Institute on Statistical Analysis for Education Policy: Causal Inference


Despite being so close to dissertation submission (yes, I wrote at night, in between sessions, and on my flights), I flew off to D.C. for a fun three day institute given by the American Educational Research Association on causal inference analyses for education policy research. The institute focused on design of randomized experiments and challenges to implementation in educational settings. We considered methodological approaches such as propensity scores, regression discontinuity, instrumental variables, path analysis, and structural equation modeling as methods of establishing causal relationships. I met graduate students and faculty from around the U.S., and hope that we will have connections that we can develop into future collaborations.

I encourage anyone in education policy that wants to spend a few days with great faculty teachers dialoguing about causal inference with research, apply to attend. Watch for the opportunity here:

Your Tablet as a Productivity Tool: Organizing Your Apps

Academics, Productivity

I will say it now: I hate messy desktop screens.

As my work became more integrated with technology tools, I found that I needed an efficient way to organize my apps on my tablet. I didn’t want to flip through endless screens to find what I use most, nor did I want to remember if I filed something on the “personal” screen or the “academic” screen. I needed a way to organize myself so that no matter what I was doing, I would quickly find the right app, helping me integrate my tablet into the natural course of my activities.

What finally worked best for me, after trying many different schemes, was organizing apps by what I do with them. This goes beyond the category types you’ll find them organized under in the Play Store or iTunes and instead describes the actual function. Taking a break and want to catch up on news feeds? Check out my “read” folder. Time to update the blog? Look in “write”. Skype date with a colleague who moved across the country? I’ll find that in “talk”.


As you can see, I have my folders on an upper row. Now, my apps that I’m going to use frequently that I don’t want to tap through to find, are situated on a second row and include the obvious – my web browser, calendar, notebook, and email. Everything else that I use on a weekly basis, and yes, that includes Organ Trail, the zobmie-awesome Oregon Trail spin-off, is located in a top row folder. The other four screens of my tablet don’t even include anything at this point and everything else on the device can be accessed in the full menu if needed.

If you’ve been struggling to integrate your devices into your work-flow, then think about trying this action-based organization system. How do you organize your apps? Have you found a system that helps you work and play?

A lot happening at AERA 2013

Academics, Presentations

As usual, a lot happened at the 2013 meeting of the American Educational Research Association. This conference is so big, I don’t think I’ll ever get close to exploring all of it. This year’s highlights for me included our first fireside chat mentoring session in the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas SIG, presenting preliminary analysis from my dissertation, and being voted in as program co-chair for the 2014 meeting.

This year, Program Chair Dr. Eve Tuck introduced the idea of creating a mentoring space in our SIG program. While we worked with her during the planning process, my colleague Crystal Jensen and I developed some ideas about using the time to have small group discussions on particular career-oriented topics. We had 8 junior-senior scholar pairs scheduled to participate and around 40 scholars attended the session. Crystal and I spent the session considering directions for 2014 with Dr. Tuck and Dr. Linda T. Smith who also attended. I think it was a huge success!

During the SIG business meeting, Crystal and I, who helped develop the 2013 program with Eve were nominated in and voted in (although it still has to go out for a full SIG vote) to chair the 2014 program. We will get a behind the scenes look at planning with the SIG leadership and I think we are both really looking forward to the opportunity. See you in 2014!

Finally, I did present preliminary results of my dissertation analysis with the Curriculum and Instruction SIG. There was good conversation and all the papers of the session fit together well to create some dialogue. I always enjoy the exchange that happens, and come home excited (and really tired!) of the possibilities of future directions.

Presentation at American Indian Studies Association

Academics, Presentations

I just enjoyed a fun two days at the American Indian Studies Association in Tempe, AZ. A small conference, with lots to offer, AISA is the longest-standing meeting of scholars on indigenous studies in the United States. A diverse set of topics were discussed over the course of the conference and drew scholars from all over the country. I presented a paper from a recent seminar class on visual sovereignty, where I analyzed an indigenous gaze in the photographing of cultural objects (particularly those held by museums and in private collections). Although not part of my main research, as an artist, I do hope in the future to continue finding ways to intersect my art and educational research interests, and found much encouragement at this meeting.

Thoughts on Sole-Author Publishing as a Graduate Student

Academics, Publications

I was really excited when, for the first time, in late 2012 I got to see my name in the author byline of a journal article. Coming into my fifth year of graduate school, I was feeling behind. Colleagues were earning prestigious, national fellowships and I was still struggling to get my feet under me analyzing dissertation data. I needed a boost. Since then, I have finished two more manuscripts that are currently being revised under “revise and resubmit” requests of the respective journals and completing a fourth, smaller essay. In sharing these accomplishments with a professor, I was urged to contribute my thoughts on the process with a wider audience. That is you, my dear readers.

Being in the humanities and social science fields, there do not exist the same sort of frequent, collaborative authoring opportunities as seem to be available to life and physical science graduates who are constantly part of a professor’s lab (of course, not being in a life or physical science anymore, this may all be perception rather than reality). There are research groups if you work for a professor with a large enough grant and certainly three years worth of graduate student research positions taught me a lot about collaborative grant reports and conference presentations, but none of these have yet led to publications due to the long-term nature of the research.

I realized that if I wanted to begin publishing that I would have to go it alone.

I have been very lucky to take a variety of seminar classes across my two main fields of study that allowed me the opportunity develop pieces of research that could be metamorphosed into publications. Obviously, not everyone takes advantage of such an opening, but if you are searching for that next seminar paper, think for a minute about choosing a topic that will really excite you and be new to the literature conversation (or at least extend and enhance the conversation in some way) in some way.

So, when the professor mentoring me through my research on the Piper v. Big Pine School District of Inyo County (1924), urged me to publish the resulting paper, I decided to just try and see what happened since I’d been wanting to learn the process anyway.

I narrowed down some journal choices and talked about them with a couple different professors before deciding where to submit. After receiving my first round of clarification questions and editing suggestions, I saw that there was a whole new process that I had to learn in translating the work into a good journal article. But I took the time and found the experience rewarding.

Sharing our hard work with the outside world is, I believe, a psychological process. I remember seeing a tweet awhile back linking to the LSE impact blog and an article by Helen Sword who urged, “when you are 80% happy, kick it out the door”. This resonated with the experiences I had – I felt my research was strong and I felt the paper was good, though not perfect, and opening the work to criticism by submitting it did produce anxiety. My positive and supportive experience with the journal editor of my first publication took some of the fright out of the process, however.

I am not a brilliant writer. I still make grammatical and spelling errors. Usually I am too close to the work to realize when I’m being too dense (don’t worry, reviewers will point this out to you and allow you to fix it!). But, I want to share the things I am learning because that is so much of what the research process is about for me – finding out something I didn’t know before.

In the end, getting started down the path of successful publishing of research comes down to letting go of that fear enough send your writing to a journal. Literatures are built because many people find the same thing exciting enough to research – and all of them began with a just a few people in the conversation. Have the courage to know that someone else will find your work as interesting as you do.

A Digital Workflow to Manage Your Academic Life

Academics, Productivity

Edit 5 May 2014: I have now switched my workflow to iPad. It is very similar in the tools that I use and my post about using the Apple hardware can be found here.

Edit 18 February 2014: Although I tried, I found switching over to the Zotero interface clunky after the sleekness of integration that Mendeley offers, particularly with renaming and filing pdfs.  I am back to utilizing Mendeley. 

Edit 17 September 2013: As I was nearing the end of my time as a graduate student, Mendeley sold themselves to another company. As a result, I, and many other academics have chosen to switch software. I have chosen to begin using the open-source alternative Zotero. Although there is more of a learning curve with Zotero, it has been fantastic at meeting my needs. In the future I will write about the switch.

Awhile back, I wrote a piece for the UC Davis Native American Studies Grad Students blog about workflow automation. Since then, I have continued to add to my digital workflow in an effort to move completely paperless. With my office desktop, Android tablet, and smartphone, I have all the tools I need to help me accomplish a smooth process of researching and writing. The following software and hardware tips are suitable for new and seasoned academics alike. Please feel free to share how you manage your digital space too!

My workflow now includes three pieces of software:

1. Dropbox which I use to sync all my current class, paper, and project files to my desktop, tablet, and smartphone

Dropbox is a cloud computing tool that allows users access to free online space and will sync files across any devices you install on. I currently use the application on my office desktop, tablet, and smartphone. I keep the folder for syncing on my desktop and place all my current project files in it so I have access anywhere since any item in the folder are automatically shared with my other devices. You can also share specific folders with project collaborators while keeping the majority of your files private.

2. Mendeley for syncing all my citation information, reference notes, and automated “cite while you write” (on my smartphone I can search and forward citations to fellow scholars while conversing in the halls or between conference sessions without worrying about forgetting later which is an additional bonus)

I like Mendeley because it has a desktop interface that allows me to use it when I’m not online, yet still synchs all my materials to the online space and all my other devices just like Dropbox. It keeps all my citations up to date. You can store actual copies of references (up to 1 GB) for free, or, use the workflow tips below to keep them organized through your Dropbox and never pay anything!

3. iAnnotate PDF for highlighting and annotating of all those references right on my tablet screen – link takes you to GooglePlay as I own an Android tablet, but the app is available from iTunes as well for Apple users – this free app on my tablet has changed the way I work because now I can get away from my desk and the multiple distractions it provides

Now, my updated workflow from my earlier post simply incorporates my tablet computer. This allows me to work on-the-road or between meetings without finding an office space.


1. Drag a PDF file from the downloads folder into Mendeley desktop (or, if like me you already have folders full of them, you can bulk drag-and-drop). Another option is to use the web importer button for more than 30 different sites to instantly import citations from places like Amazon, Google Books, EBSCO, JSTOR, SAGE, etc.

2. Delete the original file if you used the drag-and-drop method above because the re-named file is already sorted into Dropbox. (More on this later.)

3. Check the reference information for accuracy in Mendeley. The program automatically pulls a variety of meta-data and fills it in for you, but it isn’t always perfect. Make any changes needed, then click the “information is correct” button. Add your tags and sort it into any collection you need. After checking it this once, you never have to enter the information in again.

4a. In the notes tab, I fill in my notes while I read, highlight on the PDF in Mendeley, etc. For books from seminars I copy and paste in my book synopsis papers and then go back and insert additional notes after class discussions. If you take your laptop to class with Mendeley, you can add your notes automatically in the program to any citation.

4b. Alternatively, because the file is in my Dropbox, I can open it on my tablet in iAnnotate PDF. Then, using my GoSmart stylus (the most accurate for fine lines and highlighting that I’ve found, also durable) I can highlight, add comment, handwrite notes, etc. to my heart’s content. Then, using the “email annotations” function, I email all my notes to myself for copying and pasting into the notes tab in Mendeley once I return home. Using this, I can sit by my fireplace and read for hours, read on the plane, or wherever I am that is more comfortable than remaining at my desk all the time. I find I get much more done in reviewing literature using this feature because it gets me out in new locations and keeps me away from the distractions of multiple open windows on my desktop. Since the .pdf files with the annotations are opened through Dropbox, they are automatically synched back to all your other devices. I use the copy-paste function for my notes though so that I have something quick to skim when I am searching through my references while writing.

5. Use the Cite While You Write tool to automatically generate citations in a variety of formats in Word (also works in Open Office, Google Docs). At the end of your document, “insert bibliography” to instantly get a perfectly formatted References list that doesn’t require you to comb through the paper making sure you haven’t missed one.

Check out my previous post on the UCD NAS Grad Student blog in order to walk you through the steps of setting up you Mendeley and Dropbox synch.

Bonus App Suggestion: TextMaker Mobile for your office document needs. This app is not free like the others I’ve talked about but it includes the ability to track changes and add comments, making it one of the best Android device apps for on-the-go work when you don’t want to pack your laptop for your weekend away or out-of-office excursions.

Published: Education History Research Published in the Southern California Quarterly

Academics, Publications


Southern California Quarterly
Volume 94, Number 3, Fall 2012
Piper v. Big Pine School District of Inyo County: Indigenous Schooling and Resistance in
the Early Twentieth Century

You can find the entire article here.

Abstract: Prior to the 1920s, the state of California authorized local school districts to educate Native American children in “separate but equal” facilities where there was no federal Indian school in the vicinity. In 1923 seven Indian children in Inyo County attempted to enroll in a public school instead of attending the poorer quality local Indian day school. The state Supreme Court, in Piper v. Big Pine School District (1924), ruled in their favor. The case was central to ending segregation in California’s public schools.