Our Work

Our work focuses on four themes that represent some of the most challenging issues society faces.


Ensuring that our environment, our society, and culture can continue and thrive is a core goal for our sustainability theme. Climate change and other global disruptions such as COVID-19 require that people conserve what we value, innovate to respond to new circumstances and challenges, and anticipate and adapt to change. Each of these tasks requires learning about our changing conditions and learning to be resilient and proactive in the face of that change.

Human development and flourishing

Growing to be an empowered, well adjusted person is a neverending journey that begins in infancy and continues throughout the lifespan. We learn how to communicate, connect, and live healthy lives across our lifespan.

Equity and Social Justice

A reckoning is happening in the US and globally with the ways that prejudice, bigotry, and social and economic inequities corrode society and hold back the human race. Learning about the ways people's lives and histories differ, how to embrace and build on those differences, and how to transform and overcome systems of oppression are key challenges in today's world.

New literacies in technology and design

Technological advancements are accelerating, and this poses a problem for how people at all ages can learn to apply technologies in their lives and to participate in the creation and governance of these technologies.

Sample Projects

Project Index

Advancing the Computational Thinking of Undergraduate Students in Intermediate Computer Science Courses

Research Contact: Adrienne Decker

This project seeks to identify threshold concepts for intermediate computer science courses. Threshold concepts are a theoretical framework that provide a description of the state of uncertainty a learner experiences upon being introduced to key ideas within a discipline, defined as a liminal state. Unsuccessful traversal of this liminal space often results in mimicry and failure to develop an identity within the discipline and therefore may result in the student’s abandonment of the discipline. Identifying these concepts is the first step in recognizing the learning journey for intermediate students, which are an often neglected group in computing education.

Architecture Students’ Success in Learning STEM Courses

Research Contact: Anahita Khodadadi, PhD

Images of multiple architecture experiments.

This project aims to study students’ success in learning introductory engineering course materials in architecture schools and examine the effective blends of lectures, hands-on activities, and computer-aided learning. This project also researches the relation between student experience in engaging with multi-modal learning activities and their gender, academic background and standing, and knowledge of mathematics and physics. This project is to develop and offer a collection of curricular and exhibited materials along with a multi-modal assessment model in introductory engineering-based courses that fit students’ STEM learning experience. A part of this study has been carried out at Portland State University, School of Architecture.

Computational Thinking in Early Childhood

Research Contact: X. Christine Wang, PhD

Viewed as the foundational processes of computer science with broader application for learning, computational thinking (CT) is increasingly promoted and researched in early childhood (EC;  ages 2-8). However, the majority of these studies focus on the feasibility of introducing CT to young children or effectiveness of such efforts. As a result, the field still has limited understanding of the processes and mechanisms through which young children acquire abstract CT practices and perspectives. To address this gap, the project investigates how preschoolers (ages 3-4) make sense of CT practices through their embodied engagement with peers supported by teachers.

CS Teacher Preparation

Research Contact: Christopher Proctor, PhD

The University at Buffalo recently launched one of the first residency-based teacher preparation programs in the nation, as well as an advanced certificate for in-service teachers with backgrounds in different subjects. This program creates a pathway for students to specialize in computer science education. In order to do this, researchers from the university are partnering with a local school district (administration, faculty, students, parents, and community members) to design a curriculum, study aspects of CS pedagocial content knowledge, and create an environment in which to train future CS teachers.

CT to CS

Research Contact: Christopher Hoadley, PhD

Teaching computer science to all requires an early start, in primary school, and requires a massive increase in the ability of elementary school teachers to bring CS to their classrooms. This NSF-funded project is studying ways that infusing computational thinking into Math and Language Arts lessons can help elementary school educators begin to incorporate computer science education standards in their teaching, and promote greater competence and sense of belonging in computer science education. This research practice partnership links scholars, teacher educators, school leaders, teachers, and policymakers at Cornell Tech, University at Buffalo, the City University of New York, and the New York City Public Schools.

DiGEST Physics: Dialogic gesture in collaborative sense making in physics

Research Contacts: Virginia J. Flood and Benedikt W. Harrer

Conceptual photo of students working in a lab.

Active, collaborative learning approaches are widely seen as effective ways for students to learn science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). However, learning outcomes in group work are highly contingent on the quality of the interactional processes in which students engage. When groups are responsive to, take up, and discuss one another’s voiced ideas, they are more successful at collaborative problem solving in STEM, but what about gesture? This NSF-funded project investigates (1) how students are responsive to, take up, exchange, or interact with each other’s gestures while working together, and (2) how this behavior shapes or constrains groups’ problem solving and sense making in introductory undergraduate physics. This project will improve our understanding of the role nonverbal communication plays in collaborative learning in STEM, and it will contribute to the development of broader, more expansive, and inclusive definitions of the competencies and practices involved in learning and doing STEM. This project is part of the Embodied Interaction in STEM (EIS) Lab and is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the department of Learning and Instruction and the Department of Physics. 

Ecosystems of Belonging project

Research Contact: Rachel Bonnette, PhD

Neurodiversity is everywhere, but it is not built into the existing design of higher education. This design-based research project is built on collaborations with neurodivergent students and faculty and computer science programs to design professional development and guidelines for the expansion of teacher training in the field of Neurodiversity and inclusion. This work relies on a lens of Intersectionality and builds on inclusivity frameworks like Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to provide actionable tools to instructors without relying on students to disclose vulnerabilities in a culture that is still often discriminatory towards neurodivergent inclusion.

Enhancing students' application of formex algebra through Morphex Toolkit

Research Contact: Anahita Khodadadi, PhD

The Development of Morphex Computer-Aided Design (CAD) Tool aims to serve practicing architects and architecture students in the perception and configuration of novel structural systems. To date, the lack of user-friendly and comprehensive CAD tools being used for the configuration processing of novel structural forms hinders practicing architects and architecture students from exploring the variety of suitable alternatives and geometrical features of structural forms. The Morphex Computer-Aided Design Tool development allows architects and architecture students to create diverse structural forms such as domes, 3d trusses, vaults, shells, frames, and towers, accurately and more conveniently. The foundational knowledge of the Morphex toolkit is based on Formex algebra, developed in the early 21st century by Professor Hoshyar Nooshin, UK. This algebraic system allows morphological study and exploration of suitable geometrical properties of a wide range of structural system. Unlike the current software system associated with concepts of Formex algebra, the Morphex toolkit is to be implemented in the Rhino+Grasshopper platform. Rhino+Grasshopper is one of the most common modeling and simulation software systems used by architects in North America, and the Morphex add-on plugin in Grasshopper can enhance the students’ integrated learning. Furthermore, this robust and user-friendly parametric tool, where the unnecessary programming scripts are moved to the background, supports the architecture students’ understanding of geometrical principles and concepts of spatial structures.

Gamification of Teaching Structures Courses to Architecture Students

Research Contact: Anahita Khodadadi, PhD

Teaching courses in building science during the COVID-19 pandemic required the substitution of hands-on activities with a compelling educational medium such as computational games. The experience of including the few existing games in the multi-modal course of an introductory level on structures yields promising student learning outcomes. This project aims to expand students learning experience through computational gaming by adapting and developing games for architecture students to learn basic concepts of physics and mechanics.

Infant language learning from siblings and older children

Research Contact: Federica Bulgarelli, PhD

This project asks how a specific aspect of infant’s experiences -  speech from young children – shapes language development, using both in-lab tasks, naturalistic play sessions, and longitudinal assessments of vocabulary development. Using naturalistic observational data alongside experimental methods, this research provides critical new insights into how speech from young children is attended to and processed by infants, and whether that speech differs systematically in content relative to speech produced by adult caregivers. The results of this multi-method approach will allow for a better understanding of why infants with older siblings have been found to have slower language development, which can readily be applied to educational or clinical settings.

Integrating Computing Skills in Architecture Curriculum

Date started: 2023; Architecture programs traditionally prioritize teaching the application of modeling software systems for tasks like drafting architectural drawings and 3D modeling. Students immersion to digital tools may extend to learn the fabrication of physical models through the use of digital technologies and fabrication machines and robots. Hence, rather than immersing students to problems and practices that would cultivate fundamental computer science and computational thinking skills, the computational and digital media courses focus on introducing tools that aid in the visualization and materialization of architectural concepts.

As the field of architecture undergoes a paradigm shift, the building industry increasingly relies on using Computers-Aided Design (CAD) tools for making complex and multi-disciplinary design decisions, and the limited integration of computational thinking in architectural education becomes more conspicuous. Hence, some architecture programs offer a few optional courses where architecture students are introduced to computer science, computational thinking and programming skills. Despite architecture students’ familiarity with problem-based design courses that form the core of their architectural education, they often encounter difficulties when confronted with the abstract and logical nature of computer programming. This project aims to re-design the curriculum of the graduate courses to integrate the development of computational thinking skills. The proposal specifically targets graduate students in architecture as one of the representative groups of non-CS majors but increasingly requires computational thinking.

Interactive Storytelling

Research Contact: Christopher Proctor, PhD

Unfold Studio is an online community for interactive storytelling powered by a programming language called Ink. Interactive storytelling brings together the power of programming with the ability of stories to represent and explore our lived realities. Unfold Studio is free and open-source.

Unfold Studio is used in schools, clubs, and by many individual writers. Interactive storytelling can be a way to integrate Computer Science into English, Social Studies, or other subjects. It can also be an excellent way to introduce Computer Science as a subject relevant to questions of identity, culture, and social justice. (We are currently doing research with a school which uses Unfold Studio for several months as part of its core CS curriculum.)

Minecraft Utopia

Screen capture of Minecraft game.

Minecraft Utopia, a collaboration between Dr. Dalia Antonia Caraballo Muller and Dr. Chris Proctor, is a project to design critical collaborative experiences for children focused on Glissant's (1990) concept of Relación, or a focus on the whole rather than on the individual, seeing ourselves in and through relation with others. During a weekly summer workshop with ten-year-olds in Minecraft, participants imagined new modes of working together to create shared projects. We studied participants' emerging intersubjectivity using analytics collected from the Minecraft server.

PiLa-CS: Participating in Literacies and Computer Science

Research Contact: Christopher Hoadley, PhD

Image of a marked up piece of literature.

This NSF-funded project examines how emergent bilingual students in New York City can be supported to learn computer science. The project analyzes how learning to program computers is a form of literacy, and how teachers can foster students to use their diverse language backgrounds to support learning to communicate about, with, and through code. The UB project is a research-practice partnership with the New York City Public Schools, NYU, and the City University of New York.

PlayfulAI Learning and Design Lab

Research Contact: X. Christine Wang, PhD

An AI robot working with children in the Early Childhood Research Center.

Funded by GSE's transformative research labs initiative, the PlayfulAI Learning and Design Lab focuses on fostering responsible, effective, and equitable AI learning and tool design for young children (ages 5-8).

Leveraging AI's transformative potential in early childhood education (ECE), we integrate our ongoing and future research into three interconnected areas: (1) AI Literacies & Experiences in ECE, where we develop an inclusive AI literacies framework and examine diverse children’s interactions with AI, anchored by foundational research including the NSF-funded Delphi study and a pending Spencer proposal; (2) AI Literacies Curriculum, designing and testing an effective curriculum for young children, currently piloting at ECRC, especially targeting underserved communities; and (3) Child-Centered AI Design, exploring a model of developing responsible and equitable AI tools for and with children that engage them in the design process, inspired by our work at NSF-funded AI Institute for Exceptional Education. With foundational research deeply embedded in equity perspectives, the applied research on curriculum and technology design helps ensure effective and equitable AI learning and tool design. Comprising experts across ECE, AI research and computing education, and in collaboration with community partners, our interdisciplinary team strives to build an ECE AI research hub sustained by funding from NSF and IES. The lab addresses critical early STEM learning needs (National Academies, 2022) and guides caregivers, educators, designers and policymakers to support young children for an AI-driven future.

Rethinking computational thinking

Research Contact: Christopher Proctor, PhD

Computer pie chart illustration.

The introduction of computer science (CS) into primary and secondary education raises two questions for researchers and policymakers: What is the essence of computer science? And how might computing be broadly relevant across and beyond disciplines? Computational thinking (CT) has been tasked with answering both questions. This largely-theoretical project developed the construct of Computational Literacies, a more robust alternative.

Tools for embedding physical computing in camps, clubs, and required classes: Automated tabletop “smart” greenhouses with near-peer teaching and mentoring

Research Contact: David W. Jackson

Led by researchers at Boston College, the smart greenhouse project has been implemented with approximately 1,000 young adolescents and a dozen teachers in-school-time, plus dozens more middle-school campers, high-school counselors, and district faculty/staff out-of-school-time. Currently in its fourth design iteration, the project has grown increasingly flexible, working across a variety of platforms (e.g., Chromebook-accessible), coding modalities (i.e., can toggle between block- and text-based, for both Python and Java), and greenhouse geometries (i.e., can use free trials of software to design then laser-cut novel greenhouse frames). Future work may build on previous trials with undergraduates, to assess the impact upon attitudes towards computing, for both pre-service and in-service teachers.

Transforming Grading Practices in the Computer Science Education Community

Research Contact: Adrienne Decker

This project seeks to create a community of practice around equitable grading practices in computer science courses at the postsecondary level. While it is the case that various alternative and equitable practices have been shown to benefit student learning, particularly for students from groups who have been historically marginalized in computing education, there are obstacles to faculty adopting those practices. This project seeks to educate and support faculty who are interesting in integrating these practices into their classrooms. By building a community of educators as a support system and using the community to create resources to help in adoption of these practices, we hope to see more faculty adopting and using these techniques for grading that will better help support student learning.

Using Subgoal Labels to Better Support Student Learning of Introductory Programming Concepts

Research Contact: Adrienne Decker

Students in a computer class.

This project seeks to address the expert-novice gap between instructors and students in introductory programming courses. Instructors are experts in computer science and particularly programming and have automated much of the programming skills they are teaching, but the students in the course are just starting to learn these skills. This expert automation makes it very difficult for them to explain their processes to the students. To help support instructors in their teaching, the team has created subgoals for introductory programming concepts. Subgoals are textual guides that illuminate the process and steps that are needed to solve problems. In this case, to implement the various component of programs that introductory students learn. In addition to the subgoals, this project provides worked examples and practice problem pairs implemented in an eBook for instructors to use in their courses. The subgoals currently support the students in learning to evaluate and write expression statements, selection statements, loops, methods, arrays, and classes (using objects and writing classes). The first phase of this work developed subgoals for a Java-based introductory course. The team is currently working on a phase two that will develop subgoals for a Python-based course. The results from the first phase have shown that students using the subgoal-oriented materials perform better in the course, especially early in the learning process and for students who are struggling in the course.

Weaving Together:Exploring How Pluralistic Mathematical Practices Emerge Through Weaving

Research Contact: Naomi Thompson

Throughout this ongoing project, the researcher argues that there is unique promise in traditional yarn crafts for honoring and encouraging multiple ways of knowing in STEM education, particularly through weaving.  There is a rich material and historical link between mathematics and weaving, and while the craft has been shown to be highly mathematical in certain contexts, research has not explored the mathematical nature of weaving in modern educational contexts. Additionally, while it is known that the intersection between crafts more generally and STEM in the classroom is a fruitful area for learning , and that arts-integrated approaches can have positive impacts on educational achievement, the specific link between learning to weave and emergent diverse mathematical practices has not yet been examined in an educational context. The researcher aims to help learners re-imagine mathematics and their relationship to it.