Molding minds to mold minds

From a video game that guides underprivileged high school students through the college process to the creation of a new concept for high school education, USC’s Rossier School of Education is leading the way in urban education research.

Daily Trojan file photo

Rossier strives to implement its research on urban education into the neighborhoods surrounding USC as well as urban environments across the country. The school focuses on finding creative ways to improve education and professional development.

“We want to use our research to foster an environment where teachers have the skills to educate under-performing students, and at the same time provide them with the individualized attention they deserve,” said Cathryn Dhanatya, assistant dean of research at Rossier.

In March, David Dwyer, a research professor at Rossier, unveiled his plan to construct the USC Hybrid High School, which he hopes will reduce high school dropout rates in urban districts by creating a school schedule conducive to the needs of its students.

The hybrid school model is the culmination of Dwyer’s research on the adversities preventing urban high school students from graduating.

According to Dwyer, 50 percent of students in urban centers drop out of high school. Of those 50 percent, 20 percent are considered “gifted students” and 34 percent dropout because of scheduling conflicts.

“What is conflicting with the typical Monday-Wednesday schedule is that students need to work or provide for their families,” Dwyer said. “When a student becomes 16, from their perspective, it becomes a moral decision whether to stay in school or work to support their family.”

The Hybrid School will be open seven days a week, 10 hours a day, 50 weeks a year to offer students more flexibility in scheduling their classes. The school will also place an emphasis on technology both in the classroom and at home.

“USC Hybrid School will be a school that adopts to the lives and needs of the students rather than forcing students into a model presented by traditional schools,” Dwyer said.

Dwyer is currently searching for a location in the USC neighborhood for the Hybrid School, but hopes to expand the model throughout Los Angeles in the next three years — and eventually across the country.

Rossier, in conjunction with USC’s Game Innovation Lab, is also trying to create an interactive and captivating video game, Pathfinder, to guide urban students through the college process.

According to Zoe Corwin, a postdoctoral research associate at Rossier, qualified, underserved students are often outperformed by their higher-income counterparts in the college process because of a lack of resources. Pathfinder hopes to reach out to these students and give them a better understanding of the college process.

Through qualitative research led by Bill Tierney, director of Rossier’s Center for Higher Education Policy and Analysis, it was determined students are more apt to learn from challenges presented, for example, by video games.

“For over a decade we have been looking at what makes a successful college prep program,” Corwin said. “We have learned that students learn best through challenges and that led us to choose a video game format for Pathfinder.”

In 2008 CHEPA was awarded an $800,000 grant from then-Provost C. L. Max Nikias to transform Pathfinder from a card game to a video game. CHEPA has received an additional $1.45 million from the U.S. Department of Education to create a Facebook game.

Rossier is comprised of six research centers with 24 tenure and tenure-line faculty and eight research track faculty.

For the 2009-2010 fiscal year, Rossier’s research funding totaled $17,532,211, a majority of which came from grants and private foundations.