David Copeland: I'm a Member of STP and this is how I teach

02 Dec 2020 10:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

School name: University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

Type of school: 4 year university with master’s and doctoral programs

School locale: (Fabulous) Las Vegas, NV

Classes you teach: My main focus in recent years has been Introduction to the Psychology Major, but I also teach some graduate courses such as Cognitive Methods.

Average class size:  Some semesters I teach 150-300 students in the Intro to the Psychology Major course; the grad course tends to be closer to 6-10 students.

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? To remember what it was like to be a student! I like to think about what they are actually going to take away from the course and try to avoid making my classes feel like busywork where all that they care about is their grade. 

A second piece of advice is to focus on what students will retain and take away from the course a year later. So, instead of focusing so much on the short-term memorization of details, I try to emphasize skill development, knowledge that they can apply to their lives, and the reinforcement of key ideas.  

What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? This is probably a common one, but Bain’s “What the Best College Teachers Do” has been important to me. I utilized so many ideas such as creating courses where students are challenged to think and apply ideas to their lives. I also like the idea of letting students feel comfortable with the idea that failure can be okay -- trying, failing, and learning from it is much better than not trying at all. 

Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teachI love teaching the Intro to the Psychology Major course because of the impact that it has on my students. For someone not familiar with this course, it is different from general psychology in that it focuses on what students can get out of and do with a psychology major.

Every semester students tell me how important this course was for helping them think through their future path and what experiences can help them prepare for that future. I love hearing from students who tell me about landing an internship, getting involved with research, developing leadership skills as a Psi Chi officer, or being accepted into graduate school after they applied what they learned from the course. 

I cover topics such as skill development, building relationships with professors and students, getting relevant experience (e.g., research, volunteer work, internships), career paths, preparing for careers, and graduate school possibilities. I think this class can be so impactful for students that I try to help other faculty develop courses like this for their institution.

Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. In the Superstar CV assignment, I teach students how to create a CV -- but because many of the students are early in their college careers, they do not have many accomplishments to list. Because of that, I designed this activity to be a learning and goal-setting exercise. Students set goals for achievements and experiences that they learn about in my course and to focus on those that can help them to follow their desired path.

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? Students consistently tell me that my enthusiasm for the topics seems authentic and that it helps to pull them in and get more engaged with the course. I also try to use techniques that cognitive psychology research has shown to improve memory such as distributed practice and practice testing.  

What’s your workspace like? I try to mix it up -- I typically work on campus in my office or my lab, but sometimes I will work at home or take my computer to a coffee shop when I want to get away to write.

Three words that best describe your teaching style. Enthusiastic, interactive, and encouraging! 

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Make a positive impact on their future! 

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. When I first started teaching the Intro to the Psych Major course, I did not think through an assignment where I asked them to create their own CV. Most of my students were just starting college and had not yet built up a list of accomplishments.

I realized my lack of foresight when I was inundated with emails from flustered students who were anxious about not having much to list on their CV. I reassured students that this was okay and I encouraged them to include accomplishments that they wanted to achieve before graduation. This turned out great in the end because it helped me to convert this assignment into the Superstar CV activity that I use today!

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? When I started college, I floated around a few different paths before I landed in psychology. Part of the problem was that I did not have a clear plan for the future because I did not know that I should be spending a lot of time thinking about it. 

I stumbled into a good career path, but I want to help students to be better prepared than I was back in college. I want them to think about future possibilities and to know about resources and experiences that can help them. Because I wish that I had that type of help when I started college, I built and teach the Introduction to the Psychology Major course that helps students prepare for their future. 

What are you currently reading for pleasure? I am enjoying the “Compound Effect” as it focuses on the benefits of taking action and making continual progress toward your goals. The ideas can be applied to different aspects of life and it is also a good idea that I can share with my students. For example, taking consistent action throughout one’s college career can help students to build up a strong resume or CV.

What tech tool could you not live without? This is probably a tie between my phone and Chromebook. My phone goes everywhere, but it is not always practical for activities like work. The Chromebook is light, effective, and starts up much more quickly than my old windows-based laptops.

What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? Conversations can cover a variety of topics, such as chatting about weekend activities, dreading an upcoming meeting, or congratulating each other for a recent accomplishment.


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