There is a gap between those researching practices in education and those implementing that research (teachers). This gap doesn’t really serve anyone and only adds to the disconnect between researchers and classroom teachers. Both ‘sides’ would greatly benefit from listening to the other. A teacher is a veritable treasure trove of expertise. Why would those conducting experiments to better education not want that important experience to drive and shape their research? A researcher’s knowledge of proper experimentation and understanding of outcomes could only stand to benefit the classroom teacher.
This series (Ask A Researcher) is my attempt to close that gap a bit. By providing an opportunity to know a little more about those conducting the research, I hope teachers may feel a little more at ease with reading research articles and writing to those conducting the research…asking questions, seeking clarification, providing assistance. This obvious partnership could really improve both research/experimentation, classroom instruction, and education, overall.
Dr. Katie Wissman completed her graduate studies from 2011-2016 at Kent State University (advisor: Dr. Katherine Rawson) and was a postdoctoral research fellow from 2016-2018 at Skidmore College (advisor: Dr. Daniel Peterson). In 2018, she became an Assistant Professor in the Psychology Department at North Dakota State University. Her lab’s research focuses on cognitive processes that underlie human memory, with an emphasis on how to enhance student success. She also work closely with faculty interested in discipline-based education research in the STEM Education program at NDSU.
Without further ado, let’s ask a researcher:
1. What is the focus of your research?
Human memory, with a focus on finding techniques that support students’ ability to learn both effectively and efficiently.
2. What are you currently working on?
I’ve got a handful of ongoing projects. One research project is investigating how learning and memory is affected when students work together in groups to learn key-term definitions. Another research project is focused on exploring the extent to which making metacognitive judgments about one’s learning can be used as a study strategy. A third research project is examining how different learning strategies (i.e., retrieval practice and interleaving) can be used to reduce the frequency of mind wandering.
3. What work have you done that you believe most applies to the classroom?
I like to think most of my research applies to the classroom! In general, my research investigates what learning techniques facilitate the long-term maintenance of knowledge and why different learning techniques help students remember information. Students are expected to learn and remember an overwhelming amount of information. In addition, teachers are expected to teach this information in effective and durable ways. I’m interested in finding ways to help both of those things, so a lot of my research explores how to support student success and inform pedagogical instruction by examining the best learning practices for classrooms.
4. What do teachers need to know about being a researcher as it relates to education?
We realize a gap exists between what empirical research has shown to be effective for learning and the dissemination of this knowledge to real-world learning environments; it’s important to assure teachers that researchers are continuously trying to bridge that gap by finding ways to share their findings and make resources readily available. Also, for a long time, a majority of research evaluating different learning strategies was conducted in laboratories. Recently, however, researchers have started to realize the significance and necessity to conduct this research in authentic, classroom settings. We recognize this need and are working to conduct this type of research in order to provide recommendations for teachers concerning optimal learning practices in their classroom.
5. What can teachers do to work with the research community?
First and foremost, I would say reach out to researchers who do work that you find interesting and useful for your classroom. Most researchers are open to and excited about having conversations regarding evidence-based practices for the classroom with teachers! My other recommendation is to take advantage of available resources. One of my strongest suggestions is the book Understanding How We Learn (by Weinstein & Sumeracki); I think every teacher, student, and parent should read this book. Other awesome books: Make It Stick (by Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel), Powerful Teaching (by Argarwal & Bain), and Stop Talking, Start Listening (by Horvath). Some great blogs (in addition to Effortful Educator!): learningscientists.org, retrievalpractice.org, and cogbites.org. And some great podcasts: Learning Scientists, The Evidence in Education, ReLearning, and The Cult of Pedagogy.
I met Dr. Wissman via email. I read a paper on test-potentiated learning that she authored and just wanted to say thank you to her for the work she does. She was incredibly gracious in her return email, sending me more resources on the topic. Dr. Wissman’s graciousness is amazing and will work to close the gap between researchers and teachers.
So, what can you do? If you’re a teacher, simply write an email of gratitude or inquiry to an author. It’s that easy. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised how appreciative they are. If you’re a researcher, find classroom teachers on twitter or just email a local school. I assure you, we’d love to be included in the process.
Create the relationship. Close the gap. Improve education.
Are you a researcher interested in being featured in this series? Please feel free to contact me.