Turning Your Teaching Into Research: Identifying Important Topics for Research

25 Apr 2018 10:00 AM | Anonymous

By Patricia J. Brooks, Ph.D., Ayşenur Benevento, Ph.D. Candidate, & Teresa Ober, Ph.D. Candidate, The Graduate Center, CUNY

The GSTA hosted a roundtable discussion titled “How to turn your teaching into research” at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY) on April 18, 2018. The goal of the roundtable was to introduce graduate students to opportunities to engage in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) as they embark on their careers as instructors of undergraduate psychology courses.  The panelists were Dr. Phil Kreniske, post-doctoral fellow at HIV Center at Columbia University and New York State Psychiatric Institute, Dr. Kasey Powers, post-doctoral research scientist at Mercy College, Professor Michael Mandiberg of the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, CUNY, and Professor Eduardo Vianna of LaGuardia Community College and the Graduate Center, CUNY. Mandiberg is an interdisciplinary artist and coordinator of the Interactive Technology and Pedagogy (ITP) Certificate Program at the Graduate Center. Three of our panelists (Kreniske, Vianna, and Powers) are alumni of the PhD Program in Psychology at the Graduate Center, who engaged in SoTL research as part of the doctoral studies (see, e.g., Kreniske, 2017; Powers, Brooks, Galazyn, & Donnelly, 2016; Stetsenko & Vianna, 2009), with Kreniske and Powers also completing the ITP. Additionally, Powers and Kreniske were the founding editors of the GSTA blog, which makes it even more exciting to feature their accomplishments!  

We asked our panel what they thought were some of the hot topics within the SoTL field that graduate students might fruitfully pursue as instructors. Mandiberg said, “I think graduate students considering SoTL work should ask not what the hot topics are, but what the topics are they are struggling with in their own classroom, from technical matters like OER [Open Educational Resources] and learning delivery to digital information literacy and civic engagement.”  Some of the questions Mandiberg and students have explored in prior work include: How can our students contribute to a digital commons, and what influence does this have on learning when they do so? What does experiential learning look like in a digital field? How can learning inside the classroom scaffold better learning outside/after the classroom?

Kreniske emphasized issues of inequality and access: “College retention and success and issues of inequality are really critical topics right now. One study I often cite showed that despite record enrollment rates in American colleges only 11% of low-income and first-generation students earned a Bachelor's degree within six years, compared to 54% of the general population (Wine, Janson, & Wheeless, 2011). Institutions like CUNY who serve a large proportion of low-income and first generation students are working hard to address these issues but more can be done. From my perspective, the question for faculty and graduate teachers is what can we do to help support these students.” He added, “I’m super interested in the power of writing as a tool for creating and organizing thoughts and emotions. This is particularly the case in challenging life transitions, like the transition in and out of middle school or in my most recent work the transition to college, and the transition to adulthood.”

At LaGuardia, Vianna coordinates a Peer Activist Learning Community that promotes equitable, student-centered learning. According to Vianna, “the focus is on introducing theories and concepts as analytical tools that promote critical engagement with knowledge to interrogate its competing and often clashing ethical-political underpinnings and implications in order to spur agentive positioning in learning.” Regarding topics for new SoTL research Vianna stated, “I would emphasize the issue of curricular change, particularly in introductory psychology courses. Attention to integrating curriculum design and progressive pedagogy has become paramount in light of the recognition that ‘psychology has traditionally presented a culturally limited perspective of human beings’, as ‘culture, ethnic minority groups, gender, sexual orientation, and disability were often viewed as peripheral or outside of the mainstream of psychology’ (Sue, 2003, p. xvii). Therefore, recent scholarship on psychology teaching has made a compelling case for infusing curricula with diversity topics. Importantly, APA has also committed to promoting the significant role of psychological science in achieving the twin goal of (a) understanding and reducing discrimination and (b) identifying and implementing pathways to beneficial diversity (APA, 2012).”

At Mercy College, Powers coordinates a program involving Peer Led Team Learning (PLTL). As she describes it, “PLTL is an approach that puts peer leaders into sections of Statistics for Social Sciences and General Biology. Peer leaders work with the students in small groups for an hour on problem solving strategies as they work through activity sheets reinforcing content covered in lectures.”  As possible SoTL research topics, Powers answered. “A couple of things I see that could be interesting avenues are around growth mindset and science identity. There is a lot of emphasis on the importance of having a growth mindset but not a lot of research on how to get one. Using your classroom to practice ways that might increase growth mindset that could be measured with a pre- / post-design. Another thing we have run into here is that many of the psychology students do not see themselves as being part of STEM, and are scared of research. This could be addressed by adding small changes in teaching to foster development of the idea of psychology as a science.”

The panel addressed a wide range of topics including, for example, interdisciplinary perspectives on SoTL research methodology, mentoring undergraduate students as research assistants, and sharing one’s own research with students in the classroom. For those who were not able to attend the roundtable in person, a recording of the event is available online. We were grateful to the panel for a lively discussion and hope you will enjoy watching the recording!


American Psychological Association, Presidential Task Force on Preventing Discrimination and Promoting Diversity. (2012). Dual pathways to a better America: Preventing discrimination and promoting diversity. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/pubs/info/reports/promoting-diversity.aspx

Kreniske, P. (2017). Developing a culture of commenting in a first-year seminar. Computers in Human Behavior, 72, 724-732.

Powers, K. L., Brooks, P. J., Galazyn, M., & Donnelly, S. (2016). Testing the efficacy of MyPsychLab to replace traditional instruction in a hybrid course. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 15(1), 6-30.

Stetsenko A. & Vianna E. (2009). Bridging developmental theory and educational practice: Lessons from the Vygotskian project. In O. A. Barbarin, B. Hanna Wasik (Eds.), Handbook of child development and early education: Research to practice (pp. 38-54). New York: Guilford.

Sue, D. W. (2003). Overcoming our racism: The journey to liberation. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.

Wine, J., Janson, N., & Wheeless, S. (2011). 2004/09 Beginning Postsecondary Students Longitudinal Study (BPS: 04/09). Full-Scale Methodology Report. NCES 2012-246. National Center for Education Statistics.

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