Katherine T. Ratliffe
Educational Psychology Chair
"Educational Psychology is an often overlooked field in education, and yet, it encompasses the core of what we do as educators."
- PhD, Educational Psychology
What is your role at the COE?
Currently, I am a professor and Chair of the Department of Educational Psychology (EDEP). Previously, I worked at the Center on Disability Studies for 12 years before becoming an assistant professor in EDEP in 2005. So, I’ve been working at the COE for approximately 26 years!
How did you become interested in educational psychology?
I was a pediatric physical therapist, working with children and their families in early intervention programs, schools, and hospitals for many years. I was doing a lot of work in Micronesia, teaching special education teachers how to support the related services needs of children with severe disabilities. I wanted to be a better teacher and a researcher, and a degree in educational psychology promised to help me learn the skills I needed. Eventually, I applied for a faculty position in EDEP, fulfilling a lifetime dream of mine to work in academia! I still travel to Micronesia in the summers to teach educators there to support children with disabilities and their families.
Please comment briefly on the importance of this field.
Educational Psychology is an often overlooked field in education, and yet, it encompasses the core of what we do as educators. We explore how and why people learn and the best ways to teach. The field has evolved from the early behaviorist theories of Watson and Skinner to more modern theories that include social, cognitive, and cultural contexts of learning. Research is key in education, and educational psychology provides the skills to become excellent researchers, learning skills in areas such as statistics, research design, qualitative approaches, and program evaluation. It also includes psychometrics, the study of large scale tests and testing, and assessment in education. Educational psychology looks into both the foundations and the future of education as we see what works and design and evaluate new approaches to teach modern students.
What is your own philosophy of teaching?
I believe that people learn best through interacting with one another around the content that we are teaching. We need to think about what we are learning to learn more deeply and to connect new information with what we already know. This happens best through reflection, writing, and discussion. Our brains are constantly changing, and our knowledge and skills change rapidly according to our learning contexts and our thinking about what we know and can do.
What do you hope for the future of this field and for its impact on education?
There is nothing more important than education! We are shepherding new generations to be lifelong learners and to move into whatever the future brings for us and other beings on this earth. It is important to keep learning so that we can have clarity and compassion as well as the skills to be able to think and act appropriately. I hope that educational psychology will develop and test new theories of learning that fit our cultures, our cognition, and our social contexts. I hope we will develop new methods of assessing that learning and will support these with ethical, inclusive, and innovative research.