Professional Information

Educational Background and Teaching Experience

Dr. Cunningham completed a dual-major B.A. in linguistics and Spanish and a minor in art in 1984 at Brigham Young University, where he also finished his M.A. in teaching English as a second language in 1986. While working on his B.A., he taught Spanish at the LDS Missionary Training Center for 4 years. He later taught ESL for 7 years at several different institutions, including Provo Adult High School, BYU, BYU-Hawaii, and Utah State University. He completed a Ph.D. in education with an emphasis on instructional technology at USU in 1994; and in that same year, he was hired at Southern Utah University as a member of the library faculty. For 8 years, his duties included teaching instructional technology and library media courses, directing SUU’s faculty development program, and serving as a reference librarian, library instruction coordinator, and the collection development specialist for the subject areas of education and art. For the next 3 years at SUU, he taught information systems courses, such as multimedia production, systems analysis and design, and IS project management in the School of Business and in the College of Computing, Integrated Engineering, and Technology. In 2005, the SUU College of Education and Human Development needed a faculty member who could teach instructional technology as well as ESL teacher training courses, an unusual combination for which Dr. Cunningham is uniquely qualified. He accepted the opportunity to be in what he calls his "perfect niche," applying all of his academic preparation to one faculty position. In 2008, he was advanced to the rank of full professor at SUU. Currently, in addition to technology and ESL courses, he also teaches thesis proposal writing to M.Ed. candidates and participates in supervising thesis research projects and chairing thesis defense committees. In 2012, he was appointed to serve as Director of Graduate Studies in Education programs.

Philosophy of Teaching and Learning

If students are to become independent, lifelong learners, they must certainly learn how to learn and be responsible for their own learning, but they must also develop their curiosity, imagination, and willingness to risk failure along the path to success. They must engage in critical thinking, problem solving, and other relevant and meaningful activities in the subject area being studied. The deepest, longest-lasting learning comes with individual effort, and even a struggle, to understand and utilize knowledge in practical ways. A teacher's main responsibility is to create an environment where each student can achieve these educational ideals.

The following are three of Dr. Cunningham's favorite quotes about learning and teaching:

"What we have to learn to do, we learn by doing."
Aristotle, Greek critic, philosopher, physicist, & zoologist (384-322 BC)

"In the end we retain from our studies only that which we practically apply."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German dramatist, novelist, poet, & scientist (1749-1832 AD)


"I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn."
Albert Einstein, US (German-born) physicist (1879-1955 AD)

Professional Development and Consulting

In the summer of 2005, Dr. Cunningham spent a month in Nanjing, China, where he was part of an American team teaching language instruction methodology to Chinese primary, middle, and high school teachers of English as a foreign language (EFL). In March of 2007, he was an invited presenter at the Oxford Round Table on ESL/Bilingual Education at Oxford University, United Kingdom. He is a frequent presenter at professional conferences both nationally and internationally; and since 1997, he has been an active proponent of the National Great Teachers Movement, providing workshops and retreats that promote an ongoing quest for great teaching. Dr. Cunningham also serves as a private consultant to K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, and other organizations through his consulting business, Highroad Professional Development, which he founded in 2000.

Publications in Peer Reviewed Journals

  • Cunningham, Thomas H., and Gary L. Parnell. "Well Facilitated Shoptalk as Democratic Professional Development for Teachers of English Language Learners." Forum on Public Policy: Bilingual Education and English as a Second Language 3.2 (2007): 141-150. This journal has an acceptance rate of 35%.
  • Cunningham, Thomas H., and Scott Lanning. "New Frontier Trail Guides: Faculty-Librarian Collaboration on Information Literacy." Reference Services Review 30.4 (2002): 343-348. This journal has an acceptance rate of 40%.
  • Cunningham, Thomas H., and C. Ray Graham. "Increasing Native English Vocabulary Recognition through Spanish Immersion: Cognate Transfer from Foreign to First Language." Journal of Educational Psychology 92.1 (2000): 37-49. This journal has an acceptance rate of 11-20%.

Research and Development Interests

Teacher education; professional development; case-based instruction; transfer of training; instructional design/development; visual design; instructional games/simulations; service learning; distance learning; and effective language learning materials and environments.