Society for the Teaching of Psychology
Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

Trisha Prunty: I'm a member of STP, and This is How I Teach

03 Nov 2014 5:49 PM | Anonymous

School name - Lindenwood University at Belleville
Type of college/university - small liberal arts school
School locale - small town, Belleville, Illinois
Classes you teach - Principles of Psychology, Behavioral Neuroscience, Learning and Memory, Human Sexuality, Human Development, Advanced Research Methods, Senior Seminar

What's the best advice about teaching you've ever received?  
Love what you do.  If you love the material and love teaching, that energy and exuberance translates over to the students who pick up on your enthusiasm.  I've seen this work with even the most taciturn students.

What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

No single piece of work comes to mind but instead a culmination of a variety of research on the teaching of psychology.  I often find tidbits that are both intuitive and seemingly painless to implement that then shape how I teach classes in the coming semester.  If the methods pan out, I keep them.  If they end up being more trouble than they are worth, I revise.  Teaching is such a process of evolution!

Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  
My hands down favorite class to teach is Behavioral Neuroscience.  I love that it is largely new, and often frightening, material for students who have been more focused on psychology and less on the biological aspects.  It is a highly interactive class that always gets students loving the material by the end.

Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.  
My favorite in-class activity is during the vision portion of the Behavioral Neuroscience course.  I introduce trichromatic and opponent-processing theories and provide several examples of after-images which the students always love.  We discuss how opponent-processing occurs in the retina and that complex cells in the brain allow for motion after images.  I then have students look at various stimuli and either switch eyes, demonstrating that color after images only work in the same eye that saw the initial stimuli, but that motion after images persist regardless of which eye saw the movement.

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?
What works best for me (and also my students) is to provide a lot of graded opportunities.  My classes typically include 4 exams, in-class reaction papers where students react to an ethical quandary or other dilemma, four written assignments, and a final project that is presented during finals week.  For example, in my Behavioral Neuroscience class, their final project is to put together a 3 to 5 minute "Brain Awareness" video that demonstrates some aspect of neuroscience to a lay audience.  They are usually freaked out at the concept of creating a video but often step up to the challenge with wonderful and entertaining results.

What's your workspace like?  
My work space is usually covered in my pile of junk that I've dumped out of my bag.  I swear that I organize and re-organize almost daily!  It's my biggest struggle.  Otherwise, I have a lot of room to work and my office includes a small table so I can have more personal conferences with students rather than me sitting in the "big chair" to talk to them.  I love that the arrangement of the room does not allow for a desk to sit between myself and the student, aiding to the open and friendly environment.

Three words that best describe your teaching style. 
Passionate, consistent, and interactive.

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
Get students to ask critical questions in life.

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you've had.
During my first or second year teaching, I thought it would be fun for students in my Human Development class to present a "Day in the Life" of a person of a certain age group.  I assigned them to various groups and gave them ages, ranging from infant to elderly.  The instructions were vague; I thought this would allow them to be creative.  The idea was to present what it was like to be a 3-year-old, for example.  Several groups took creative license and role-played, providing factual and entertaining presentations of a "Day in the Life."  More than half the class, however, got up and gave a Powerpoint presentation with a laundry list of physical, cognitive, and socioemotional changes that occur in the life of the person.  I was upset at first but I realized that the fault truly was mine for not giving them a clearer idea of what I was envisioning.  I am happy to report that I did this project again this past semester and everyone in the class demonstrated a creative application of the assignment with Powerpoint nowhere to be found!  The things we learn after teaching for 9 years.

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? 
They would be surprised to learn that I had a pretty bad fear of public speaking when I was an undergraduate.  In fact, I had no intention of ever becoming a professor because it involved public speaking.  I was forced to teach two chapters of Introductory Psychology as part of my Master's teaching assistantship and that experience changed my worldview.

What are you currently reading for pleasure?
The Girl who Played with Fire by Stieg Larsson.  I make a point of reading for pleasure each and every night, even if I ultimately fall asleep while reading.  As I get older, the number of pages read before I wake up with the Kindle pressed to my face has definitely diminished.

What tech tool could you not live without?
I'm actually pretty low tech.  I don't have a smart phone (nor do I want one).  I would be pretty lost without my desktop (I'm so old school I'm not a fan of laptops either), but I think I'd ultimately adapt.  

What's your hallway chatter like?
Most of the discussion revolves around changes at the University.  Given that we are a young campus, there are almost always new developments happening.  It seems as though we take a new step nearly every day and there is usually a buzz of excitement regarding the future of LU-B and how we are going to get there.  Other conversations revolve around our students, their successes and struggles, and our own personal lives.  It's a wonderful atmosphere to work in.  

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