Jerome Johnston directs ISR Research Center for Group Dynamics

January 24, 2013
Jerome Johnston

Photo by Eva Menezes.

ANN ARBOR—Jerome Johnston has been appointed director of the Research Center for Group Dynamics, part of the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.

“I am delighted to make this appointment. Jere has interesting new ideas for supporting junior faculty, and his long experience brings a valuable perspective to this important leadership position,” said ISR Director James Jackson. “In addition, his research on educational interventions and evaluations not only harks back to the early days of ISR research, but also looks to the future in its exploration of the uses of technology and online learning throughout the life span.”

Johnston began his three-year term as RCGD director on Jan. 1, 2013.  He succeeds L. Rowell Huesmann, who returns to his role as an ISR research professor.

“RCGD has a long and storied history,” Johnston said. “It is one of the two original centers that came together in 1948 to form ISR. Over the years many of the national leaders in social psychology were leaders at RCGD—Dorwin Cartwright, Jack French, Bob Zajonc and Dick Nisbett.

“Under Rowell’s able direction, the Center has grown significantly in recent years, adding researchers in fields as diverse as experimental economics, child development and psychological neuroscience. Many common threads run through their work, and I want to help faculty explore the ways that their work contributes to the broader body of research on individual and group behavior.”

Over four decades of research, Johnston has explored how learning and teaching are shaped by interactions among the design of digital materials, such as video and online text, and human and spatial factors, such as instructional strategies, student assignments, classroom interactions and the organization of learning spaces.

The author of more than 150 books, chapters and journal articles, Johnston has examined learning and teaching in technology-intensive environments using methods ranging from large-scale surveys to small-scale controlled experiments and ethnographic field studies.  His research has focused on those as young as five and as old as 80, in a wide range of content areas from social studies, science, writing, adult literacy, foreign languages and social development.

He has served as principal investigator on 17 research projects funded by federal and state governments and private foundations and associations, including Project IDEAL: Improving Distance Education for Adult Learners, funded by 28 states and the U.S. Department of Education.

In 2011, Johnston received the National Literacy Leadership Award, with John Fleischman at the Sacramento County Office of Education in California, for the creation of USA Learns—a website with 400 hours of free instruction in English for Spanish-speaking immigrants.

He received the 2002 Innovators Award from the American Association of Public Opinion Research for developing and evaluating audio-computer assisted interviewing technology to support confidential interviews about sensitive subjects. He also received the 1999 Technology Director of the Year award from the International Society for Technology in Education for leadership in the integration of technology into K-12 instruction in Michigan.

Johnston received a B.A. in American Studies from Yale University, and received an M.A. in psychology from U-M in 1968 and a Ph.D. in education and psychology here in 1971.

He began his research career at ISR in 1967, and served as co-director of the ISR Center for Research on the Utilization of Scientific Knowledge in 1981. From 1995 to 1998, he served as senior consulting director of technology on special assignment to the Ann Arbor Public Schools.

Working with RCGD’s new Associate Director Rich Gonzalez, Johnston hopes to integrate new ideas about the tools and analytic techniques available to understand human behavior with the center’s traditional strengths in social psychology.

“It’s an exciting time, with researchers turning to biological markers and brain imaging to understand how humans respond to their environment,” Johnston said. “Along with these new tools, new analytic techniques are being developed to understand the data derived from these tools. I want to support these new approaches, to make sure that our researchers have the best tools possible to support their work.”



By Diane Swanbrow