Faculty and doctoral students may affiliate with one or more of the department’s focal areas. These focal-area groups are intended to serve both as scholarly communities that foster conversation and stimulate inquiry and as vehicles for program and course planning.
Comparative and Global Studies
The focus of the Comparative and Global Studies focal area is the study and application of educational ideas, systems and practices, using the theories and methods of comparative education. The approach is multidisciplinary, intersecting with disciplines such as anthropology, economics, history, linguistics, philosophy, political science, psychology and sociology, among others. Faculty and students in this group seek to contribute to comparative scholarship and to increase global understanding and social justice, by using their research, teaching and service to inform domestic and international education and policy. The group provides opportunities for faculty and students to collaboratively explore ideas and work in progress including term papers, dissertation pre-proposals, prospective articles, conference presentations, and on-going research. The group also nurtures junior and senior scholars as they work in collaboration with similar groups within and outside Michigan State University and with international and comparative education organizations to advance the field and its objectives.
The Critical Studies focal area is a group of affiliated faculty and students whose work explores the way in which schools interact with the cultural and political practices of society. Affiliated members work includes expertise in neo-marxism, post-structuralism, post-colonialism, feminism, critical race theory and queer theory.
Faculty and students associated with this focal area are interested in the interactive relationships among curriculum; the teaching and learning of school subjects; and ideological, social and disciplinary contexts of teaching and learning within and across subject areas. Among the areas of central inquiry are curriculum theories, history, design and development; relationships between disciplines and school subjects and debates about what knowledge is of most worth, for whom, and for what purposes. The emphasis area permits specialization in curriculum and a variety of subject-oriented concentrations—history and social studies education, literacy education, mathematics education and science education. Curriculum questions are approached from a cross-disciplinary, critical perspective rather than from a narrow, technical interest. Study of the sociopolitical, historical and theoretical contexts draw on diverse disciplines across the social sciences, humanities and the arts. Curriculum study is also situated in its pragmatic context by examining the relationship of curriculum theory, policy and practice. The knowledge, decisions, roles, experiences and actions of teachers and teacher educators in addressing persistent curriculum issues, and their creation or mediation of curriculum with students in social context, are of fundamental interest to contemporary scholars in the field.
Education Policy and Social Analysis
Faculty and students in this focal area share interests in the critical analysis of educational policy. They focus on a wide range of issues including the social-historical contexts within which particular educational policies arise, the process by which they are formulated and implemented, and their consequences within and beyond the educational system. Though faculty and students engage a range of issues, many share an interest in understanding relationships between and among policy, teaching and teachers’ work. Students and faculty in this area examine the foundations of educational institutions and practices from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including sociological, anthropological, historical, economic and political approaches. They also explore educational reform efforts of past and present, and they inquire into the practice of policy formation, implementation and analysis. Students and faculty in this area collaborate with colleagues across the College of Education, and faculty in this area work with students in both the CITE and the Education Policy doctoral programs.
History and Social Studies Education
This focal area provides students with the opportunity to study education in its multiple relationships to power, knowledge, disciplinary content knowledge, intellectual skills and participatory democracy, including issues of civic values, diversity, systems of social thought and belief, justice, ethics and politics. This can be done through both a disciplinary subject matter lens (e.g., history, geography, economics and other social science disciplines) and through a variety of theoretical lenses (e.g., technical, positivist, constructivist, critical, feminist, post-colonial, interpretive, postmodern and post-structural lines of inquiry reflective of our diverse faculty). In their studies, students can explore questions relating to issues such as the sociocultural, philosophical and historical aspects of education and schooling; comparative studies of history and social studies education; curriculum, instruction and assessment in the social studies; the preparation of social studies teachers; the role of curriculum, schooling and the broader society in positioning teachers and students as citizens in a culturally diverse world; social studies in popular and high culture, museum studies; multicultural education; critical pedagogy and international, transnational and global education. Students also have opportunities to teach courses in social studies methods and multicultural and global education.
Language and Literacy
This focal area provides students from diverse backgrounds such as teacher education, special education, and educational psychology opportunities to approach the study of language and literacy from a multidisciplinary perspective. It is grounded in issues related to broader areas of inquiry that characterize the doctoral program, including curriculum and instruction, reform movements, policy at the state and national levels, and the history of education. Students explore aspects of pre-K to adult language and literacy education in diverse settings, including the cognitive and social bases of language and literacy development, the politics of literacy, and language and literacy development for diverse learners. Students learn about language and literacy scholarship through their courses, apprenticeships on faculty projects, and teaching language and literacy courses. Students develop their own research agendas as lead authors on a research practicum and dissertation in language and literacy education. Students may participate with faculty in the work of the Literacy Achievement Research Center (LARC), and often participate in the Literacy Colloquy, an ongoing seminar series of visiting and resident literacy scholars. See more: Doctoral Specialization in Language & Literacy Education website.
This focal area brings together faculty strengths in teacher education, educational psychology, special education and the mathematics department. Faculty are involved in a range of issues from elementary through college mathematics education, including: student knowledge and learning, teacher knowledge and learning, teacher preparation, professional development, curriculum, policy analysis, international mathematics education and assessment of students and teachers. All faculty are committed to studying and promoting meaningful learning for all students. A distinctive focus at MSU is the university’s investment in maintaining a close connection between university faculty and the K-12 classroom. Faculty and students are engaged in a rich spectrum of research projects and work in urban, suburban and rural local schools. Students and faculty with these interests regularly interact with colleagues in the Ph.D. in Mathematics Education and PRIME. This includes enrolling in common courses, as well as participating in the mathematics education colloquium series.
Race, Culture and Equity in Education
Faculty and students in this area work across all subject areas and areas of educational inquiry and practice and share a core commitment to equity for students who have been historically disenfranchised and traditionally marginalized by systems of inequality based primarily on race and ethnicity. Although faculty and student is this area hold the historic and continuing intersection of race, ethnicity and inequality in education as a leading interest, many members of this area also focus on historic and continuing educational inequalities as they intersect with gender, social class, language, ability difference, immigration status, sexual orientation and place. We study culture through the practices and activities of members of learning communities and understand culture to be shifting and dynamic. Much of our work focuses on teaching and learning in urban contexts, but we attend to understanding and improving educational opportunities and outcomes in suburban and rural communities as well. Drawing from a range of conceptual and methodological lenses and approaches, our goal is to challenge dominant discourses about students of color and other marginalized students and to contribute to equitable opportunities to teach and learn in urban settings and beyond. Our work spans inservice and preservice teacher learning, student learning, doctoral education and family and community-based education in Michigan, the U.S. and globally.
Science Education Focal Areas
This focal area blends theory, research and practical application to explore current issues in science teaching and learning. Faculty bring a range of theoretical and methodological perspectives to their work, including cognition, sociocultural and feminist/critical perspectives using both qualitative and quantitative methods. Core research areas include learning progressions, curriculum development, teacher development, formative assessment and teaching and learning in urban contexts. Students have opportunities to contribute to a variety of research projects, participate in policy formation and refine their knowledge and pedagogical skills. Students engage in sustained collaborative work with teachers, students and administrators in K-12 schools and school districts; college level science educators; informal science educators as well as university-based researchers and educators. The science educators on the faculty help students build programs of study connected to their unique interests and support students who desire to develop ties to related scholarship in the social sciences, humanities, and the scientific fields themselves. Students have the option of completing a Graduate Certificate in Science Education. For information about the Science Education Certificate, go to http://education.msu.edu/te/science-education/Prospective-Students/Program-Requirements.asp.
Teachers and Teacher Learning
This focal area brings together faculty and students who are concerned with the relationship between teacher education and teacher learning at the preservice, induction, and inservice levels. They focus on the enterprise of teacher education, the practices of teacher educators, and the formal and informal learning of prospective, beginning, and experienced teachers over time and in different settings. Students gain first-hand experience in the preparation of teachers through their close involvement in the college’s own Teacher Preparation Program and its well-established relationships with area schools. In addition, students work with faculty on a variety of research projects that concern teacher induction and professional development, investigating the effects of various aspects of teacher preparation (e.g., field experience and methods classes), and the variety of aspects impacting the growth and professional development of teachers throughout their careers as educators.
Other Areas of Interest
While most faculty and students focus their scholarly and professional interests in the areas mentioned above, many (often the very faculty and students working in the above mentioned areas) also, often simultaneously, have scholarly and professional interests in other areas as well. Below, we highlight some of these other areas as examples:
- Learning technologies
- Educational Philosophy
- Media, Discourse and Culture
Students may, of course, choose to focus their work in one or more of the above mentioned focus areas or create their own unique area of interest, as long as it is approved by the student’s advisor and guidance committee and is supported by a series of courses and experiences that provide deep and substantive knowledge in this area.