Society for the Teaching of Psychology

Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

This is How I Teach

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Teaching shouldn't be a private activity, but often it turns out that way. We don't get to see inside each others' classrooms, even though we'd probably benefit if only we could! In order to help Make Teaching Visible, we've introduced this blog, called "This is How I Teach." We will be featuring the voices of STP members twice a month. Psychology teachers will tell us about how they teach and what kinds of people they are -- both inside and outside the classroom. 


Are you interested in sharing your secret teaching life with STP?

We’d love to hear from you!  To get started, send your name, institution, and answers to the questions below to the following email: howiteach@teachpsych.org.  

  1. Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
  2. What are three words that best describe your teaching style?
  3. What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

"This is How I Teach" is edited by Maggie Thomas (Earlham College) and Beth Morling (University of Delaware).

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  • 26 May 2015 9:54 AM | Anonymous

    School name: The Pennsylvania State University

    Type of college/university: 40,000+ state university (R1)

    School locale: small college town in the middle of Pennsylvania

    Classes I teach:

    Research Methods in Psychology, Introduction to Social Psychology, Psychology of Gender, Elementary Statistics in Psychology

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

    My mother was a special education teacher for 20 years. She taught me that under the right guidance any student can find success.

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

    I’m not sure that I can point to a single “thing” that has influenced me. I believe that it has been the influence of many great educators in my life. From elementary school through my graduate education I have been very fortunate to be surrounded by dedicated and energetic teachers.

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

    My primary interest is in issues of social justice, so I am very invested in topics related to prejudice and stereotyping. Many of my students have never been asked to consider what it means to live life without the privileges they take for granted. When I can sense that their eyes are opening to the prevalence of bias in the world, then I know I’ve accomplished something worthwhile.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    I have a lecture I give on the social psychology of our judicial system. During the lecture I wander around the front of the room (as I usually do) and then when we talk about the accuracy of eyewitness testimony I ask them how many times I touched a table at the front of the room.  It’s a nice way to illustrate how eyewitnesses can misremember and be perfectly confident in their memories. (I never actually touch the table J.)

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Most of my classes are rather large (90, up to 320 students) so I do rely on multiple choice exams for pragmatic reasons.  I also incorporate “In-Class Assignments” to stimulate participation and generate discussion among the students during class time.  My research methods class is a writing course, so my students complete a series of written assignments including a formal research proposal paper that is designed to prepare them for the rigors of graduate school.

    What’s your workspace like?

    Picture a paper recycling center after a tornado comes through.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Lively. Unpredictable. Engaging (I hope).

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Make theories relatable, knowledge empowering, and learning interesting.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    It’s a familiar story. An entire lecture built around a series of short videos… on the day that the classroom internet connection is broken. I turned it into a discussion of Dollard’s frustration-aggression hypothesis so it wasn’t a complete loss.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I spent five years working as a stone mason in New Mexico and Oregon before going on to graduate school. Beating rocks with a hammer all day long makes one appreciate the intellectual pursuits in life.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    James, A. (2012). Assholes: A theory. New York: Doubleday.  I do work in academia after all.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I’m going to be a bit of a wise-guy and say chalk. I rely heavily on PowerPoint presentations but in almost every class I end up drawing something on the chalk board to help clarify a point or answer a question from a student.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? 

    We have a very supportive cohort of instructors and professors here so much of the talk is related to student issues. You also might hear, “how was your weekend,” “did you catch the game last night,” or “it’s how many weeks until the end of the semester?!”

  • 05 May 2015 1:30 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Waukesha County Technical College (WCTC)

    Type of college/university: community/technical college

    School locale: Pewaukee and Waukesha, Wisconsin (growing suburbs of Milwaukee, Wisconsin)

    Classes you teach: Introduction to Psychology; Psychology of Human Relations; Abnormal Psychology; Developmental Psychology, Think Critically and Creatively; and Introduction to Ethics

    Expertise: Students benefit from my diverse graduate education, including master’s degrees in I/O psychology and counseling psychology and a PhD in educational psychology.

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

    Focus on the learning activities. Like many teachers (as opposed to learning facilitators), I once believed that the learning activities were predominantly what the students did on their own outside of class (e.g., read the book, listen to lectures, take notes, study). While effective learners do choose to engage and direct many of their own learning activities, most students need careful coaching to grow into self-directed learners. When I first started teaching, I focused too much on the learning materials (e.g., the textbook, lectures) and the learning assessments (e.g., the exams, papers) and too little on creating engaging learning activities that direct and inspire students to actually think about, discuss, and apply the course content. Learning has to be facilitated and nurtured. Diverse, engaging learning activities help to make the content matter and stick.

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

    Dr. Carol Dweck’s book, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, is one of many books that have forever impacted the way I facilitate learning. A key to transforming students to learners is encouraging them to embrace the role of effort and strategies, not luck or talent, to educational and career success.

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

    I start every course by sharing psychological research on memory, learning and motivation that informs educational and career success. This research is presented across two class sessions, Crush Bad Study Habits (to share learning strategies) and Don’t Eat the Marshmallow (to share motivational strategies). I aim to directly address the fear, misconceptions, and bad habits that some students bring with them to class. These sessions help students critically examine the way they learn and the way they think about learning. Companion learning activities help students develop a concrete plan for learning success that incorporates these strategies. Follow-up mid-course and end-of-course journals give students an opportunity to reflect on the implementation of their plans. Recently, the content of these two sessions has been shared across the campus in two popular 30-minute workshops.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    Collaborative reflections that are embedded in blogs, journals, and discussions are a key component of my courses. It’s important that learners think critically about, discuss, and apply key psychological concepts and principles. For example, learners share direct quotes from the readings and other learning materials that really got them thinking and pose open-ended questions to involve others in analysis and reflection both in-class and online. It’s amazing how many helpful and interesting learning activities (e.g., media, self-assessments, observations, demonstrations, interviews, animations, and more) can be effectively embedded in collaborative reflections and other assignments.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? (quizzes? homework? take home exams?)

    When it’s all about learning, it’s nearly all about the learning activities. Over time, my courses have moved away from the traditional “couple of exams and a paper” structure. I design my courses to emphasize several low stakes in-class and out-of-class assignments, including mastery quizzes, private and public journals, online and in-class discussions, interviews, observations, reflections, presentations, and more. Some of these activities are also aligned with learning resources I share via social media, particularly Twitter and Facebook, and with guest presentations. These activities require learners to retrieve, think about, discuss, and apply course concepts. Whenever possible, assessments are designed to emphasize learning, not grading, by employing mastery and collaborative features.

    What’s your workspace like?

    My most productive workspace is my home office, where I am surrounded by plenty of rich resources and can play music and work with Mac products. My workshop at WCTC offers plenty of natural light and opportunities to collaborate with faculty across a variety of general educational disciplines.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Students become learners.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Make it relevant, personal, thoughtful, social, and fun.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    Asking who has the phone that keeps vibrating and realizing it’s your own phone reminds me that we all forget to silence our technology at times.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I am introverted. Early high school experiences in forensics helped me gain confidence as a public speaker, but I enjoy and am most productive during my private time.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I like to combine pleasure with work. The 2014 book, Do Zombies Dream of Undead Sheep? A Neuroscientific View of the Zombie Brain, by Dr. Timothy Verstynen and Dr. Bradley Voytek, is perfect. I also enjoy reading the tweets of colleagues around the world.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    OmniFocus. When people wonder how I manage to get so much done, I have to give much of the credit to effective planning and time management, which is made possible by this powerful personal productivity application.  

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?  

    That’s easy! Zombies. Thank goodness there will soon be both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. I’m eager this fall to teach a Walking Dead edition of Introduction to Psychology, where key psychological concepts and principles will be illustrated from events and issues raised in the TV series.

     

  • 23 Apr 2015 3:03 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Whitworth University

    Type of college/university: private liberal arts university affiliated with the Presbyterian church

    School locale: Spokane, WA – a midsize city in the inland northwest

    Classes I teach: Introduction to Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Belief in Weird Things, Psychological Statistics, Research Methods in Psychology, Forensic Psychology, Senior Thesis

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

    It takes a lot of work to prepare an effective lecture that appears effortless.

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

    My interest in psychology is how to take what we know about memory and apply it to education. So I read various empirical journal articles that apply teaching or studying techniques into the classroom. These readings shape how I develop my assignments and deliver my lectures.

    However, it was actually my undergraduate advisor, Bret Roark at Oklahoma Baptist University, who shaped my interest in teaching and my overall approach to the classroom. He is an amazing teacher and as a student I thought he was a natural teacher who must have always been that good. However, he once shared a new teacher mistake he made as he started teaching, and I realized even the “natural” teachers develop over time and must spend many hours preparing classes and developing their skill.

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

    I enjoy each class I teach, but I particularly enjoy teaching students how to apply what they learn about memory into how they study. 

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    To teach the concept of mental set I modified the methods from an experiment examining whether seeing previous examples makes it difficult to produce creative work into a class activity. Students play the role of a toy developer and must produce a creative monster toy made from a paper bag and other arts and crafts materials. Some of the students see pictures of previous monster bag toys and others do not. The students vote on the most creative monster, and typically we find those students who did not see previous examples produced more creative monsters. I have learned you can’t go wrong with arts and crafts.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Right now I have students teach a 15 minute lecture or write a paper explaining that topic. I examine how they perform on the unit and final exam questions covering those topics, and I am finding that students who teach the lecture answer more questions correctly than those who write the paper.

    What’s your workspace like?

    It is currently decorated with paper bag monster toys. It is a good conversation starter.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Engaging, structured, applied

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    I expect students and myself to work hard.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    I gave a unit exam intended for my cognitive psychology class to my intro to psych students. It created about 3 minutes of intense anxiety for the students until we realized what happened.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    How messy my office drawers are.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Disappointment with God by Yancy and The Kitchen House by Grissom

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My iPhone.

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? 

    My department is amazing and we really enjoy talking with each other. We spend a lot of time talking about food.

  • 05 Apr 2015 3:10 PM | Anonymous

    School Name: University of Houston-Victoria

    Type of University: Small Liberal Arts School


    School Locale: 
    Multiple locations. We have three sites, two in the suburbs of Houston and our main campus in Victoria, Texas, which is a small town.

    Classes I Teach: Biological Psychology, Learning, Animal Behavior, Social Biology, and Sport Psychology consistently, and Methods, Statistics, Human Sexuality, I/O, History & Systems, and Psychopharmacology occasionally. This is a small school, so we have to be diverse to allow variety in student electives.

    What's the best advice about teaching you ever received? Dr. Cross at St. Louis University noted to stay focused on the goal of any instruction or assignment. Also, my mentor Mr. Perkins who supervised my student teaching when I earned my Secondary Teaching Certificate in chemistry and biology, told me not to be afraid to admit that I don’t know the answer to a student question. The students respect honesty and realize that no one knows everything.  “I don’t know, what an interesting idea” is one of my very common answers to student questions.

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

    I read the journal Teaching of Psychology, but most of my inspiration comes from my own teachers, the good and the bad. I model myself on the instructors I admired and respected.


    What’s your favorite lecture topic or course to teach? I actually have two favorite areas to teach: brain physiology and learning. These two combined pretty much sum up psychology. The biological basis of behavior (physiology) and the input of the environment (learning), reflect nature AND nurture.

    In terms of a favorite topic, my favorite is probably operant conditioning... I teach this in a very hands-on approach using a diagramming procedure that the students use for each paradigm. Once they catch on, they become pretty good at determining if they have made a mistake in their assessment of a situation and they then self-correct. I have students call me years later and tell me that I am helping raise their kids via the information they learned in class.  Many students have previously been bored out of their minds with the topic of operant conditioning, and enjoy a different approach.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment: One favorite exercise is related to diagramming operant conditioning. We split into groups to diagram reasons why someone would exhibit a “stupid behavior.” Then I put on the board "I stay in an abusive relationship."  There are lots of murmurs, "I wouldn't, I would leave, etc." The students then come up with at least three reasons per group why someone would stay in an abusive relationship. When we put our results on the board they find out they have to write very small because we completely cover the board with many more than three example contingencies per group. When we finish, someone will note that the behavior isn't "stupid" at all. This is an excellent exercise to reinforce that all behavior must be viewed from the point of view of the person/animal involved and not our own. In addition it helps encourage a more gentle judgment of the behavior of others.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I try to mix things up using lecture (gasp!--I think it works, and that is why it has been around so long), lots of demonstrations, examples the student can relate to from their own lives, and then student practice. I change my techniques to fit the material. Similarly, depending upon the material, I use pop quizzes to keep students up to date on reading, practice in-class or at home to encourage integration and primarily exams for assessment.

    I generally give four exams and a cumulative final in my classes. If the students are happy with their grade having taken the four regular exams I let them skip the final. I always thought it was pointless to take finals after I had already demonstrated that I knew the material. Some say finals measure retention, but in my view, that would only be true if we did a “pop” final that was a surprise. Otherwise, students who cram for exams will just cram for the final, too. If my students want to demonstrate at the end of the semester that they have learned material they previously missed, the option of the final is available. Dropping an exam also relieves me from being judge and jury regarding student excuses for missed exams. If they miss one I ask no questions and automatically count it as excused but they then need to take the final.  This is probably the most common piece of advice I give junior faculty.

    What’s your workspace like?: My workspace is as varied as my classes. I work from home for my on-line classes, and I share office space on campus. Currently I can see my bottle-fed calf Sweet Pea, a couple of horses, and a hay field out my window as I type this in my home office.

    What are three words that best describe your teaching style? The three words that consistently come up in my teaching evaluations: Fair, fun, and hard. Hard is a good thing since they actually learn!

    What is your teaching philosophy in eight words? Share my passion and treat all students fairly.

    Describe a personal teaching disaster (or embarrassment): There are so many to chose from!  Once I walked into the lecture hall and was confused that the students were not in every other seat, every other row, for our exam. I said “Come on guys, you know the drill.” Once I got every one seated correctly another instructor walked up behind me and said “How did you get them to do that?” Whoops, I was in the wrong room! Much laughter followed, I took a bow, and scurried away. Really, I am not clueless. There were a lot of familiar faces in this class that overlapped with my own.

    What is something that students would be surprised to learn about you? That I actually use what I teach. I travel the country and abroad to give clinics on how to train horses using the material from my learning class. Several of my horses have been national champions. I also train other animals the same way. For example my cows come when called and exhibit some rather "un cow-like" behaviors like giving me hugs and kisses. Some past students have seen photos of me in barn clothes working cattle and they ask if it is actually me since I clean up pretty well for class.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Neuroscience and the Law, (guess I really am an über-nerd!). And of course, equine periodicals like Equus.

    What is a technology tool you could not live without? Blackboard, since I teach multiple classes using it.

    What's your hallway chatter like? Issues related to our university’s multiple locations and transitioning from an upper-level institution to include freshmen and sophomores.

     

  • 31 Mar 2015 2:22 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Seton Hall University


    Type of college/university: medium-sized university granting primarily bachelor’s and master’s degrees


    School locale: technically we are located in the Village of South Orange, but we’re in the NYC metro area


    Classes I teach: Orientation to the Psychology Major, Biological Psychology, Research Methods, Neuropsychology of Religious Experience, Psychopharmacology (graduate)


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

    Don’t be afraid to say that you don’t know the answer to a student question, but look up the answer and get back to them.  Particularly now that students can look up the answer to a question in real time during class, fumbling your way through an answer when you don’t really know it will almost certainly backfire.  Be a role model for your students with an attitude of intellectual curiosity and be sure to follow up with them.  I can’t count the number of students who said they were surprised that I looked up information and mentioned it at our next class meeting!


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

    There are many, but two that stand out are McKeachie’s Teaching Tips and Effective College and University Teaching, edited by Buskist and Benassi.



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

    I have two favorite courses: Biological Psychology and Research Methods.  Both of these courses have a well-deserved reputation for being challenging, and although the content of each course is different I see my role as fundamentally similar: it’s my job to demonstrate how the material is relevant to my students’ professional and personal lives. 


    In Biological Psychology, I point out that whether or not they end up working directly with clients, an understanding of the relationship between biology and behavior will undoubtedly be useful.  Topics such as the nature of the placebo effect, stress and stress-related illnesses, and the mechanism of action of psychotropic medications are almost certain to be directly relevant to them at some point in their lives, and knowledge of the biological components of these topics is essential for a fuller understanding of them.


    In Methods, I emphasize that we are constantly presented with all types of advice, much of which is contradictory: the “best” diet, the “best” way to raise children, the “best” way to deal with stress.  An understanding of how to appropriately design a study to answer a research question and the types of conclusions that can be drawn from a particular type of design can help us to determine the validity of this advice and, in turn, can help to enhance our own lives as well as the lives of those around us. 


    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    My techniques vary based on the course material.  Some courses lend themselves to a discussion-based format, others may work well with a “flipped” technique, and still others may be best served in a more traditional lecture format.  Regardless of the course structure, I always strive to be transparent and consistent to the greatest extent possible.  I develop rubrics and give them to students, explicitly describe class procedures in the syllabus and follow them during the semester, and do my best to be explicit and consistent in grading.


    What’s your workspace like?

    At the start of each semester, my office is pretty organized; there may be piles of papers, but they are mostly arranged in a coherent fashion.  As the semester goes on, though, the number of piles increases and the level of organization decreases.  Typically by the last few weeks of the semester my office is barely controlled chaos.


    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Enthusiastic, challenging, transparent.


    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Teaching is a privilege. Treat it as such.


    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I’m not shy about bringing up my life outside the office, so I don’t think there’s much that would surprise them.  Students who talk to me outside of class – or even those who pay attention to the types of examples I use during class – soon figure out that my primary hobbies are running, cooking, and eating (although not necessarily in that order).  Students may be surprised at the extent to which I do these things with my colleagues, though.


    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I’m between books right now, but next on my list is Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To by Beilock. As a relatively new department chair, I also want to re-read Straight Man by Russo.


    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? 

    Because we genuinely get along with each other, our hallway chatter is an equal mix of the professional and the personal: one minute we may be talking about our research, construction projects on campus or some new academic initiative, the next a new restaurant or weekend plans.

  • 05 Mar 2015 9:47 AM | Anonymous

    School name: Utah Valley University
    Type of college/university:  Regional Teaching Institution
    School locale: Metropolitan area
    Classes you teach:  General Psychology and Cognitive Psychology mostly

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

    The best advice I’ve ever received about teaching was from Doug Bernstein as he talked to my graduate cohort during our teaching experience. We were talking about teaching general psychology, and he told us to incorporate the fun things. Trying to cram too much content into one period is overwhelming. He suggested spending the class period on three or four fun (and important) topics, which would do a lot more for student learning and interest.

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

    McKeachie's Teaching Tips (various editions) has been the book that has contributed most to my development as a teacher. It is a wonderful review of the most important concepts related to teaching and is filled with resources should a reader desire to investigate a topic in more depth.

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

    I think that the day I look forward to most is the day in sensation and perception in which we discuss top-down and bottom-up processing. It gives me a chance to use some powerful demos to show how our expectations can dramatically influence perception.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    Here’s the demo I use for top-down and bottom-up processing: http://jeffmilner.com/backmasking/stairway-to-heaven-backwards.html. Go ahead--try it! Listen to the song backwards and see if you can figure out the message before you read the lyrics. Then listen to it again with the lyrics showing!

     What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Discussion following a demonstration or activity is what works best for me. I always make sure to choose something that demonstrates the concept in a real-world setting. I strongly prefer things that make the students get up and “do” something.

    What’s your workspace like?

    Every Friday, my office is spotless. The rest of the week the cleanliness of my office is directly related to how productive I am. The more work I am doing, the more behavioral evidence of productivity appears on my desk. In addition to small piles of books, papers, and journals, I have a standing desk, a space heater, and a natural light emitter.

     Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Enthusiastic, questioning, exploratory
    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Leave them wanting (and thinking) more!

     Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    One day, I was teaching research methods. We were discussing hypotheses. I was trying to make some point while using the words “TESTABLE” and “EMPIRICAL.” What came out was “TESTICLE.” Yeah… never lived that one down.

     What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    When I was much younger, I used to sword fight in living chess matches.

     What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I’m currently reading Dune by Frank Herbert.

     What tech tool could you not live without?

    I think I could not live without my phone. It lets me keep track of all my appointments and reminders.

     What’s your hallway chatter like?

    I think it depends on to whom I am speaking. With most folks, I talk shop. With others, we talk about personal things. With my favorites, we can all pile into my office and take a 10-minute break playing a game like Swish or Scattergories. (I use those games as an activity in my classes, so they are always sitting around).

     

  • 27 Feb 2015 6:33 PM | Anonymous

    School name & locale: I teach at Boise State University, in Boise, ID; I am a full professor and I’ve been here since 1992. It’s a beautiful place in southwest Idaho, and Boise is the capitol of Idaho.


    Type of college/university: Boise State is comprehensive 4-year university, offering bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates. In the Department of Psychology, we only offer the bachelor’s degree, and currently we are the third largest major on campus, with 1,106 majors.


    Classes I teach: The semester I am writing this (Spring 2015) I am teaching our Introduction to the Psychology Major course (online) with 180 students and a section of our Research Methods course (face-to-face) with 40 students. I also teach General Psychology, Statistical Methods, Psychological Measurement, and the Capstone Perspectives course from time to time.


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

    I just don’t think I can pinpoint a singular piece of advice as the best ever. I’ve now been teaching for 25 years (the first three at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville, and the remainder at Boise State), and the accumulation of classroom teaching experiences, attending workshops at the Center for Teaching and Learning, attending teaching sessions at regional and national conferences, talking with colleagues about teaching, studying (and contributing to) the literature on the scholarship of teaching and learning – all of these experiences (and more) have contributed to the “best advice” I have ever received.


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

    If I have to name one source regarding shaping my work as a psychology teacher, it would be the journal Teaching of Psychology. It’s been amazingly helpful over the years, and I’ve been privileged to contribute to it on occasion. A second choice for me would be McKeachie’s Teaching Tips.


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

    Well, if I were to pick a specific lecture topic, it would be my ESP lecture in the Sensation & Perception unit when I teach general psychology. At a NITOP conference in the early 1990s, I saw David Myers from Hope College do a series of ESP demonstrations that could be used in the classroom to help promote critical thinking and generating alternative explanations. The newspaper “trick” was so memorable that many students, years after the course was over, would see me somewhere in the community and ask me “how did you do the newspaper trick?” Just last year I had the chance to have dinner with Dave at the Stanford One Psychology conference, and I was able to thank him, in person, for being such a generous colleague.


    Regarding my favorite course to teach, it would have to be Research Methods. I think that scientific reasoning combined with quantitative methodology provides a rich skill set to students that can help them lead reasoned personal lives and successful professional lives. We practice research skills by conducting original survey research. My ultimate goals are to help students build confidence in what they know and what they can do as well as continue to hone skills that will lead to success in college and beyond.


    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    I’d say my favorite in-class activity is the use of clickers. I used clickers in my classes for the first time Fall 2008, and I’ll never teach a course again without the use of clickers or some other electronic audience response system. It changed the way I teach forever. You can instantly know what the real understanding of your students is at any moment on any topic, and if only 14% of students can successfully differentiate an independent variable from a dependent variable based on a clicker question, I get immediate feedback, and students get that feedback as well. You don’t race through “the material,” but you slow down and teach, explain, use analogies, etc., until the bottleneck is resolved. It may not be the clicker device, per se, which makes the difference but the pedagogical change in my own teaching which ultimately makes the difference.



    Editor's Note: Eric said that his best teaching days are those when his students are actively engaged with one another. He also said he loves the name folders. 


    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Here’s a bit of a twist – what teaching and learning techniques do not work best for me – in general, multiple choice tests. To be honest, I use multiple choice items with my clicker questions, but the purpose is for readiness assurance. I do not give multiple choice tests nor quizzes. My primary focus regarding undergraduate education in psychology is on skill development. I do not know of a single occupation in the United States where a college graduate can be gainfully employed taking multiple-choice tests for a living; thus, I’d prefer my students not practice that skill as much as they do. I’d prefer to focus my efforts on practicing more marketable skills like critical thinking, communication, problem solving, and others. Multiple-choice testing isn’t evil, but I believe an over-reliance on that technique is to the detriment of our students.


    What’s your workspace like?

    I work on the principle of “pile reduction theory,” meaning that I have each project piled up in either the home or school office, and I work to reduce the number of piles. Rightly or wrongly, I use my email inbox as a do-to list, so as pile reduction theory applies, the fewer emails in my inbox, the more “caught-up” that I feel (which may or may not be the appropriate perception). But feeling “caught up” does feel pretty good!


    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Fair, rigorous, skills-centered


    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Help students see the practical applications of psychology.


    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    It was Fall 1991 and I was teaching a History and Systems course at the University of Wisconsin, Platteville. It was the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving, classes were still in session, and students did not want to be having class the Wednesday afternoon before Thanksgiving. The classroom had individual chair desks and a smooth tile floor – these details will matter shortly. One student in particular did not want to be there, and she made her voice heard. Then she made her voice heard again that she did not want to be there. Then again. Finally, I said that if she wanted to leave (without any repercussions), she could leave. But she stayed and continued to pester me from the front row. Eventually, I just lost my cool. I went over to her desk, grabbed it (not her), and pulled the desk (and her) across the in front of the classroom, out the door, and into the hallway. Then I went back and grabbed her backpack and handed it to her out in the hallway. Some students loved it and some students were taken aback. It was a terrible teaching mistake – after Thanksgiving break I apologized to the student publicly in class (on the good advice of my department chair) and she completely shut down for the rest of the semester—and understandably so. I lost the opportunity to be her teacher that day because I lost my cool. It was a rookie mistake, and one that I have not repeated.


    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I think my students would be surprised to learn that I actually have a life outside of psychology and the University. I love my family dearly and dote on them whenever possible. I’m actually a decent landscape photographer, and in another lifetime did substantial darkroom work. I also like woodworking, mostly small projects like turned pens and bandsaw boxes, and I’m about to build my first piece of real furniture – a small table for the entry in the home that Lisa and I enjoy so much. I’m not a cook by any means, but I’m pretty good on my Traeger grill.


    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I’ve got a bunch of books going, but the main one is Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning by Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel (2014). I have to admit that I just don’t read fiction; it’s just not pleasurable for me. Reading for work is actually fun, because I don’t spend enough time reading for work.


    What tech tool could you not live without?

    There are so many! But I would have to say my cell phone, because it has become such a multi-purpose tool and it serves as my electronic tether to so many additional tech tools.


    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Our hallway chatter is pretty typical, either about meeting that just ended or a policy change or something happening on campus. I’m fortunate to have a cordial relationship with all of my colleagues, and I am lucky to have so many great friends in psychology scattered all over the nation. It’s a good life!

  • 05 Feb 2015 2:47 PM | Anonymous

    School name:  Mount Royal University

    Type of college/university: Undergraduate university in Calgary, AB, Canada

    Classes you teach: Stats I and II, Research Methods I, Social Psychology, Environmental Psychology 

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

    I don’t think I can narrow it down to one thing. I was fortunate to take a graduate seminar in teaching while completing my PhD and everything I learned in that class helped prepare me for teaching.

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

    During that seminar I read What the Best College Teachers Do, which provided a great introduction to teaching. More recently I’ve enjoyed reading How College Works (Chambliss & Takacs, 2014). It is a great reminder that students value relationships with instructors and that conversations with students about their writing are extremely important.

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

    I love teaching statistics because it is a challenge every time. It requires convincing students about the importance of statistics and that stats can be enjoyable (or at least bearable). Some students fear the calculations but they soon realize talking and writing about the statistical concepts clearly is a much greater challenge and I like helping them work through that.

     

    What’s your workspace like?

    I have a large desk, which you might think would be helpful, but mostly it allows me to organize things in piles. There is also a large window in my office that I appreciate. There was a view of six trees from it until this past September. We had a snowstorm in Calgary that month that damaged trees throughout the city, including a large number of trees on our campus. Now there is only one tree standing outside the window. (There is a copy of Teaching of Psychology on my desk and I swear that it was not planted for the photo.)

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Enthusiastic, approachable, challenging

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    To learn, students must engage.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    At some point I got into the habit of labeling assignment files ass#.doc. This wasn’t a problem until one day in class when we were discussing random assignment. After asking some questions a student answered with “random assignment”, which is the term I was hoping for. I wanted to emphasize the answer by writing it on the board, but instead of writing random assignment I wrote random ass! (exclamation mark included). Laughter ensued and I quickly realized what I had done. Lesson learned – be more careful with my abbreviations.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    I bike to campus and continue to do so during the winter here in Calgary.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Mosquito Coast, which is the upcoming book for my book club.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    A word processor. (I don’t even have a cell phone.)

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? 

    We will often talk about how classes are going (the answers depend in part on what point of the term it is) and also larger issues at our institution and about post-secondary education. We also find time to chat about our lives outside of work.  

  • 21 Jan 2015 3:25 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Moravian College


    Type of college/university: Liberal Arts College


    School locale: Small City


    Classes I teach: Social psychology, Psychology of Adjustment, Research Methods, Statistics, History & Systems, Positive Psychology, various Special Topics Courses/Seminars, Introductory Psychology


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

    Two slightly incompatible suggestions: Stay two weeks ahead of the class where preparation is concerned and depart from preparation when the unexpected or spontaneous happens during class. Oh, and I try not to lecture too much, encouraging discussion instead.


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

    Bill McKeachie’s classic Teaching Tips, of course; also James Hilton’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips, Richard Russo’s Straight Man, and the original Compleat Academic edited by Mark Zanna and John Darley.


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

    When I teach social psychology, I love to teach about judgmental biases for two reasons. First, students are always surprised to learn about our all-too-human foibles and second, I have the chance to share my own inferential pratfalls with them. Psychologists—me, anyway, are not immune. Life outside the classroom is complex and few of us recognize our own errors in the moment. It’s only later, when the passion is past and the chance to reflect is present that we can (hopefully) recognize them.


    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    I’ve been doing a quick and easy self-serving bias exercise since I began teaching. I have students jot down a list of their personal strengths and then, a few minutes later, their perceived weaknesses. I then have them quickly tally up the number of strengths and weaknesses in their respective lists—the former usually outnumber the latter. I then ask for examples of strengths and weaknesses and write them on the board. It usually becomes apparent that the “weaknesses” aren’t really so “bad “(who doesn’t procrastinate about something?) and that many of them are the sort of “self problems” people share on job interviews (“Well, I sometimes work too hard and expect too much of myself”). The limits of these supposed weaknesses allow us to return to the notion of the self-serving bias and to view it as protective form of social and self cognition.


    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I recently began weekly exams in my Adjustment class and I really like how their regularity encourages students to keep up on the material. In upper-level classes, I like to give in-class essay exams at midterm and then give all essay take-home tests for the final.


    What’s your workspace like?

    My college office often looks like the aftermath of a train wreck—students laugh about it—so many project piles here and there, stacks of books and files. In my darker moments when I view the chaos that is my office, I remember my graduate mentor’s wise observation: Never trust anyone with a clean desk and a clutter-free workspace, as it means they really aren’t doing much. My study at home, which is in slightly better shape, has two desks—one for planning things and editing, and the other for writing. Both my campus and my home office have too many books but I suppose there are worse things than having too many books.


    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Socratic, humorous, anecdote-based.


    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Be engaging, emphasize writing and observation, end well.


    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    Most of my embarrassing moments deal with technology—the video or statistical software I loaded and used effortlessly in my office fails to work when I am live in front of the class. This fall, for example, I was showing some YouTube videos of social psychology experiments and none of them--none--would load properly. Soon the students were offering advice--the kind that has a vague whiff of “I can’t believe you can’t do something so easy!” to it--there were some eye-rolls assessing my competence, which were no doubt deserved. But I keep at it.


    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    Although my classroom persona may say otherwise, I am actually a rather shy person.


    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I try to read widely. I am currently reading a novel called The Hundred-Year House by Rebecca Makkai. I love to read about architectural history and Japanese gardens. I read a lot of cookbooks and use them, too. Our campus-wide faculty reading group will be discussing the book How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching this spring.


    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I love my Macs, but I still rely on yellow legal pads and a good pen.


    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? 

    We talk about the hassles and uplifts associated with teaching, and share what activities work and which ones don’t. We try to avoid complaining about what students don’t know or, worse, hearkening back to some “golden age” when students were “perfect” (I would not want to see myself when I was a first-year college student—yipes!).

  • 02 Jan 2015 9:49 PM | Anonymous

    School name

    Sewanee: The University of the South

     

    Type of college/university (e.g., R1, community college, small liberal arts school, high school)

    Liberal arts school. And one with many unique traditions as well (see the photos with me in my “teaching gown” in this post).

     

    School locale (e.g., small town, rural area, city, country/region)

    Rural area, on a mountain plateau in the Cumberland Mountains of Tennessee

     

    Classes you teach

    Principles of Psychology (our Introductory course for intended majors), Social Psychology, Positive Psychology, Research Methods and Data Analysis, The Self-Concept and Self-Esteem. (And many more in the years to come.)

     

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

    I have two pieces of advice that I think are worth sharing, both of which I received when I was just beginning to teach my own courses while in graduate school.

     

    The first is that there is no one “best way to teach” or one “best teacher” out there in the world. This conclusion was a bit of an amalgamation of a bunch of different pieces of advice I’d received at the time. I’d had a variety of great teachers and mentors as an undergraduate and graduate student. Some where the loud, in your face, rev students up with excitement type; some where the inquisitive, cerebral, and brilliant type; some where the caring, thoughtful, and remarkably understanding type. But these teachers were all effective to me, each for their own reasons, and each because they took who they were and they applied it to their jobs as teachers. Different methods work for different instructors. We in psychology know that the “fit” between the person and the environment is very important for understanding psychological processes.  Why should the task of teaching be any different? As someone who was just beginning to teach, with all the anxieties and frustrations that come along with starting something new, this advice helped calm me. It made me realize that I should not be concerned if I did not have all the answers about how to teach and how I wanted to teach. It also made me realize that I had to figure out who I wanted to be, who I was in the classroom, and how those things could merge with one another.

    The other piece of advice that I’d like to share was also one that has protected my ideas about teaching and dealing with students ever since I started teaching. The advice is that “professors don’t give grades; students earn grades.” At the face of it, this seems like a really true and simple idea, but I often find new and experienced professors alike concerned that they are “giving” students bad grades. I would assume (and hope!) most of us do not sit at our computers and arbitrarily assign bad grades to students. No, not at all.  We probably have fair tools for assessing student learning and explicit criteria for what it takes to perform well and to perform poorly, and when students meet the criteria for high grades, they get them. This idea that students earn the grades they get also takes into account a number of factors that professors may be blind to when it comes to students’ lives. When I have honest conversations with students about a poor performance on some graded work, they often say things like “I just didn’t study as hard as I should have,” “the first exam was tougher than I thought it would be,” or “I had other things going on and this assignment didn’t get as much of my attention as it should have.” (Is this reminding anyone of discussions related to external attributions yet?) The takeaway point I get from conversations like this is that poor grades are often a result of students EARNING those poor grades. They can, and hopefully will, do better, but they’ll have to earn those better grades too.

     

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

    There are many books and articles that have shaped my work as a teacher. Certainly, the excellent contributions in journals like Teaching of Psychology have been a great source of ideas about many of the nuts and bolts of teaching.

    But two books in particular stand out as having an impact on my long-view of teaching and have been invaluable resources for me. The first is Ken Bain’s “What the Best College Teachers Do.” Bain does an excellent job profiling and interviewing excellent college teachers in a variety of subject areas. They teach in different ways, but they all have one thing in common: they make a substantial, long-term impact on the way students think, act, and feel. It’s a great read. My recommendation: read it at the beginning of a summer right before you are preparing a new course. And keep at the forefront of your mind the ways that new course will not just be a new course on a particular topic, but one which will profoundly influence the ways students will see the world. (OK, maybe I set some pretty lofty goals.)

    The second book I want to mention is Parker Palmer’s “The Courage to Teach.” Simply put, this book is inspirational for people who wish to make teaching their life. It was the first book I came across that helped me put into words what I felt about teaching: that teaching and the learning life was something I cared about very deeply, and it was OK to experience significant emotions about teaching. Early in the book, Palmer notes that as teachers we all have good days and bad, but that he wanted to write “for teachers who refuse to harden their hearts because they love learners, learning, and the teaching life (1998, p. 1). I was hooked then and there.

     

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

    Each of the courses I teach has a special place in my heart for one reason or another. But if I had to pick, I'd say the one I enjoy teaching the most is Positive Psychology. It's a bit out of the ordinary for me, because I have a very heavy research/experimentation focus to the scholarship I do. But to be able to work with students in a critical examination of their sense of self, their emotional experience, and their day-to-day existence is a real treat for me, and the students enjoy it as well. Many students pursued psychology as a field in search of answers to questions about happiness and optimal functioning (myself included), yet most psychology courses fail to provide any clues about how to achieve these things. We are also at a point in time where students have lives that are jam packed with obligations, and they are often struggling with the idea of whether or not they have achieved  “enough” to move on to the next stage of life successfully. (And professors often feel the same way, which is why I usually participate in all of the homework assignments in the class along with my students). Positive Psychology gives us a chance to say to ourselves, “wait a minute, valuable, pleasurable, and fortunate things are happening every day; let's take notice.” I don't think people do that enough: students, professors, or otherwise.

     

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    It’s hard to pick just one favorite, but one I’ve been enjoying quite a bit lately has been a behavioral shaping activity that I use in my Principles of Psychology course (and I’m fairly sure I stole this from someone in STP. So thank you!). After talking about topics and learning and behaviorism for awhile, students are often skeptical of just how significant rewards and punishments can be. So I ask for a student volunteer to be the “learner” and step out into the hallway for a minute while the rest of the class and I decide what type of task we want the “learner” to demonstrate. They usually pick something like “write her name on a particular chalkboard.” Once we agree on what the desired behavior is, we have the “learner” come back into the room and cheer for behaviors which get closer to the desired goal or boo for behaviors which are farther from the desired goal. All the students are quite amazed at how significantly this influences behavior and how closely the “learner” often gets to a very specific behavior. Some students also rightly recognize that this is like the game of “getting warmer-getting colder” that they played when they were kids. Then I tell them it seems that they have been dabbling in behavioral principles for quite some time already.

     

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? (quizzes? homework? take home exams?)

    I teach at a small liberal arts school, so I count myself as fortunate to have small class sizes which do not inhibit the learning techniques I can have students engage in. I use a wide variety, including exams, discussion, application-type papers, extrapolation-type papers, and so on. I have not been as concerned about which of these are or are not effective; I’ve been more concerned with how each one may get at a different type of learning and skill. Exams are great for checking knowledge; papers are great for measuring student’s ability to thoughtfully respond to a topic and communicate effectively; discussions are great for developing and advancing ideas and debating. In my classroom, each of these has a role in shaping what I hope to be citizens who are thoughtful, knowledgeable, and interested in topics related to psychology and the life of the mind.

     

    What’s your workspace like?

    I have been very fortunate to move into a rather large office space, which has afforded me the opportunity to shape it in whatever ways that I find most conducive to how I like to do my “work.” I spend a lot of time in my office, so having it be the space that I wanted it to be was very important to me. But the “work” that I do there is quite varied. I have a large desk with organized stacks of papers and folders which all have a dedicated purpose. I have a wall full of shelves which has books, journals, readings for ongoing classes, and stacks of research articles organized by topic or ongoing manuscript task (as you may have guessed by now, I use the traditional “academic stacking system,” but always in an organized fashion). Mixed in with these readings and work-related items is a significant amount of personal memorabilia (e.g., photos, cards, gifts, Frisbees). I like having this stuff around, and I think it also helps students realize that professors are actually real-life people as well. Oh, and I have an area where I make tea and lots of chairs in my office. Our students our very engaged with their professors, and I often have visitors in my office. This is particularly true during my “tea student hour,” which I hold weekly on one afternoon a semester.

     

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Engaging, funny, thought-provoking

     

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Do what you love every day. (Teach.)

     

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

    I haven’t had something I would call a disaster, but there is one moment I can recall where I learned something in the classroom that would forever change the way I go about teaching. For the second class period for the first class I ever taught, I had structured a lecture in a way that had me just listing off facts and findings from the field of psychology. I was using PowerPoint as a backdrop, and I found myself just going through one slide, then another, then another, where I was just telling students information. After about 5-10 minutes of this, I came to a realization: I thought to myself “this is pretty boring for me.” Then I came to a second realization: “if this is pretty boring for me, someone who is invested in and cares about this field of work, imagine how boring this must be for students!” From that moment on, when structuring class time, I’ve made sure not only to think about what I will be teaching, but also what and how students will be learning. (And I never lecture for anymore than 5 minutes or so without having some direct student involvement.)

     

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    Many years ago I came across the psychological concept of self-complexity: the idea that one's sense of self can be composed of many different aspects, and that having more aspects of the self is generally helpful in fighting stress. I thought that was a valuable way of thinking about the self, and an apt description of how I generally am. As such, students may be surprised at the various aspects I've incorporated into myself over the years (although, in truth, I don't mind admitting most things about myself, and many of them may not be "surprises" to my students). 

    But here are a few potential surprises. I am a fitness enthusiast, and this has led me to run one marathon, take countless hikes of very long duration, and play Ultimate Frisbee all across the US, as well as in Canada and Ireland. About once or twice a year, I grow out my beard to a significant length, shave it into a mustache for one reason or another, then shave my face entirely. (My students then realize what 16-year-old-Dr.-Troisi must have looked like.) As a product of a rich liberal arts tradition, I was the editor of a national literary journal while in college, and I still write a poem from time to time. And even though I work very hard as a teacher and researcher, I still enjoy the occasional break for a console video game. 

     

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Although I have been very busy with work-related tasks lately, I have been very slowly moving through “Man’s Search for Meaning” by Viktor Frankl and Salman Rushdie’s memoir “Joseph Anton.”

     

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    This is about as low-tech of a tech tool as you can get, but my number one thing would be email. It’s how I communicate with everyone. It’s how I keep track of things I need to do. It allows me to know which tasks are on my plate and which tasks are on someone else’s plate. It allows me to touch base with all of my students all at once and lets them have a “paper trail” for things like assignments. Without email, my life as a professor would be very, very different.

     

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Most of the time the hallway chatter is about something related to our department or our university. At this point of this writing we are in the process of hiring 2 faculty members, so lots of our chatter has been logistical discussions of who is making sure the candidate does not get lost in the shuffle of interview activities. Otherwise, many of our conversations are about students, class activities and tasks, and our courses. I work with a group of individuals who cares about teaching very much, so we are always thinking and talking about it.

     

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