I just very recently started teaching at Ryerson University located in the heart of Toronto, Ont. The Psychology department at Ryerson University is very research driven, but my position is teaching focused. Prior to this, I taught for four years at Maryville University, a small liberal arts university located in a suburb outside of St. Louis, MO.
Classes you teach:
Introduction to Psychology, Social Psychology, Group Dynamics, Organizational Behavior, Community Psychology, Interpersonal and Intergroup Dynamics, Evidence-Based Leadership, Critical Thinking in Psychology, Statistics, Research Methods, Tests and Measurements, and Senior Seminar.
What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?
The best teaching advice that I ever received is, “Bring your own personality into the classroom. Find what works for you and go for it.” This became particularly relevant when I first started teaching at a small liberal arts university a few years back. Up until then, I had taught large enrollment classes for a state school, so lecturing was considered perfectly acceptable, and I was good at it. However, at my new institution there seemed to be an unspoken bias against lecturing in favor of discussion. Indeed, in observing some of my colleagues at work, they were masters at throwing out a question, letting it stew amongst the students, and then gently guiding the discourse to a logical conclusion. Rarely was a PPT slide used. I, on the other hand, was quite bad at this! For me, a discussion-only format felt like the world’s most painful staring contest. (Who would blink first, me or the students?) So, I went back to doing what I did best: I lectured from PowerPoint and used my humor, student-relevant examples, visual displays, activities, and discussion to engage students in the material. This format works well for me, so I have embraced it and never looked back!
What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?
The book that made me think the most about my own teaching was Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen. Although this book focuses on the teaching of American History, it made me realize the importance of representing psychology truthfully, through multiple lenses, and remembering to represent all of the members of our society when doing so.
Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
There are so many to choose from! I love teaching about sensation and perception. There are so many fun illusions and demonstrations; and for a short while I get to feel like a magician. I also love teaching about social influence and group dynamics. Again, there are so many fun ways to engage students in this material. I also really love teaching courses in Statistics. Students come into the class with so much fear. I enjoy the challenge of breaking down those anxiety barriers in order to help students appreciate the value of statistics.
Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.
I have developed an in-class role playing game designed to engage students in a discussion about issues of intersectionality, privilege, and oppression. In the game, students are assigned a character and then navigate life decisions and scenarios as that character. The consequences (good and bad) of each decision vary based on student’s own unique characteristics. As the game progresses, students are able to see how race, gender, sexual orientation, ability, and SES interact to influence the opportunities that are available for some but not for others. For years I struggled with how to teach this material without students becoming defensive and shutting down. This new approach really seems to work and the discussions that follow the activity have been great!
What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? (quizzes? homework? take home exams?)
I like any assignment that treats learning as a process, rather than an outcome. For example, I provide online quizzes where students can continue retaking the quiz (with a different set of questions for each attempt) until they feel as if they have mastered the material. When time allows, I also like to assign multiple drafts of the same paper so that students can engage in critical self-reflection, submit their papers for peer review, and receive feedback from me prior to turning in a “final” version of the paper. I want students to internalize that learning unfolds over time as a process and is not simply an end product of “memorization and regurgitation.”
What’s your workspace like?
My workspace is best described as “functional.” To an outsider, my office probably appears impersonal. I guess my personality comes out in my behavior and social interactions, more so than it does in my material surroundings. =)
Three words that best describe your teaching style.
Energetic, zany, & well-organized.
What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
Create passion, make it relevant & focus on process. (The ampersand saves the day! I used exactly 8 words).
Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.
I am constantly saying or doing random things that are embarrassing. Indeed, I rarely go a semester (or even a class period) without tripping over something or saying something random and weird. Most of the time, the students and I laugh about it, shrug it off, and move on. But one time I really did embarrass myself. I was introducing SPSS to students in my statistics course. To illustrate the many user friendly features of SPSS, I had intended to give the example that, for any given study, I am typically bad at remembering how I coded participant sex. The labeling function of SPSS helps me keep track. However, what I actually verbalized was: “I am really bad at sex.” As soon as I realized what I said, I became embarrassed and tried to back track, but in the process I just made things far worse! “I did not mean to say, ‘I am bad at sex.’ I am not bad at sex! This is not to say that I am standing before you saying that I am good at sex. Although, I’m not saying I’m NOT good at sex either…” Fortunately, the students were used to me saying random bizarre things, so we had a good laugh about it. Still, I cannot believe that I announced to a classroom full of students that I was “bad at sex” and then went on to try and explain to them that this was not true! Definitely a “TMI” moment for all of us. =)
What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?
In the classroom, I am very lively, energetic, sociable, and outgoing. Outside of the classroom, I am introverted, preferring to curl up with a book, rather than socialize. In addition, in social situations where I do not know what to expect, I can be quite shy.
What are you currently reading for pleasure?
My sons and I have started to read together some of my favorite books from childhood. We just finished Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls and we are currently reading Two Old Women by Velma Wallis. Next up: Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell.
What tech tool could you not live without?
I consider access to PowerPoint, a course management system (and all of their bells and whistles), email, YouTube, and TED talks as “essentials” to my teaching. My teaching style would have to drastically change if I did not have access to these tools.
What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?
I am at a new institution, so I am still testing the social waters, but in my previous position the hallway chatter between my colleagues and me was always lively, fun, and silly. We were (and still are) very close and talked about anything and everything (including teaching ideas, family, etc.). We also liked to pull funny, silly pranks on one another. I love chocolate and was notorious for popping into people’s offices mid-afternoon just to raid their candy jars. In addition, as a fundraiser each year, I would make and sell tie die shirts for charity. My colleagues would dutifully buy one each year to support the cause. At my very last faculty meeting before I moved, my colleagues staged a surprise flash dance to the song Age of Aquarius while wearing the tie died shirts that they had purchased from me over the years. They also presented me with a HUGE Hershey’s chocolate bar. I was so surprised! I had no idea they were planning this. After years of helping to pull silly pranks on others, they pulled the absolute best one on me. =)