Logo: University of Southern California

Past Research Projects

PedWorkflow: Workflows for Assessing Student Learning
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The goal of this project was to create a novel workflow environment that supports efficient assessment of student learning through interactive generation and execution of various assessment workflows. Unlike most of the existing workflow systems, some types of assessment involve steps that cannot be fully automated, such as obtaining student registry information, e.g. student gender, and using questionnaires to acquire student motivation levels. The system should provide effective assistance in executing such manual steps. The results from the manual steps should be seamlessly integrated with other steps.
The PedWorkflow effort included 1) knowledge-based modeling of non-computational assessment tools as well as computational tools as workflow components 2) interactive generation of hybrid workflows that address high-level pedagogical assessment goals by propagating and combining constraints from both non-computational and computational steps, and 3) management and interactive execution of hybrid workflows that incorporates new constraints that are inferred from execution of non-computational steps. Evaluations will focus on the effects of PedWorkflow technology on learning assessment performance. We will evaluate tools in the context of two undergraduate engineering courses at USC.

PedWorkflows Website >>

Funding Agency: ICEF - Innercity & Environmental Engineering Academy for Secondary Teachers & Students
The purpose of this engineering education project is to revolutionize security education at universities by developing a set of practical, hands-on exercises to accompany security courses. This project is being evaluated in a partenrship with USC's Information Science Institiute. this project partnership is critical to advancing engineering education and is multi-university project with three partner universities.
Funding Agency: National Science Foundation CCLI Type 1
USC Affiliation: Jihie Kim, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
Center For Scholarly Technology Teaching With Technology Project
In this project, faculty across USC were awarded Provost funding to engage in innovative projects in which they teach with technology. Ragusa serves in an advisement role with this project related to assessment and project evaluation. This partnership enables advancement and impact assessment of the University's innovative teaching with technology opportunities.
The University of Southern California, in collaboration with Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, developed a comprehensive, multidisciplinary state-of-the-art research program supported by an NCMHD Center of Excellence that focuses on the principle that obesity and associated life-style factors (e.g., poor diet and inactivity) begin early in life and set individuals on a path of high lifetime risk of major chronic diseases, including most significantly, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Furthermore, this Center is dedicated to the belief that the long-term control of obesity and obesity-related diseases in minority children can be addressed through the prevention and control of obesity during childhood. The diverse population of urban Los Angeles provides a unique environment and access to a broad range of population sub-groups to address these issues. The purpose of the regional seminar series, which includes a range of research topics supported through the Center, was to share and disseminate minority health and health disparities research findings on childhood obesity and to increase the participation by health professionals and community stakeholders in the effort to eliminate health disparities in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of childhood obesity.
Funding Agency: National Institute of Health
USC Affiliation: Gisele Ragusa, Principal Investigator
Autism (Innovative Adaptation & Dissemination of CER Products)
Autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are pervasive neurodevelopmental disorders first described over sixty years ago and diagnosed on the basis of significant impairments in social, communicative, cognitive and behavioral functioning. Symptoms persist throughout life, disrupt families and lead to significant disability; thus, ASD presents major public health challenges. There is no cure and no global consensus regarding which intervention strategy is most effective, with chronic management often being required. Given the complexity of ASD and associated therapies, it is clear that teachers, clinicians and families need guidance in selecting appropriate treatments. We managed to increase the impact, use and application of two AHRQ comparative effectiveness (CER) products that reference ASD therapeutics by adapting both their content and delivery mechanism to improve their penetration and use at the health and educational systems, clinical practice, caregiver and family levels. Our multidisciplinary team brought together faculty from the Annenberg School of Communication, School of Cinematic Arts and Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California with a nationwide network of experts on ASD therapeutics. Our collective expertise is in academy award-winning documentary film production; health communication; quantitative evaluation; and behavioral and pharmacologic ASD treatments. We developed, implemented, and evaluated a highly interactive and engaging evidence-based intervention as customizations of CER products that targeted important audiences, systems and settings that were not already specifically targeted or reached by the original CER review products.
We specifically focused on: (1) all 2,000 Medicaid-licensed clinicians across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who treat ASD under the auspices of the Department of Public Welfare; (2) a difficult-to-reach underserved population of more than 300 parents of ASD children, primarily from traditionally underserved minority groups in the city of Philadelphia; and (3) 400 special needs teachers in three large Southern California school districts who have contact with ASD children. We employed novel methods of adaption and innovative mechanisms through technology-based dissemination channels to create highly interactive and emotionally engaging documentary vignettes that can be rapidly and easily downloaded from an internet website. Our dissemination approach incorporated pre- and post- intervention exposure to evaluate the efficacy of our intervention in the targeted audiences. All work products are broadly shared with AHRQ, the public and the scientific community.
Funding Agency: National Institute of Health & Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
USC Affiliation:
Mark J. Harris, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Investigator
                           Clara M. LaJonchere, Co-Investigator
                           Michael J. Cody, Co-Investigator
                           Marsha Kinder, Co-Investigator
The Optimizing Participation Through Technology (OPTT) Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center Initiative
The Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center (RERC)/Optimize Participation Through Technology (OPTT) Initiative was working with a goal of bettering the lives of those with physical motor difficulties related to aging and disability through the research and development of new technologies. A cross-disciplinary team of experts from the fields of clinical rehabilitation, gerontology, engineering, education, and various technology partners and disability advocates collaborated in the context of the OPTT-RERC in the USC Viterbi School of Engineering.
OPTT-RERC Website >>
Funding Agency: US Department of Education
USC Affiliation: Carolee Winstein, Principal Investigator

                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator

Project MSLAHMS: Middle School Literacy Achievement in Health, Math and Science
Project MSLAHMS was designed to improve middle school teachers’ ability to strengthen their pedagogical approaches and instruction in science, health, and math and to teach content area literacy using inquiry and diagnostic approaches.
Project MSLAHMS was funded by the California Postsecondary Education Commission. It was a collaborative professional development (PD) program between the USC STEM Research Group and Paramount Unified School District (PUSD). It was designed to improve middle school teachers’ ability to strengthen their pedagogical approaches and instruction in science, health, and math and to teach content area literacy using inquiry and diagnostic approaches. Fifty middle school science health and math teachers directly benefited from Project MSHLAMS. The Project utilized a combined teacher academy and lesson study approach to professional development with a focus on content area literacy instruction and STEM achievement.
Funding Source: California Postsecondary Education Commission
USC Affiliation: Gisele Ragusa, Principal Investigator
                           Lowell Stott, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Gary Rosen, Co-Principal Investigator
USC CSMARTS in LA: Computer Science Mentorship for the Advancement of Teachers & Students in Los Angeles
The Google sponsorship funds for this project are being used to provide the necessary tools to increase high school teacher and student knowledge about computational thinking through the use of robotics programming, using a participatory or “hands on” teacher in-service professional development approach with a hybrid delivery. Accordingly, funds are being utilized for robotics kits, sensors and other take away materials for teachers to manipulate, use in curricular development, and share with students for building and manipulation in preparations for integrating computational thinking through robotics into the curriculum and for participation in competitions.
The USC CSMARTS in LA program has six important and societally relevant goals. They are:
  • To increase the number and diversity of high school students and teachers who understand foundational computational thinking and computer programming through robotics.
  • To increase the number and diversity of students who will be prepared to pursue college degrees in computing-related fields of study.
  • To contribute to the existing computer science infrastructure within Los Angeles Unified School District by forming alliances and integrated curricula through inservice professional development for teachers.
  • To create innovative curriculum within high school course content, which can be articulated within the framework initiated by the International Society for Technology in Education (ITSE) and shared broadly with diverse  educational and academic computational thinking (CT) communities.
  • To design and implement innovative curriculum connected to high school course content suitable for in-class and after school programs such as robotics competition programs.
  • To develop highly skilled and innovative teams that are able to successfully compete at local, state and national robotics competitions.
Funding Agency: Google
USC Affiliation: Gisele Ragusa, Principal Investigator
                           Maja Mataric, Co-Principal Investigator
Discussion boards, or online asynchronous discussions (OADs), have become increasing popular course tools for university-level engineering courses to support students' communication and collaboration. Although collaborative OADs are being adopted, and the collaboration they enable holds promise for fostering interest, inclusion and increased retention, there is no easy way to measure discussion quality or its impact on learning.
The goal of this project is to study connections between student discussion constructs and student socia-demographic, background and performance data in undergraduate and graduate STEM courses. The study contains two important thrusts: One investigates retrospective data and the other investigates ongoing student discussion data. We plan to perform the study with large discussion corpora that contains online discussion data from 115 past courses and 4 ongoing courses.
The primary objective of the research work is to evaluate the hypothesis that 1) high student discussion participation significantly impacts performance and retention and 2) that there may be predictable patterns of participation among different student cohorts. Research questions include:
1.  Does the quantity and quality of participation in online course discussion boards affect student performance and retention?
2. Do different cohorts of students, for example, those with different socia-demographic charactersitics and language/technical backgrounds, participate in discussion differently in terms of quantity and quality?

PED-EVAL Website >>

Funding Agency: National Science Foundation
USC Affiliation: Dr. Jihie Kim, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Erin Shaw, Co-Principal Investigator
Engineering Medical Therapeutic Technologies - Research Experience for Teachers (EMT2 - RET)                                     
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The Engineering Medical Therapeutic Technologies Research Experience for Teachers (EMT2-RET ) program will support the involvement of high school and community college STEM teachers in engineering and computer science research focused on medical therapeutic technologies conducted in Viterbi School of Engineering (VSoE) and Biomimetic MicroElectronic Systems Engineering Research (BMES ERC) laboratories at the University of Southern California. Through participation in cutting-edge research at USC, teachers will gain advanced knowledge of engineering and computer sciences. Teams of RET teachers will collaborate on projects under the mentorship of world-renowned scientists and engineers. The coordinated efforts of multidisciplinary research groups offer RET teachers the opportunity to work in laboratories that range from basic science to systems engineering. Additionally, teachers will participate in professional development workshops in pedagogy and curriculum development, aiding the teachers in the translation of the RET experience into relevant classroom activities, including discovery-based laboratory exercises that are relevant, motivating and standards aligned.

USC Affiliation: Gisele Ragusa, Sr. Personnel
                           Joseph Cocozza
Societally Relevant Engineering Technologies - Research Experience for Teachers (SRET-RET)
The vision of the Societally Relevant Engineering Technologies-Research Experience for Teachers (SRET-RET) is to leverage the considerable resources of the University of Southern California to create long-term partnerships among world-renowned engineering researchers and K-12 teachers in Los Angles inner-city schools. The 6-week SRET-RET summer program brings knowledge of science, technology and engineering directly to middle and high school educators (10 teachers per year over 3 years) by involving them in mentored, discovery-based, and authentic learning experiences. In addition to their immersion in the research environment, SRET-RET teachers participate in engineering, technology, and pedagogy professional development workshops which facilitate the synthesis and translation of their new found knowledge and skills into meaningful and rigorous K-12 classroom activities that spark enthusiasm for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, particularly among underrepresented minority students. The academic year follow-up component of the SRET-RET program is structured to sustain and elaborate on the accomplishments the teachers make in the summer. It facilitates communication between the SRET-RET teachers and their K-12 colleagues as well as their SRET-RET university partners. Academic content and pedagogical support and resources will be available to the teachers as they begin to implement their lesson plans in their classrooms. Assistance with assessment of student achievement is also be a key component of the follow-up phase.  SRET-RET teachers are role models and conduits of science, technology, and engineering, bridging the traditional gaps between university centers of research and the K-12 classroom.

SRET-RET Website >>

Funding Agency: Naitonal Science Foundation
USC Affiliation:
Maja Mataric, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Larry Lim, Key Personnel


GK-12: BE-LA: Body Engineering Los Angeles
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Body Engineering, Los Angeles (BE-LA) is a new GK-12 program at the University of Southern California (USC) that aims to involve and prepare our best PhD students to become STEM leaders of tomorrow through a fellowship that incorporates extensive training and K-12 classroom experience.    The program's research theme is body engineering, and emphasizes the concept that the human body is a machine that can be studied, experimented upon, analyzed, and augmented. This theme provides an attractive and engaging vehicle for introducing STEM concepts and university research to the K-12 classroom and leverages the overall strength of the Viterbi School of Engineering, several university research initiatives at the interface between engineering and biology, physiology, and health, and a very large group of committed faculty. Research topics that will be translated to the classroom include: non-invasive sensing and imaging, speech articulation, hand articulation, neuromuscular control, cardiovascular mechanics, nutrition and metabolism, biological and bio-compatible materials, vision, object recognition, and human-machine interaction.

Our team has substantial K-12 experience, including an internally-funded GK-12 pilot called Engineers as Teachers, which has provided insights that will increase the likelihood of successful collaboration between graduate fellows and middle school teachers and successful communication of university research to middle school students. This proposal also carries very strong institutional support that ensures high visibility, fundraising resources, and continuation of the program through at least year eight. If funded, this will be the first ever NSF GK-12 program at USC.

BE-LA Website >>

Funding Agency: Naitonal Science Foundation
USC Affiliation:
Dr. Krishna Nayak, Principal Investigator
                           Gisele Ragusa, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Maja Mataric, Co-Principal Investigator
                           Andrea Hodge, Co-Investigator