UCI Teaching and Learning Researchers: Di Xu

Dr. Di Xu speaks about conducting research on teaching and learning at UCI. She is an Assistant Professor in the School of Education.

How did you get interested in education research?

My interest in education research actually starts when I was very little. My grandparents were university professors and they often brought me to their classes or office. It was always interesting to me to see how my grandmother and grandfather had totally different ways of interacting with their students and how the same student responded to the instructions of my grandmother and that of my grandfather in distinct ways.

What was your training in education research?

I received my Ph.D. in economics and education from Teachers College, Columbia University, and my research agenda uses economic theories and quantitative research methods to identify and assess educational interventions and strategies that may improve college students’ educational outcomes, with a particular focus on students from low-income and historically underrepresented groups. I also worked for six years during my Ph.D and post-doctoral studies as a research assistant/associate at the Community College Research Center at Columbia University, where I assisted, led or co-led several large-scale projects that intend to provide policy- and practitioner-relevant findings regarding how to better support community college students and to improve the academic success of this population.

What is rewarding about this research?

Everyone has the right to receive an education, but some individuals may experience more difficulties than others in achieving their educational goals. It is extremely rewarding to me that my research could help support the ability of all individuals, especially those from underserved populations, to attain the educational success to which they aspire. I am also happy to see that the findings from my studies have been cited in various news outlets and have directly affected national debates on postsecondary education.

What projects are you working on now?

I am currently co-leading two NSF-funded projects at UCI. The first one (PI: Dr. Mark Warschauer) is a 2.5 million five-year NSF-funded project with three interrelated research goals: 1) determining the effects of various course delivery formats on college student outcomes; 2) examining potential mechanisms through which course delivery format may influence student learning outcomes; 3) exploring strategies to improve the effectiveness of virtual learning. Two to three courses will be selected each quarter over a five-year period, for a total of about 10 per year.

The second one is a $1 million NSF-funded project (PI: Dr. Laura Tucker) for scholarships and research into effective strategies to improve persistence and success of students in physics, with a focus on those from low-income backgrounds. This five-year project will provide approximately 60 scholarships to financially eligible and academically meritorious physics majors and implement several programmatic reforms to improve retention and success in physics, including strengthening the departmental student community, increasing academic support through faculty advising and access to tutoring in gateway courses, encouraging research and industry opportunities, and identifying teaching practices that are associated with better student learning outcomes.

I am also leading several other projects that use large-scale longitudinal administrative datasets on individual students to examine various topics in higher education. These topics can be put under four broad categories:

  1. The labor market returns to different post-secondary pathways and human capital investments;
  2. Developmental education in community colleges and its reform;
  3. The instructional effectiveness of faculty in higher education and its impact on student academic and labor market outcomes;
  4. An international research agenda that addresses education equity and quality in developing countries.

Where do you see your work going in the next five years?

In my future research, I will continue to focus on education equity and quality issues in higher education. In the meanwhile, I would like to extend beyond higher education and connect my research more closely to the K-12 sector, therefore developing a research agenda that will enable identification of resource availability and gaps in supporting pathways to post-secondary education. In addition, I would like to continue my efforts in reaching out and directly providing services to policy makers, college administrators, and educational practitioners. In the next five years, I am committed to conducting more applied research that will respond to the local needs, and build stakeholder engagement necessary to strengthen educational opportunities in a particular setting.