ACU (Australian Catholic University)


Issue 5, Winter 2012

Research bites

Why are a high proportion of obese children from low-SES homes? How does cyber bullying differ from traditional school-yard bullying? And what can be done to prevent Parkinson’s disease sufferers from debilitating falls? Across ACU, researchers are trying to find the answers to some of life’s trickier questions. Here’s a taste.

Improving student numeracy in low-SES school communities

Children in disadvantaged areas around Australia display significantly lower levels of numeracy than their peers. Research from ACU shows that one major factor in improving this is strong educational leadership through community support and effective teaching methods.

“The role of school leaders is to provide an environment that promotes numeracy excellence,” said lead researcher Professor Mike Gaffney. “Leading Aligned Numeracy Development research demonstrated that teaching and leading go together.”

The Leading Aligned Numeracy Development (LAND) project was a collaborative research and development undertaking between ACU and Catholic Education Offices of South Australia, Northern Territory and Western Australia.

The project, which was supported by the Australian Government as a part of NAPLAN, was designed to find out how to develop and sustain higher levels of student numeracy in low-SES (socio-economic status) communities.

It was shown that effective teaching, a supportive community, conducive school organisation arrangements and an inspiring and achievable vision shared by members of the school community all contribute to positive outcomes in low-SES communities, explained Professor Gaffney.

“Our approach was to respect and build on participants’ existing knowledge and practice in leadership, mathematics curriculum and teaching, and invite them to consider educational leadership and numeracy development from a fresh perspective.”

Factors leading to cyber-bullying differ to traditional bullying

An international research project led by ACU’s Professor Sheryl Hemphill has found that the factors leading to incidents of cyber-bullying are different to those which result in traditional bullying.

Of the 927 students surveyed in Victoria, approximately 15 per cent had been engaged in cyber-bulling and 21 per cent in traditional bullying. Seven per cent had been involved in both.

Professor Hemphill found that academic failure, family conflict and past bullying behaviour were the main factors leading to episodes of traditional bullying.

Of these, only past behaviour, in the form of relational aggression, was a factor leading to incidents of cyber-bullying.

Relational aggression refers to covert forms of bullying such as exclusion and spreading rumours.

“Advances in technology can provide young people with positive ways to communicate but can also bring about new risks,” Professor Hemphill said.

Drawing on data from the International Youth Development Study – a longitudinal study of students in Australia and the United States which began in 2002 – the research examined individual, peer, family and school risk factors for both cyber and traditional bullying in adolescents.

Cyber-bullying is still a relatively new concept, with very few longitudinal studies to fall back on. Professor Hemphill said much more research was needed before we could fully understand the influential factors as well as its impacts.

“Cyber-space is a relatively new environment. We need to take a similar approach to anywhere young people go – teach them the skills they need to keep themselves safe in that environment and know how to find assistance if they need it. We need to develop clear strategies young people can use in cyber-space so that they experience the benefits but avoid the risks of the cyber environment.”

Weight challenges in socially disadvantaged areas

In Australia, there are more than 250,000 obese children, and a large portion of these children come from socially disadvantaged communities. ACU’s Professor Geraldine Naughton set out to explore the reasons behind these concerning figures.

“To understand more about early risk factors for childhood obesity in socially disadvantaged areas, we asked parents, and health and education professionals of children aged up to eight about children’s nutrition and physical activity practices, and perceptions of their child’s weight status,” said Professor Naughton.

“Despite the fact that around 25 per cent of children aged four to eight years are classified as obese, only five per cent of parents reported concerns about excessive weight in their child.”

Factors which contributed to the weight of these children included lack of outdoor play time, screen time in excess of the recommended one hour, consumption of take-away food and the cost of healthy food options.

This collaborative research, conducted with the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne, shows that early obesity prevention strategies are a low priority for socially disadvantaged families. These results provide the basis for further exploration of broader supports and strategies to help families to translate knowledge of healthy living into practice.

Faith in times of crisis

Dr Joel Hodge is exploring how Christian faith and solidarity affected the hope and resistance of the East Timorese under Indonesian occupation in order to gain a deeper understanding of faith and violence.

Widespread Christian faith has risen in East Timor from approximately 25 to 30 per cent of the population identifying as Catholic in 1975, to more than 90 per cent in the 1990s.

“Bringing together empirical and theoretical study, I argue for an understanding of Christian faith as a relational phenomenon that provides personal and collective tools to resist violence,” said Dr Hodge. “The experience of victimisation in East Timor led to an important identification with Jesus Christ as self-giving victim and formed a distinctive communal solidarity.

“My study reflects on how the Catholic Church opened spaces of resistance and communion that allowed the Timorese to imagine and live beyond the violence and death perpetrated by the Indonesian regime” said Dr Hodge.

Dr Hodge’s research will be published as a monograph with Ashgate Publishing (UK) as ‘Resisting Violence and Victimisation: Christian Faith and Solidarity in East Timor’.

Self-assessment in higher education

Education researchers have found that self-assessment in higher education can be a helpful aid for learning.

The study, conducted by Associate Professor Shukri Sanber and Dr Elizabeth Labone, examined whether self-assessment should be a formal assessment procedure in higher education and looked at the relationship between self-assessment data and lecturers’ data.

Nearly 400 first year students assessed their submitted assignments, and compared their self-assessment with feedback from lecturers and tutors.

“The findings of the study confirm the value of self-assessment in helping students improve their learning,” said Associate Professor Sanber.

“They also indicate that self-assessment ratings can be used as a one of a number of sources that lecturers may use to determine final grades under certain conditions.”

Preventing falls in Parkinson’s sufferers

Parkinson’s disease is Australia’s second-most common neurological disease with one in every 350 Australians living with the condition. ACU’s Dr Michael Cole is conducting a study to find out why individuals with Parkinson’s are nine times more likely to have recurring falls than healthy people of a similar age.

Parkinson’s disease is characterised by slow movement, muscle rigidity and resting tremor, but as the disease progresses, postural instability can become more prominent. Healthy individuals are able to control their stability using core muscle and postural adjustments. Dr Cole is looking at whether an inability to control these trunk muscles leads to falls in individuals with Parkinson’s disease.

By understanding the reasons behind the falls, Dr Cole hopes to see a strategy developed that can minimise the risk to these individuals.

“The outcomes of this research will be of considerable importance in furthering our understanding of the possible mechanism of falling in people with Parkinson’s disease, and will contribute to the design and refinement of effective prevention strategies, said Dr Cole.

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