Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. As a blog team, we advocate for and promote inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in pedagogy (see updated GSTA Position Statement from the Steering Committee). At this critical juncture in history, we have declared our solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and are motivated to use this platform to feature voices for change in the following areas as outlined by the GSTA:

  • Suggestions relating to decolonizing syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds.

  • Tips on adopting anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.

  • Recommendations on creating inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and do not tolerate discrimination.

  • Strategies on discussing how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us  with students and colleagues.

  • Tips on engaging with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in classrooms, institutions, and communities.

  • Input on being compassionate and supportive to students, colleagues, and ourselves during these times.

We are also still committed to diversifying blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. Example topic areas include:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research

  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest

  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology

  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom

  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

  • We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

As we focus the spotlight on inclusion and non-discrimination, we will continue to provide  graduate students and faculty an outlet to share their experiences, ideas, and opinions regarding graduate students’ teaching practices.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf. If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at 

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 22 Jan 2018 10:11 AM | Anonymous

    By Dana S. Dunn, Ph.D., Moravian College

    During graduate school, some students get the regrettable message from their mentors—sometimes implicit, often explicit—that seeking teaching experience is an unwanted distraction from research and publishing or finishing the dissertation. Unfortunately, such advice does not help students who follow it; they can struggle when it’s time to enter the academic job market. Although research-intensive universities may hire promising ABDs or Ph.D.s with little or no teaching experience, jobs at such places are scarce and highly competitive. Most available academic jobs, whether tenure track or visiting positions, require a fair amount of teaching (think 3 or more courses per term). Liberal arts colleges and less research-focused universities post jobs and can expect that their most competitive applicants will have had teaching experiences.

    At the other extreme are graduate students who are told by their mentors from the get-go that teaching is a way to finance their way through graduate school. These students often teach a lot, adjunct teaching hither and yon, so much so that they take longer to do research, publish little, and may spend beyond the usual 5 to 7 years or so in graduate school. Although they may like, even love, teaching, they are less competitive on the crowded job market because their CVs have few to no publications and they look like slow starters.

    My message is to avoid these extremes by seeking a middle path: moderation. Be judicious when accepting teaching assignments (I am referring largely to instances where you become the instructor of record—not when serving as a teaching assistant—“TA”—a discussion leader, or the similar—those are important but less demanding roles). Teaching well takes time, so you should teach a few classes during graduate school, but not too many or your progress to your degree will suffer.

    What sorts of classes should you teach as a graduate student? Introductory psychology is a good choice, as it is the most popular class in the psychology curriculum and the one for which adjuncts are most often hired. Beyond that, research methods and statistics can serve you well. But both classes are demanding in terms of time and preparation and delivery, and both are easy to teach badly. However, they are often in demand—good statistics instructors, in particular, are hard to find.

    How far ahead should you be where lectures are concerned? First, don’t lecture all the time—make sure that you carve out time in each class for some discussion. When it comes to class preparation, try to stay two weeks ahead as you craft lecture notes the first time. This “cushion” will serve you well when unexpected demands on your time appear; you won’t have to stay up all night to read a chapter and write a lecture.

    Avoid teaching too much about your area(s) of expertise. Yes, you love neuroscience or social or health psychology—but such knowledge is often too detailed for a lower level course. Save your expertise for the seminars you will teach when you land a tenure track job. For now, be a thoughtful generalist—teachers who only teach about their research topic are boring. Your goal is to meaningfully reach and connect with the non-psychology majors as well as the undergraduate psychology majors in the diverse audience found in most introductory psychology courses.

    Craft a solid but doable syllabus. First time teachers are often like first time cooks; they go for the elaborate. Learning to make spaghetti and meatballs is tough enough the first time—starting out in the kitchen trying to make lasagna is stressful and a (pardon me) recipe for disaster. Again, moderation: Two or three exams, not six; one or two short papers, not four; weekly quizzes seem like a good idea, but only if you have a teaching assistant. Remember, moderation is key.

    Stand on the shoulders of giants and crib from them. If you had an excellent undergrad psychology teacher, can you remember what she did to make her classes so memorable? Borrow her technique or her activities! Read the journals Teaching of Psychology, Scholarship of Teaching & Learning in Psychology, Psychology Learning and Teaching, and so on. But, once more, be selective—don’t try every activity or technique—pick one or two, not 10 or 12. The moderate teacher doesn’t schedule a demonstration for every class—50 minutes goes fast! Once a week or once every two weeks is sufficient.

    Assess how you are doing. Around mid-term, pass out a short survey (1 side of 1 page—no more!) where you ask students to let you know how the class is going (you can usually just use the end-of-term form, as it will have questions about the class structure and your teaching style). Don’t let the one or two nasty comments (we all get them and, yes, they grate on our egos, but teaching is not for the faint of heart) distract you from the actually helpful suggestions, such as “don’t talk with your back to the class” and “rely on PowerPoint less.”

    Invite a trusted soul to observe your work. Don’t ask Mom or Dad or you best friend or life partner. Ask a faculty member (sometimes your advisor is a good choice, sometimes not) who is regarded as a skilled teacher to attend one class. Listen to his or her suggestions without being defensive or explaining why you did something such and such a way. The writer-ly maxim that “readers are almost always right, but editors always are” fits well here. If a trusted teacher sees something that can be changed in your developing style, change it.

    Other closing thoughts. Should you tell jokes? Yes, but only if they come naturally, you have a good (not acerbic) sense of humor, and you pace them—you are teaching, not doing stand up. Avoid politics at all costs. Always define terms, including heavy-duty vocabulary words that are grad school vernacular but will be unfamiliar to undergraduates. Be friendly with students, but not friends. Never present personal details about your life in class unless they illustrate a concept perfectly—maybe do so once or twice a semester. Take roll and track absences. Enforce deadlines by reminding students (and yourself) that the syllabus is both a roadmap and a contract. And remember, moderation in all things.


    Dana S. Dunn is professor and chair of the psychology department of Moravian College, Bethlehem, PA.

  • 09 Jan 2018 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    Maya Rose, Ph.D. Student, The Graduate Center CUNY (Presentation given at the 8th Annual Pedagogy Day)

    During the October 2017 Pedagogy Day, I spoke about the implementation of Content Acquisition Podcasts into Intro and Upper-Level Psychology Classes. But what are Content Acquisition Podcasts or CAPs?

    CAPs are short multimedia videos made in PowerPoint or a similar program that deliver content on one concept or term in a self-paced and interactive environment. Their design is based on Mayer’s Principles of the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning (CTLM) which states that meaningful learning is enhanced when learners simultaneously encounter relevant information in both visual (e.g. pictures) and verbal (e.g. spoken words) modalities (Mayer, 1997; Mayer & Moreno, 2002). As a result, CAPs serve to decrease extraneous load and thus increase germane load. The extent to which CAPs strategically integrate Mayer’s instructional design principles along with evidence-based principles for concept learning has been researched and evaluated across age groups (see Kennedy et al., 2012; 2014).

    The effectiveness of CAPs depends on the integration of these principles, and as such, it is critical for CAP creators to closely adhere to the following steps for producing a CAP (for more information about creating CAPs and for example CAP videos, see Kennedy et al., 2012; Vocab Support, 2018).  

    1.     Identify the term or concept you want to target. Shorter CAPs may for example cover the psychology term “conformity” (a term we know oh so well), but longer CAPs may cover all of the relevant experiments having to do with “conformity” and “obedience” (think Milgram, Zimbardo and Asch).

    2.     Create slides on the information you want to deliver along with an accompanying audio script. Make sure you satisfy the following requirements (adapted from Kennedy’s, n.d., CAP production steps):

    • The first and last slide of the presentation should include a definition of the targeted concept
    • Include examples of the targeted concept
    • Only include one detail per slide
    • Keep it very simple

    3.     Replace most of the slides with high quality images so that each slide is only an image accompanied by relevant audio (before step 3, your slides will probably be quite text heavy). Do not include any unnecessary words or images!

    4.     Insert key ideas on some of the slides if need be (but no full sentences)!

    5.     Record accompanying audio script in iMovie or a similar platform that will allow you to integrate the audio with the slides. Make sure to practice reciting the script beforehand to make sure that the audio correctly coincides with the appropriate images in the presentation. You also want to make sure that the viewer can pause or slow down the CAP.

    Past research has designed rubrics for evaluating CAPs by measuring the extent to which the CAP successfully integrates the CTML principles. This is critical because if these items are not met, extraneous load will not be mitigated! For more information on these rubrics, see Weiss et al. (2016).

    How might we integrate CAPs into our courses? When are we supposed to use them? Do we include them in our in-class lessons or do we have students view them as “homework”? Both! CAPs can serve as supplemental material to textbooks or traditional lectures. Students may view CAPs at home on their own time in order to become more familiar with certain topics or when studying for exams.

    Remember, CAPs can be shorter in length (2-3 minutes) and describe one concept or term (e.g. fundamental attribution error, conformity, or the Big 5 factor model of personality). They can also be longer in length (up to 7 minutes) and describe a larger topic such as a group of psychological disorders. Overall, the format is very flexible. CAPs can be designed for a variety of topics for students at all levels!

    It may be useful to get together with your department and have a CAP party where you spend time creating and evaluating each other’s CAPs. CAPs can then be uploaded to YouTube or Vimeo so that students can view them on their own time. This may be especially useful for online or blended classes or instances in which you do not have time to go over every important concept in class. In the end, the integration of CAPs into a course will afford you more time for in-class activities that are critical for learning and engagement. Lastly, teachers may include a CAP creation project as a requirement for their class where students design their own CAPs independently or in groups. Overall, this would serve as a motivating activity that could facilitate an active learning environment!


    Kennedy, M. J. (n.d.). CAP [Content Acquisition Podcast] Production Steps. Retrieved from

    Kennedy, M. J., Ely, E., Thomas, C. N., Pullen, P. C., Newton, J. R., Ashworth, K., Cole, M. T., Lovelace, S. P. (2012). Using multimedia tools to support teacher candidates’ learning.Teacher Education and Special Education35(3), 243–257.

    Kennedy, M. J., Thomas, C. N., Meyer, J. P., Alves, K. D., & Lloyd, J. W. (2014).

    Using evidence-based multimedia to improve vocabulary performance of adolescents with LD: A UDL approach. Learning Disability Quarterly37(2), 71–86.

    Mayer, R. E. (1997). Multimedia learning: Are we asking right questions? Educational Psychologist.

    Mayer, R. E., & Moreno, R. (2002). Aids to computer-based multimedia learning. Learning and Instruction12, 107–119.

    Vocab Support. [Online] Retrieved on Jan. 4 2018 from

    Weiss, M. P., Evmenova, A. S., Kennedy, M. J., & Duke, J. M. (2016). Creating content acquisition podcasts (CAPs) for vocabulary: The intersection of content, pedagogy, and technology. Journal of Special Education Technology31(4), 228–235.

  • 03 Jan 2018 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Teresa Ober, Ph.D. Candidate, The Graduate Center CUNY

    Why are we prone to make mistakes in light of misleading information, even when accurate information is right there in front of us?

    Demonstration #1

    Before we get started on addressing this question, I would like to you to try to answer another very straightforward question: Are there more words in the English language that begin with the letter r or have r as their third letter?

    The answer, as some, though likely not all, may have guessed (without reading ahead, of course!) was that there are more words that have r as the third letter. In reality, there are nearly twice as many words that have the letter r in the third position as opposed to the first position by some estimates. Most people guess that there are more words that begin with r because such words are easier to generate; however, there are apparently many more words that have r as the third letter (see Tversky and Kahneman, 1973). To name a few as examples: car, bird, warm, xerox, etc.

    But why does this seem so counterintuitive? Probably because words that begin with the letter r tend to be more familiar to us than words that have r as the third letter. Simply put, knowledge of words that begin with the letter r are more available to the mind. This is a common phenomenon generally referred to as the availability heuristic.

    Demonstration #2

    It is likely that more than several of our own students will use the availability heuristic to judge the frequency or likelihood of certain occurrences. In the 1970’s, Slovic, Fischhoff, and Lichtenstein (1976) discovered that only a small percentage of participants, who happened to be college students at the time, gave the correct answers when asked which of two options was more likely to lead to a fatality. A pairing included, for example, fatality due to a tornado vs. asthma. The odds ratio of a fatality due to a tornado relative to asthma is 1 to 20.90, meaning that for every 1 fatality due to a tornado, there are approximately 20.90 fatalities due to asthma. Based on these figures, asthma is on average deadlier than a tornado. When presented with the odds ratios and probabilities, the answers may seem obvious, but as the authors of this original study found out, participants were more often incorrect than not. Of those who responded to the questions, only 42% guessed that asthma was more fatal than a tornado.

    Has increased media reporting on some of these causes of death (e.g., asthma) changed estimates since this study was conducted first in 1976? Perhaps. Has our media awareness actually improved across the board? Most likely not.

    In judging the frequency of fatalities from different causes (morbid, I know), people tend to overestimate the number of deaths from, say, tornados, but underestimate the number of fatalities from, say, asthma, despite the latter once having been much more common. This is because we are more likely hear about the dangers of tornados sensationalized in the news, but we are much less likely to recognize the physical and health risks of asthma.

    This demonstration also provides a teachable moment for students by demonstrating to them that in today’s world, we should be especially conscious of the availability heuristic when making judgments about things we hear, regardless of whether the source is the news, social media, family or friends, etc. While there is a convenience of choosing types of news and news sources that you have readily presented to you at your leisure, one could argue that it allows people to construct a siloed version of current events. This could be problematic if news you choose is not always accurate and honest.

    We use the availability heuristic when we estimate frequency or probability in terms of how easily we can think of examples of something. This heuristic is generally accurate in our daily lives, and people can estimate relative frequency with impressive accuracy. However, this type of availability comes with the cost that it may be potentially contaminated by two factors that are not related to objective frequency: recency and familiarity. Therefore, when you make judgments about the frequency or likelihood of something happening, consider asking yourself whether you are giving an advantage to items that occurred more recently or that are somehow more familiar.

    The use of the availability heuristic is so pervasive that instructors and students alike may not even notice that we have succumbed to using it at our convenience. The availability heuristic may lead us to make illusory correlations, which occur when two variables appear to be correlated, although there is actually no statistical relationship. For example:

    The weather is always bad on the weekend.

    The bus/train is always late when you are running behind.

    The phone always rings when you are busy.

    But how can instructors get students to be more conscious of the negative consequences of the availability heuristic, if we ourselves are susceptible to it? One way is to get them to consciously strive to observe true frequencies. By doing so, instructors may encourage students to use their own metacognition to separate true relationships from merely perceived ones.

    Preventing this phenomenon can be done simply by calculating an odds ratio, but most people don’t bother to do this (or don’t know how to do so). If students did, they may become more aware of the types of inaccurate illusory correlations that are salient and difficult to reason through due to an overactive availability heuristic.

    In-Class Activity #1

    Here is a quick activity to get students thinking about likelihood by learning about odds ratios (adapted from Prasad et al., 2008).

    1. First, determine the type of sport the students might be interested in. For the purpose of this example, let’s say it’s basketball.
    2. Then ask the students: what do people mean when they say—the odds of your favorite basketball team winning a game is 1:1? Some students would say that the favorite team has the same chance of winning as they do losing. Others might reply that it means your team has a 1 out of 2 or 50% chance of winning this game. Both answers are correct.
    3. You can explain that odds correlate to probability. For example, a 1:3 odds indicates that your favorite team is expected to win 1 in every 4 attempts, hence the probability is 25%
    4. Now test students’ understanding on new odds ratios. For example, a 4:1 corresponding to an 80% chance because 4/(4+1) = 80%, and 1:5, corresponding to a 20% chance because 1/(1+4) = 20%, and so forth.
    5. Inform students that odds ratios are not just useful in shattering expectations formed from illusory correlations, but have actually been used in the medical sciences for many years. (It is necessary to understand relative risk, that is, how likely someone is going to have a certain condition based on some piece of information you have about them—something that can also be introduced with an example, such as the relative risk of developing lung cancer if you smoke.)

    In-Class Activity #2

    Next, provide another hypothetical example based on the contingency table below. 

    Train Late

    Train Not Late

    Odds Ratio

    (Train Late: Not Late)


    (Train late)

    Running Behind





    Not Running Behind





    In this hypothetical example, inform students that you decided to keep of the number of times the train (or bus) arrived late when you were running behind. Without showing them the odds ratio just yet, ask them to speculate whether there was a relationship between running behind (or not) and the train arriving on time (or not). In fact, there would be no relationship based on the figures in this table. The odds of a train running late when you are or are not running behind is exactly the same. The odds ratio is 2 to 3, or a 40% probability which is 2/(2+3). That means that the probability of the training running behind is actually 40% in this example, regardless of whether you are running late or not. 

    Take-Home Activity

    Next, students in groups choose a perceived correlation and set out to record it using a contingency table, such as the one shown in the previous example.

    During the next class, students briefly report their findings.

    In so doing, they discuss whether the perceived relationship be due to an actual correlation?

    If so, what might be the relationship between variables? Is the perceived relationship may be due to contaminants in the availability heuristic? If so, was it due to either recency or familiarity and what do they take as evidence of this?

    While this may seem simple enough, getting students to stop and think about the information available to them in their environment and apply metacognition without jumping too quickly to rash conclusions may provide a powerful lifelong cognitive tool. These simple classroom demonstrations and activities of a popular phenomenon from cognitive psychology may help students understand an essential concept while also preparing them to think more critically about the world around them.


    Hamilton, D. L., & Gifford, R. K. (1976). Illusory correlation in interpersonal perception: A cognitive basis of stereotypic judgments. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 12(4), 392-407.

    Prasad, K., Jaeschke, R., Wyer, P., Keitz, S., & Guyatt, G. (2008). Tips for teachers of evidence-based medicine: understanding odds ratios and their relationship to risk ratios. Journal of General Internal Medicine, 23(5), 635-640.

    Slovic, P., Fischhoff, B., & Lichtenstein, S. (1976). Cognitive processes and societal risk taking. In J. S. Carroll & J. W. Payne (Eds.), Cognition and Social Behavior. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Tversky, A., & Kahneman, D. (1973). Availability: A heuristic for judging frequency and probability. Cognitive Psychology, 5, 207-232.

  • 30 Dec 2017 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Jane S. Halonen, Ph.D., University of West Florida

    One of the most daunting prospects of assuming the role of the professor is the implicit expectation that your sturdy disciplinary expertise can be displayed (flaunted?) to justify the respect that the position deserves. This expectation is the basis for the very common experience of the imposter phenomenon that regularly attends how graduate students feel when they inherit teaching responsibilities and also influences how new professors feel when they grasp the full range of what they are expected to know and do.

    Early in my teaching career (more than 35 years ago and prior to the instant answer culture enabled by the Internet), I had a brutal, humbling, and glorious experience that taught me a lot about true teaching expertise. I was teaching an introductory psychology course and was facing the content area I dreaded the most—sensation and perception. The truth is that all psychology professors have a specific “soft underbelly” of content in which they don’t feel entirely competent. Sensation and perception was definitely the most unsettling of the content areas I had to teach in introductory psychology.

    I opened my class dedicated to sensation and perception with a standard gambit, “Do you have any questions about the reading you prepared for today?” Although that may not be the most stimulating way to start a class, I was surprised when a hand shot up. “Why do you see yourself upside down in a spoon?” asked the volunteer. I was flummoxed (I love that word and don't get to use it often enough…)! Not only could I not answer the question, I wasn’t aware of the phenomenon. I think I responded with a rather weak, “Do you?” I regained my composure as the students laughed, admitted sheepishly that I didn’t have the foggiest notion how to answer that question, but would find out before the next class.

    I said, with no small amount of fear, “Any other questions?” Another student raised his hand, “Why do wagon wheels appear to be turning backward when you see them on film?” At least I recognized that observation was valid, but was clueless how to explain it. “Hmmm… again, I don’t know.” I repeated that this phenomenon would be added to my homework for the next class.

    I inadvertently encouraged them to think of other gaps in my knowledge when I inquired, “Does anyone else wish to play ‘stump the prof?’” Five more unanswerable phenomena, and a great deal of good-natured laughter, emerged. At the conclusion of my class I had substantial homework that had to be done to salvage the potential damage done by my utter lack of expertise. I was feeling especially inept because my status as “all-knowing” clearly had come undone.

    I dutifully did my homework and managed to deliver the requested content in the next class. Students visibly enjoyed the fact that I completed my homework and provided positive comments about how much they had enjoyed “stump the prof.” I began to rethink the experience and have extracted pedagogical lessons from that experience that have had a life-long impact:

    Lesson #1. You won’t die if you say “I don’t know” to a class. And it is far better to confess ignorance in the interest of promoting healthy discussion than to try to bluff your way out of a potentially embarrassing situation.

    Lesson #2. It is often not about the content, but the process. According to cognitive science, the minute details of convex spoon reflection or optical processing times are going to be forgotten by most students shortly after the course ends. However, helping students engage in the spirit of inquiry should have a lasting effect on their ability to learn in the future.

    Lesson #3. You can also learn from a missed opportunity. By focusing on delivering the right answer (the content), I missed the opportunity to have students think through their own ideas and hypotheses about what could account for the phenomena. Questions I can’t answer now become great teachable moments in which I invite students to generate their best ideas to improve their engagement and sharpen their critical thinking skills.

    Lesson #4. Students are on your side. If you make a good faith effort and have established the right kind of atmosphere, students are not only forgiving, but they are supportive. The overwhelming majority of students want their professors to succeed so they can feel confident they have invested their time and money properly.

    Lesson #5. Teachable moments are just as important for teachers as students. Choosing teaching as a profession offers endless opportunities for learning about the content, about the humans we serve, and about ourselves. Staying open to change—which can begin with a robust “I don’t know”—is one of the most important characteristics of truly effective teachers.

  • 16 Dec 2017 1:33 PM | Anonymous

    By Dr. Ken Keith, Ph.D., University of San Diego

    As a young boy on a small farm near a tiny rural village, I was, in the words of poet William Kloefkorn (2005), “doing my level best to grow up.”  The county seat, a booming metropolis of 5,000 citizens, was 12 miles distant, and the nearest big city was beyond that.  Psychology might as well have been a foreign country, and for that matter, other countries really were also foreign territory.  Like the ancient frog in the well, for all I knew my immediate surroundings and my little patch of sky were all the world I knew or needed.  I had not met a person of another race and had not traveled farther afield than one or two adjacent states.

    Eventually, as a regular patron of the village library, I stumbled upon the legend of Siegfried and the Dragon, and in geography class I learned that the ancient Egyptians produced flax.  However, I probably could not have found Egypt on a map, and my understanding of flax was hazy, at best.  The only professionals I really knew were my teachers, aside from local farmers, truckers, and shopkeepers.  Medicine and dentistry were sources of pain, and thus professions to be avoided.  My understanding of psychology and culture could be easily summarized in two words: ignorant and naïve.

    High school and undergraduate college days brought new experiences and new people, including classmates from such places as England, Germany, and Lebanon.  My circle widened as I studied French with a delightful French Canadian, met students from distant American cities, and found new friends from a variety of ethnic, religious, and racial backgrounds.  My major was mathematics, due largely to the influence of a wonderful high school geometry teacher, but I also loved the subject matter (if not the professor) of introductory psychology.  Ultimately, I completed a psychology minor and switched from math to psychology for graduate school.

    The graduate school professors to whom I was drawn were behaviorists.  If B. F. Skinner was the high priest, Murray Sidman’s (1960) Tactics of Scientific Research was the bible.  Behavior analytic skills in hand, I set out to change the world, spending a number of years consulting around the country on the cases of people with intellectual disability and serious medical conditions, whose behavior was sufficiently violent or impoverished to render ineffective the traditional methods of education and treatment.  All the while, I was teaching my students the virtues of a scientific approach to behavior, hopeful that they too would go forth and save the world through behavior change—perhaps by ending pollution, eliminating smoking, or extinguishing Type A behavior.

    Then came a young colleague who had just completed a master’s thesis exploring the quality of life of people who had left an institution for people with intellectual disability.  She wanted to do more research, she said, but needed help.  I explained to her, as gently as I could, that quality of life was a warm, fuzzy, nondescript entity—not the sort of thing that real scientists studied.  But she was persistent, and I could see that she was right; we really did need to know more about the quality of life of people with disability, and its relation to their living conditions and services.  Together with my long-time colleague Bob Schalock, I began to take seriously the necessity of defining quality of life in such a way as to make it a legitimate area of study.  Bob and I did that, and continued to publish in the area for the next 30 years.  But the story doesn’t end there.

    At the beginning of the 1990s my wife and I had an opportunity to take a sabbatical in Japan.  In addition to teaching there, I wanted to take along our program of research in quality of life, and to explore the situation for people with disability and for students.  However, faced for the first time with the prospect of studying people whose culture was so dramatically different from my own, I had to face the facts: I simply did not know enough about the effects of culture on the sorts of things we had measured in our research.  What provisions must I make for linguistic differences?  How does culture influence the ways in which people respond to research instruments?  Do cultural values--such things as individualism/collectivism, uncertainty avoidance, or views of men and women—invalidate what I know based on my own culture? 

    Returning from Japan, I realized that I would never again see psychological science in quite the same way.  Each time my circle has widened, new experiences and new knowledge have required new ways of thinking.  My career has spanned a half century, and I have been privileged to visit many countries.  I have also taught cross-cultural psychology for many years, but have come to believe that, while such a course can be useful for consciousness raising and for conveying such important aspects as cross-cultural research methods, a specialized course is no substitute for infusion of culture across the curriculum.

    The APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (American Psychological Association, 2013) recommend the infusion approach to the teaching of sociocultural content, observing that “When students encounter a stand-alone course requirement or a forced diversity ‘add on’ to an existing course, we are likely to fail to achieve the outcomes we seek” (p.38).  If we intend to teach a psychology of all people, the role of culture must be an integral part of all courses.  Elsewhere, I have suggested some simple ideas for the kinds of questions we might encourage students to ask (e.g., Keith, 2017), and in a forthcoming book (Keith, in press) specialists in the various subfields of psychology present teaching approaches and activities for integration of culture across the curriculum.

    As Lonner and Murdock (2008) noted, our textbooks have improved in their inclusion of cultural content, but we still have a long way to go if we are to do justice to the people whom Arnett (2008) called “the neglected 95%”—those individuals who do not live in North America.  So every time we enter the classroom, or engage students in discussion about research or theory, we should be asking ourselves (and our students) such questions as these:

                --Is it possible the researchers have a cultural bias?

                --Who are the research participants?

                --Are tests or other instruments linguistically fair and equivalent?

                --How do people of different cultures respond differently?

                --Do classic processes (e.g., temperament, attachment, reinforcement, memory) play out differently in different cultures?

                --Do different cultures define psychological constructs (e.g., intelligence, personality) in the same ways?

                --Are there really universal differences between women and men?

                --Does the American biomedical approach to health reflect cultural bias?

                --Is “normal” the same across cultures?

    These questions, and a hundred more like them, can represent a start toward an integrative approach to teaching in any of the subfields of psychological science.  We can no longer afford the luxury of thinking of culture as an interesting add-on.  All people deserve dignity and respect, not only as we encounter them in our daily lives, but also in our efforts to study and understand the people of the world.

    It is a long way from my tiny rural community to the continents of the world, and finding them has involved a long and winding road.  But the journey truly is the reward, and the farm boy’s ongoing effort to grow up has opened the door to undreamed diversity and beauty.  Let’s open that same door for our students as we send them out into the world.


    American Psychological Association (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Washington, DC: Author.

    Arnett, J. J. (2008). The neglected 95%: Why American psychology needs to become less American. American Psychologist, 63, 602-614.

    Keith, K. D. (2017, October). Saving the soul of psychology: Why teachers matter. Presented at the Annual Conference on Teaching of Psychology, San Antonio, TX. Available upon request:

    Keith, K. D. (Ed.). (in press). Culture across the curriculum: A psychology teacher’s handbook. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

    Kloefkorn, W. (2005, April). The poetry of people and place. Presented at Mari Sandoz Heritage Society Annual Conference, Chadron, NE.

    Lonner, W. J. & Murdock, E. (2008).  Introductory psychology texts and the inclusion of culture. 

    Online Readings in Psychology and Culture. Unit 11.1,

    Sidman, M. (1960). Tactics of scientific research: Evaluating experimental data in psychology. New York, NY: Basic Books.

  • 20 Nov 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Ayşenur Benevento, Ph.D. Candidate, The Graduate Center CUNY

    Whenever you move, you move from a place. The movement could be big or small. The place you move from could be a continent, a country, a region, a city, or a neighborhood. Your experience in the new place could be drastically different or the same as before.

    I moved from Turkey to the USA in 2012. When I first arrived, I lived in New Jersey, and then moved to Staten Island, New York. The countries, cities, and neighborhoods I have lived in have been drastically different from each other. In this blog post, I will not spell out what were the things that were different and educate you on my personal experiences. Instead, I will encourage you to use the narratives your students can bring to the classroom based on their own experiences of movement to create a classroom where students know each other’s unique experiences and can connect to each other on personal and professional levels.  The place narrative assignment I will describe accomplishes two things: first, it encourages students to question established “facts” by bringing diverse individual perspectives together and second, it helps students hear and understand each other and, eventually, build a community where they are more aware of each other and how they can contribute to the classroom discourse.  

    At the College of Staten Island, I have taught a very diverse student population over the years. When I want to move away from mainstream psychology and help students critique theory and research based in the western hemisphere, I turn to my students and ask them the following questions: Is there anyone with a counterexample to what we have just described here? What would happen if we were to move the researcher/participants to somewhere else?

    According to the results of a recent campus climate survey, many students lack a sense of belongingness at the college where I teach. To be fair, our campus feels far from the heart of New York City, far from anything. Most of the students commute for at least an hour to get to campus and only a small number stay in the dormitories. In order to deal with the problem of remoteness of the campus and build connection among students I thought to myself, “As teachers, how about we bring faraway places into our classrooms?”

    Narratives are personal but also relational. Hearing or reading somebody else’s stories is known to increase empathy towards the narrator and the group that the narrator belongs to. With this in mind, I asked my students to write a narrative essay on their neighborhood using photographs, drawings, or maps, with at least five visuals included in their narratives.  Photographs help students to organize and portray the details they write in their narratives and may help them to communicate, given the preferences they tend to have for visual and impactful media.

    In the place narrative assignment, I prompt students to reflect on their neighborhood, more broadly defined as a “place.” They are instructed to not limit themselves to a few streets, and to branch out as needed to include countries, cities, or old schools, parks, other landmarks that they believe are local and important to them. By reflecting on their “place,” students are able to show their classmates something about where they are coming from. If there was a major move to/from this place they are encouraged to write about their particular experiences. They are also instructed to think about how places relate to their development.

    Some of the questions I have used in this exercise include: What memories do you have around certain places in your neighborhood? What are/were your routines and rituals? Who were/are you with? How long have you lived there? How do you feel connected to these place(s)?

    Think About Images:

    This is not just a written reflection. I want you to use original and found images; include photos of your present or past neighborhoods, drawings, and/or maps to accompany your words. Think of this as a photo essay (similar to making a story on Instagram, but with a bit more words).  The story should make sense with the images—so the words and pictures need to work together. Consider how each section relates to the other ones.

    Think About Audience:

    Remember, you are familiar with the place. You know it well. You are an insider. But most of your classmates who will read your essay are outsiders to that place. As you are writing your story, keep your perspective as an insider, but also adopt the perspective of an outsider in writing descriptions.

    Some useful questions to consider: What details should you focus on? The placement of objects? The layout of the landscape? The weather at certain times of year? What are the smells of your place? The noises? Try to use figurative language: metaphor, simile, and personification in your descriptions.


    Think About Topics We Cover:

     The essays you produce are likely to involve psychological topics, such as Emotion, Memory, Human Development, Perception, and Personality. It is important to think about these topics when writing your essay.

    Think About Purpose:

    Ask yourself: Why am I writing about this place in particular? What do I want my classmates to understand about this place, about my life, about life in general, after they finish reading my piece?

    After the essays are written and photos are added we divide the class into small groups and students share their narratives with each other. In the end, this activity helps individuals to organize their thoughts related to a place but also make them relatable to others. This activity could also be great way to ignite interest in students about each other and help them become more aware of the diversity of the community that surrounds them. 

  • 18 Nov 2017 9:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Dr. Beth Morling, Ph.D., University of Delaware

    Here’s a tale from my graduate course on the teaching of psychology. It was the second half of the semester and students were engaged in microteaching, preparing short lessons for each other. On her chosen week, a 3rd year Ph.D. student delivered an intro psych lesson on learning theory. She started with a mini-lecture with illustrated slides, then performed a short demonstration of the phenomenon. She conveyed a warm personal presence, used student names, and delivered responsive feedback. Her demo involved every student in the room; the audience loved it. There was only one problem: Her slides had introduced classical conditioning terms, but her demonstration involved only operant conditioning. She didn’t realize she had muddled the difference between the two types of learning.

    And here’s a tale from the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology (NITOP). During a keynote presentation, distinguished developmentalist Dr. Nora Newcombe (2016) described the weak scientific support for Piaget’s stage theory and presented alternatives such as Vygotskian and information processing approaches. She openly wondered why textbooks persist in their focus on Piaget, given how the field has moved on. She speculated that Piaget remains in textbooks because his stages are simple to teach. Testbank authors can easily write multiple choice questions about Piaget’s stages and students feel mastery easily. While many in the audience were inspired to modernize their lessons, others seemed to resist. Why are some teachers and textbooks content with outdated research?

    It might seem obvious that we need both pedagogy and accurate, modern content to be effective psychology teachers. However, these two events illustrate how sometimes content can take a back seat. 

    Faculty used to complain that “nobody ever teaches you how to teach in graduate school!” sometimes adding, “I only learned how to conduct research and read journal articles.” Graduate students didn’t get trained in pedagogy because they focused on developing expertise in the field.

    Luckily, the pedagogical training of graduate students has been improving. More graduate students take courses on teaching, and psychology’s vibrant teaching culture engages both faculty and graduate students. Teaching pre-conferences are attached to APS, SPSP, and SRCD, and there are free-standing teaching events such as NITOP and ACT. We’re developing a body of knowledge about active learning, course design, feedback, and student engagement. It’s all good. But our new focus on pedagogy should never eclipse expertise. Teachers of psychology need to know their content deeply, they need to know where students struggle with it, and they need to constantly update their understanding.


    There’s a saying that goes: “Good teachers can teach anything!”  Or perhaps you’ve heard, “those who can’t do, teach.” Although we don’t have much data at the college teaching level, the K-12 literature disagrees. Students learn more from teachers who have high levels of content knowledge in their specific discipline. For example, Willingham (2013) blogged about a study of middle school science teachers (Sadler et al., 2013). It found a main effect such that students learn more from teachers who know their stuff. The pattern was also moderated by student ability. When teachers were low in subject-matter knowledge, their high-ability students could still learn something—presumably from the textbook. But their low-ability students learned….. nothing.  At the college level, we might reason that if students just use think-pair-share, just-in-time-teaching, and writing-to-learn, they will be engaged enough that learning will just happen. But such techniques are empty pedagogical shells until they are filled with content.

    We have to convey content to our students because critical thinking—the skill we all value highly—cannot take place in a content-free space.  Content knowledge enables better learning and thinking in our students (Willingham, 2006).

    Ruth Ault raised a similar point in the context of the job market. In a chapter about teaching at a liberal arts college, she wrote:  

    “When candidates boast that they can teach anything in the discipline, our suspicions are aroused that the person does not understand the rigor of our courses or the caliber of our students.” (Ault, 2014, p. 167)

    I think Ault’s statement is exactly right. A teaching-focused academic career does not preclude being steeped in the nerdy details of one’s discipline.

    Ideally, content knowledge includes knowing what students struggle with.  Shulman writes:
    “content knowledge includes an understanding of what makes the learning of specific topics easy or difficult: the conceptions and preconceptions that students of different ages and backgrounds bring with them to the learning of those most frequently taught topics and lessons.” (1986, p. 9).

    Indeed, the Sadler et al. study (2013) introduced above also measured teachers’ knowledge of student misconceptions. Teachers were best able to produce learning when they were content experts and when they knew what students struggled with.


    Building and Sustaining Content Knowledge

    How can you ensure your preparation for college teaching includes both pedagogy and content? First, as you develop expertise in graduate school, track metacognition as well. My microteaching student got into trouble because she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Metacognitive accuracy comes from feedback (and probably humility, too). Put yourself in situations that answer, “What do I still need to learn?” Chart the course of your own misconceptions and learning because it’s likely your students will get snagged in similar spots.

    Second, let your excitement about mastering content as a graduate student transition into a sustainable career of learning new things. I estimate that up to 90% of what I use in the classroom is stuff I learned after graduate school. My graduate education never touched behavioral genetics, gene-culture coevolution, zero-acquaintance accuracy, learning science, or Bayesian statistics, but I’ve learned them (OK… the last one’s still a work in progress). A lifetime of learning is probably what attracted you to the professoriate, but it’s not always easy. I’ll admit that when there’s a body of knowledge I’ve needed to learn, I grumbled and tried to avoid it. It can be hard on the ego to be the amateur in the room (see: Bayesian statistics, above). Acknowledge your resistance, but then get yourself to the library.

    You can keep your learning going by regularly attending academic conferences---and not only the sessions on pedagogy. Even at NITOP, we take care to make sure our program includes content updates by subject matter experts as well as pedagogical talks. We know that our attendees need both.

    Although there are no shortcuts, an enjoyable approach is to read (or listen to) trade books written by psychologists. I follow a rule that my audiobooks have to be nonfiction, so I’ve  “read” 8 psychology-related titles this year (including this one,  this one, this one, and this one.) If you’re about to point out that such books are not peer-reviewed and don’t dig into the research details—you’re right. But when it comes to introducing research I should know about and providing excellent real-world examples, they are invaluable.



     Shulman (1986) noted that 100 years ago, U.S. qualifying exams tested teachers’ knowledge of mathematics, spelling, grammar, penmanship, history, and so on—with only a few questions about pedagogy. But now, K-12 teaching standards focus on pedagogical topics such as organization, classroom management, and cultural awareness; not content. Shulman asked, “Where did the subject matter go?  What happened to the content?”  (p. 5). In our own enthusiasm for the latest pedagogical techniques for psychology, let’s not let our content knowledge stagnate: Keep the balance between the two.

    As a member of GSTA, you’re commended for supplementing your rigorous content training with pedagogical engagement. As you embark on your career, I hope you’ll also find sustainable ways to deepen your expertise so you can share the constantly-changing wonders of our field with your students.  


    Ault, R. L. (2014). Four desirable qualities for teaching at a small liberal arts college. In J. N. Busler, B. C. Beins, & B. Buskist (Eds.) Preparing the New Psychology Professoriate: Helping Graduate Students Become Competent Teachers, 2nd ed. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site:

    Newcombe, N. (2016, January 4). New Ways of Thinking about Cognitive Development: Implications for Teaching. Keynote presentation at NITOP, St. Petersburg Beach, FL.

    Sadler, P. M., Sonnert, G., Coyle, H.P., Cook-Smith, N., & Miller, J.L. (2013) Student learning in middle school science classrooms. American Educational Research Journal, 50, 1020-1049.

    Shulman, L.S. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Research, 15, 4-14.

    Willingham, D. (2006) How knowledge helps. It speeds and strengthens reading comprehension, learning—and thinking. American Educator (online edition).

    Willingham, D. (2013). What science teachers need to know. Downloaded from

  • 16 Nov 2017 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Rachel J. Chapman, PhD Student of Urban Education, The Graduate Center and Teaching Fellow at Queens College of Elementary & Early Childhood Education

    Now more than ever, it is pertinent to provide a space for students to voice their experiences of schooling and culture as it relates to their identity development. Most school curriculum reflects the dominant group culture, whereby non-dominant narratives are often silenced. Silencing can lead to shame, doubt, cultural and language loss, as well as a feeling of unbelonging. The Cultural Identity Map exercise is intended to foster community and relationship building and awareness of cultural identity formation within U.S. society, while providing opportunities for students to practice empathy.

    Within CUNY alone, we enroll 500,000 primarily working class and immigrant students, who come from communities around the world. More than half come from low-income families earning less than $30,000 a year (Edelman, 2016). Many come from economically-devastated and war-torn regions, fleeing for survival and the need for a new life. The year 2017 has been marked with increasing attacks by racist and nationalist regimes, including the most recent Trump administration. The Muslim ban, proposed expansion to the border wall, increased police brutality, immigrant deportations, injustice at Standing Rock, dismantling of environmental and economic regulations and push to defund healthcare, all come as increasing attacks on working and immigrant communities.

    Writing from prison under Mussolini’s fascist regime in Italy, Antonio Gramsci’s work (2011) on cultural hegemony helps us understand that attacks on working class and immigrant communities can become normalized through consent to the dominant values and cultural norms. Because school curriculum tends to reflect the knowledge and norms of the dominant culture, the Cultural Identity Map exercise can provide a space for counter-narratives within the classroom, while also building identity awareness and community.

    For the Cultural Identity Map, begin by writing your first name in the middle of a large piece of paper or small poster. Because I am an instructor in Teacher Education, part of the map includes students’ experiences within the K-12 system. However, you can cater it to your course content, which can also include various possibilities such as students’ hobbies, childhood pastimes, meaning of first name, spirituality practices, etc. Using crayons or markers, I ask the students to fill their papers with the following, represented by drawings & symbols:

    1. Three or four aspects of your culture.
    2. One aspect of your culture you like.
    3. One aspect of your culture you dislike or would like to change.
    4. One positive memory from school.
    5. One negative memory from school.

    In order to encourage a variety of designs, I grade the maps based on creativity and following directions. I generally give them 15 minutes to work in class and the rest they finish for homework to present at the following class.

    According to Tatum (1997), development in late adolescence and adulthood is circular as we face new physical, psychological and social challenges. For example, late adolescence and adulthood are often marked with greater responsibility and employment concerns, as well as increased family and community involvement. Fear and silence regarding one’s identity can lead to isolation and difficulty in social relations and communication. Evidence from research shows that incorporating multicultural methods in the classroom builds group and self-awareness (Banks & Banks, 2016). It can also create spaces for storytelling, community and relationship growth. Additionally, it can lead to practicing empathy in listening to peers’ similar struggles with identity.


    Banks, J. A., & Banks, C. A. M. G. (2016). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives.

    Edelman, M. (2016). CUNY Faculty’s Lost Decade & The Risk Ahead. The Gotham Gazette. Retrieved from:

    Gramsci, A., Buttigieg, J. A., & Callari, A. (2011). Prison notebooks. New York: Columbia University Press.

    Tatum, B. D. (1997). "Why are all the Black kids sitting together in the cafeteria?" and other conversations about the development of racial identity. New York: BasicBooks.

  • 15 Nov 2017 2:59 PM | Anonymous

    By Valkiria Duran-Narucki, Ph.D., Patricia J. Brooks, Ph.D., & Elizabeth S. Che, College of Staten Island, CUNY

    With the proliferation of “fake news” and the ever-present need to “fact check” information, we all need to exercise the critical thinking skills that accompany scientific research in our everyday lives. Efforts to curb the amount of poor quality information on the Internet are futile, particularly if we want to live in an open society with a freeform Internet where everyone has the opportunity to craft content and express themselves. A more effective and just approach would be to help our students to become educated citizens who can apply scientific thinking and research skills to make sense of current affairs and become more discerning consumers of information. In this blog post, we describe an activity developed for a research methods course in psychology and how we adapted it for an honors section of Introductory Psychology to develop critical thinking and research skills.

    Valkiria Duran-Narucki first introduced the activity in one of the first classes of a semester-long research methods course. Although, in many instances, a research methods course might not be appreciated by students because of the lack of connection between research methods and everyday problems, Dr. Duran-Narucki sought to demonstrate how research and critical thinking skills could help students evaluate information relevant to a pervasive “fake news” claim that vaccines cause autism. Students were asked to watch two videos in order to gather information about autism and vaccines.

    Video 1: CDC Whistleblower Confesses to Vaccine-Autism Fraud. In this video Andrew Wakefield described how the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lied about the safety of immunizations and includes a comparison to the Public Health Service involvement in the Tuskegee Study.

    Video 2: Vaccines: An Unhealthy Skepticism. In this video, The New York Times’ RetroReport describes how a measles outbreak in Disneyland brought attention to parents who chose not to vaccinate their children and the bias a growing number of parents have against vaccinations.

    After watching the two videos, they were asked to write answers to the following prompt:

    A Facebook friend posted that she doesn’t know whether she should vaccinate her baby.

    What advice would you give her based on the evidence from the videos? How do you know whether the information you tell her is from a reliable source? If you wanted to share one of these videos on Facebook, which one would choose and why?

    Students were encouraged to talk to each other or use their cell phones to search for information connected to the topic, but they had to write out their responses individually and turn them in. The assignment was graded pass/fail and served as a demonstration of the kinds of in-class assignments that would be used throughout the semester to help students develop skills in locating scientific evidence and evaluating claims from the media.

    Patricia Brooks and Elizabeth Che adapted this activity for their honors section of Introductory Psychology. At the start of the semester, we administered a 25-item Myth Busters quiz that included items such as "We only use 10% of our brain and If students do not drink sufficient amounts of water, their brains shrink." Although our first-year students did pretty well on the quiz overall, 40% of them endorsed the statement that "Vaccines can cause autism," which suggested that they had heard this view and assumed it to be true.

    In a subsequent class we showed students the two videos about the presumed risks and benefits of vaccinating infants, and asked them to take notes while watching each video. We then demonstrated how to check the facts about vaccines and autism using Google Scholar. We discovered that many of our first-year students had never heard of Google Scholar and had never looked at primary source research articles. We used the search terms “autism” and “vaccination” and pulled up numerous articles that disputed the myth that "Vaccines can cause autism," as well as articles such as Venkatraman, Garg, and Kumar (2015) documenting a proliferation of anti-vaccination views on the Internet, as identified via searches on Google and YouTube. We used time in-class to read the abstracts of journal articles retrieved, which provided for some students their first exposure to scientific discourse.

    We then looked up Andrew Wakefield on Wikipedia to learn more about his medical career, his 1998 paper in the Lancet that claimed evidence for an association between the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and occurrence of autism, and the subsequent allegations of scientific fraud, retraction of his research papers by journal editors, and the loss of his license to practice medicine.

    The first-year students, for the most part, were open to changing their beliefs about vaccines and autism. We then discussed the psychological phenomenon of illusory truth as a way of understanding how pseudoscientific beliefs are established through exposure to fake news and false claims. We also introduced the concepts of confirmation bias and belief perseverance to explain how people have biases to notice things that confirm their preexisting beliefs and to discount evidence that contradicts their beliefs.

    In both courses, the controversy around vaccines and autism proved to be fertile grounds for discussing how fake information is spread via social media and our responsibility, as informed citizens, to fact check what we read before jumping to conclusions. Most importantly, through activities like the one described, it is possible to show the relevance of critical thinking to real “life and death” situations, and to the everyday challenges that students experience in their current and future lives.


    Venkatraman, A., Garg, N., & Kumar, N. (2015). Greater freedom of speech on Web 2.0 correlates with dominance of views linking vaccines to autism. Vaccine, 33(12), 1422-1425.

  • 27 Oct 2017 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    By James Christopher Head, Ph.D. Candidate, The Graduate Center CUNY

    Hello out there.

    How are you?

    Who are you?

    What interests you?

    What do you find meaningful?

    If you could make this space amenable for things you find meaningful, would you find it more engaging?

    If you could use this space to pursue your interests, would you?

    These are some questions that interest me and compel me to spend much of my time thinking about pedagogy. They are some of the questions that inspired the pedagogical approach that I presented at the 2017 Pedagogy Day conference at the CUNY Graduate Center. I will briefly discuss the approach near the end of this blog post.

    These questions also provide some insight as to why I hesitated in writing this blog post. Several times over the past few years, GSTA leaders have asked me to write a post for the GSTA blog, and throughout that time, I have never found the idea appealing. The fact that I grew up in a pre-internet world probably has something to do with it, but I think my aversion to blogging, more likely, relates to some relational practices inherent in the act – some that I do not find very alluring, and some that I do not understand. I’m sure someone could educate me as to why I should embrace blogging, but I don’t think this kind soul would be relating to me, but rather, to a hypothetical you. They might even write a blog post about it: “Why you should embrace blogging.” I would prefer a dynamic conversation based on mutual respect and some shared sense of purpose. I would hope that the ethical commitment to avoid de-facing the other as much as possible (see Levinas, 1969), and to honoring the otherness of the other, could be operative in our interaction – at least by me.

    I have, quite often, had the misfortune of operating in spaces where the questions at the top of this post were not asked – classes where I was rendered passive, organizations where I was manipulated, jobs where I was exploited. I do not find these types of spaces – and the relationships they engender - appealing, and have little desire to replicate them in my pedagogical practice.

    I have also been involved in spaces that allowed me to negotiate how I would be in the space. For example, when I was a senior in high school, my art teacher allowed me to film and edit a skateboard video for my cumulative assignment – provided that the project incorporated principles I learned in class. I put more care, effort, and love into that project than anything I had done in any class up to that point.  Since then, I have tried to take the lessons I learned while engaging in that project and apply them to other relational spaces – other classes, other jobs, other organizations. I have found that the more I am able use these types of spaces as sites for the active construction of meaning – or for the active negotiation of how meaning could best be made – the more productive I was, the more I felt compelled to participate in whatever function the space was intended to serve, and the more I appreciated my experience.

    These experiences influence a pedagogical approach I have been cultivating for years – one in which I structure courses in a manner that facilitates students’ pursuit of meaning-making projects and their negotiation of course parameters. In brief, this approach is grounded on structuring courses as self-reflective qualitative research projects and builds upon the notion that the reflexive and reflective engagement in iterative, interpretive processes that foreground analysis, synthesis, and evaluation are central to both the production of qualitative research and the facilitation of deep and meaningful learning. In other words, this approach transforms the institutional requirement for comprehensive assessment into an occasion to do meaningful pedagogical work – namely, the facilitating of meaningful modes of engagement, the cultivation of deep thinking and writing, and the development of useful analytic skills. This approach rests on a relational reorientation of conventional course designs. Instead of structuring courses around statements like “In this course, students will learn X, Y, and Z,” this approach prioritizes questions like “How can students use this course to engage in projects that stoke their passions, cultivate their talents, and scratch their intellectual and existential itches?” and “How can I, as instructor, best aid students with their projects?”  That is to say, this approach is grounded in pedagogical accompaniment, and encourages students’ active construction of their learning experience. This type of learning, I think, has a practical utility for students that extends well beyond our time together.

    At the Pedagogy Day conference at the CUNY Graduate Center on October 27th, 2017, Joshua W. Clegg and I presented this approach in more detail.  In so doing, we demonstrated how we have applied this approach in our courses.  For example, we discussed how we structured one class around the production of autoethnographic research projects in which students examined their experiences as they navigated a powerful social institution.  Throughout the course, students engaged in a variety of research practices (establishing research questions, designing a study, gathering data, conducting an analysis, writing a report, etc.) that they developed in relation to a topic of their choice.  These practices helped students develop research skills, but also facilitated post-formal critical thinking by creating opportunities for students to engage in those practices.  In describing how we have applied this approach, our intent was not to distribute pedagogical technologies, but to invite others to adapt this approach for their own purposes – to engage in a negotiative process that facilitates students’ engagement in negotiative processes.  That is to say, we aimed to share and work with an approach grounded in structuring courses around relational practices more in line with dynamic conversations based on mutual respect and a shared sense of purpose.


    Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and infinity (A. Lingis, trans.). Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University.

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