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College News

Fisher Faculty Findings – Part III


Each year, members of the Fisher faculty have special projects in mind. And each year, they are invited to apply for faculty development grants that could help them with their project or mission. Grant funds are intended to promote faculty development that results in scholarly research and dissemination of that research.

This year, a total of 15 faculty members received grant approval, and have been hard at work with their projects. This is the final part of the series, “Fisher Faculty Findings.” Stay tuned to hear more about the great work being done by faculty in 2011!

Dr. Gregory Cunningham, assistant professor, biology

Dr. Cunningham used the grant to buy a kit that helped him and Nidun Daniel, a student of his, analyze stress hormones in wild birds.

To catch the birds, they worked up close to Lake Ontario at the Braddock Bay Bird Observatory (BBBO). BBBO has a variety of nets set up in wooded areas close to the lake.  Volunteers and researchers remove the birds from the nets and bring them back, in a small cotton bag, to a main building where the bird is banded, measured, and released.  There are hundreds of banding labs across the United States and Canada, and they provide researchers with information on numbers of birds, migratory behavior, physiology, and much more.

Since bird bags are sometimes used repeatedly before they are washed, it is possible that birds can be held in dirty bags for 10-15 minutes.  Dr. Cunningham and his student were interested in measuring stress hormones in birds kept in clean bags as compared to those kept in dirty bags.  If differences exist, it might change how banding labs hold birds.  They are currently collecting blood samples from birds up near the lake and the blood is being frozen. In the spring, the pair will analyze the blood for stress hormones using the aforementioned kit.

Dr. Gloria Jacobs, associate professor, education

Dr. Jacobs received a grant to help continue her research into the intersection of digital technologies and the development of academic writing among adolescents and young adults. Specifically, the grant provided support for investigating the linguistic and semiotic resources college freshmen draw on as they develop as academic writers. Dr. Jacobs has previously conducted research into the language and literacy practices of middle school and high school students. The grant allowed her to extend her work to older students and further develop methods for supporting the writing development of the digital generation.

Preliminary analysis of the data indicated that college students engage in a repertoire of literacy practices from both the digital and non-digital world. All of the students in the study reported that they have easy access to computers and cell phones; use texting and Facebook; and listen to digital music; but only a few were regular video game players, or had experience with creating video or audio compositions. Even fewer had tried blogging or knew about wikis.

When writing academic papers, the students initially carried their expectations for academic writing from high school into their college experience, and were hesitant writers needing significant support from their instructor. There was little evidence that their experience with digital technology carried over into their academic writing. They tended to keep their experiences with technologies such as Facebook and texting separate from their academic world. They were also initially hesitant to take up unfamiliar technologies.

However, when the students were presented with opportunities to engage in innovative and minimally structured multimodal assignments, they drew heavily on their knowledge of different digital tools and willingly experimented with unfamiliar digital tools. They also merged traditional text forms with multimodal forms to create multimodal compositions. These multimodal compositions appear to provide opportunities for the students to take risks in their learning of both content and modes of delivery. Students reported that their learning included increased skills in problem solving, collaboration, and communication. Data collection is still in process and Jacobs expects the next set of data to provide insights into how students move between digital compositions and traditional compositions, and how language structures change or remain the same across modalities.

Dr. Jacobs presented the analytic framework for her work at the Literacy Research Association annual conference in Fort Worth, TX on December 2. In April 2011, she will be presenting her findings at the American Education Research Association conference in New Orleans. In addition, Jacobs has published her book "Writing Instruction for Generation 2.0" with Rowman-Littlefield Publishers. She also has an article forthcoming in the Journal of Research in Reading, the official journal of the United Kingdom Literacy Association, and her chapter on Literacy in Virtual Worlds is appearing in the forthcoming Encyclopedia of Applied Linguistics. Jacobs was recently named co-program chair of the Standing Committee on Research for the National Council of Teachers of English.

Dr. Bradley Kraft, assistant professor, chemistry

Dr. Kraft used the funds from his grant to prepare a spectroscopic study of novel organosilicon compounds. The project entails the search for model compounds that will offer a deeper understanding of elementary dynamic chemical processes. Silicon compounds are often used as reagents in the synthesis of pharmaceutical and agricultural chemical precursors, and this research may be applied in a broad sense toward improving the efficiency and selectivity of those reactions.

This grant was Kraft’s first, and provides funds to form a broad foundation for his research. It was used to purchase chemicals and specialty laboratory equipment. Additional chemicals were purchased for scouting reactions outside of the realm of silicon chemistry in order to identify future research endeavors.

Students enrolled in Advanced Lab II (Chem 436) will also make use of the purchased laboratory equipment in a related research-based laboratory experiment. This provides all upper-class chemistry majors an opportunity to conduct some level of scientific research, to gain experience in using state-of-the-art equipment, and the additional research offers potential for discovery of new chemical systems for further study in dedicated scientific research.

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