PKAL Faculty for the 21st Century

Leanne Olson

F21 Class of 2004 Statement

Leanne Olson is Assistant Professor of Psychology at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

What is your vision of a robust research-rich learning environment?

Admittedly, undergraduate psychology students must acquire the “babble” and theories of the discipline. Psychological literacy, however, only becomes functional and meaningful in application. A robust research-rich learning environment is realized in a community of fully present, practiced researchers. I believe that PKAL will not only offer a valuable resource and connection to others who share a similar vision of education and science, but PKAL will provide opportunities to help me reflect on that vision and plan for change in the future. The following represents three characteristics I hope to help develop within our psychology program.

A Community

Knowledge is “social” in that it is both generated and communicated between and among individuals. A robust research-rich learning environment exists within a context created by those who share and explore scientific habits of mind together. Together, students, faculty, and peers within the discipline trust themselves enough to communicate, risk, question, define, consider, and learn. Researching within a community helps students see beyond their own perspectives and self-interested motivations by clearly defining the impact of context. I look toward helping develop a learning community that fosters critical thought, exploration of questions, and more importantly, the understanding that knowledge is the result of a social activity that depends on the input from many perspectives and viewpoints.

Fully Present

Research helps students to be fully present to the science of psychology. Research provides hands-on experience providing those conditions that enable students to think scientifically about their worlds and themselves. Since scientific methods of inquiry differ significantly from other modes of knowing, exposure to the discipline through its questions and resulting research and methods allows students to immediately experience the power of science to transform the abstract and philosophical into empirical evidence. Student exposure to and reflection on the research and methodologies that define psychology serves to engage students in the scientific process. Fully present learners have the resources to recognize the details of the historical research that provide the context for the “bold print” babble in introductory texts. I work toward, but have not realized those daily activities, projects, and opportunities that develop the skills evidenced by fully present learners.


Psychological science is only as good as the design and measurement tools employed to observe, describe, and explain behavior. Given psychology often seeks to understand that which cannot be directly measured, the design and tools used to describe, explain, predict, and influence behavior bare the marks of a very young science. The future of the field depends on students who understand the past, but have experienced success in exploring new options. A robust learning environment consists of students who are actively engaged and practiced in the design, tools, and methods employed in research. Though much psychological research cannot be ethically replicated, beginning psychology scientists could use and explore the specific research tools and methods in research labs embedded within their psychology classes. In this way, students practice those scientific habits of the mind and in turn, quickly learn that conclusions depend heavily on the methods used to achieve them. More advanced students can explore complex design and control systems in an attempt to isolate variables. Students would learn that success at this level is not necessarily, supporting the hypotheses. Instead, learning involves continual reflection on, understanding, and practicing the processes that science uses to provide valid and reliable evidence.

I believe that the qualities of community, fully present learners, and practiced learners are some of the characteristics important in developing a robust research-rich learning environment. Change hinges on adopting a new paradigm that excludes a definition of learning that defines success as memorizing the most answers. Learning that acknowledges the social context of active and practiced skills designed to help students solve their own questions together scientifically serves all of us. I am eager to begin to provide those experiences, activities, and ideas in class, lab, and beyond that help students realize how scientific design, research, methodology, and tools empower them to understand yesterday, face today, and plan for tomorrow.