PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Andrea M. Karkowski

What works: Observations from the Field

Andrea M. Karkowski is Associate Professor of Psychology, Department of Behavioral Sciences at Capital University.

If a visitor were to come into your classroom/lab—the environment in which you work with students—what impression would s/he leave with?

That depends on the class and the time of the semester, though all of my classes include collaborative learning. In my lower division classes, a visitor would leave with the impression that while students are being guided through the maze of statistics and research methodology, they are also encouraged to explore and to make decisions on their own. I would hope that a visitor would see gentle correction along with plenty of support and encouragement liberally mixed with realistic and high expectations and lots of hard work.

In my upper division classes, a visitor would leave with the impression that the students are being prepared for graduate-level and professional work. No one gets to hide behind a textbook. All students are expected to read and understand primary source materials, contribute in a meaningful way (which we define early in the term) to class discussion and designing the experiments we conduct, and take responsibility for their learning.

What brought you to an interest in “advancing the frontiers of education” and to connecting your research to that work?

I initially struggled with teaching, and being in term-contract positions early in my career allowed me to experiment with different teaching techniques and activities. And then I realized that I enjoyed experimenting with my teaching and evaluating the work that I was doing in the classroom. Trained as a learning theorist, I understood the value of feedback and got excited about thinking of different ways to give and receive feedback. Everything snowballed from there.

Were there crises in doing this? What made you persevere?

Sure. Not everything that I have tried has been successful. The big reward comes when the students succeed: When students report that graduate programs are impressed by the writing samples they submitted, writing samples drawn from my classes. When graduates come back and thank me for pushing so hard, as they see other graduate students struggling with the readings while they understand and enjoy the material. Or, when graduates tell me that they have been able to use their statistics and research methods knowledge to solve problems in the workplace.

What connections have been of most value in doing this?

There is no substitution for supportive colleagues who have acted as a sounding board for ideas or as co-conspirators in my work. I also draw heavily from my experiences in PKAL and with the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology (NITOP) – both organizations help to energize me and to provide new ways of looking at teaching, research, the teaching of research and the research of teaching.

What kind of institutional culture needs to be in place to nurture careers of faculty actively seeking to integrate their research and teaching?

Again, there is no substitution for supportive colleagues who have acted as a sounding board for ideas or as co-conspirators in my work. The institutional culture must provide for interactions among faculty and support for travel to professional conference in order to expose the faculty to other ideas. The culture should also support innovation and should not punish “failure.” If integrating research and teaching is important, then it must become part of the promotion and tenure expectations.