Monday, June 2, 2014

The Role of Educational Psychologists

Whenever someone thinks of research, they typically think of research being done for science, or to test an experiment.  However, research can also be done in education to better understand teaching and learning.  Additionally, educational psychology has been around for over one hundred years.  But what does the term educational psychology mean, and how can we utilize educational psychology in our teaching?
In Educational Psychology, Anita Woolfolk (2013) defines educational psychology as being a “distinct discipline with its own theories, research methods, problems, and techniques” (p. 12).  Woolfolk (2013) indicates that educational psychologists strive to improve the educational practice and do research on teaching and learning.  Essentially, educational psychologists study what happens when someone teaches something to someone else in a particular setting.  That could mean a teacher teaching something to a student in the classroom, or a parent teaching something to a child at home.  Woolfolk (2013) and other authors suggests that the role of educational psychologists is to examine the development of children and adolescents.  They also consider how individuals are motivated, how they learn and master different subjects, the cultural and social aspects that influence their learning, and how children are affected by assessments and testing.
Research that is conducted can be used to help influence, understand, and improve our teaching.  There are several forms of research that can be used by educational psychologists that are typically conducted on a large scale—specifically, descriptive studies, experimental studies, and correlation studies.  The information that is discovered in these studies can help teachers to see different methods and ways to best teach their students.  Another type of research that can be used on a small scale level is action research.  Woolfolk (2013) defines action research as the “systematic observations or tests of methods conducted by teachers or schools to improve teaching and learning for their students” (p. 16).  In action research the “same kind of careful observation, intervention, data gathering, and analysis that occurs in large research projects can be applied in any classroom to answer questions” (Woolfolk, 2013, p. 16) regarding student learning.  Action research can help to answer questions like which writing prompt works best, are students responding better to visual or listening learning techniques, what techniques lead to the most class involvement in discussion, and so on.  Being able to answer questions such as this, and even doing action research pertaining to a specific individual in the classroom, a teacher is better able to differentiate his or her teaching to effectively reach all of his or her students.
Educational psychology and research have been around for many years and can be extremely useful to educators.  In addition to a teacher conducting action research in his or her classroom to better teach and engage his or her students, a teacher can also look at research that has been conducted on a larger scale.  Interpreting this research and then utilizing the techniques in the classroom will help teachers to improve their teaching abilities, engage their students better, and provide a more meaningful and effective teaching strategy.
Woolfolk, A. (2013). Educational Psychology (12th ed.). Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education Inc.

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