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Statement of Research

Andrew Saltarelli, Ph.D.

I am interested in how social contextual factors and communication technologies differentially
and dynamically interact with the social psychological and developmental processes underlying
teaching and learning. I am particularly interested in how contextual factors contribute to
educational inequality (e.g., social identity threat) and how social psychological interventions
can reduce achievement gaps. As detailed below, this broad framework has resulted in projects
ranging from experimental-control studies on how technologies affect peer relations and
belonging to mixed methods studies on the lived experience of at-risk students.

My main research agenda examines the ways digital technologies affect cooperation, motivation,
and belongingness influence educational outcomes such as persistence and achievement. For
example, my recent work suggests that digital learning environments perpetuate enrollment and
achievement gaps observed in face-to-face environments for certain learners (e.g., women and
minorities in STEM disciplines). To address these gaps, colleagues and I have conducted field
experiments that test how small contextual cues and social psychological interventions can be
used to close achievement, persistence, and enrollment gaps (e.g., Science, 2017; Human Factors
in Computing Systems, under review). Our work demonstrates that brief social psychological
interventions and subtle welcoming cues can be adapted for use in digital learning environments
and delivered effectively at scale.

I have also examined the ways in which communication technologies and online peer
interactions affect outcomes such as motivation, persistence, and achievement in learning
environments. These experimental-control field studies (e.g., Journal of Educational Psychology,
2014) explore how brief activities that increase cooperation and belongingness can improve
educational outcomes. These studies test whether extant theories can account for the mechanisms
by which online interaction affects learning outcomes. Thus, this body of research goes beyond
simply contrasting face-to-face and online pedagogy to clarify the extent to which educational
practice and social psychological theory generalize to online contexts.

For over five years I have collaborated with a multidisciplinary team conducting mixed methods
research on the lived experience of unaccompanied Sudanese refugees (popularly called the Lost
Boys of Sudan) who arrived in the US in 2000 and 2001. We have published a number of papers
examining aspects of their lives such as educational adaptation and resilience (Teachers College
Record, 2011), psychosocial development (Journal of Family Psychology, 2009), and cultural
appropriation (Journal of Adolescent Research, 2015). These studies show that even in the case
of students with multiple serious risk factors, educators and caregivers can actively affect the
social contextual factors that influence positive educational and developmental outcomes.

Last updated: 11.14.18