Faculty Highlight- Dr. Pfannenstiel

In continuation with the series on faculty highlights, this blog post is centered around Dr. Pfannenstiel and one of her recent research projects.

Dr. Pfannenstiel’s research project, in collaboration with Dr. Mondello, focuses on graduate pedagogy by “exploring what it means to develop well designed graduate courses to facilitate skill development and content learning.” This research unofficially began in 2017 when Dr. Pfannenstiel took over as the graduate coordinator. She noticed a huge shift in graduate education, as it had not changed with the way students and educators were changing and understanding teaching. Dr. Pfannenstiel explains that many graduate schools nationwide assume that the traditional graduate seminar is the right way, but this is not meeting student needs. “When I started researching” she states, “the evidence is not meeting students needs, as it is designed to be a sink or swim structure for students to fail out.” Within this interview, it is evident that Dr. Pfannenstiel cares very deeply for student learning and wanted to start filling the gap between masters student learning and masters teaching with her research. “The structure of the current graduate seminar is to highlight the skills they already had, not to teach the ones they need” she explains. This way of teaching in graduate school can have serious implications later on in student’s careers, for if not designing programs to meet student’s needs, it is never going to change what the professorate looks like. In turn, this is not changing the skills of what the students need, which could affect future career choices and opportunities post-graduation.

Research officially began for Dr. Pfannenstiel and Dr. Mondello last year when they applied for and received the PASSHE Faculty Professional Development Committee grant. With this funding, their research is looking at who the graduate students are. This is done by surveying gradate faculty “to understand their perceptions of graduate student’s skills, the purpose of their programs, and what they prepare students for.” They are also currently creating a survey for graduate students to understand from their perspective. In 2023, they are offering faculty workshops to bring a multitude of voices into the conversation and find what it means to teach graduate students.

Dr. Pfannenstiel gave me an insightful look into her writing process for this research. Since it is a collaborative research project, her writing process reflects what it is like to create and write with others. They (Pfannenstiel and Mondello) meet weekly each Tuesday, so she uses Sunday and Monday as prep days to complete the portion of the work she is responsible for getting done. They set mini goals after a certain number of weeks as a means to connect to the overall end goal of the research. The importance of having an accountability partner when conducting research is evident in collaborative research, as it is important to trust your co-author along with supporting one another during the writing process. The way graduate classes are designed is for solo research, which is understandable due to the grading system. However, the reality of writing in the real world is very collaborative. This look into a higher academic collaborative research project shows how different writing processes can be applied based on the number of writers involved.

This research will hopefully be presented at three different conferences early next year, including the PASSHE teaching and learning conference, Lancaster Learns, and the Learning Institute conference. Dr. Pfannenstiel explains to me that the conferences provide valuable feedback for their project and subsequent research. They also create a space to workshop and develop ideas that will eventually be published, and determine which ideas seem most impactful with audiences to establish publication goals. Because of the nature of the work, Dr. Pfannenstiel is hoping to apply for larger grants to fund more research and help improve the design of graduate courses and overall student learning.