True Teacher-Scholar: Associate professor Phu Vu uses research to improve instruction


KEARNEY – For Phu Vu, teaching and research go hand in hand.

The University of Nebraska at Kearney faculty member truly enjoys both aspects of his job.

“Teaching sparks my interest in research, and thanks to research and what I have learned from that process, my teaching performance has improved,” said Vu, an associate professor in the Department of Teacher Education. “I conduct research to understand and improve my teaching while I teach and test my research ideas.”

Tell me about your research:
My research interest centers around educational technology, more specifically digital learning and game-based learning. However, the more I am involved in the teacher education program and interact with colleagues and students in our program, the broader and more interdisciplinary my research agenda becomes.

Why were you attracted to this area?
I am a curious educator who always tries my best to improve my teaching performance and ultimately help my students learn better. Because of that, I always observe what happens in my class, keep track of my students’ performances and ask myself what I can do differently so my students can do better in my classes. Most of my research projects have derived from that process. I do research to better understand and improve my teaching.

How do you involve students?
As I mentioned before, most of my research ideas and projects come from my classroom while I interact with my students, so getting students involved in my research is quite a natural process. I am fortunate to have most of my students being in-service classroom teachers so we can discuss what is going on in their own classrooms. From that, we work together to implement interventions in their classrooms. My students also enjoy doing this kind of action research because they find it useful and relevant.

What are your biggest discoveries?
One of the most important characteristics of great teachers that students appreciate is “caring.” Last year, we conducted a study examining the factors contributing to excellent teaching and found that the top five characteristics that are important to students include being caring, respectful and inspirational, as well as giving good feedback and delivering “amazing” lectures. The findings of this study probably have the most impact on my teaching.

Tell me about your upbringing. What role did education/teachers play in leading you down this career path?
I came from a poor family in Vietnam, and none of my parents or relatives finished high school. Fortunately, my parents recognized the importance of education, so they were determined to pay quite a lot for me to take private tutoring services after school because I did so badly in school. I was the only one in my whole village who took this expensive tutoring service – almost equivalent to one week’s income for our family – at that time. This is quite a turning point for me. I started enjoying learning and performing better. That early seed inspired me to become a teacher and eventually a teacher of teachers. Without my parents’ support, I would probably be a farmer or fisherman in Vietnam now.

Who has helped you the most in your career?
While my family inspires me, my students have helped me with new ideas, and their personal stories always impress me.

How do you measure success as a researcher?
Recognition from colleagues and the scholar community, but most importantly finding the answer to the questions in my class to help improve my teaching and help my students learn better.

What stands out about UNK’s research programs?
I think they are collaborative and interdisciplinary. I don’t see any competition among us to be the best. There’s a culture of professionally helping and lifting each other.


Title: Associate Professor of Teacher Education
College: Education
Education: Ph.D., Southern Illinois University, 2013; Master of Arts, Southern Illinois University, 2010; Bachelor of Arts, Quy Nhon University, 2001.
Years at UNK: Nine
Areas of research/specialization: Educational technology-enhanced learning, digital/online learning, collaborative/interdisciplinary research (ESL, STEM, Gifted Education).
Courses taught: Variety of graduate-level courses in instructional technology.
Recent published articles: “Adopting Speech Recognition in EFL/ESL Contexts: Are We There Yet?” Journal of Foreign Language Education and Technology, 2021. “Does Virtual Field Experience Deliver? An Examination into Virtual Field Experience During the Pandemic and Its Implications for Teacher Education Programs,” Open Praxis, 2021. “An Evaluation of Quality of Life for Former Gifted Program Participants in Vietnam,” Gifted and Talented International, 2022.