Mckeachie, Wilbert J(ames) 1921-
The life of arguably one of the most influential educational psychologists began humbly in a one-room school house in White Lake, Michigan. With his father as the lone teacher, Wilbert (Bill) J. McKeachie (born August 24, 1921) began a journey of life-long learning that spanned nine decades. His life experiences include serving as a church minister, a mathematics teacher, a naval radar officer, president of multiple academic organizations, and a marriage to the same woman (Ginny) for 65 years.
After graduating from Michigan State Normal College (later Eastern Michigan University), he spent four months teaching mathematics and serving as a United Methodist minister in Trout Lake, a small town in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. His application for clergy deferment was denied, and in January 1943 he reported for naval training in San Francisco. From June 1943 until the end of World War II, he served as a radar officer on the USS Guest. Every destroyer in the Guest's fleet was hit, and eight of nine were sunk. Only the Guest survived.
Upon his return from war, McKeachie entered the doctoral program in psychology at the University of Michigan. He studied the then-emerging field of personality and social psychology, exploring issues of group formation and conformity, under Michigan's department chair Donald G. Marquis. When McKeachie received his degree, Marquis convinced him to forgo opportunities to join the faculty at other universities and instead stay at Michigan and coordinate the introductory psychology program. McKeachie joined the faculty at Michigan in 1948 and officially retired in 1992, although he continued his work as an emeritus professor into the early 2000s.
His honors and awards (over 30 citations) reflect the many spheres on which his career had an influence. Most notable among them are the Thorndike Award for Outstanding Research from APA Division 15, APA's Centennial Award for Outstanding Contribution, American Psychological Foundation Gold Medal Award, and APA's Presidential Citation.
In addition to these awards, McKeachie led several academic organizations. He served as president of the American Psychological Association, the American Psychological Foundation, the American Association for Higher Education, and was founding president of the Educational, Instructional, and School Psychology Division of the International Association of Applied Psychology. McKeachie served on the editorial boards of 20 journals and on governing boards of 17 organizations in higher education, many times serving in multiple capacities. (For example, he served in 22 different leadership positions for the American Psychological Association alone.)
Picking the most significant research contributions of someone with more than 390 publications is difficult. Still, three can be highlighted here. His signature written work is arguably his internationally recognized book Teaching Tips, as of 2008 in its twelfth edition. This book started as mimeographed copies of pedagogical strategies that he distributed to his teaching assistants in 1951. The book appeared in several languages and was widely respected by university professors. With its wideranging content—from test-writing to leading discussions to establishing good relations with university support staff—it is the quintessential survival guide for new faculty.
Second, the modern-day freshman-experience course has roots in McKeachie's work. These courses, along with the spate of related books, can arguably be traced to McKeachie's course entitled “Learning to Learn,” which he first offered at Michigan in 1971. Like most of his work, the course was ahead of its time. It was his attempt to bring what were, at the time, pioneering concepts of motivation and cognition to help college students become better learners. The result was a national trend of most universities offering such courses.
Third, McKeachie was instrumental in securing funding for the National Center for Research to Improve Post-Secondary Teaching and Learning, which was housed at Michigan for five years. The most fruitful product from the center's existence was the Motivated Strategies for Learning Questionnaire (MSLQ), a self-report instrument designed to assist college students in assessing their learning strategies and motivation. Its subscales include what became fundamental concepts in the field of educational psychology such as self-efficacy, critical thinking, and goal orientation. The MSLQ has been used in hundreds of universities, dozens of countries, and translated into several languages.
Lest McKeachie be known as a one-sided academic with no interests or skills outside his career, it is worth noting that he was an amateur music composer, producing a range of works that include his high school fight song in 1939, a civil rights song in the 1960s, and several pieces that were sung by his own First Baptist Church of Ann Arbor. He also had a talent for pitching fastpitch softball. He pitched games in seven decades (from the 1930s to the 1990s), accumulating more than 900 victories. These and other accomplishments, too numerous to mention, demonstrate how his original love of learning that began in White Lake, Michigan, spread across his whole life.
Eble, K. E., & McKeachie, W. J. (1985). Improving undergraduate education through faculty development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Hartley, J., & McKeachie, W. J. (Eds.). (1990). Teaching psychology: A handbook: readings from teaching of psychology. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
McKeachie, W. J. (1960). Teaching tips: A guide-book for the beginning college teacher (4th ed.). Ann Arbor, MI: G. Wahr.
McKeachie, W. J. (1969, 1978, 1986, 1994). Teaching tips: A guidebook for the beginning college teacher. (6th ed., 7th ed., 8th ed., 9th ed.). Lexington, MA: Heath.
McKeachie, W. J. (Ed.). (1980). Learning, cognition, and college teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
McKeachie, W. J. (1999, 2002, 2006). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (10th ed., 11th ed., 12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.
McKeachie, W. J., & Doyle, C. L. (1966, 1970, 1976). Psychology. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley.
McKeachie, W. J., Isaacson, R. L., & Milholland, J. E. (1964). Research on the characteristics of effective college teaching. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Walker, E. L., & McKeachie, W. J. (1967). Some thoughts about teaching the beginning course in psychology. Belmont, CA: Brooks Cole.
Davis, S. F., & Buskist, W. (2002). The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Pintrich, P. R., Brown, D. R., & Weinstein, C. E. (Eds.). (1994). Student motivation, cognition, and learning: essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.
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