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Advice on Writing Successful AERA Proposals
Thursday, July 14, 2016
Some Fond AERA Memories:
As happens this time of year, proposals are coming due in a week for the AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference. This year it will be in San Antonio (see call for proposals). It will be held April 27, 2017-May 1, 2017. San Antonio should be a fun venue with the river walk areas and great restaurants.

I have been going to AERA since 1987 when it was in DC. I was a master's student at the University of Wisconsin at the time. I drove from Madison with my colleague Tom Reynolds and one other graduate student colleague. I think it was perhaps a 17 hour drive in my little red 1981 Honda Civic. Tom and I alternated driving down I-94 in Wisconsin, I-65 in Indiana, I-70 in Ohio, and so on. But we got there in time for a Goodwill party (i.e., you had to wear clothes from a Goodwill store). We stayed at my sister's house in Arlington, VA.

In effect, this will be my 30 year anniversary for AERA. My research team and I are fast at work on an AERA proposal (or 2) related to the personalization of MOOCs. We also touch on cultural sensitivity in MOOCs. Yesterday, we sent a relatively short survey in SurveyMonkey to over 1,000 MOOC instructors on this topic. We have 90 replies thus far. I never used SurveyMonkey before but I am impressed which its data collection and analysis features. As the original founder of SurveyShare, I can say that I am unbiased in this regard. I no longer own SurveyShare, however.

AERA Proposal Writing Workshop (University of Houston):
Over two weeks ago (back on Monday June 27), several of my doctoral students (Justin Whiting, Verily Tan, and Najia Sabir) and I presented on an online panel to graduate students at the University of Houston who were in a workshop related to AERA proposal writing. The session was run by my splendid colleague, Dr. Mimi Lee at the University of Houston. Mimi had requested that we come in and present to her room full of CUIN (Curriculum and Instruction) students for about an hour or slightly longer.

Given that I was visiting my son in Portland at the time and my graduate students were in Indiana and Dr. Lee's students were in a classroom in Houston, we connected using Zoom. Fortunately, Zoom worked flawlessly. I love Zoom. The Zoom file from the session has since been converted to a YouTube video. A screen shot from the session is below.

Not only did Zoom work, but the session went superbly as well. And we all had lots of fun and shared many stories and laughs. In the process, Mimi's students asked several insightful questions; most (or all) of which we had answers for. If you are interested in our advice or suggestions, Najia has already blogged (Help! How do I write a good AERA proposal?) on the points that she and Verily and Justin made (which were excellent...again, see the YouTube link above). It was super-fantabulous to have the three of them join me for this event.

I list my items of advice below. Most of these points are self-explanatory. Some are perhaps more important than others.

More AERA Reflections:
I also sent Mimi many of my accepted as well as rejected proposals from the past which she could share with her workshop participants; many included the reviewer feedback and comments. Before sending, I did some digging through my old Word 5.0 files. I found one AERA proposal that I wrote back in 1991. It was on metacognition and writing and the Index of Writing Awareness (IWA) that I had created for my dissertation. I found another AERA proposal from the following year (1992) in San Francisco on a cooperative reading method that Debra Clark at the University of West Virginia and I developed called READERS ("READER, READERS: Who's the Most Effective Reader?" was the title of that particular proposal). At the time, I had done a review of cooperative reading programs around the world and designed the READERS method based on the best practices of several of them.

When searching my desktop files, I also found a rejected AERA proposal from 1993 on keystroke mapping of adolescent writing with my fabulous former WVU student Dr. Kevin Koury. Kevin is now a dean and an endowed chair at California University of Pennsylvania. Quite successful! He flies his plane from West Virginia over here to Indiana from time to time to have lunch with me.

If interested, you can find these three old AERA proposals from the 1990s in Dropbox (1991, 1992, and 1993). I could not find my earlier ones but I did find a my first AERA conference paper from 1988 (see below). Of course, I also found a few proposals from the last few years (some accepted, some rejected). Write to me if you want to see any of these examples.

Sidenote: My first AERA conference paper was from 1988 in New Orleans. It was related to my master's thesis at the University of Wisconsin wherein I attempted to enhance student's critical and creative thinking used computer-assisted instruction (CAI) software and other prominent software packages and "cutting edge" learning tools (the link is below to that ERIC Document). See Table 1 at the end of the paper for some mind-blowing memories of what was available at the time for divergent and convergent thinking (e., Moptown Hotel, Newsroom, Recycling Logic, Rocky's Boots, Logic Builders, Facemaker, Certificate Maker, Story Maker, Think Quick, Puzzle Tanks, The Factory, Dazzle Draw, Kid Writer, The Print Shop, Songwriter, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, The Pond, Gnee or Not Gnee, etc.). These were interesting times. I talk about this phase of educational technology in Chapter One of my book, "The World is Open."


I had high hopes of impacting children's critical and creative thinking from a short summer computer camp. But such hopes were justified, at least to some degree. I had accumulated some 22 divergent thinking skill software packages (for Group 1) and 22 convergent thinking skills packages (for Group 2). It took me a couple of months to obtain all of these packages. Amazingly, I knew how to use all of these software tools...back in the day. Fortunately, all of these packages were donated by the various companies/vendors (e.g., Sunburst, Scholastic, Mindscape, DLM, The Learning Company, Broderbund, and Spinnaker) to the schools that I was working with at the time. I rotated between 3 of the 4 summer camps for kids which were using them (schools in Lake Mills, Lodi, and Belleville, Wisconsin). I had to drive about 60-75 minutes to each of the 3 camps each day; Lake Mills in the early morning; Lodi around lunch time; and Belleville (the land of flying saucers and beer) in the late afternoon. What a day! The 4th computer camp was held in Ripon, Wisconsin to the northeast.

What a fantastic learning experience! And the paper is still available as an ERIC Document after all these years. Wow. My very first AERA paper. And, hence, technically, it is my first publication. Humm...

My very first AERA paper (using research from my master's thesis):
Bonk, C. J. (1988). The effects of convergent and divergent computer software on children's critical and creative thinking.  Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 296 715.)  Available:

Check it out! That was my first AERA presentation. I gave that talk around April 7, 1988 (Note: I had defended my master's thesis a few months prior back in December 1987).

My very first AERA presentation:
     Bonk, C. J. (1988, April). The effects of convergent and divergent computer software on children's critical and creative thinking. Paper presented at the American Educational Research Association annual meeting, New Orleans.

I remember that conference well. For one session, I sat in the back of a gigantic room with my colleague Tom Reynolds for a hugely attended invited talk from the famous instructional psychologist Robert Gagne from Florida State University. It was a highly memorable talk, in part, since he arrived late and was not in a happy mood. Many educational psychology dignitaries like Gavriel Salomon were in the audience and also in the back of the room near me (I was reading Dr. Salomon's work on the Reading Partner and Writing Partner at the time...which impacted my dissertation).

Time flies. Just 15 months after that first AERA presentation of mine in New Orleans, I defended my dissertation and my son arrived from Korea (three days before my defense back in mid July 1989). Oh the memories. Suffice to say, I tried to be in grad school for as short of a time as humanly possible (more specifically, it was 3 years, 6 months, 19 days, 14 hours, 32 minutes, and some odd seconds...for my master's and Ph.D. degrees).

AERA Proposal Writing Resources:
If you are looking to create a similar workshop, please note that AERA has some advice on writing successful proposals. They also have some tips and examples. Back in 1999, my colleague from grad school days at Wisconsin, Dr. Cecil Smith, wrote a valuable article on the strategies for writing successful AERA proposals. It was published in the Educational Researcher; a prominent journal in education. Cecil is now an associate dean for research at West Virginia University where I used to work a quarter century ago. He continues to do great things.

AERA Proposal and Other Advice

Professor Curtis J. Bonk

Indiana University

June 27, 2016


AERA Paper/Roundtable/Poster Proposal Advice:

1.      Follow Directions: Submit completed proposals, not partial or hopeful ones.

2.      Plan Ahead: Create a writing plan or deadline; don’t wait until the last minute.

3.      Don’t Wing it: Ask for sample proposals; ask for feedback.

4.      Meet Word Limits: Hide extra stuff in tables, charts, figures, and references.

5.      Find a Fit: Target SIGS over divisions; main thing is to get accepted, not prestige.

6.      Form a Team: It is good to be apprenticed by experts and subdivide the work.

7.      Frame Proposal: Indicate how research drives theory; don’t get bogged down in details.

8.      Capture the Reader: Include the purpose or rationale; offer insightful implications.

9.      Sound like an Expert/Scholar: Put current references, trends, and data in lit review.

10.  Don’t Overwhelm Reader: Title in 15 words or less, simple to understand visuals.

11.  Report Your Data: Collected data is vital, not just hypothesized or future data.

12.  Give It Some Polish: Reread the proposal several times; make the format attractive.

13.  Get More Eyeballs: Ask for feedback from friends and colleagues.

14.  Be Creative: Think carefully about educational significance and future studies.

15.  Reconnect to Paper Themes/Titles: Remind reader of key themes/title at proposal end.


AERA Symposium Proposal Advice:

1.      Organize Symposium: There are many roles with symposia; get well known discussant.

2.      Symposia Recruitment: Think carefully about whom you know and invite the best.

3.      Data Over Big Names: Having data and a catchy title is more important than big names.


Revision and Completion Advice:

1.      Don’t Bounce from Conference to Conf: Submit for publication before conference.

2.      Address the Feedback: Other readers will have similar concerns.

3.      Make Your Final Paper Accessible: Post paper to a website for downloading.

4.      Resubmit Next Year: If rejected, try again. Persistence and grit wins the day.

5.      Share: Always share final paper or drafts with others—adds to reputation as a scholar.


Other Ways to Find Success at AERA:

1.      Know the Audience: Join 2-3 SIGs/divisions; volunteer review papers, discussant, etc.

2.      Network: Attend 1-2 business meetings to meet people; attend major talks.

3.      Be Strategic: Treat the conference like a graduate class you never had.

4.      Practice Your Talk: It takes effort to be a high quality speaker. Practice with others.

5.      Ok to Jump on the Bandwagon: Reviewers tend to favor current topics.

6.      Arrange Meetings: Network, network, network during the conference.

7.      Collaborate: People who work in teams have greater opportunities to find success.

8.      Find some Rituals: Find events, activities, etc., that you enjoy and do them each year.

9.      Don’t Go Every Year: AERA is great, but you need to take a break from it at times.

10.  Forgive and Forget: Sometimes you just can’t figure out why you were rejected. Move on.

Final Thoughts:
It was a great experience presenting to students at the University of Houston. I heard from Mimi Lee that the session went well. It is always great to reflect on one's life journey. This event definitely fostered such reflective processes.

I hope that some of the people reading this blog post can use some of the ideas above. Of course, there are many more that I could list and share. Feel free to write to me with questions. Best of luck with your AERA proposals! I hope to see you in San Antonio. Or perhaps in New York in 2018 or Toronto in 2019 (see Future Annual Meetings for AERA). Till then...

Bye bye...

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  posted by Curt Bonk @ 11:52 PM  
  • At 11:25 AM, Blogger Kristen White said…

    I watched this video in its entirety and as a fifth-year doctoral candidate, I found it extremely helpful. Thank you for sharing!

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About Me

Name: Curt Bonk
Home: Bloomington, Indiana, United States
About Me: I am a former accountant and CPA and a former educational psychologist. I am now Professor of IST at Indiana University and also adjunct in the School of Informatics. I founded and later sold SurveyShare. As president of CourseShare, LLC, I run around the world training instructors to teach online and give motivational talks about emerging learning technologies. I also write and edit books related to e-learning and blended learning. See bio and vita.

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