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Research Stories: Catherine Lalonde, PhD

Research Stories: Catherine Lalonde, PhD

Lalonde, assistant professor of education, is working with the Buffalo Public Schools to develop pilot programs for a Professional Development School consortium.

Buffalo, New York – February 25, 2015 – Dr. Catherine Lalonde was recently named the 2014 American Association of University Professors (AAUP) Faculty Scholar by the D’Youville faculty, and it is the first time she received this honor.

Catherine Lalonde stands in front of her class, leading a discussion, offering support, making assignments. Two computer screens are in front of her in her office, the lights are slightly dimmed, and the conversations are taking place online. As an assistant professor in the education department at D’Youville, Dr. Lalonde practices what she teaches: trends in education, teaching in a media culture, using essentially whatever works best to elevate the learning process. Most of her students embrace the opportunity to learn online although some find making the adjustment to distance learning disorienting. “I am so grounded in social connections, in personal interaction, that I don’t want to lose that. There are always some who are uncomfortable learning online, and I make a point to reach out to them,” Dr. Lalonde said.

Reaching out is vital when teaching online, she said, since it is even easier for students to fall off track when they aren’t learning face to face. She is clear that online learning isn’t perfect, but it does not mean it isn’t good. “Some students are better online. They are less shy. We all do really well together,” she said.

Her courses are all graduate-level and cutting edge, and one of her other roles at D’Youville is to keep the instruction and administration in the education department as cutting edge as the curriculum.

She is working with the Buffalo Public Schools to develop pilot programs for a Professional Development School consortium. “This would involve D’Youville faculty and public school teachers switching places for a couple of days a week,” she said.

A tightly structured, testing-based curriculum and state-mandated benchmarks are hurdles to implementing the program in Buffalo, she said, “But it’s happening all over the country right now. There’s no real reason we can’t do it here.”

Adaptability, resourcefulness, flexibility—those all help teachers succeed. Many of her students were also good elementary and high school students, which can be a handicap once they are in front of the class if they expect all students to be like they were, she said. “The ones who had trouble in the past often do better. They understand the academic struggle some children have,” Dr. Lalonde said. “I want somebody who was an outcast. They will be ready for any pushback, whether it is out of boredom, difficulty or something else.

She addresses these struggles in her articles about students from lower economic brackets, children who can’t concentrate because of a lack of sleep or because they are hungry or upset. Her ideal learning environment is loud and interactive, with ideas, questions and answers flowing freely. Not all of her classes are done online, and when her classes are “live,” she has her students use one another as learning tools.

Unlike students in other majors, education students have seen their profession in action on a daily basis in their own childhood classrooms. The pitfall they must avoid is thinking their experience is everyone’s experience. “The first day of class in ‘Critical Issues of Education,’ I have everyone break out into groups and map out their high school by the peer groups of students and teachers, the good ones and the bad ones, the ones who show up, and they start to see how complex an educational setting could get. It helps them shift their perspectives from their experience to the whole.”

Dr. Lalonde sees that mastery is part of her own work, keeping up with the education treadmill. She says, “My job is making theory palatable and relating it to everyday experience. Then we take it from there.”

Story by Melinda Miller
Photo by Bob Kirkham