UCF researchers will examine crisis communication messages from randomly selected universities across the country and their effects on STEM education.

UCF-Led Study Will Examine COVID-19 Communication’s Impact on STEM Education

By: Robert H. Wells on

University of Central Florida researchers are working with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in a National Science Foundation-funded project to understand the effects of COVID-19 crisis communication on undergraduate STEM education.

The researchers will examine crisis communication messages from randomly selected universities across the country and see how those messages affected teaching and learning experiences of faculty and students in undergraduate STEM education; how faculty and students reacted to the changes; and will use the findings to develop recommendations for universities to protect the integrity of their STEM education programs.

NSF awarded the researchers $113,316 for the project.

“We realized that institutions may differ in the degree to which they were ready for the transition to remote instruction and in the resources that they have available to help this transition go smoothly,” said Kristin Horan, an assistant professor in UCF’s Department of Psychology and principal investigator of the project.

“We began to hear stories of ways that institutions communicated changes or provided resources that reduced stress among faculty and students, and we wanted to explore how we might give voice to these experiences across the country so that we could all learn from this crisis,” Horan said.

The researchers specifically are focusing on STEM disciplines since students in these fields often need hands-on, in-person training, and education, which may be difficult to do remotely.

“This unexpected change in instructional methods could represent many challenges and opportunities in the education of our future workforce, and ultimately, their preparedness for work,” Horan said.

The researchers will use surveys and interviews with undergraduate students and faculty in STEM disciplines to find out their experiences and obtain organizational policies and communications related to COVID-19 from universities. They want to understand what STEM faculty and students felt worked and didn’t as a result of the way their university communicated their COVID-19 policies, including plans for moving to remote instruction.

The findings of the one-year project will be made available online and disseminated to institutions of higher learning.

The research team includes Mindy Shoss, an associate professor in UCF’s Department of Psychology and co-principal investigator; and Chelsea LeNoble and Allison Kwesell, assistant professors in Embry-Riddle’s College of Arts and Sciences.

Horan received her master’s and doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from Bowling Green State University and joined UCF’s Department of Psychology, part of UCF’s College of Sciences, in 2017.

Shoss received her master’s and doctorate in industrial/organizational psychology from the University of Houston and joined UCF’s Department of Psychology in 2015.

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