by using some of their slang (of course, I tried to make sure I take the slang down correctly, and only repeated it if I was sure it wasn’t offensive). For instance, I had a particularly challenging time understanding this one teenager because all his adjectives were slang. So, everything was ‘dope’, ‘sick’ or ‘whack’. His expressions were stoic and I couldn’t necessarily tell if they were good things or bad. (I know enough about slang to understand what they mean here in the U.S., but I also know that they are used differently in different countries, and this particular participant was a recent immigrant). I decided to take the plunge and asked him, “what exactly makes this sick?” Turned out, ‘sick’ in his lingo was exactly what it sounded like -a bad thing. 

5. Moved around

Since this was a small room, with chairs that could rotate, and none of the participants had any accessibility needs, I would change my position every now and then. I found that the participants I faced directly felt compelled to answer questions, so by moving around, at some point potentially everyone was put in the awkward position of facing me directly. I would also like to point out that I never had my back to anyone ever- extremely important to ensure that no-one ever feels ignored

6. Had ‘prizes’

For one of the tasks, we wanted them to complete a survey per group. Anyone who’s dealt with teenagers knows that having them complete surveys can be worse than pulling teeth. We knew that this set of participants was competitive and we decided to leverage that to our advantage. We asked for volunteers to be ‘captains’ but told them that they would be in charge of listening to the group and writing down what everyone said. We then told them that if they took down really good notes and answered the survey with enough detail, they would win a prize. This worked really well and the ‘captains’ listened and wrote hard. (We found that they would get distracted from time to time, but timely reminders about the prize at hand helped them get back on track). We eventually gave prizes to both captains, and chose something that they could share with the rest of groups.


A focus group is an incredible way to get a lot of good valuable data, but data without field notes can turn out to be useless. What’s extremely important, is that you expand on your notes immediately after your session. Spell everything out like you’re writing your notes for someone else. This is extremely important if you facilitate multiple focus groups because all your memories will start to get mixed up after a point. Thank you, interference theory

Acknowledgement: I would like to say a huge thank you to the students at Starfinder for their energy and participation, as well as to the fabulous staff- thank you for letting us participate and thank you for making the world a better place!

Stay away from fast food, UXers!


UX is an incredible field. It really is. It managed to do in a span of about five years what human factors professionals have been struggling to do for decades- make the idea of user centered designs look cool. About 95% of UX professionals that I encounter are designers. They’re incredibly talented and can create magic and work on complicated tools with their eyes shut.  

About 5% of UX discussions focus on research, and about 98% of those discussions focus on doing research quickly and “sloppily”, and on how everyone can do research, and how talking to a few people is enough. So, what happens is that you have this very talented designer who picks up a phone, gets a user to give feedback on his/her design and then feels extremely accomplished about doing research. It’s not their fault-after all they have heads of user experience teams of these successful companies telling them that’s what it is. What these authors not telling you is that it isn’t research at all, but…wait for it…validation. Getting something validated is a great feeling, but it’s not sadly not research. I think it’s about time we truly focused on the U of UX, don’t you?

Here’s the sad truth,

1. You can’t create designs and do research at the same time. If there’s one requirement of a researcher, it’s that they stay objective, and you simply cannot be objective of your own designs. It doesn’t matter if you want the product to win or that you truly care about honest feedback. Unless you inform a user that you had nothing to do with the design, they will be hesitant to give you completely negative feedback. Lying to them will only open another can of worms.

2. Research is not easy. Nope. Research is a science, any deviation from its methodology can result in unusable findings. Scientific researchers are trained for years before they can be what’s called the ‘principal investigator’ (or the researcher). Researchers solve problems using methods that depend on the problem. They’re trained on how to behave, how to observe, how to design experiments, how to collect data, how to analyze data (qualitative and quantitative analyses methods are are typically broken down into semester long classes), how to report data, and most importantly, how to  be objective. Does that really sound simple?  You cannot do a usability test of everything in sight and call yourself a researcher. You’re a usability tester. You cannot talk to  group of people and think you’ve done research. You’ve instead done just that, spoken to a group of people.

Researchers typically start with a problem, look at existing studies done around that problem,  come up with hypotheses based on what they’ve read, carefully think about what methods would help answer the research questions, then think of a sample size, and then start the research process. There’s no quick and dirty way to do this. It can be a frustrating process, but it does get easier with practice. If you want the truth about research, ask professors, the true ‘experts’ of research. I’ll guarantee you that while they might describe it as ‘exciting’, and ‘enjoyable’, they will never describe it as ‘easy’ and neither should you.

3. If you’re winging it, you’re not doing research. Enough said.

4. Research needs space. While conducting research is a science, every researcher has their signature method of conducting research. Some like to analyze as they go, some like to take extensive field notes, while others like do block off times to focus on research thinking. Just like designs need to be distraction-free, researchers need to work in a distraction-free environment so they can really focus on what they need to focus on. Designers are protective of their work, and rightfully so. Researchers need to stick up for their work space too. Every inexperienced, amateur researcher is a distraction because you need to keep an eye on them (not necessarily in the literal sense) and make sure they’re not influencing the participant in any way.  In academia, you have interdisciplinary research that requires collaboration, but every researcher involved takes ownership of the areas that they have expertise in. 

So, what’s that got to do with the clown?

Let’s start answering that by playing a game. Look at the words below and tell me what you think of when you see the following words.

  • Fast
  • Easy to pick up
  • Cheap
  • Can be good for you 
  • Fulfilling

Fast food commercials? Okay, one point for you. Now, think of the ‘UX-Research-done-easy’ movement and go back and read those points again. See anything that fits? Yes? One point for me. 

When I was reading some of the extremely-well written books that have taken the UX research world by storm, three things happened to me:

  1. I got angry
  2. I got taken in by the eloquent writing and the pretty diagrams 
  3. I got angry because of No.2, and because I knew better 

What they don’t tell you is that they both:

  • Appear fulfilling
  • Are not really what they claim it to be
  • Expensive in the long run
  • Have dangerous, unknown side effects
  • Not worth it

The optimist in me believes that the authors of these books are that good and thus actually find research extremely easy, but I also believe  their words of advice can be completely misunderstood and misapplied by an amateur.  

 So,  how do we make this better? 

  1. Hire/Consult with a true, objective researcher
  2. Undergo training for research skills from people who actually do scientific research
  3. Only conduct research of projects you’re objective about (never your own designs) 
  4. Go to Google Scholar and read actual research papers. This won’t be light reading, but this is where you will really learn.

“I believe in innovation and that the way you get innovation is you fund research and you learn the basic facts. ” -Bill Gates