Karl A. Smith

Professor Emeritus of Cooperative Learning
Mailing Addresses
Office: ARMS ARMS 1313
Phone: (612) 210-7915


Ph.D., Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota
M.S., Metallurgical Engineering, Michigan Technological University
B.S., Metallurgical Engineering from Michigan Technological University

Research Interests

Research and development interests include building research and innovation capabilities in engineering education; faculty and graduate student professional development; the role of cooperation in learning and design; teamwork; problem formulation, modeling, and knowledge engineering; and project and knowledge management. He is currently PI on the NSF Workshop: I-Corps for Learning (I-Corps-L): A Pilot Initiative to Propagate & Scale Educational Innovations, and NSF EAGER: I-Corps for Learning (I-Corps-L): Curriculum Development and Implementation.

Selected Publications

How to model it: Problem solving for the computer age (with Anthony Starfield and Andrew Bleloch), first published by McGraw-Hill in 1990

Cooperative learning: Increasing college faculty instructional productivity (with David and Roger Johnson), published by ASHE-ERIC Reports on Higher Education in 1991

Strategies for energizing large classes: From small groups to learning communities (with James Cooper and Jean MacGregor) published in Jossey-Bass’s New Direction for Teaching and Learning series in 2000

Teamwork and project management, 4rd Ed. published in McGraw-Hill’s BEST Series in 2014.


  • Dr. Smith has over 30 years of experience working with faculty to redesign their courses and programs to improve student learning. He adapted the cooperative learning model to engineering education and in the past 15 years has focused on high-performance teamwork through his workshops and book Teamwork and Project Management (2014).

Advice for the First-Year Engineer

I'm a first generation college student and the first person in my family to graduate from college (Michigan Tech in 1969). I grew up in a small farming town and was quite intimidated by college. I had to work really hard but my experiences in learning have served me very well. I chose engineering because I worked for a construction company during high school and liked to build things, but found I liked chemistry more than physics so switched to metallurgical engineering. I loved many aspects of my educational experience and try to help others find joy and satisfaction in college.

I'm reluctant to provide advice since my first year in engineering school was over 40 years ago. However, I have worked with hundreds of students and so with some trepidation offer the following advice: Get to know yourself -- what do you love to do?, what do you really care about? Engineering is about making the world a better place and so if you want to make a difference in people's lives, engineering may be for you. Get to know other students. Many of us develop lifelong friendships during our student years and I hope you do too. Get to know faculty. Although faculty may not be your typical student, we did figure out how to navigate these complex programs and so may have some insights to offer. Also, we can be quite helpful when you need letters of recommendation. Most of all, enjoy the journey. You have the opportunity to get a great education in one of the best engineering schools in the world.

Fun Facts

I am an insatiable reader. I read every spare moment. My wife and I are ballroom dancers and have been taking ballroom dance lessons for about 20 years. I love to bicycle and spend as much time as I can on one of my many bicycles (bicycles are a fabulous technology!).