Meredith Turner
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Max. Classroom Capacity: An Interview With Donald Truxillo

Loren J. Naidoo Baruch College and the Graduate Center, CUNY

Welcome back readers! For this issue I’m very excited to be joined by Donald Truxillo, the 2017 winner of SIOP’s distinguished teaching award! Donald is a professor of I-O psychology at Portland State University, which he joined 24 years ago after a career in industry. His research, which concerns applicant reactions to the selection process, issues associated with older workers, and the antecedents of workplace safety, has been published in top tier journals including JAP, PPsych, and JOM, and has received grant funding from the NSF and NIOSH. Many I-O psychology instructors and students are familiar with his popular textbook, Psychology and Work: Perspectives on Industrial and Organizational Psychology with PSU colleague coauthors Talya Bauer (2012 SIOP Distinguished Teacher awardee and current SIOP president) and Berrin Erdogan (SIOP Fellow). Donald is a dedicated and innovative teacher, having long incorporated applied experiences into his classes and having received two Fullbright teaching fellowships, two fellowships from the Italian Ministry of Education, as well as regularly teaching at the University of Trento, Italy, and serving on their doctoral training committee. He has supervised 17 completed doctoral dissertations since joining PSU.

Loren Naidoo: Thanks so much for agreeing to speak with me Donald! I understand that you started off as a practitioner before making the switch to academia. What made you decide that being a professor was the right move for you?

Donald Truxillo: When I started graduate school at 22, I was sure that I did not want to be an academic. Part of this was that I was sure that I would hate teaching. In fact, it was only towards the end of my time in graduate school that I had to teach a class—and found that I actually enjoyed it. So then I found myself on the fence regarding my career path. I did go the practitioner route, and I enjoyed it a lot and gained invaluable experience. But I continued to teach regularly during this time, and I supervised PhD interns as well. I also found myself very interested in answering research questions that came up in my practice work, such as why job applicants sometimes don't like valid assessments.  I was lucky that I had some publications in graduate school so that making the switch to full-time academics was not impossible. Then when I got the opportunity to join the faculty at Portland State, I did.

LN: It’s amazing that you were able to make that practice-to-academia career shift. I don’t know too many people who have been able to do that. Do you think it’s necessary to have applied experience to be an effective instructor of I-O psychology? In what ways (if any) do you think your applied experience has benefited your teaching?

DT: I think one reason that I was able to make the shift is that I did have a couple of publications. In that sense, getting involved with my professors' research gave me a bit of flexibility. As for your question, I don't think that it is absolutely necessary to have that experience, but it certainly helps.  The good thing is that most I-O academics have some applied research when they come out, or they get it fairly quickly. In my case, I would say that my work experience helped me a lot with my teaching, in that it can help you to make the material come alive for students, especially for undergraduates who may have very little work experience.  I would also say that applied experience and research/teaching are highly synergistic endeavors, or at least they have been for me. In addition, keeping your ear to the ground about current trends in practice is necessary to teaching and research because research and practice are so intertwined in I-O.

LN: I really like and agree with the idea that research, teaching, and practice can be synergistic rather than competing demands on one’s time. Like you I had a chance to teach undergraduate classes as a PhD student, and now I mentor PhD students who are given opportunities to teach undergraduate classes. Similarly, I know many MA/MS/MBA students who have taught a class or two on the way to or shortly after graduation. Balancing multiple demands is a common challenge for grad students, and I think that many of those who intend to pursue careers in practice don’t consider the possibility that teaching experience may benefit their applied careers. In what ways do you think that teaching experience can benefit a future I-O practitioner?

DT: In many ways. First, there is no better way to learn something deeply than having to explain it to someone else. Second, once you are done, depending on the courses you teach, it can keep much of the literature fresh in your mind. Third, teaching can give you even greater credibility. Finally, it really is good to broaden your experience in this way; in my case, it got me to realize that I actually do like teaching and shifted my career!

LN: Beyond making the material come alive by talking about applied experiences, what are some other practices or principles that you believe make your own teaching effective?

DT: I would say that the first thing is to think of the topic from the learner's perspective and what you can assume that they know or don't know about it. Thinking of undergraduates, consider that many of them have no work experience or that they may know relatively little about I-O psychology. This is where the examples come in handy, either based on your own experience or based on relevant examples in the news. (This is an approach we have taken our I-O textbook.) To help with this, I also get students with some work experience engaged in the class and to give their examples. In fact, these working students usually have terrific examples—and also terrific questions that can aid in class discussion.

Second, on that note, I try to avoid a pure lecture and often work in questions to the class as I introduce new topics rather than keep the communication going one way. Third, I build some exercises or case studies into the class, since I-O is an applied topic. I've also added community-based learning aspects to my undergraduate classes (e.g., they might do a training needs assessment for a community organization.) For my industrial psychology class I've built in a significant paper worth half the final grade where students must apply the course concepts to an organization where they or a friend/family member has worked.

Fourth, I don't use PowerPoint—I do give students an outline to give them an organizing framework for the material, but they need to take their own notes. I believe that students learn more and internalize the material more effectively from this approach. Finally, I'm a big proponent in procedural justice and try to be fair in my testing. Some questions may be hard, but there are no surprises. In fact, my reputation is that if you come to class and take good notes you will do well in my courses. 

LN: Wait, so you don’t use PowerPoint in your undergraduate classes at all? That’s very intriguing to me. How do you organize a typical undergraduate class? I’m curious about this because my impression (perhaps mistaken) is that PowerPoint (or similar presentation software) is at once ubiquitous in undergraduate psychology classrooms and also generates a decided lack of enthusiasm from both students and the faculty themselves.

DT: Right, I don't use PowerPoints at all for my undergraduate I-O classes.  The original reason was that I don't do well with PPs in lectures—I end up almost reading the slides.  The PPs make me a very passive lecturer, and I think it's dreary for the students; it definitely is for me. (BTW, I know this isn't true for everyone—I'm only talking about myself here!)  My concern about not using PP, though, is giving the students enough of a framework to follow along and organize their notes. So I give them an outline of the course in advance, also posted online, and I follow it very closely. In any case, by ditching the PPs I find myself much more engaged, and I've been told by students that I get really enthusiastic in my lectures. I also explain to students why I don't use PP and how I structure the class, and they seem fine with it. I think I might take a different approach if I were teaching new material for the first time, but for undergraduate I-O classes, I haven't missed PP at all. The students say that they haven't either. Plus, as I said before, I think that when they take their notes they do internalize the material more.

LN: That sounds fantastic. I have also tried some strategies to encourage good note taking habits but have not gone “all-in” like you! Kudos! Let me change direction a bit. I notice that you have had quite a few interesting international academic appointments. What are some challenges and some benefits of teaching in a different country in your experience? Are you planning to continue seeking out international teaching experiences?

DT: I have been lucky to teach quite a bit overseas at the graduate level, most frequently (annually) at the University of Trento in Italy. I've also taught at the U. of Palermo and U. of Bologna (Italy), and in the Erasmus Mundus program at the U. of Valencia (Spain). In some ways teaching is just the same but of course can be a bit different. For instance, even if the students know English, I have to consciously slow down my speaking a little so students can keep up with me.  

As to the benefits, it's been invaluable to see how I-O (or work psychology) is framed in different parts of the world; for example, in many other countries the focus is more on the worker than on the organization. But even more important to me, through this teaching I have been lucky to work with amazing colleagues and research collaborators—and friends—from around the world. Of course, having the opportunity to immerse yourself in a different culture for months at a time has been an incredible opportunity that is personally enriching.

As for future teaching...I actually will be leaving Portland State this fall, moving to the Kemmy Business School at the University of Limerick, Ireland. I will miss my wonderful colleagues and doctoral students in Portland, but I am also excited about this next opportunity.

LN: Congratulations! Donald, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you—thanks for sharing your experiences with us!


Readers, as always, your comments, questions, and feedback are welcome.

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