Kao wins NSF grant, studying methods to level playing field in virtual education

Dominic Kao was notified of his NSF grant in early March, 2024

Dominic Kao, assistant professor in Purdue Polytechnic’s Department of Computer and Information Technology (CIT), received notification in early March that his National Science Foundation (NSF) Career proposal was funded for $512,775 over the next five years.

Kao serves as the director of the Virtual Futures Lab, and much of his current research focuses on the intersection between education and the digital tools that enhance or modify it—especially those tools which may share common features with video games, another long-term focus of his work.

The abstract for Kao’s NSF-funded research states the following:

Today's technologies, including videoconferencing software, video games, and virtual reality, have become integral to education. These technologies allow individuals to represent themselves through virtual identities. However, these virtual identities can inadvertently trigger stereotype threat--a psychological state where individuals feel at risk of confirming negative stereotypes related to their social group and can underperform educationally as a result.

Thus, addressing stereotype threat in virtual environments is crucial. This project aims to create computational interventions and virtual representations that reduce stereotype threat in online educational settings, thereby contributing to the development of a diverse and globally competitive workforce.

Kao has previously directed his attention at questions of stereotype threat in educational settings. His paper published this January explored vocal aspects of gender bias in online work and studies.

This will be the third NSF Career award for faculty in CIT this academic year (since July 1, 2023, Romila Pradhan and Wenhai Sun were awarded NSF Career grants), and the sixth overall for the department (Thomas Hacker received one in 2010, Alejandra Magana received one in 2015, and B.C. Min received one in 2019).

NSF’s Career award supports early-career faculty who have “the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization,” in the Foundation’s words.

The CIT department currently plays a critical role in Purdue Computes, a presidential strategic initiative to become one of the nation’s top programs for computer science through innovative research and unparalleled excellence in education.

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