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‘Use-inspired’ research that cuts across the lifespan

by the College of Education at Illinois / Oct 5, 2016

Educational Psychology at the College of Education at Illinois

The Department of Educational Psychology is highly regarded for its research and the preparation of practitioners who address socio-emotional and educational problems through applied science, combining methodological approaches and cross-disciplinary expertise.

Dan Morrow originally came to the University of Illinois to join the Human Factors faculty at the Institute of Aviation. But when the institute moved in 2010, he found that Educational Psychology was a good fit for his research interests.

As professor and chair of the department, Morrow speaks passionately about the research of Ed Psych faculty members. He labels the research conducted in Ed Psych as “use-inspired,” a term coined by the political scientist Donald Stokes.  

“We do work that is both guided by and contributes to theory, and it is inspired by practical issues and problems,” Morrow said. “I see our niche as an incubator for translational research that applies basic principles of psychology to produce innovative practices and tools in education and, more importantly, for use-inspired research that aims for an understanding of the nature of learning and human development.”

Inventing new and better methods

Ed Psych is known for its strong reputation in the area of large-scale, school-based interventions that promote positive school climates and violence reduction. Other areas of strength include:

  • Cognition and learning through the lifespan
  • Promotion of social justice through social dynamics, attitudes, and behaviors that contribute to safe environments in education and the workplace
  • Language and literacy
  • Quantitative methods and evaluations that make rigorous research possible

Morrow noted that the entire field of cognitive science was partly developed at the College of Education in the 1970s and 1980s.

“All kinds of eminent people who have had wonderful careers were working here,” he said. “Today the person who’s best known on this campus for that is Dick Anderson, who is emeritus but who still has students and is still going gangbusters. He helped put together the Center for the Study of Reading in the ‘70s. Dick’s work and all of the people who were here essentially developed cognitive science around educational issues, which is one reason why we are known so well—it’s a strand of historical significance in the field of educational psychology.”

Morrow said scholars Jennifer Greene and Tom Schwandt have produced important scholarship related to quantitative methods and evaluation.

“Greene has literally written the book on mixed methods, on how you intelligently combine qualitative things like interviews with quantitative things like analysis of numeric data,” Morrow said. ”Bob Stake, who is emeritus, is very well known across the world for his single-case qualitative methods.”

Morrow also mentioned Lee Cronbach, who is considered one of the most influential educational psychologists of all time, a scholar who made many contributions in psychological testing and measurement throughout his career at Illinois.

Research that improves outcomes

Over the years, the research in Ed Psych has had a significant impact on learners both young and old.

“I think the work we’re doing here helps us understand how to improve societal outcomes, such as health and income, by improving the quality of education,” Morrow said. “One of the most basic facts of social science is the relationship between socioeconomic status and health and health outcomes. By improving educational outcomes, we are hopefully improving people’s trajectories in terms of work and health throughout the lifespan, and that’s going to have an impact on how society allocates resources efficiently.”

The department excels in studying and understanding particular phenomena, such as factors that predict children’s readiness for school, factors that influence who gets bullied and why, and factors that impact how individuals can successfully age. Studies such as these are part of what make Ed Psych stand out from other educational psychology departments.

The department’s scholarship is vital to its doctoral training and teaching missions. Its graduate courses are taken by doctoral students from across campus, and its graduate students are trained as teachers and scholars.

Students work with faculty members to teach several large courses taken by undergraduates across the college and campus, including four general education courses. As a result, Ed Psych graduate students are typically fully funded while in the program. The department offers an applied learning sciences concentration in the College’s new Learning and Educational Studies undergraduate major.

“Ed Psych is an outward-looking department in terms of engagement with community and students. We care about what happens to our research,” Morrow said. “Publishing is just a stepping stone to trying to solve problems.”

Looking toward the future, Ed Psych is focused on investing in the growth of the department and its programs through the hiring of top scholars in the field. It will continue to prioritize resources to provide strong doctoral training and a rich interdisciplinary education in the cognitive science of learning, which will prepare undergraduate students for graduate school or careers in education, business, medicine, and other professions. The department will also:

  • Take advantage of the shared focus on social and community development and practice by creating links between the developmental sciences and counseling psychology
  • Expand life-wide learning around digital education to impact the field in a variety of spaces such as health care
  • Build capacity to expand its interdisciplinary research by further integrating the department, the College, and the campus

Faculty work happening in Ed Psych

Carolyn Anderson is a world-renowned expert in sophisticated quantitative methods for data analysis. Recent work includes research on formulations of latent variable models.

Kristen Bub focuses on the impact of family and community on children’s readiness for school and later academic achievement in school.

Hua-Hua Chang is studying computer adaptive testing for language learning and contributing to theories of learning assessment.

Jennifer Cromley is researching how high school and college students can benefit from diagrams and graphs in textbooks on STEM topics.

Kiel Christianson is studying language comprehension and learning by looking at the listening and reading strategies people use. He is also interested in how people learn second languages.

Jennifer Greene focuses on quantitative and qualitative methods related to evaluation.

Chad Lane is interested in informal learning, including how kids learn in everyday life. Lane looks at gaming and how to leverage digital products to promote learning in museums and other life-wide contexts that relate to informal learning.

Jose Mestre is doing work that helps college students get more out of introductory physics courses, providing them with a better foundation for taking advanced courses in science.

Dan Morrow is looking at how age-related changes affect learning in health care contexts.

Saundra Nettles investigates the impact of neighborhood environments on the social and intellectual development of children.

Helen Neville explores ethnic and race relations and social justice and is developing a cross-cultural, bi-national participatory action research project with young women at the University of Dar es Salaam and at Illinois.

Michelle Perry researches the acquisition of mathematical and other STEM concepts among young learners and the contexts and instruction that support their acquisition. Her recent work examines STEM learning online among underrepresented students.

Jim Rounds studies how students make career choices and how that plays out across the lifespan.

Liz Stine-Morrow studies fundamental mechanisms in reading comprehension and strategies for improving comprehension, with much of her work geared toward changes across the lifespan.

Jinming Zhang is working on psychometrics of assessment measures and testing in computer environments.