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


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. Recently we have made the decision to expand and diversify the 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. 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!

If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at We are especially seeking submissions in one of the five topic areas:

  • 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!

This blog is intended to be a forum for graduate students and educators to share ideas and express their opinions about tried-and-true modern teaching practices and other currently relevant topics regarding graduate students’ teaching.

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.

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Teresa OberCharles Raffaele, Hallie Jordan, and Sarah Frantz

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

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  • 18 Mar 2014 10:55 AM | Deleted user

    By Jeff Kukucka

    “… searching and learning are, as a whole, recollection” – Socrates, Meno

    The Platonic theory of anamnesis posits that the process of learning involves discovering knowledge that is present within us, but lies dormant until we go looking for it. The goal of teaching, then, is not to fill students’ heads with information, but rather to help them uncover, understand, and apply the knowledge that is already there. 

    Consistent with Plato’s epistemology, I find that students often know more than we give them credit for. Indeed, they often know more than they themselves realize. They do not enter our classrooms as blank slates, but with a wealth of prior knowledge, beliefs, and experiences that can (and should) be harnessed to our mutual advantage. 

    To illustrate, take the following in-class “experiment” (adapted from a similar exercise by Gary Lewandowski, Monmouth University), which tests the hypothesis that eating certain types of candy affects intelligence. First, students complete and self-score an “intelligence” test comprised of ten trick questions (e.g., “How many months have 28 days?” The answer: All of them.). Then, I pass around a bowl of candy, filled with just enough Smarties and Dum Dums for each student to eat one. Finally, they take a second “intelligence” test in which they study photos of many objects and then recall as many as they can. (See here for materials.)

    Students can tell that this “experiment” is patently absurd, and they vociferously object to their inevitably low “intelligence” scores. The key is to use Socratic questioning to help them realize and articulate why they so reflexively object to it. For example, I ask them questions such as, “Do you think that eating the candy made you smarter?” (internal validity), “Do you think that the test really measured your intelligence?” (construct validity), and “Do you think that it adequately measured your intelligence?” (content validity). 

    Though students had likely never heard these parenthetical terms, within minutes they are offering sophisticated critiques of our “experiment” and suggestions on how to improve it. From here, these novel ideas do not seem as foreign to students. I have merely given them a new lexicon and framework for concepts that, on some level, they already “knew.”

    I use a similar exercise in my statistics course. I have students imagine that they are given a “magic” coin that is allegedly weighted to yield more heads than tails when flipped. I then ask: If you were to flip the coin 100 times, how many heads would it take to convince you that this really is a “magic” coin? They can agree that a normal coin may yield 55, 60, maybe even 65 heads just by chance, but it would be very suspicious if the coin produced, say, 80 heads.

    At some point, they must decide when the “data” is compelling enough to reject our “null hypothesis” that this is a boring, non-magic coin. (Some students, apparently fearful of a Type I error, even demand that the coin produce 100 heads!) The logic of null hypothesis testing is an especially obtuse and alienating topic; by showing students that they already understand how it works, it no longer seems so daunting. We then build on this analogy to make other concepts (e.g., alpha levels, effect size, power analysis, etc.) more accessible as well.

    In the words of Jerome Bruner (1961), learning is not a search for “islands of truth in an uncharted sea of ignorance.” Rather, it is a process of discovery in which we manipulate our existing knowledge in ways that allow us to go beyond what we already know. The implication is that we should not treat students as empty and passive receptacles for information. Students flourish when they are active and autonomous participants in their own learning (which Bruner called the hypothetical mode). As instructors, we can facilitate this process by helping them unearth their existing knowledge and see its relevance to unfamiliar course material.


    Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31, 21-32.

    Plato. (1976). Meno. (G. M. A. Grube, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett. 

  • 11 Mar 2014 7:55 AM | Deleted user

    By Anna Schwartz of the oldest tools on the Internet, (besides of course, the blog) is the forum.  Encouraging students to use the forum can be difficult, as mentioned by Danielle DeNigris two weeks ago, but it is also crucial, and not just as a way to get inter-student participation up in a large lecture class.  The “Discussion Forum” can be a powerful tool for monitoring student progress, and for reflecting on your own successes and weaknesses as a teacher.  I used a mandatory forum, as part of a hybrid online-traditional classroom, to ask my students about their study habits.

    There were several aims. The first aim was simply to see how they were studying and if I could correlate good strategies with good grades to advise them for later exams and also to advise future semesters of students.  The second aim was to get them to meta-cognitively assess themselves – to realize whether what they were doing sounded “right” or whether it had been getting them the outcomes they desired.  The third aim was to assess what concepts they were struggling with – what topics could I have explained better?  Do I need to replace or bolster a bit of lecture with an activity or a demonstration?  What was hardest for them?  The fourth aim was to get them to learn from each other – some had excellent study habits and strategies, others seemed lost but in search of a good technique.  Instead of posing a suggestion to them based on research, let them find it through the recommendation of a peer, an infinitely more trustworthy source!  Lastly, and this is a major goal for me, across multiple aspects of the course, I wanted to foster a sense of citizenship within the class, which I hoped they would take with them into all the communities of their futures.  They need to learn to take on responsibility to do well not just for themselves, but because they are responsible to each other – by doing well, they can facilitate others’ success as well as their own if they share resources.  When they find a strategy that earns them success, I want them to connect that mentally with an obligation to give back to their community, and also to empower themselves to feel worthy of contributing to a community.  By being responsible to each other, my hope was that they would raise the level of work across the class.

    As a teacher, a quick read through the forum can give you a sense of where to concentrate your resources. I wanted to explore the forum in more depth, and so I began analyzing it for content and also for phrasal structure to see what I could learn about my students as individuals and as a group developing ideas together over the course of the semester, around the focal stressor of exams (I even asked them to share with their classmates their strategies for coping with exam stress). One post exemplified a sentiment shared by a number of students:

    I cope with exam stress by trying my hardest to study and by taking short breaks to breathe and play my piano which relaxes my mind. I think they are effective in the sense of calming me down rather then a sense of learning. I would definitely try flash cards because they seem very effective. Participant 55

    The student used this post to convey a degree of stress and to share one of the coping mechanisms they used to deal with this stress. In addition, I learned something about this student – he or she is a musician.  Now I have two new pieces of information that I can leverage to improve my teaching. I have a sense of how distressed the students are overall (useful in deciding whether to push or to ease up on them) and also a relevant topic that I can draw into examples to reach that student.

  • 04 Mar 2014 9:47 PM | Deleted user

    By Emily A. A. Dow

    Despite the heightened attention to high-stakes testing and assessment, it is unclear how or why higher education instructors select particular assessment strategies in their classrooms.  In my casual conversations with fellow psychology graduate students about their teaching experiences, I have come to understand that my colleagues sometimes choose assessment strategies based on features of the course: multiple choice exams are a natural default for large course sections; pop quizzes take away from lecture time and the demand to get through specific material; there is simply not enough time to grade short answer assignments.  Their choice in using specific assessment tools is driven by course design and not necessarily by student learning goals.

    Boyson (2012) notes that it is unsuitable when student assessments are unrelated to learning objectives: “[for example], it would be incongruent to have objectives related to written communication and not grade students on their writing skills (p. 11).”  This may seem to be an obvious link, but perhaps not.  Often, higher education instructors have little or minimal training in designing courses and making effective decisions about assessment tools.  Emerging higher education teachers may not readily link assessment strategies with learning goals or objectives.  Perhaps their choice of assessment strategies is more related to their beliefs about student assessment than to learning goals or objectives.

    At the Graduate CenterDr. Maureen O’Connor and I are currently collecting qualitative and quantitative evidence about assessment strategies across diverse CUNY classrooms. In a two-phase research project, instructors at CUNY were asked about their assessment strategies. Results from an in-depth focus group revealed that while a variety of assessment tools are used by psychology instructors at CUNY (both novice and experienced), participants had difficulty making the connection between their selected assessment strategies and the learning goals established for a hypothetical course. To better understand this gap between the use of assessment tools and learning outcomes, we are surveying graduate student instructors to: (1) identify types of assessment tools used in higher education; (2) examine the connection between learning outcomes and assessment tools; and, (3) collect information about different philosophies or approaches to assessment.

    We are excited to present our preliminary results at the Eastern Psychological Association conference in Boston on March 15 (Symposium Title: Turning Teaching into Research: Examples from the GSTA).  Results from this research will help inform graduate student training in teaching, and emphasize the need for explicit instruction and discussion about the link between assessment strategies and learning objectives.  If nothing else, instructors in higher education should be aware of this link when designing effective course syllabi. 

    If you would like more information about this project, please contact Emily A. A. Dow, MA at

    References: Boysen, G.A. (2012). A Guide to Writing Learning Objectives for Teachers of Psychology. Society for Teaching in Psychology. RetrievedFebruary 24, 2014, from

  • 25 Feb 2014 11:33 AM | Deleted user

    By Danielle DeNigris

    I believe that learning is a dialectical process in which both students and instructor   must actively participate.  However when you are staring at the faces of 100-plus students, the task of getting each to voice their opinion may seem difficult, if not impossible.  There appear to be many obstacles towards student participation including fear of public speaking, fear of being criticized by peers or the instructor, and language barriers.  These fears may be heightened in larger classes.  Another factor that may negatively affect the quality of classroom discussions is the classroom environment itself.  For instructors teaching in a large classroom or auditorium, projecting one’s voice so that all students can hear comes naturally.  Students, on the other hand, typically do not have this experience and as such speak at a volume just loud enough that only the instructor can hear.  This leaves many other students out of the discussion simply due to their inability to hear one another. 

    As today’s approach to education has shifted to a student-centered paradigm (Celik, 2013), many instructors have begun to seek out new instructional methods through the use of technology.  These technological tools have been continually adapted for the classroom environment and allow for students to interact with material at a potentially more accessible and meaningful level.  Among the various technological resources, online discussion board forums have seen an increase in use to supplement classroom learning.  Discussion boards have become an important tool in facilitating instructors in the creation of an environment in which all students will feel more comfortable sharing questions, reactions, and theories.  The following activity illustrates the way in which discussion board forums can be effectively used to encourage participation from all students in large lecture halls.

    Blackboard, By Winslow HomerThrough the use of the Blackboard I allow students access to the discussion board forum in which they must respond to various prompts.  Typically, I will post an empirical article, critical question, or video that I find is relatable to students of all levels (for example, I have recently used RSA Animate videos and TED Talks).  Students are then required to post a minimum of three times per forum activity.  Of these three posts, at least two must be in response to another student.  With so many students this allows for diversity in the topics being discussed enabling students to choose a topic of personal interest rather than being forced to respond solely to a prompt determined by the instructor.  Students are then graded based on their responses in terms of quality and quantity (at least three posts have been made).  I have successfully used this activity in two large (200 students) and two medium (50 students) lecture halls and have found that the students who rarely participate during class-time tend to enjoy the activity and post more than the minimum of three times.

    Research has highlighted the value of discussion boards (e.g., Celik, 2013; Harman & Koohang, 2005).  By allowing students to communicate with one another via an online forum, an environment is created in which students may feel more comfortable voicing their opinions with each other.  Students are able to process their thoughts and edit their comments before sharing, minimizing the fear of criticism.  Discussion board activities also encourage students to communicate with one another leading to student-student participation rather than the typical student-instructor paradigm characteristic of in-class discussions.  Additionally, this type of activity promotes the development of critical thinking skills as students are exposed to differing perspectives and challenges to their viewpoint.  Students are also able to build off of one another’s ideas leading to collaborative thinking that may not have developed in the classroom.


    Celik, S. (2013). Unspoken social dynamics in an online discussion group: The disconnect between attitudes overt behavior of English language teaching graduate students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 61, 665-683.

    Harman, K., & Koohang, A. (2005). Discussion board: A learning object. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 1, 67-77.

  • 19 Feb 2014 6:26 PM | Deleted user
    We will periodically post a graduate student teaching tip or idea related to teaching. The tips, written by graduate students, are sourced directly from classroom practices and syntheses of recent teaching related research.

    If you would like to submit a tip for consideration send it to us at, subject line Blog and your potential title! Submissions should be between 500-1000 words and images are encouraged (just be sure you have the rights to that image!).

    One way to be sure is to follow these directions
    (Creative commons google images link:
    Select google images or Flickr).

    Any questions post them as comments below or send them to or twitter@gradsteachpsych.

    Thanks for checking us out.

    The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

    Philip Kreniske, Kasey Powers, Francis Yannaco and Theresa Fiani

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