Ask A Researcher #9 – Dr. Althea Kaminske

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. Althea Need Kaminske is an Associate Professor of Psychology at St. Bonaventure University where she teaches classes on Human Memory, Sensation and Perception, Cognitive Psychology, and Statistics & Research Methods. She is the director of the Behavioral Neuroscience program and co-director for Center for Attention, Learning, and Memory. She is also a member of The Learning Scientists. She received a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology as well as a Bachelor of Arts in Linguistics from Indiana University. She earned her Master’s and Ph.D. in cognitive psychology at Purdue University. She co-authored “Five Teaching and Learning Myths Debunked: A Guide for Teachers” and regularly writes for The Learning Scientists. She used to cook, play Dungeons & Dragons, and hike in her spare time, but she recently became a mom so now she plays airplane, peek-a-boo, and takes an absurd number of photos. Follow her on twitter @DrSilverFox.

Without further ado, let’s ask a researcher:

1. What is the focus of your research?

Broadly, my research focuses on the cognitive processes that affect student learning – things like memory, attention, and metacognition. My research tends to focus on the application of cognitive psychology to best practices in the classroom.

2. What are you currently working on?

Lately my research has been moving more towards attention and mindfulness. A few years ago I did an experiment looking at cell phones and attention. A lot of evidence suggests that cell phones are distracting in the classroom, but we wanted to know if it mattered whether it was your own phone going ringing or if it was someone else’s phone. While this experiment was going on, I was also supervising an honors project that was looking at whether mindfulness practices, like meditation, could help students focus in the classroom. The next year I became the director of our Behavioral Neuroscience program, and worked with students to design a simple EEG study to look at whether using a mindfulness app for a few weeks could improve attention and memory. 

3. What work have you done that you believe most applies to the classroom?

The work that most applies to the classroom is definitely writing for The Learning Scientists. The research I do is important, but only if it’s accessible to people who need it. Writing about research for a general audience forces me to consider the more practical implications of research on learning, which in turn helps to generate more applied research. 

4. What do teachers need to know about being a researcher as it relates to education?

Research is never really finished. There are so many things that affect learning. What are you learning? Do you have any prior experience with it? How is the information being presented – through pictures, words (written or spoken), a combination of media? How is your attention today? What did you have for breakfast? How much sleep have you been getting lately? And so on and so on.

As a researcher, I design experiments to take apart the learning process and isolate each variable. By isolating each variable I can gain a better understanding of how a small piece of learning works. But understanding a variable in isolation, doesn’t mean that you understand how it works once you combine it with other variables. Once you’ve broken learning down into these isolated processes you have to see how they work together. Each time you add in another process or variable, you end up with more questions.

This process can be frustrating, but for me it can also be really exciting. I love talking with teachers about what they do in their classes because it helps me understand how all of these variables can fit together. Hearing about learning from a new or different perspective is incredibly valuable and can help fuel future research.

5. What can teachers do to work with the research community?

I think one of the barriers to collaborations between teachers and researchers is that we often end up talking past each. We have different backgrounds and different training so we use different terminology to describe the same thing. This is where communication becomes really important. Talk about shared goals and understand that part of working together is learning how to talk with each other.

I first met Dr. Kaminske on twitter and was honored to review and endorse her book, Five Teaching and Learning Myths Debunked – A Guide for Teachers. She is a huge proponent of the learning sciences and is a member of the Learning Scientists. Also, she self-identifies as a learning nerd, which is really cool.

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.

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