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

Drew Appleby: I'm a Member of STP, and This is How I Taught

23 Oct 2015 9:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

School names

Marian College (now Marian University) and Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI)

Types of schools/locale

I taught near or in downtown Indianapolis for my entire 40-year career.  I spent my first 27 years at Marian College (a small, private, residential, Catholic, liberal arts college with 60 psychology majors) where I chaired the Psychology Department for 21 years.  I was then hired as the Director of Undergraduate Studies at IUPUI (a large, public, commuter, metropolitan, research university with 600 psychology majors) where I remained until I retired in 2011.  IUPUI created my new position and hired me to bolster their undergraduate experience and heighten the sense of community within their department that I had established and nurtured at Marian.  I spent the next 13 years doing everything in my power to accomplish these two lofty goals, and I was gratified at my retirement party when my chair said, “Drew clearly met the goals he was hired to achieve. Our undergraduate students are better prepared for graduation and life after college, they better understand how their psychology major can help them to achieve their goals, and they are more connected to the department through the various activities he developed.  His impact on our students and department will be lasting.”

I was taught to be the “sage on the stage” in graduate school, and I continued this role very successfully for the next 27 years.  I worked hard to develop my speaking skills, but I grew increasingly less fulfilled with my classroom “performances.” I began to desire a different relationship with my students—one in which I could trade my sage role for that of a “guide on the side.” Although it took me several years and a great deal of work to adjust to this radial change of pedagogy, I can honestly say that I made a complete transformation from lecturer to facilitator of active learning. 

Classes you taught

Excelling in College, Study Skills, Freshman Learning Community, Student-Athlete Learning Community, Orientation to a Major in Psychology, General Psychology, Honors General Psychology, Psychology as a Social Science, Honors General Psychology as a Social Science, Advanced General Psychology, Developmental Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Honors Issues Seminar in Human Development, Human Learning and Cognition, Human Information Processing, History and Systems of Psychology, Professional Practice in Academic Advising, Professional Practice in Teaching, Capstone Seminar in Psychology, Internship in Psychology, and Readings and Research in Psychology

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

I heard Charles Brewer give a presentation titled Ten Things I Would Like to Tell Beginning Teachers when I attended my first psychology teaching conference in 1984.  His advice had a profound effect upon my teaching, and I would like to share some of Dr. Brewer’s tips (CB) along with an expansion of each one based on my four-decade career as a college professor (DA). 

CB:  Be clear about what your educational objectives are, and be sure your students are clear about them as well.  DA:  Be sure you able to assess the degree to which your students have actually accomplished your educational objectives when they have completed your courses.

CB:  Know the facts thoroughly, but go beyond the facts.  Emphasize concepts and principles which have wider applicability than isolated facts.  DA:  Be sure your students not only remember what you teach them, but also comprehend, apply, analyze, and evaluate what they have learned so they can use these critical thinking skills to create knowledge of their own in the future.

CB:  Be willing to say "I don't know," but try to decrease the frequency with which it is necessary to do so.  DA:  All but the least able students will know you are bluffing if you make up an answer to a question they ask or try to talk your way around it. Show respect for your students by telling them their questions are those whose answers you would like to learn yourself, and show respect for your colleagues by telling your students that you will learn from your colleagues by asking them for the answers and then bringing those answers back to the classroom.

CB:  Communicate with clarity and conciseness.  It is a simple task to make things complex, but a complex task to make things simple.  DA:  Follow definitions of hard-to-understand concepts with real-life examples. These examples will not only enable your students to better understand the concepts, but also realize that the subject matter you are teaching is relevant to their lives.

CB:  If you expect your students to be interested in and excited about what you want them to do, it is essential for you to be genuinely interested in and excited about what you are doing.  DA:  Be interested in, excited about, and true to your discipline. If your discipline has a code of ethics or set of principles and/or methods that pertain to teaching, follow them without fail.

CB:  Be impeccably fair with each and every one of your students.  Be friendly with all of your students, but familiar with none of them.  DA:  Create clear and thorough course syllabi that will enable your students to know exactly what you expect them to do, be confident in their ability to perform well, and understand that you will not play favorites.

CB:  Strive to maintain appropriately rigorous academic standards.  A common problem of beginning teachers is their almost pathological need to be liked by their students.  Being respected is more important; few respected teachers' classes are flooded with mediocre students who get A's without doing any serious academic work.  DA:  A counter-intuitive phenomenon I experienced during my 40-year teaching career was the strong, positive correlation that existed between the amount of effort I required my students to expend in my classes and the scores I received on their end-of-semester evaluation forms.  Students do not mind working hard if they believe their hard work will product valuable outcomes.

CB:  Maintain close ties with colleagues of all ages; you will learn a lot from them.  You will learn valuable lessons about Zeitgeist and perspective from older colleagues and the younger ones will teach you how to stay intellectually alive and to have a healthy skepticism about traditional ways of doing things.  DA:  If your discipline’s professional organization has a teaching division, join it and participate actively in it. If your discipline has a journal devoted to teaching, subscribe to it and read it.

CB:  The most important influence a teacher can have on students is to help them learn how to learn independently.  Self‑education is the only kind of education of any lasting consequence.  DA:  Alfred North Whitehead once said, “Knowledge does not keep any better than fish.” The current knowledge in many academic disciplines goes out-of-date very quickly. Therefore, it is crucial to help students understand that the knowledge we teach them (i.e., the overt curriculum) is far less important than the skills we require them to develop in order to acquire this knowledge (i.e., the covert curriculum).

CB:  Be willing to work incredibly hard for intangible rewards which often don't come until years after your students graduate.  In important ways, teachers affect eternity; they never know where their influence stops.  You must learn to be patient, with your students and yourself.  DA:  Maintain ties with your former students. I have continued to mentor and support my former students since I retired by providing them with career-related advice; writing them letters of recommendation; and helping them with personal statements, resumes, and CVs.  These relationships have provided me one of the most important “purposes” of my retirement by allowing me to continue being part of something bigger than myself, which is helping my students continue to succeed (e.g., I keep a list of my students who have reported to me that they have earned a graduate degree, which now has 150+ entries). The only thing I expect from my protégés in return is that they pay it forward by providing the same kind of mentoring to others in the future that I provided to them in the past. 

What shaped your work as a psychology teacher?

My work as a psychology teacher was shaped by one book chapter, one conference, one book, and one set of guidelines.  I spent my first two years in college as a biology major, following in my father’s academic footsteps to become a dental educator by completing all the required courses for dental school.  Unfortunately, I neither enjoyed nor performed well in these courses and finally came to the unfortunate—but very realistic—conclusion that I would not be a successful dental student.  Luckily, I enrolled in an introductory psychology class the following semester during which I experienced a truly life-changing epiphany when I read my textbook’s chapter on human learning and memory.  As I read it, I quickly became aware that the way I had been studying during my first two years of college was all wrong, and that if I applied the methods I was learning in my textbook to help me study (i.e., transfer information from my sensory memory to my working memory and from my working memory to my long-term memory), my grades would improve.  I was right.  My newly developed metamemory helped me understand, appreciate, and utilize the memory-improvement techniques from the chapter such as distributed practice, depth of processing, the self-reference effect, and mental imagery.  I was astounded by how my test performance increased, and I promptly fell in love with—and changed my major to—psychology. 

The conference that shaped my work as a psychology teacher was APA’s National Conference on Enhancing the Quality of Undergraduate Education in Psychology that took place at St. Mary’s College of Maryland in 1991.  According to its director, Tom McGovern, the goal of this conference was “to synthesize the scholarship and practice of the teaching and learning of psychology in order to produce a practical handbook for faculty who work with undergraduates in our discipline.”  I was one of the 60 psychologists invited to participate during this five-day event, and the opportunity to work with the super stars of psychological pedagogy like Bill McKeachie, Diane Halpern, and Ludy Benjamin on such a crucially important project was a life-changing experience.    

The book that shaped my work as a psychology teacher was the Handbook for Enhancing Undergraduate Education in Psychology edited by Tom McGovern that was the result of the St. Mary’s Conference.  This book literally became my educational bible.  It was the first place I went whenever I needed information on topics such as active learning, advising, assessment, community building, curriculum, diversity, and professional development.  If I could not find the information I needed in the book, I solicited it from one of my 59 co-authors.  I became a living testimony to the efficacy of Tom McGovern’s goal.

The set of guidelines that shaped my work as a psychology teacher was the original version of APA’s Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major that was published in 2006.  This document was created by my colleagues and I who served on the APA Board of Educational Affairs task force that developed goals and outcomes for undergraduate psychology programs that could be broadly applied across diverse educational contexts. It served as a strong force for assessment by focusing on the measureable student learning outcomes (i.e., knowledge, skills, and attitudes) that psychology majors should possess when they complete their degree.  The processes of helping to craft this amazing document—and then using it at IUPUI to restructure curriculum and enable students to understand the reasoning and value behind the courses they were required to take—awakened me fully to the rationale behind the structure, function, and consequences of the course of study known as the psychology major.  In essence, the Guidelines helped me to integrate the roles of teacher, advisor, and mentor during the latter part of my teaching career.

Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. 

My favorite course to teach was B103 Introduction to a Major in Psychology, which was a course I created to produce savvy psychology majors who can provide clear, coherent, confident, and educated answers career-planning questions such as the following.

1.    What occupations can I enter if I major in psychology?

2.    Which of these occupations can I enter with a bachelor’s degree and which will require me to earn a graduate degree?

3.    What specific sets of knowledge, skills, and characteristics (KSCs) must I possess to enter and succeed in these occupations?

4.    How can I use both the curricular and extracurricular resources and activities of my undergraduate education to develop these KSCs?

Although I was officially designated as their teacher, I was really my students’ mentor during this class, and I was not hesitant to tell them that.  In fact, I used the following section of my syllabus to explain how I would play out this role.

The Role I Will Play in This Class

I will serve more as mentor than as a teacher in this class. Although I know a considerable amount about the careers that psychology majors can enter, I cannot possibly teach each one of you about the career to which you aspire. What I can do is to provide you with a strategy to research your careers and to become aware of and utilize the resources that will provide you with the information you will need during this research process. My favorite definition of a mentor is as follows: A mentor is a more experienced person who is willing and able to provide guidance about how to accomplish important goals to a less-experienced person. That is exactly what I will do in this class. The series of questions you will answer as you write your “book” will guide you while you investigate yourself, your major, and your path toward your career. In essence, I will provide you with the opportunity to do what you have always known you should have been doing all along, which is to give careful thought about how you will use your undergraduate education to prepare yourself for your life after you graduate.

Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

My favorite assignment was the “book” I required my students to write in my B103 class.  This was my favorite assignment because it allowed me to teach, advise, and mentor all at the same time.  I provided them with eight basic questions that become the titles of their chapters, each of which contained a set of sub-questions that required them to ponder, investigate, and write about themselves, their major, their career choices, and their strategies to attain their careers.  The textbooks for the class were my book (The Savvy Psychology Major) and the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association. These two books—and a variety of on-line and on-campus resources—contained the information students needed to answer the eight questions in a professional manner within the context of their own unique career aspirations. My TAs and I provided my students with copious amounts of feedback on both the APA style and content of each chapter, and I required them to revise their chapters on the basis of this feedback.  At the end of the semester, they collated all of these chapters into a book and submitted it for my final evaluation and grade.

As you might expect, my students were initially stunned, horrified, and outraged at the prospect of having to write a book, especially in a class that earns them only one credit hour. However, as the semester progressed, they began to understand the value of this arduous task as demonstrated by the following comment taken verbatim from one of my end-of-semester student evaluation forms.

"I discovered quite a bit about myself by writing this book. … B103 finally forced me to do some serious self-reflection and to honestly evaluate my true interests and goals. I am now confident that I am in a major that is appropriate for me and that I am getting very close to successfully deciding what type of graduate program I will pursue. B103 scared me, stressed me out, and made me a better, more complete person all at the same time. I have realized over the last few months that the reason I was floundering around with no direction was because I was hoping everything would just magically fall into place. Through some serious soul searching, caused mainly by the stress of having to make certain decisions in order to successfully write my chapters, I learned I have never had to truly fight for anything in my life before and now the time has come for me to make a plan and aggressively go after and fight for the things I want for my future. I have also realized I am capable of achieving anything I want if I plan ahead and try hard enough."

What teaching and learning technique worked best for you?

My most effective teaching strategy to improve student learning was to require my students to come to each of my classes knowledgeable about the subject matter that was to be covered in that class.  In my B103 class, that meant I required my students to complete a reading assignment prior to each class and to take a short quiz on that material that began at the exact time when the class began.  This caused my students to come to class, to come to class on time, and to come to class ready to engage in active learning rather than skipping class, arriving late to class, and acting like spectators—rather than active participants—in my class.  My teaching assistants graded the quizzes in class, recorded the scores, and returned the quizzes to my students.  I then went over each question, provided the correct answer, and encouraged discussion to clarify any questions my students had about the material covered in the quiz. 

Four words that best described your teaching style.

The four most common words my students used to describe my teaching style were PASSIONATE, CHALLENGING, CARING, and ORGANIZED. 

What was your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

Education is learning how to learn.

Tell us about a teaching embarrassment you’ve had.

My most embarrassing teaching moment occurred early in my career when I almost gave the same lecture twice in a row to one of my classes.  It was a lecture on Piaget that I was giving in all three sections of my Introductory Psychology class and both sections of my Human Growth and Development class over a two-week period.  Giving the same lecture so many times must have disoriented by memory, but certainly not my students’ memory.  After about five minutes I noticed that no one was taking notes and everyone was looking at me in a very strange way.  When I stopped to ask them why they were acting this way, one of them very diplomatically informed me that I was repeating exactly what I had said during the beginning of my last lecture.  Given that the title of one of my previous lectures on human memory had been “How We Remember and Why We Forget,” I decided to turn it into a teachable moment by asking my students to use what I had taught them about forgetting to explain my error.  If my current memory serves me correctly, we had a productive discussion and a hearty laugh about my embarrassing error. 

What is something your students were surprised to learn about you?

My students were surprised that higher education is the Appleby family business.  One of the most gratifying aspects of my career was that it provided me with the rare and wonderful opportunity to collaborate professionally with my father and my daughter, both of whom held the rank of full professor and served as chairpersons of their departments. I co-authored my very first publication with my father. It was an article published in 1977 in the Iowa Dental Journal titled “A History of Teaching by Television.” Twenty-eight years later, the third generation of college educators in the Appleby family (my daughter Karen, who is a sport psychologist) had her first paper (titled “Kisses of Death in the Graduate School Application Process”) accepted for publication in Teaching of Psychology, and I was her co-author.

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

I have started to read for pleasure again, and I have rediscovered two of my favorite authors, Anna Quindlen and Calvin Trillin. If you have time to read, I strongly recommend Trillin’s About Alice and Anna’s Blessings, One True Thing, and A Short Guide to a Happy Life. You will learn many valuable life lessons in these books, including the one most important to me: Do everything in your power to show the ones you love how much you love them because you never know what life is going to throw at you, and you do not want to regret the things you did not do, but know you should have done. I helped my students to become savvy psychology majors. These authors can help all of us become more savvy human beings.

What tech tool could you not live without?

I could not live without my desktop computer.  Although I derive pleasure from my other electronic devices, my desktop is my work horse because it provides me access to email, Google, Word, and PowerPoint.
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