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" edited by: Maggie Thomas, Editor (Earlham College), Rob McEntarffer, Associate Editor (Lincoln Public Schools), and Liz Sheehan, Associate Editor (University of Kentucky)

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  • 30 Jun 2016 5:43 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Bellevue College, WA

    Type of school: Bellevue College is an open-access, community-based public institution of higher education located in Bellevue, a city on the Eastside of Lake Washington, near Seattle

    School locale: Bellevue is the largest suburb of Seattle, WA

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Lifespan Psychology, Cross Cultural Psychology

    Average class size: 38

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

    To be genuine and honest in the classroom, not to be afraid of sharing life stories and personal experiences (when appropriate), and to be caring and friendly towards students so they can see me as approachable and helpful – all together, those things help make a classroom a welcoming space for students and supports their learning. For me, a welcoming space is where we hear diverse opinions and ideas with an open mind, while critically evaluating ethnocentric thoughts.

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

    Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do, Ambrose et al.’s How Learning Works: Seven Research-Based Principles for Smart Teaching, Peck's The Road Less Traveled, Seligman’s Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being – to name a few – have influenced the way I approach teaching and my relationships with students. I also regularly read the Teaching of Psychology journal by STP and attend teaching conferences to help inform and advance my pedagogy. Based on readings and conversations with colleagues, I’ve come to understand the importance of creating an organic, learner-centered environment that encourages students to critically rethink assumptions, and provide them opportunities to cooperate and collaborate with peers.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    Emerging Adulthood is by far one of my favorite topics to teach as it is so relevant to 80-85% of the students in the classroom. They are in that age range and understand how this crucial life stage can shape their future. We watch the TED talk by Meg Jay titled “Why 30 is not the new 20” and I have my students reflect on the goals Jay mentions in her talk.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    Favorite in-class activity: At the start of class on the topic of Emerging Adulthood (EA), I post the question – “Do you think you have reached adulthood?” on the whiteboard and have my students think about that question for a few minutes. I ask them to write down Yes / No / Yes & No and the reasons for their answer. Then I have them stand up and walk to the right side of the room if they said “Yes,” left side if they said “No” and middle of the room if they said “Yes & No.” They discuss among themselves in small groups what their reasons were, then they share them with the whole class and I write the reasons out for each group on the whiteboard. This activity helps demonstrate the five characteristics of EA as given by Arnett, and it also reveals cultural differences that exist vis-à-vis EA.

    Favorite assignment: In Lifespan Psychology, I have my students do a group project at the end of the quarter, wherein they choose a life stage (e.g., adolescence) and test relevant theories by applying their knowledge of research methods and statistics. [Editor's note: this is pictured in the two pictures below.]

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    While trying new things in the classroom, I am not afraid to show my vulnerabilities and talk about my mistakes, as it makes me be human and relatable. Owning up to one’s mistakes while being kind and understanding towards oneself helps demonstrate self-compassion (Neff, 2008), a trait that is much needed to succeed in today’s day and age. Additionally, being open and willing to share life experiences with students, as storytelling can be a vehicle to establishing validation, identity, and emotional regulation among college students. Finally, TED talks are “essentials” to my teaching.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    My office space is organized; it has books and journals, a picture of my family, my diploma in a wooden frame, and comfortable chairs for my visitors. I believe that my office is inviting to others – I have chocolates, tissue box and inspirational posters on the wall. I’m a true believer in the power of relationships, and I use my office space to have meaningful and open conversations with my students and colleagues.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Encouraging, Helpful, Passionate.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Positive relationships and genuine interest promotes active learning.

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

    My students are often in disbelief when I tell them that I experienced high levels of test anxiety during school years and was an average student. I became an “A” grade student in grade 11 when I chose to study courses that were of interest to me. I often tell my students the vital role of curiosity and personal relevance in learning and academic success.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I recently completed Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, and I’m currently reading Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My laptop and Logitech wireless presentation pointer

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

    At our college, we are very student-focused so we talk about effective classroom management strategies, how to report and handle concerning student behaviors and lately, we’ve been talking about how to get the administration to understand the need to lowering class caps to have a better student-teacher ratio, the one that promotes individual attention and high-quality classroom interactions.

  • 31 May 2016 11:43 PM | Anonymous

    School name: University of Massachusetts – Lowell

    Type of school: Public University

    School locale: urban

    Classes you teach: Cognitive Psychology (200-level); Research Lab (300-level); Applying Cognitive Psychology to Education Seminar (400-level)

    Average class size: 15-20 (300 or 400-level); 30-40 (200-level)

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

    “Be better organized”…from student feedback. No-one likes a disorganized teacher.

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

    When I started my faculty position, I read the first few chapters of James Lang’s On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching, and this greatly calmed my nerves. Then I got too busy and never got a chance to finish it.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    I love teaching about memory. False memory used to be my favorite, but after 100 times of demonstrating bed-rest-awake-sleep?, I had to find a new favorite. So now, I really enjoy teaching about superior autobiographical memory. This is the phenomenon where a person remembers everything from their past – you give them a date, and they can recall exactly what they did that day! It is really fun teaching this, because students are so amazed (it’s such a rare phenomenon), and at the same time there are many teachable moments, too: no, it’s not photographic memory, which doesn't actually exist; and no, it’s not domain-general (working memory is no better in these individuals).

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    My favorite thing to do is to describe the methods of a study, and get students to draw a graph predicting the results. It’s great because there are no right or wrong answers – the students just need to demonstrate that they understand the manipulation, and how to graph data. I then go around the room and ask each student to briefly justify why they predicted that pattern of data; this helps me make sure that they didn’t just plot random data points (I’m happy to say that this has actually never happened). The first time I have students do this activity, half the class totally freaks out. By the end of the semester, they are comfortable drawing predictions for two-way interactions. It is very satisfying!

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    My research is in applying cognitive psychology to education, so techniques that draw on that research are on the forefront of my mind when I plan teaching and learning activities for my students. For example, all my lectures include a quiz component – usually low-stakes questions distributed randomly throughout the lecture. I also make a lot of use of self and peer review so that students can learn how to critique writing. This also drastically reduces the amount of grading I do, which one might think is a good thing…but I’m actually a weirdo who loves grading!

    What’s your workspace like? 

    I work everywhere: in my office (very rarely), at home in bed (much too often), and in cafes (my favorite!). But this semester, I’ve discovered a really amazing teaching space. It is a “maker space” that was entirely created by a colleague in my department, Dr. Sarah Kuhn. This space has all sorts of arts and crafts materials, Legos, and a coffee maker. I found that the atmosphere the room created was unlike any teaching experience I’ve ever had! Students come early and make themselves coffee, and seem much more open to discussing the material than my last semester class that met in a regular classroom (though of course, I fully recognize that this is a terribly confounded observation). I also found myself moving away from PowerPoint to more spontaneous drawings on the whiteboard, which has been really fun.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Animated, awkward, and engaging? I don’t know! This was hard.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Engage students so they learn instead of sleeping.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    I recently made a really awkward joke that made it seem like I was making fun of a student when I wasn’t intending that AT ALL (obviously). I was trying to scaffold the student to help them remember something, but the hint I gave them inadvertently made it seem like I thought they didn’t care about the class. The student – clearly not getting the hint at all – glared at me like I had just killed their puppy. And the worst part? My Chair was observing the class. I dealt with it by protesting too much – “oh, no, of course, I KNOW you care A GREAT DEAL about this class!!!” which in the case of this particular student, luckily (ironically?), was quite true.

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

    In my spare time, I perform in a ladies Latin dance team!

    Here's a photo – I’m the first lady from the right in the front row!

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Elena Ferrante – I felt like I read about her novels every day in 2015, so it’s finally time to actually read her.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    As of recently, I can’t live without Twitter. In January 2016, I started a community called the Learning Scientists (@AceThatTest on Twitter) where we discuss evidence-based practices in education. Although it started out as a small spontaneous idea (click here for the story) and mushroomed into a huge project with an extremely productive blog (learningscientists.org) and lively community! These days, I spend most of my spare moments on Twitter arguing about the role of cognitive psychology in education with teachers and other academics.

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

    Feminism. I didn’t give being a woman a second thought until I got pregnant in my late 20s. Then – BAM! – suddenly life was all about being a woman, and it’s like a whole world of sexism and barriers opened up in front of me.

  • 30 Apr 2016 2:13 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Westminster College (PA)

    Type of school: small liberal arts school

    School locale: rural area

    Classes you teach: I have taught introductory, social, organizational, personality, human sexuality, psychology of the internet, research methods, and senior research/capstone

    Average class size: 17

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

    I have to select only one?  The great thing about an organization like the Society for the Teaching of Psychology is that you are able to network with some of the most successful teachers of psychology, and they are always eager to share their knowledge with you.  Teaching me to be better in my field and profession is how they advise me best.  Every conversation with a Dana Dunn, Ken Keith, or Janie Wilson is a moment when I can learn something that will help my students to achieve learning outcomes.  I guess the best advice about teaching (warning:  shameless plug!) was to join STP!

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

    One of the best illustrations of my teaching philosophy comes from Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist.  Early in the novel, Coelho’s old king tells the story of a young boy who is sent to meet the wisest man in the world, with the hopes of discovering the secret of happiness. After a 40-day journey to find the man in a castle atop a mountain, the boy is told that the man is too busy to meet with him and that he should wander about the castle until the man is available.  The wise man first gives the boy a spoon filled with oil and tells him to carry the spoon with him as he wanders, being sure not so spill any oil.  When the boy returns a few hours later, the man asks him to describe all the palace wonders that he saw.  The boy, embarrassed, responds that he was so focused on the oil in the spoon, that he didn’t pay attention to the treasures in the palace.  The man sends the boy to wander through the palace again.  This time, he returns having viewed many of the palace’s treasures, only to realize that he has spilled all the oil from the spoon.  The wise man counsels the boy:  “The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”


    A good teacher knows that the academy is filled with treasures that have been collected across millennia, and we believe that those treasures bring happiness (and also tremendous responsibility).  But a great teacher recognizes that students come with a spoon that holds the drops of oil they have collected in their short lives.  Those drops of oil are important—they are motives, dreams, abilities, traditions—and we will help students find happiness to the extent that we and they appreciate the spoon and what it holds.


    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    Social psychology is my favorite course to teach because it is about the lives of my students.  Everything students do has a self or social component, and so it is really easy to engage students with course material.  Also, they can “see” social psychology all around them.  For many of them, neurotransmitters are abstractions that are not visible to the naked eye, but they can more easily notice conformity, attraction, persuasion, groupthink, and so on.  These are phenomena that matter to them on a daily basis as they negotiate with bosses; resolve conflicts with significant others; attempt to change other students’ opinions about campus issues.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    One of my favorite activities to conduct in the laboratory component of my social psychology course draws on an experiment conducted by Tim Wilson and Jonathan Schooler (Study 1, 1991).  These researchers suggest that people do not have much insight into their own cognitive processes; that is, we often do not know why we have certain cognitions, like attitudes that can be vague and unspecified. Moreover, Wilson and Schooler believe that reflecting on our attitudes and decisions can actually be unhelpful.  They suggest that when we think about why we hold certain attitudes, we attend to explanations that easily come to mind.  But those accessible explanations may not be accurate or complete, thus having little effect on their attitude.  Ultimately, thinking about reasons can lead people to make choices that are not ideal.  To help students understand this, I bring in their favorite condiment—different varieties of salsa that have been rated by Consumer Reports.  I ask students to taste each salsa on a chip and to evaluate it, with half being prompted to think about reasons for their evaluation.  After we analyze patterns in the data, we talk about the original research and ways that we would have improved on my taste-test methodology were we to implement it in a well-controlled study.  (I intentionally create a weakly controlled taste-test “experiment” so that students have plenty to critique—and they do!)  So in the context of doing something they enjoy (eating salsa), we can talk about research and good experimental design.  It’s like when Mom got us to eat our vegetables by covering them with cheese.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Students’ learning is vital to what I do.  I do not believe that learning frequently occurs by happenstance.  It is my responsibility as a faculty member to think about what students need to learn and then to shape a course curriculum that helps them to achieve that learning.  It is also my responsibility to monitor progress so that I can provide assistance when students are not learning what they need to know or do.  This has led to more careful planning when writing assignments and student learning outcomes, creating assessment strategies, and providing feedback on student performance.  Learning that informs assessment that informs teaching is critically important to me.

    We know that students learn best when material is connected to them and their interests.  Students also learn best from High-Impact Practices that engage them with material, versus being passive recipients of information passed through lecture.  My class sections certainly have the lecture component so that students have the knowledge they need, but more than likely students will be found doing.  They will be engaged in critical analysis of video clips (Big Bang Theory offers many examples that are helpful in psychology courses); discussions with their peers; Plicker-based activities (thanks to Sue Frantz for turning me onto Plicker!); experiential learning in the laboratory or field.  Involving students in and making them responsible for their own learning is vital to my teaching.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    Unfortunately, my work space is not as tidy as I would hope.  I live my life in neat piles that do not necessarily have an organizational scheme.  Fewer piles are a bucket-list item, but I won’t be disappointed if it is never crossed off my list.

    Other than that, my workspace is comfortable because I spend a lot of time in my office.  I use lamps instead of horribly institutional halogen lights, and my teapot is always ready with jasmine or English Breakfast tea.  I have a collection of Dunkin Donuts mugs from different cities I have visited, and those line my shelf with a collection of Big Bang Theory bobble-head figures.  Near my desk, I keep a string of thank-you cards from students who have written me over the years.  These cards remind me of my passion:  students and their learning.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Example-rich, student-orientated, accessible

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Every day, increase your excellence.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    The disasters I have faced usually result from a demonstration or activity that did not work as I had planned.  Perhaps the data from an in-class experiment did not replicate patterns found in the literature.  Or perhaps I just didn’t communicate my passion to students in a way that contributed to their own excitement for a topic.  I have learned to have a Plan A and a Plan B.  I also have learned that students benefit from watching us fail and later succeed by trying something different.  That is, they are struggling to learn concepts and skills.  When they see we can struggle, too, as we develop mastery, it actually enhances their own efficacy.  By failing or coming upon an embarrassing situation, we can move into a space where learning from failure is okay.  Quite honestly, I am no longer embarrassed by teaching mistakes or mishaps:  A moment is a moment for learning.

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

    My students often are surprised to learn that I am southern.  I lost my accent when I went to college, and it usually returns only when I am really tired or when I am talking to a family member in North Carolina.  They also are surprised that I have a life outside of the college that includes a wonderful spouse, a regular lifting routine, a love for good food, and a fondness for international travel.  They would not be surprised that I have an unhealthy obsession with Dunkin Donuts coffee (with unsweetened hazelnut and cream), any movie with Jennifer Lopez (she’s good for in-class examples on Sternberg’s different types of love), and a bizarre attachment to the APA Manual (6th edition, 2nd printing, please).

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    The Atlantis Gene…unfortunately, my pace is very slow because of work.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Right now, Plicker is my new teaching technology must-have.  It is an online classroom response system that requires minimal setup and resources.  I can create questions that allow me to assess my students’ learning in real-time, which then allows me to know where I need to begin, how quickly I can set the pace, and where problem areas may be.  Students think it is cool…at least for the moment.

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

    Now that I am serving in an administrator role, my hallway chatter is much different from what it was when I was strictly teaching.  The administrator lens is 50,000-feet across the institution, and you realize there are many issues and events that you cannot talk about with colleagues.  That is a big change from the old hallway chatter where we talked about everything.  More likely than not, however, my colleagues and I talk about the latest best restaurant, a great bottle of wine, a must-visit vacation destination, or something that is not tied to the college.

  • 17 Mar 2016 10:48 AM | Anonymous

    School name: High Point University

    Type of school: Private Liberal Arts University (with approximately 4000 undergraduates)

    School locale: High Point, NC (medium-sized city with a small town feel)

    Classes you teach: Introduction to Psychology, Close Relationships (online and in-person), Personality Psychology, Research Methods, Social Influence, Social Psychology (including a Service-Learning section), Survey Research, and a First Year Seminar called Love and Hate in Cyberspace

    Average class size: 30 students

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

    I have received a number of helpful suggestions throughout my teaching career, and similar to many of the other educators featured in this blog the best advice was, “Be yourself.”  If I were giving advice to an up-and-coming teacher, I would build from that to say, “Don’t be afraid to be creative!”  To me, teaching is a form of art, and you cannot be afraid to express yourself.  I often try novel (and sometimes odd) ways of helping my students make a connection to the material.  Although it can be intimidating or even embarrassing to put yourself out there by creating something innovative, it’s often those activities and assignments that are the most well-received and effective. 

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

    Perhaps the most influential book in shaping my teaching career is McKeachie’s Teaching Tips.  It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and it came to me at a time when I was a fledging teaching assistant, eager to better myself as an educator.  Since that time, I’ve become a voracious consumer of teaching-related books and articles.  Although there are too many resources to name, I am inspired by and credit a number of my current teaching strategies to my ECP colleagues.  For instance, I learned a great deal collaborating on both So You Landed a Job – What’s Next?  Advice for Early Career Psychologists from Early Career Psychologists and Introductory Psychology Teaching Primer: A Guide for New Teachers of Psych 101, Second Edition.  If you haven’t read them, I encourage you to check them out!

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    My research background is in the psychological study of close relationships, so most of my favorite lectures involve sharing my knowledge about romantic relationships with my students.  Where appropriate, I work relationship material into almost all of my courses.  And thankfully, given my students preoccupation with their own relationships, this helps to make the material relatable.  Building from that, I’d say my favorite class to teach is Close Relationships, as it bridges my two loves, teaching and relationship science.  I think my passion is contagious, as by the end of the semester class tends to feel like a conversation between myself and my students.  I actually love teaching this topic so much that for the past five years, I’ve shared a number of my class examples with a national audience as a writer for the Science of Relationships website.  This forum allows me to “teach” close relationship material outside of the classroom by providing empirically-sound relationship advice in the form of pop-culture narratives.  As educators, I think we all hope to make a difference in our students’ lives.  With this material, perhaps more than others, I can actually see that happening through the demonstration of healthy relationship choices.  Here’s hoping that in some small way, I’ve helped to fend off divorce and facilitate their lifelong relationship success.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    I have my students online date!  In my Love and Hate in Cyberspace class, when covering attraction and online dating, I have my students generate online dating profiles for various dating websites and together we navigate them just like a dater would.  In this activity, students are asked to identify examples of successful profiles and compare them to unsuccessful (or outright bad) profiles.  They must then support their claims with course material.  Students often draw from lessons on evolutionary theories of attraction (including gender differences and the role of physical appearance in partner selection), particularly when using a website like Match.com, where both pictures and bios are available.  I then ask students to repeat the assignment on a website like eHarmony.com, where daters are provided with “matched” partners.  In this case, students have fewer potential partners to evaluate and are not provided with a picture.  Interestingly, this leads to a discussion about how physical attractiveness acts as a gate-keeping mechanism and the importance of other partner selection strategies, including the role of similarity.  Finally, we conclude with a discussion comparing partner selection online vs. in-person.  Initially, my students approach this activity with a mix of intrigue and trepidation.  But after we complete it, they are not only wiser about this growing relationship phenomenon, but excited to share their experiences with others.  My only caution to other professors who may want to try this activity would be to have a strict set of guidelines.  I take numerous precautions to ensure my students anonymity during the process.  I also work to show respect for their current relationships, as well as for the people on the websites who are legitimately seeking a connection.  

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I have a number of “go to” strategies in my teaching toolbox.  The best strategy often depends on the class and the objective of a given lesson, but these are some of my tried and true techniques:

    • Get to know your students – I invite my students (often with extra credit) to office hours for a five-minute chat.  I ask them about silly things just to break the ice and create a more informal connection.  It tends to make for a more talkative classroom, where students ask additional questions and participate in discussions of course material.   
    • Storytelling – If I can keep myself from getting too tangential, I’ve found that stories from my own life are extremely effective in helping students make connections to course material.  I’m surprised how often my students use examples from my life to explain their understanding of a concept.
    • Reflection – I started using weekly reflections when teaching a Service-Learning section of Social Psychology.  It worked very well for getting my students to go beyond simply memorizing material from the textbook.  Now I use them in a number of classes.  Students are asked to “think out loud” and I encourage (and reward) any novel thoughts they share about the topic we are learning.
    • Incorporation of service – I teach a lot of Introduction to Psychology sections, and in an effort to make the class come to life, I have incorporated a Helping Behavior Activity when covering the Social Psychology chapter.  I set aside a class period and students select the particular pro-social activity.  In the past, students have written Thank You cards to US troops and veterans, created fleece blankets for Project Linus, sent care-packages to victims of Hurricane Sandy, donated holiday gifts through the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree Program, constructed coloring books for the Children’s Miracle Network, and collected school supplies for a local Title I elementary school.  All in all, it is a very rewarding experience and one that pays dividends in student learning (of the course material and as an added bonus their self-reported volunteerism and social responsibility).

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Personal, Encouraging, and Rigorous

    (Curiosity got the best of me, and I bravely took a look at my RateMyProfessor feedback.  Thankfully, students seems to agree with this description of my teaching style!)

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    This was a tough question, given my propensity to be verbose, but here’s what I’ve decided on:

    Inspire students by helping them connect to material

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    I’ve had all of the typical teaching disasters:  calling students by the wrong name, being unable to work the technology (including lights) in the high-tech classrooms, spelling errors on the board, and incorrectly scoring an item on a test.  But the disaster that stands out the most occurred during the first year of my current job.  I was still in the “dress for success” stage of my career, which involved inappropriately high heels for teaching.  I was walking to class, not paying attention, and tripped while crossing the road (wildly and very embarrassingly in front of numerous student spectators).  I picked myself up (mortified) and went directly to the bathroom to clean the wound as best I could before heading to class.  After about twenty minutes of lecturing I stopped to ask students if they had any questions.  Three or four hands shot up immediately.  They all wanted to know about the road rash on my leg, which by this point had started bleeding.  I was genuinely touched by my students’ concern, but I don’t think they learned any material that class.  Although I try hard to minimize mistakes, I’ve come to believe that they aren’t nearly as bad as I think they are (spotlight effect) and that they humanize us to our students.  However, when disaster does strike, I try to resolve it by reiterating my commitment to getting it (whatever that may be) right the next time and thanking my students for their understanding. 

    What’s your workspace like? 

    My workspace is deceiving.  From one view (the one I’ve chosen to share), it is very professional.  From the other, it’s cluttered with papers of varying importance.  I also have a workspace at home that most of the time looks like an episode of Hoarders.  I have a number of projects going, each with its own stack of background articles, questionnaires, printed results, and some with manuscripts and heart-breaking reviewers’ feedback.  I keep thinking that over the breaks I will finally complete a few.  Here’s hoping that this summer is the summer it finally happens.  On an optimistic note, a very small stack was removed when I was able to turn in this blog! 

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

    I don’t know if this is a good or bad thing, but I have had a pretty eclectic life.  So for this question, I’ve got a lot of random experiences to choose from.  Most of my students know that in addition to my psychology degrees I have a Bachelor’s of Science in biology, which is not typical of a psychology professor.  What I don’t think they know is that I was captain of the varsity cheerleaders in high school, was on the fencing team at UNC-Chapel Hill, and was in the Miss North Carolina pageant.  I told you my life has been full of random adventures.  Perhaps what I encounter most frequently is my students’ surprise (or confusion) by my married name being an anagram of my maiden name.  Yep, I’m Dr. Sadie Leder Elder, and since I’ve changed my name in the past four years (some students and colleagues call me Dr. Leder, while others call me Dr. Elder), it makes for a great deal of chaos at the university. 

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Please feel free to judge me, but I read textbooks for fun.  I am a nerd!  I also squeeze in a little light reading in the form of US Weekly and People magazine.  I do use a lot of pop culture in my teaching, but I don’t stay current for that reason.  I just love it!

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I cannot live without my laptop.  I know that my iPad and iPhone would likely be capable of tackling any task that arose while on trip, vacation, or even my honeymoon, but I’d prefer not to risk it.  When it comes to my laptop, my motto is, “Don’t EVER leave home without it!”

  • 26 Feb 2016 2:08 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Pace University

    Type of school: Private, doctoral-granting university – Our Ph.D. in Mental Health Counseling is one of the first doctoral programs at Pace! We were also named the #1 most underrated college/university in the US by Business Insider (October, 2015). For people who haven’t heard of Pace University, I tell them that it’s where Bradley Cooper graduated and where Inside the Actor’s Studio is filmed. No, I haven’t met Bradley Cooper or James Lipton… 

    School locale: Smallish town outside of New York City – A lot of people don’t realize how rural New York becomes once you get outside of the city! Pace University has a vibrant city campus in Manhattan but we also have a more traditional college setting in Westchester county (I teach on the Westchester campus). Our Westchester campus is in Pleasantville, NY…how much more charming can you get?! We just opened new dormitories this year and it’s been exciting to see the campus life bloom! I love walking around the university to see the students enjoying their rejuvenated campus.

    Classes you teach: Social Psychology and Experimental Psychology (year-long research experience course) at the undergrad level, Social Psychology at the Master’s level, and Seminar in Treat Management at the Ph.D. level. We offer a lot of interdisciplinary courses as well so my first year at Pace I taught an interdisciplinary Learning Community course called “On the Good Life.” I co-taught the course with a Philosophy professor. We spent the semester considering what the good life means and how can we achieve it. We read ancient philosophy, Hannah Arendt, and psychologists such as Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Martin Seligman. The students developed creative works on the good life and I was so impressed by the quality of their projects. One student painted a picture that incorporated the readings from the course and his idea of what the good life means. Another student interviewed random people in Manhattan about their perception of the good life. Yet another student developed an entire website with resources on happiness, well-being, and achieving the good life. I love courses that allow students to use their strengths to develop meaningful works that live on beyond one semester.

    Average class size: 9-28 students

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

    Janie Wilson was one of the first teaching mentors I had. One time, I was telling her about what some of the “kids” in her class were doing and she corrected me by saying, “young adults.” I don’t know if she meant it to be advice then, but it was one of the most influential experiences in terms of my development as an educator. It not only taught me to view my students as active participants with their own unique perspectives and experiences but it taught me a broader lesson about how our own perspectives as teachers can help or hinder the learning process.

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

    Not a book or an article…but the PSYCTEACHER listserv is amazing. [Editor's note: You can access the PSYCTEACHER listserve by joining STP.] I love reading everyone’s thoughts and advice. I also love soaking in advice from people at the STP conferences.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    I teach a year-long Experimental Psychology course in which students propose and conduct their own research projects. It is my favorite course to teach because the process ultimately is so rewarding for students. My students comment that the course is unlike anything they’ve ever experienced in college. I spend a good deal of the first semester building their trust, shoring up their knowledge about research methods and statistics, and mitigating their anxiety about writing and the research process. The course transitions into a very creative process as the students develop their experiment ideas. It’s a small class so every student gets a lot of mentorship and guidance. Everyone celebrates when the IRB approves their projects and they really celebrate once they collect all of their data. I’m tough on them at times but they always know it comes from a place of caring. We end the class with a mini-psychology research conference where they share their research posters.  

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    Hands down my favorite activity is my “Create a Scale” activity. In groups, students have to create a scale to measure sense of humor. Once they create their scale, they validate it with their classmates. We make it a contest to see who can obtain the best internal consistency and criterion validity. The activity keeps my students laughing but I also find that it is extremely effective at helping them remember the difference between the various reliabilities and validities.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I’m still early in my career so I love testing new ideas and techniques. I’m learning that “letting go” in the classroom is often more valuable than overly preparing or trying to micromanage the flow of a class lecture.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    I’m not talented when it comes to interior design so my office is a little random. I have two pictures from Alice in Wonderland hanging above my desk that remind me to always be “curiouser and curiouser.” On my bookshelf, I have a green orangutan stuffed animal from when I interned as a behavioral researcher at Zoo Atlanta, a picture of Beyonce that my grad school labmate gave me when I started my new job, and some random Star Wars tchotchkes. By my computer monitor, there are numerous stress balls that I’ve collected at different psychology conferences. What good is a workspace if it doesn’t make you giggle a bit?

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Caring. Conscientious. Cheerleader.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    When in doubt, have passion and great examples.

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

    I almost failed out of college! I went through a rough time as an undergrad. The experience I had as a “bad student” helps me understand some of my struggling students. I believe there are no “bad students,” just ones who haven’t found their way yet. If they messed up early in their undergrad careers, they may have to work harder than others, but it doesn’t mean that their story is over. My personal experience reminds me to be empathetic…you never know when a student just needs someone to reach out to him/her. I had some professors who mentored me in this way (i.e., they were empathetic but pushed me to work harder than ever before) and I try to pay that type of mentorship forward.   

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    At any given moment I have a stack of books and magazines that I’m making my way through. Right now I’m reading The Road to Character by David Brooks, Quiet by Susan Cain, and The Wisest One in the Room by Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross. I also started rereading the Harry Potter books.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    The calendar/to do list on my cell phone – For a long time, I resisted using my phone to schedule my life! But once I transitioned away from writing everything down in various notebooks and planners, I realized how streamlined I could make things by putting everything into my phone’s calendar.

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

    Four of my friends from grad school and I have a running group text message. At any given time of the day, we’re exchanging advice, telling stories about our days, sending bitmojis (thanks to Jordan Troisi for sharing that app with me!), supporting each other through our struggles, and just generally engaging in ridiculous amounts of affirmation! Lots of people talk about how text messaging can disrupt their days…not with this group text! I’m constantly finding new motivation from this amazing group of women. We all live far apart (Kristin and Sara in the Bay Area, Arezou in Long Beach, CA, Katie in Tennessee, and me in New York) but our daily group texts keep me feeling connected and inspired.

  • 10 Feb 2016 7:08 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Loras College

    Type of school: Small liberal arts college

    School locale: Dubuque, Iowa – small city

    Classes you teach: Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, Social Psychology, Psychology & the Arts, Motivation

    Average class size: 25

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

    To always be sure I tell students what I want or expect from them, rather than assuming they should just know. Over the years, I’ve expanded this to the more global: Avoid making assumptions about students in general. This includes assumptions about their expectations, previous experience, or intent behind their behaviors. When I approach a situation in the classroom without those kinds of assumptions but with openness and curiosity, my students and I communicate much better with each other.

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

    I tend to learn more from talking to or watching other teachers than from reading. Teaching Introductory Psychology: Survival Tips from the Experts, edited by Sternberg, was very helpful when I first started. Right now I’m transitioning to a flipped classroom and for help with that I have learned a lot from the blog, Casting out Nines, by Robert Talbert.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    My favorite course to teach is Research Methods. When I was a student, this is the course that convinced me to become a psychologist. Within the first few days of that class, I fell in love with the idea that there were techniques that could allow me to find answers to my questions about the world. It felt so empowering. After many years of teaching, I still enjoy introducing students to research and encouraging them to see it in that way.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    One of my favorite assignments was designed while team teaching with a history professor. Students individually chose nonprofit organizations related to causes that had personal meaning to them. For the history component, they wrote papers analyzing the social context and historical background of the larger issue associated with the organization’s mission. For the social psychological component, they each created and delivered presentations using persuasive techniques designed to convince the class to donate to or volunteer for their causes. We did this assignment for several years. Students enjoyed it, and I learned something new every time.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    My favorite active learning strategy is case study analysis. In more advanced courses I use cases that students may think about over a few class days. In courses like Introductory Psychology I rely on brief application cases designed to help students show they understand a few specific concepts.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    My office is in a very old building that has been renovated many times for different uses, so it’s full of creaky floors, noisy pipes, and inconsistently-sized rooms. In other words, it has character. I have a rather large office that allows me both a desk area and a kind of sitting area. I like being able to shift from a more serious workspace to a more informal social space. I also learn about what visitors expect from a meeting, depending on whether they immediately select the chair next to my desk or one in the more conversational area.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Challenging, thoughtful, compassionate.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Show leadership in the classroom, personally and intellectually.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. 

    I have a lazy habit of sitting on desks and tables when I am talking to a class. One specific embarrassing moment was when I sat on a desk that was unstable and slipped off onto the floor. That alone would be embarrassing enough, but I also let out a loud squeal of surprise that I’d never heard myself make before (or since). Dead silence in the classroom for a beat. Then I made a joke about not realizing I could make a noise like that. Huge laughter. We went back to work.  Now I’m much more careful about where I sit. (I also got very high teaching evaluations from that class. Go figure.)

    The worst serious teaching disaster I’ve had was several years ago when I was teaching students in a special internship program our college developed. The students spent one semester away from our residential small town campus, living in Chicago. They were placed in internships, did community service, and took two college courses. I traveled to Chicago (about a three hour drive) one day a week to teach one of the courses, a general education course in psychology. It was a small group of students, and they were completely uninterested in doing academic work. I had a whole exciting course planned that would use different locations throughout the city for experiential learning. But they were exhausted from their service and internships and the excitement of living in the city. Every week they hijacked class time to process their experiences and vent their frustrations. I had to rethink the entire course on the fly. I never could tell if they were getting anything at all out of my class. It was not a successful teaching experience. I learned several things, though. 1) You can’t always give students what they want, but it’s important to pay attention to strong student reactions. Even if your original expectations are fair and reasonable, there’s usually something going on that you should know about. 2) Let go of assignments or assessment techniques that aren’t working, even mid-semester. Forcing things doesn’t usually make them better. 3) If something isn’t working, involve students in the process. Now when things don’t seem to be going well in a class, I immediately create a short anonymous survey, asking for feedback about the original course plan and giving at least one idea for a change. I have found that even a small change which is relatively meaningless to me is still often enough to create a more positive attitude in class.

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

    That I was a business major as an undergraduate and originally planned to be a CPA.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs mystery novels

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My wireless presentation remote. Best money I ever spent for my classroom. 


  • 20 Jan 2016 8:15 PM | Anonymous

    School name: University of Delaware (I’m in a teaching-focused position)

    Type of school: R1 University. We offer the Ph.D. in social, clinical, cognitive psychology and in behavioral neuroscience.

    School locale: Medium-sized university town

    Classes you teach: Research Methods. Cultural Psychology. The Social Self (400 level). Teaching of Psychology (Graduate).

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

    First, set aside “sacred time” for writing in your schedule. Lots of people say that, because it works. Good college teachers are scholars, and scholars write.

    Second, Stephen Chew is my evidence-based teaching mentor. I like to say, All I really need to know, I learned from Steve Chew. Through him, I learned about the “rule of three” (students need at least three exposures in order to master a new concept) about the power of misconceptions, about concept inventories, about metacognition. He can be your hero, too:
    Here’s his video series for teachers.

    For their small teaching gifts, I’d like to thank my Twitter friends who push wonderful content and tips at me every day. There’s Sue Franz and her
    Technology for Academics blog, which taught me, for one, about akindi. Thanks, too, to Jessica Hartnett and her “not awful and boring” blog, and for introducing the makeameme website. I went a little crazy with that last semester. For example:

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

    For course design, Fink’s Creating Significant Learning Experiences is probably the most important. Fink suggests that we design courses with the end in mind. What do you want students to be able to do when the course is over? (that’s your learning goal) What does it look like when they can do that? (that’s your final assessment). How do you get them there? (those are your teaching and learning activities). I mention this approach in every presentation I give, and my graduate course in the teaching of psychology is designed around his self-directed guide.

    My daily teaching style has been inspired by examples from The Learning Gap, by Hal Stevenson and James Stigler, a book I’ve assigned in cultural psychology classes. This book reports their investigation of primary school teachers, students, and parents in Japan, China, and the U.S. It’s about gradeschools, but I’ve found it applicable to teaching college classes. They describe how Asian teachers achieve coherence, give feedback to students, and develop learner-centered classrooms. For a taste of what it covers, read this short piece from the NYT.

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

    I love it all! Research methods is one of my favorites because students have the steepest growth curve in that class. They come in to the class thinking that every study has to generalize to the population of the world. But they leave being able to identify, graph, and critically evaluate almost any psychology study they encounter in the popular press. I love teaching cultural psychology because some of the studies we read simply blow them away (It doesn’t get much better than Heine et al., 2001). And I love teaching Social Self, because students are so excited to read the literature on self-justification, self-control, and self-esteem. Students are particularly engaged when they notice the huge gap between the promise of high self-esteem and the empirical reality of it. In contrast to what they’ve heard, people with low self-esteem have good relationships; high self-esteem isn’t a social panacea, and saying “I love myself” makes low-self-esteem folks feel worse. What’s not to love about all this wonderful content?

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.  

    Psychology teachers have the best content in the world, but our main goal is to educate scientifically minded, quantitative reasoners. Therefore, I have the most fun working with students in class to understand empirical evidence. My favorite activities involve describing a result to them and asking them to create a table or graph that depicts it. Alternatively, I’ll show them a “scary” graph or table of results, and we’ll figure out what it means. Students feel so empowered by this process!

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

    In upper-level classes, I give students their final exam questions in advance. These are difficult, essay questions in which students are asked to combine, evaluate, or apply the empirical research they’ve read all semester. In Social Self, they prepare 8-10 questions and I choose 4 for the final. Students end up reviewing and consolidating almost everything they’ve read, and we have great conversations in office hours as they develop their answers. I’m willing to share example questions with folks who send me an email.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    My favorite part is the huge window. And inspired by a contributor to this blog, I transitioned to a stand-up desk. I love it because I get uncomfortable sitting down for too long. But my office is not that well organized or decorated. In fact, when I see the offices of the other How I Teach contributors, I feel I need to step up my game! Somebody, please come decorate my office. Thank you.

    Three words that start with E and that best describe your teaching style.  

    Empirical, enthusiastic, engaged.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    “Write the perfect test, then teach to it.”

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

    I can’t believe I’m telling this story, but for a few years, I would abbreviate the word “thought” on the whiteboard when we would sketch out arguments or graphs. (I can’t bring myself to put down how I spelled it; you can look it up.) Every time I did it, I’d hear some students giggle, but I thought it was because the abbreviation was kind of cute. FINALLY, students in my class informed me that the word has a crude slang meaning! I was SO embarrassed. The next class period, I solemnly promised the class that I would never have used a crude, misogynistic term in jest. Thank goodness I have good rapport with students! It has often prevented small missteps like these from escalating.

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

    I totally resonated with something Neil Lutsky wrote on this blog’s inaugural post: “do students realize how much skin I have in every class?” I leave every class thinking, “Oooh—I gotta fix that.” “I better start next class by saying …”  or “I wish I had time to ….”
     
    Also, I’m not sure they’d be surprised, given my enthusiasm in the classroom, but I was a cheerleader and on the drill team in high school (Kearney High School in Nebraska!).

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I love fiction and I’m a bit of an Anglophile. I learned about Barbara Vine (Ruth Rendell) books when the author died last year, and I’m reading them one after the other. They are all so different from each other and from the stuff I read at work. I’ve also read every book by Joanna Trollope. The characters in her books are so well-behaved!

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Yes. J

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

    I like to say that I have a “3-3-3” load: Three classes each semester and three boys at home. I actually limit hallway chatter to get work done. I live a pretty wonderful but pretty dull life, and if forced into small talk, I’m one of those people who can only discuss “stuff I heard on NPR.” I’m such a cliché!

  • 08 Jan 2016 12:17 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Mississippi State University

    Type of school: Mississippi State University is a doctoral Very High Research Activity Land Grant institution, according to the Carnegie classification.

    School locale: Starkville, MS, a rural town of about 20,000 people. The student population literally doubles the size of the town. We have around 400 undergraduate majors in psychology, and over 20 graduate students in PhD programs in Clinical Psychology and Cognitive Science.

    Classes you teach: I have taught both undergraduate (General Psychology, Abnormal Psychology, Psychological Statistics, The Teaching of Psychological Statistics) and graduate (Psychopathology, Personality Assessment, Behavior Therapy, Clinical Practicum) courses.

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

    The best advice I ever received about teaching was to be true to my own personality. When learning to teach, it is easy to attempt to emulate your favorite teachers and recreate the experiences you enjoyed most as a student. However, techniques that work for one teacher do not work for everyone. There is an interaction with your own personality, such that you need to find what works well for you. Some teachers are loud and boisterous comedians; others are quiet, reflective intellectuals. Finding a mechanism that best conveys your passion for the discipline and your strengths is the road to being a truly excellent teacher. We all have something that drew us to this profession. Identifying and communicating that passion is the best thing any teacher can do.

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

    While many would not consider this a book on teaching, per se, Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered has had the most profound effect upon my teaching. I consider myself first and foremost a scientist; as such, I believe the scientific method has value for informing any of my professional activities, especially teaching. I strongly value a scholarly approach to my work, including evaluating my teaching by systematically operationalizing my goals, measuring outcomes, and evaluating data to inform my decisions. A key step is going to the literature to identify evidence-based techniques or assessments. As part of the field, I feel that I should participate in generating that literature, especially if what I have found in my own classroom could be beneficial for someone else. Thus, the scholarship of teaching and learning drives most aspects of what I do in the classroom.

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

    My favorite course is the one that many students seem to most dread: Psychological Statistics. The reason I adore this course is it is one of the rare times when we get to have an answer, versus generating another question or facing the ubiquitous conclusion “it depends.” Statistics is not about number crunching (although I believe uninspired instruction can make it so). Instead, it is learning a new way of thinking about the world. It is a perspective on how to answer a question and how to interpret the information around us. People intuitively use statistical concepts on a daily basis, but without making an understanding of those concepts explicit, we are prone to many interpretational and decision-making errors. My goal for the course is to help students be savvy consumers of information. I want them to be able to know when a number is misrepresenting a concept, or when they need more information to make a complete conclusion.

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

    Because of my goal for my Psychological Statistics course, my approach to the course focuses on application and interpretation from start (measurement of the construct and the properties of scales of measurement) to finish (decision making in the context of uncertainty and error). I utilize a low-tech approach to foster active learning: good ole’ fashioned worksheets. A class period involves a reciprocal interaction of didactic presentation paired with work on a problem, such that I introduce an idea and students work on pieces of it, cumulatively building until we have completed the analysis. The worksheet in class scaffolds students’ initial exposure to the material so that they can try it on their own for homework. It also doubles as their note taking, forcing students to engage with the most important concepts of the lesson. Because there is a worksheet every day, it serves as a convenient way to take attendance as well. The worksheets provide a valuable, low-stakes form of feedback, as I can see where students are struggling and what concepts may need to be revisited.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.  

    One of my favorite activities in my Psychological Statistics class occurs when we work on the scales of measurement. I ask students to define the level of measurement (nominal, ordinal, interval, ratio) for a variety of seemingly straightforward variables, like color. We then discuss their answers and I present alternative conceptualizations of the variable that could fit. To continue with the example of color, most students readily state that it is a nominal variable (“Red is different from blue is different from yellow, and they are just different”). However, I then ask them about shades of color, and how they could blend into each other in a continuous gradation. I bring up the notion that color is light reflecting off of surfaces, and different colors correspond to different wavelengths of the electromagnetic spectrum. When conceptualized as a wavelength, color becomes a ratio variable, as the zero is meaningful (i.e., the absence of a wavelength). The activity forces students to recognize the active role they play in defining the nature of a variable, based upon their expectations and use of the variable, and how their measurement of the variable determines its properties. Another example is the rating of a Likert-type scale. We usually end up having a vigorous discussion about whether we can consider such ratings an ordinal or interval in scale, highlighting the fundamental difficulty of comparing responses between participants (Are they using the same starting points or internal scales as others?). We then generalize this idea to its implications for psychological research and what we know about common findings.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    I regularly get comments from my colleagues about the arrangement of my office. The institutional norm is to have a desk in the middle of the room with student and teacher sitting across from each other. I very purposefully moved my desk against the wall, so there is nothing between the student and I, and I have to turn away from other things (like my continually updating email) so my attention is not divided. I believe strongly in the importance of being accessible to my students, and something as simple as the arrangement of furniture can play a key role in that message. When these same colleagues ask about it, they are shocked to hear that students notice and appreciate the difference. They worry that the arrangement might invite a weakening of professional boundaries; however, I have found that appropriate boundaries are not set by the physical environment, but by my demeanor and the expectations I hold (both explicit and implicit). The benefits, on the other hand, include students feeling more of a connection with me and feeling that I am truly interested in their success, which increases their motivation to do well in the course.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Actively inquiring passion

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Guide students to think independently through active questioning

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

    One semester, at the request of my department head, I pilot tested an online homework system for my statistics class. A departmental committee, of which I was a part, wanted to look for ways to improve our statistics-research methods sequence. We investigated several options, and made an informed decision to select a program that looked like it would incorporate excellent pedagogical principles, such as promoting active learning and adapting to student learning needs. However, it was an abysmal failure. It continually crashed and I had no power to correct the system or help with technical issues. The built-in pedagogy became a crutch that students leaned upon to get a good grade on homework but left them unprepared for tests because they could not do it on their own. Student ratings at mid-semester were so bad that we agreed to abandon the system altogether.

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

    First, my students are always surprised about my age. Apparently I have a young face. Next, students are surprised that I am inherently an introvert. I get very excited about the things I teach, and they translate my enthusiasm into extroversion. If left to my own devices, I will happily blend into the background and watch others, rather than be the center of attention.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    At the moment, I am reading Wicked after having the privilege of seeing the show on Broadway. However, if you examined my Kindle, you would find a plethora of fantasy novels. My most recent favorite has been Brandon Sanderson’s series The Stormlight Archive. It highlights fantasy’s defining feature better than any other series I have read: The readers are thrust into a world where the rules are entirely different from our own, and we must stumble along with the characters while trying to discern how it all works.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Most people who know me recognize that I am something of a technophobe, although that is not quite the right word. I am reluctant to adopt new technologies simply because they are new. I want to see what it will do that I cannot already do some other way. That said, I have become dependent upon my Surface Pro 3. I travel a fair amount, and it is far easier to lug around than any laptop. The touchscreen technology makes it far more intuitive to interact with, and it can do anything that an ordinary laptop can do.

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

    A group of faculty in my department go out to dinner every Friday night. Living in a small town, we have to make our own fun, and this dinner is the primary way we do so. It is an excellent chance to decompress about all the stresses of the week, to complain about our sorrows and rejoice in our successes. We talk about a little bit of everything, ranging from interesting things our students said or did to what is happening in our favorite TV shows. 

  • 23 Dec 2015 9:32 AM | Anonymous

    School name: Eastern Connecticut State University

    Type of school: We are “Connecticut’s only public liberal arts university”. We primarily serve undergraduate students (especially first-generation students) but have a handful of masters programs as well.

    School locale: Small town – Willimantic, CT, former “Thread City USA” due to the American Thread Company and other textile businesses, which left the area several decades ago.

    Classes you teach: Cognitive Psychology, General Psychology, Behavioral Science Statistics, Research Methods I, Research Methods II, Sensation and Perception, and a freshman colloquium course on Psychology in South Park

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

    Some of my colleagues argue that you should never go into class too prepared, in order to be ready for interesting sidetracks that the class may want to take. I cannot completely follow this advice – I have to feel as though I am prepared enough to handle not only the content, but also potential questions that might arise. I put a lot of time into preparing not only what content I will cover, but how I will cover it, and I use my prior experiences to hone that content and the delivery to improve each semester.

    I do try wherever possible to encourage students to ask questions and I freely admit when I do not know the answer. Some classes (and some students) are more willing to engage and ask questions, and I encourage this without letting a sidetrack take us too far from my goals for that class period. Students do not realize how important they are to the class – their enthusiasm and energy actually improve my teaching and the experience of the other students.

    Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I attempt to use what I know about cognitive psychology to improve the learning experience – incorporating videos and activities to “break up” class to help them stay attentive, and making explicit connections to their own lives and experiences to promote memory associations. I also plan very carefully across all my classes so that I don’t have multiple major assignments coming in at the same time so that I can return graded work as soon as possible.

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

    As a graduate student at Penn State, I took a course on How to Teach Psychology. The reading material in that course included McKeachie’s Teaching Tips and Perlman, McCann, and McFadden’s two-volume Lessons Learned: Practical Advice for the Teaching of Psychology. These materials ensured that my first teaching experiences as a graduate student were successful, and many of the skills that I learned in that class I have carried with me to this day. Some of my favorite strategies have remained the same in the ten years since: using low-stakes weekly writing assignments and in-class activities that require thinking in-depth about the topic and discussion with nearby peers. I have also adapted my teaching due to interactions with other teachers.

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

    My absolute favorite class to teach by far is my freshman colloquium course, Psychology in South Park. In it, first-semester freshmen psychology majors view episodes of the animated television show South Park that have been selected by me to portray a handful of relevant psychological topics. The course as I teach it currently is cross-listed with an introductory psychology course, and the episode viewed each week contains a portrayal relevant to the topics being covered in introductory psychology at that time. (For example, the episode Follow That Egg! shows an example of a terrible experiment, to go along with the “research methods” content, and the episode Grey Dawn shows cognitive impairment in elderly drivers, to go along with the “aging” content.) Students watch the episodes as a class and research the topic(s) they identified in the episode using PsycINFO. After discussion with their peers as well as some guidance from me, they individually write analyses of the accuracy of the show, focusing on all the major psychological concepts present. Last year, I created a psychological critical thinking program that taught students incrementally how to critically evaluate the episodes, and was able to show that they did improve on critical analysis and written communication as the semester progressed. I am replicating the study this semester. Students love the course because the content is fun, even if they have to write a lot more than a typical course. Besides this, they are learning skills of research and analysis that will benefit them as they progress through the psychology major.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.  

    In my Cognitive Psychology course, I always conduct an in-class activity on false memories. Using the Deese-Roediger-McDermott paradigm, 15-word lists of words are read to the students. They are asked to try to remember as many of the words within a list as they can. This length (15 words) surpasses human short-term memory capacity, but the words are all related to each other, which boosts memory. The problem is that the most “obvious” word that should be in the list is not. (For example, in a list with rye, butter, and toast, the obvious word “bread” is missing.) Using three separate lists, I can generally get at least half of the class to “remember” the word that wasn’t on the list at least once across the three trials.

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

    I almost always require students to complete online quizzes (using our learning management system, Blackboard Learn) over the reading prior to covering the content in class. They are told that the purpose is to ensure they are reading prior to class. The quizzes are short (10 or 20 questions depending on the class) and mostly multiple choice. They are permitted two attempts and their higher score is kept. They are encouraged to complete the quiz once, then review the reading to determine why they missed the questions they did prior to completing the second attempt. These quizzes boost student knowledge in the critical topic areas and also provide a boost to their grade that is a function of the effort they put in.

    I also require weekly journals, also submitted through Blackboard, which require students to make an explicit connection between some topic learned in class or through the reading that week to a current or recent event in their life. Making these associations may help students better learn and remember the topic. (My department also has an unofficial rule that all of our courses will require substantial writing in order to develop written communication skills. I find these brief writing assignments are much easier to grade than longer research papers and frankly over the course of a semester, students are typically writing just as much as if they had written a longer term paper.)

    The biggest practice that has helped me tremendously as a teacher is that I now only use PowerPoint for picture and video materials (and I do try to use as many relevant pictures and videos as I can). Several years ago, I made the transition from using word-laden PowerPoints to using the old-fashioned chalkboard (or these days, whiteboard). Since making the transition, students are more attentive and more inquisitive rather than merely copying down words. I make sure that I begin every class with a written outline on the board and write down any words that I want to make sure they spell right or that I want to emphasize, so I know they’re getting the “bones” of the lecture just fine. By not trying to frantically write down all the words on a slide, they are able to simply listen, and over the course of the semester, most learn to pick out the most important information.

    To supplement instruction, I provide a list of Suggested Review Questions that students can use to guide their note-taking as well as their studying for the exam. All exam questions are drawn from the material that appears in the answers to the Suggested Review Questions, although I rarely use the same wording. Focusing studying on using these questions promotes active memory retrieval and thus may help with retention of the material.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    In the office, I try to keep the materials on my desk in neatly-stacked piles. My desk is shaped like an L with a computer at the junction, and I’ve rotated the desk so that I see the door and can immediately greet students who come in. The part of the desk facing the door has my materials for the next day of classes and the stuff I’m working on at that moment; the part of the desk against the wall contains printed materials for upcoming class periods, old and future lecture notes, and materials needed for my many roles on university committees. It often has my lunch or snack too. Tacked onto the corkboard on the wall above my desk, I keep the page from the syllabus of each course I teach outlining the required reading, assignments, and topics for each day of the semester. This ensures that I can always quickly determine what is coming up by just looking up.

    I attempt to use every spare moment of the day to squeeze in work. I sometimes work from home, using my home desktop computer, and I also often grade exams sitting on my couch. I also prepare a lot of my lectures, at least on paper, in the cafeteria of a local school while my son is at his weekly Cub Scouts den meeting. If I’m alert, I try to work because there is always something I could or should be doing.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Current, relevant, evidence-based (the hyphen makes it one word!)

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Help students see the connection to their lives.

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

    Several years ago, I was teaching two sections of my Psychology in South Park class – one for psychology majors and one for non-majors. In the section of non-majors, two male students behaved in inappropriate ways and challenged my authority as the instructor on several occasions. It started on the very first day, when one of the students interrupted my comment that “The course won’t be all about watching South Park; you’re going to have to do some work too” with “no, we don’t!” This caught me off-guard that somebody would be so brazen on their first day of class as a freshman. The second male argued with me (loudly) in front of the class about a point penalty on a paper, insisting that what he did wasn’t wrong. Later in the semester, he rudely interrupted a presentation on academic integrity, insisted that using the same paper for more than one class was alright to do. There were many other incidents that semester as well. I have never in all my years teaching experienced such an utter lack of respect; fortunately, it hasn’t happened since.

    I also unintentionally induced a seizure in an epileptic student when I showed videos of the phenomenon change blindness in my Cognitive Psychology course. I now always provide a warning prior to showing the videos in class!

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

    I actually have pretty severe social anxiety and hate being the center of attention. This probably sounds bizarre coming from somebody whose career is being the center of attention. I perform well in front of a crowd while teaching or giving a presentation because I know what I want to say and I tell myself that people are listening because I know things that they want to learn. I practice exactly what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it, and this practice allows me to manage the anxiety. Informal social situations where I don’t know people well and there’s no “script” provoke a lot of anxiety in me and really tire me out. I get especially anxious if I am in a crowd and people are too close to me, so poster sessions at conferences are my worst nightmare.

    In addition to working hard at the university, I serve the community by being a founding member and officer of the PTO at my son’s school and I both sing soprano and ring handbells in my church choir.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I don’t get a lot of time to read for pleasure, but if I can spare the time I “binge read” for entire days. I particularly enjoy books made for children and teens, such as the series by Laura Ingalls Wilder and Harry Potter. Most recently, I re-read Watership Down. I find that reading the books as an adult gives me a different view and appreciation of them than when I was a child. I get more out of them, and especially love to think about the historical context of the books and the events within.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Although probably not your idea of a “tech tool”, I can’t live without Google and YouTube. I depend on them to find interesting real-world relevant issues and videos for my classes. I find Google Scholar to be much easier to use than PsycINFO when searching for full-text research articles. I don’t have any fancy tech tools except an original Kindle Fire – finances are too tight for expensive fancy gadgets.

    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 contract negotiations (which are going on now – see https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/10/09/connecticut-state-u-professors-see-administration-proposal-attack-tenure) or other things related to school culture and events, especially funny things that happen in class. My favorite topics though are cool videos, news articles, or research studies we’ve seen, especially things that are related to psychology. We also talk about our children; across the department, there are 11 of them under the age of 10!

  • 07 Dec 2015 12:53 PM | Anonymous

    School: University of Houston-Clear Lake

    Type of college/university: Master’s comprehensive: about 9,000 students; about half of the students are undergraduate, half are pursuing Master’s degrees, 2 Ed.D. programs; Hispanic Serving Institution; many first generation students

    Locale: Regional state university in suburbs of Houston near NASA

    Classes I teach: Careers and Writing in Psychology; Psychology of Women; Social Issues Methods and Analysis; Social Issues Seminar; Graduate Internship, Psychology of Gender, Race, and Sexuality

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

    Give up control. My friend and colleague Dr. Lillian McEnery told me to try new things in the classroom, even if it scares me. One thing I have come to accept is that there is no perfect course or assignment or activity. You just have to trust yourself and your students that if you try something and it flops, you have the skills and community spirit to pick back up and try something else. This freed me to do much more in the classroom to increase student engagement, get me away from the “sage on the stage” model, and create a brave space for learning.

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

    Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice (Adams, Bell, Griffin, 1997), Teaching to Transgress (hooks, 1994); Teaching Critical Thinking (bell hooks, 2010); Why are all the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? (Tatum, 1997); Pedagogy of the Oppressed (Friere, 1970)

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

    In my courses, students learning about group privilege and intersections of identity for the first time is both a pedagogical challenge and huge reward for me as a facilitator of growth. These topics are most commonly 100% new to my students. Therefore, there is an extremely high payoff when they begin to understand these new concepts and apply them to their lives. At this point in my career, I am turning my efforts to creating resources for other faculty that need support in their teaching about privilege and intersectional theory.

    Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

    My very favorite assignment is my Intersections of Identity Education Project. Students choose an aspect of intersectional theory such as the intersections of race, gender, and social class to examine women of color in poverty versus middle class. They research the chosen intersection and create a product to be used for public education about intersectional theory. For example, one male student created and provided workshops on masculinity, homophobia, and human trafficking to juvenile detention officers. Another contacted a non-profit immigrant advocacy group in New York City and developed brochures for distribution to migrant domestic workers to inform them of their legal rights. His resulting brochures had already reached over 1,000 workers by the end of the semester. Projects also included a documentary emphasizing how Asian women and men are portrayed in popular films, a board game designed to teach players about oppression, privilege, and intersectionality, and videos on ways forms of privilege intersect.

    See website for pedagogical resources and more examples: https://sites.google.com/site/drkimcase/intersections-project

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    For assessment, I lean most heavily on reflective papers that incorporate critical thinking while making connections across course materials. I also tend to use reading quizzes to keep students on track so they do not fall behind on reading. My exams are usually a mix of multiple choice, short answer and essay. For graduate classes, all exams are take home and might require 20 hours to complete.

    What’s your workspace like?

    Two widescreen monitors, Doctor Who and Wonder Woman action figures, mini-fridge close by for Snapple, clean and uncluttered, candy jar for visitors, wide array of colorful pens and markers within reach, 4 X 6 foot wipe off board for planning, listing, and imagining.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    interactive, inclusive, reflective

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Toward engagement, critical analysis, and social justice action.

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

    Teaching my first course in as a graduate student at the University of Cincinnati, the city was struggling after a White police officer shot and killed another unarmed Black man, Timothy Thomas (2001). Still under city-wide curfew and civil unrest all around, our next syllabus topic was white privilege. During that class, a white woman passionately yelled out “they’re all animals” in reference to Black Cincinnatians expressing their outrage about police violence and racism. I was more than completely unprepared for how to handle such a volatile statement in a racially diverse class of 70 students. My memory is hazy, but I think I tried to say something about seeking to understand the perspective of others even when it is difficult and uncomfortable. In my mind, this has always been my biggest pedagogical fail.

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

    I am a member of an exhibition dance team, Collective Sound Cloggers. We clog at festivals, events, Disney World, schools, etc. Our dances are set to a mix of rock, country, pop, folk, and traditional clogging music. For more see our website: http://collectivesoundcloggers.org/

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    The Crow Road by Iain Banks- great mystery novel about a Scottish family and coming of age

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My Android phone. Perhaps sadly, I allow work email to spill over into time when I should be away from work. Also, I use my phone a lot to post teaching items (e.g., videos, articles, blogs) on the Facebook page I created about teaching privilege studies and intersectional theory.

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

    In our break room, we have a large table we jokingly refer to as the “Table of Knowledge.” During lunch, faculty gather and discuss a wide range of issues such as the latest political candidate’s anti-immigrant comments, student plagiarism, deconstruct media messages about the Houston anti-discrimination law, ideas for supporting students with disabilities, or university policy changes and the potential impact on student learning. Some days, we just talk about what happened on The Walking Dead or other favorite shows.

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