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.

  • 15 Sep 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Aaron S. Richmond, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver (Email:, Twitter: @AaronSRichmond)

    Yes, it is that time of year—the first week of classes and start of a new semester. Many of us struggle with what to do. We could easily be that person that Gannon (2016) suggests starts the semester the absolute worst way—yes—it’s Syllabus Day! That is, most of our students expect this and have a script for the first day. It usually follows this formula: come to class, sit down, take roll, maybe do an ice-breaker that every other teacher does, get the syllabus, the teacher reads the syllabus, or if they are daring maybe puts it in a PowerPoint, engage in a brief discussion, then class is dismissed—hopefully early. I’m here to implore you—nay challenge you—to break this mold and do something different. There are so many different things that you can do to engage your students and to make a strong and positive first impression and I hope after reading this blog you will step out of your comfort zone and try a few of them.

    First Impressions are Important!

    As Legg and Wilson (2009) have demonstrated, first impressions even in an email, can lead to students having more positive beliefs about you as a person. So, what do you do to create a strong positive first impression? Legg and Wilson would suggest, prior to the start of the semester, sending out an email introducing yourself and the class. The email should be less formal, and more about you and who you are as a teacher. You can include the syllabus so that they can read it beforehand. Lyons et al. (2003) suggested that you should arrive early to class on first day and informally talk to students. At the same time, linger after class and answer any questions and talk to your students. Additionally, dress professionally and at the same time be comfortable and true to who you are (Gurung et al., 2014). If you can, change the physical environment of the classroom by rearranging desks to be more inclusive (e.g., circles or U shapes if possible as opposed to rows). Weimer (2015) suggests that you should discuss your commitment to teaching. Why do you do it? What do you love about it? To be a great teacher, what do you need from students (i.e., expectations)?  Lastly, share your story. It is important to humanize yourself and let your students know that you are just a person like anyone else. For example, on the first day of class, I show a picture of my three girls, lovely wife, dogs, bunnies, horses and all the other creatures on our farm. I do this to convey that I, like them, have a life outside the classroom. And that I will be flexible and respectful of the fact that sometimes life just happens to both me and the students. Remember, this first day can truly impact the tone and culture of the class for the rest of the semester so make it count.

    Be Active! Activities for the First Day

    The godmother of teaching and learning, Maryellen Wiemer (2017) suggests that being active on the first day can create a positive and productive climate for learning. She suggests that you do activities such as:

    • Best and worst classes: In this activity have students write on a piece of paper or on the board, what the best class they’ve had and what the teacher did to cause it to be the best class. Conversely, have student’s write about the worst class they’ve had and how the teacher caused it to be horrible. Then discuss and pledge to students how you will try to improve the course to become the best class J
    • First day graffiti: In this activity, place flip charts all around the room with different sentence stems. For instance, I learn best in classes where the teacher... Or Here’s something that makes it easy to learn in a course… Have students walk around the room and respond to each stem, discuss their answers with one another, then debrief as a class.
    • Syllabus Speed Dating: With syllabus in hand, have student sit across from one another and ask each other a question about the syllabus OR a question about themselves. Then, have students shift one seat down and ask another classmate one of the two questions.
    • Irritating Behaviors: Theirs and Ours: Put students into groups and have them list the five things that teachers do to make it easy to learn. Share their answers with the class. Then below the list, list the 5 things that you and your colleagues have found students do that make it difficult to teach. Discuss how teaching is a reciprocal process and what you will do to make this relationship productive, respectful, and enjoyable.

    Additionally, Lyons et al. (2003) suggested that there are several activities you can do in order to “whet students’ appetites for course content.”  For example, have students individually list what topics or concepts they think are associated with your textbook title. Then have them get with another student to share their ideas and categorize each idea into chapter or module-like units. Have the dyads or groups name their chapters, then have them arrange them as a table of contents. Then discuss these table of contents with your students. Often it helps you identify misconceptions about the course, but also provides an opportunity for students to actively engage in the content of the course and with one another. Another idea is to connect course content by bringing in current news that is related to your course content. For instance, DACA is a very relevant issue on our campus and I was teaching educational psychology. I related the social, emotional, and cognitive impacts of DACA with students in the K-higher education setting. Finally, Linda Nilson (2003) suggests that teachers should develop a “common sense inventory” that students complete to highlight common course content or common misconceptions (e.g., right vs. left-brained thinkers in educational psychology). The moral of this story is that instead of reading the syllabus, engage students in activities that demonstrate the course content, your pedagogical beliefs, and how you will engage students throughout the course.


    Set the Tone that will Last All Semester

    If you normally read from your notes and only lecture, then maybe you should just read the syllabus. However, if this isn’t how you teach, why do it? Instead, teach something that is not on the syllabus and in the manner in which you normally teach. That is, if you do a lot activities—do activities. If you use humor as a pedagogical tool—then try to be funny—no seriously! If you use experiential learning in your class, do it on the first day! If you use the Socratic method, have a discussion with your students about the course, what they will do, etc. If you use cooperative learning a lot in your course, model this by doing a jigsaw puzzle or a think-pair-share. The point is, you get one chance at a first impression, so make it count and make it accurate to who you are as a teacher. 

    Additionally, Lyons and colleagues (2003) suggested that there are specific things that you can do to set the tone. For instance, establish a culture of feedback. I discussed this earlier, but let students know you are very interested in how they are doing in the course and how you are doing teaching the class. Typically, this is done in anonymous fashion, but the point is to create a partnership of learning between you and your students. Although, some disagree with this, I suggest making “homework 0 a mandatory office visit”—meaning, give them some low-stakes incentive to come and meet with you in your office. In this meeting, don’t necessarily talk about the class. Rather, get to know your students.


    Moving Beyond the First Week

    Now that you’ve established a positive, engaged, and productive culture of learning during that first week, what do you do the second week? Joyce Povlacs Lunde (n.d.) has several—in fact 101--things you can do beyond the first week of class. Povlacs Lunde divides what you can do to keep students engaged beyond the first week into seven categories. First, try to help students transition into your class. This includes things like how much time they will need to study for the course, give sample test questions and answers, talk to different students each class period to learn a little about them. Second, she suggests that we should direct students’ attention to the class. For example, give low-stakes pretests to reward students for reading, ask students to write down what they think the important issues are. Third, challenge students. Have student write down their own expectations for the course and their goals for learning. Engage in problem-based learning. Fourth, provide support. You can do this by providing study guides, be redundant, use non-graded feedback, etc. Fifth, encourage active learning. Use think-pair-shares, ask a lot of questions and wait for their answers, use classroom assessment techniques such as muddy points to understand where students are struggling, etc. Sixth, build a community. This is one of my most important goals. Learn their names. I know this is difficult in big classes but what I do is I have students give me a 3 X 5 card with a picture on the back and their name, year in school, major, and something that they like to do for fun. I then study them like flashcards. I guarantee they will appreciate it and feel like they are part of something special. Seventh, get their feedback on your class. There are several ways to do this. You can ask them to provide anonymous feedback on how to improve lessons and assessments. You can give them inventories such as the Professor-Student Rapport Scale (Wilson et al., 2010) or the Student-Engagement Questionnaire (Handelsman et al., 2005), or the Learning Alliance Inventory (Rogers, 2015). You can then use results from these to improve your instruction.

    Never Stop Breaking the Mold!

    Ok, so when do you discuss the syllabus? As I’ve discussed previously, send the syllabus to them prior to the start of the semester. I promise, they can read, but if you don’t assess them on it, they won’t. So, give a syllabus quiz. My colleagues and I (2016) suggest that you should create a syllabus quiz that requires students to be the teacher and ask questions that students typically ask (e.g., Professor, can I turn in assignments late?) We also suggest that you revisit the syllabus often. This should not be a one-shot lesson. In fact, I have my students’ pull-out the syllabus at least once a week to check in what is due, reading for next week, etc.

    In the end, it is important to evolve and adapt your instructional practices to new students, new cultures, new and different courses. As such, you will develop some really great ways to break the mold based on what I discussed in the class, BUT you need to do more and will likely need to modify what you do next semester or quarter on the first day of class. I would like to leave you with a list of really good reads that further explain and provide more ways to change your script for that very important first day of class.

    References and Must Reads!

    Buirs, B. A. (2016, January 4th). First impressions: Activities for the first day of class. Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from

    Gannon, K. (2016, August 3rd). The absolute worst way to start the semester. The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved from

    Gurung, R. A., Kempen, L., Klemm, K., Senn, R., & Wysocki, R. (2014). Dressed to present: Ratings of classroom presentations vary with attire. Teaching of Psychology41, 349-353.

    Handelsman, M. M., Briggs, W. L., Sullivan, N., & Towler, A. (2005). A measure of college student course engagement. The Journal of Educational Research98(3), 184-192.

    Legg, A. M., & Wilson, J. H. (2009). E-mail from professor enhances student motivation and attitudes. Teaching of Psychology36(3), 205-211.

    Lyons, R., McIntosh, M., & Kysilka, M. (2003). Teaching college in an age of accountability. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    Morris, T., Gorham, J., Cohen, S., & Huffman, D. (1996). Fashion in the classroom: Effects of attire on student perceptions of instructors in college classes. Communication Education, 45, 135-148.

    Nilson, L. (2003). Teaching at its best: A research-based resource for college instructors (2nd ed.). Bolton, MA: Anker Publishing.

    Povlacs Lunde, J. (n.d.). 101 things you co in the first three weeks of class. Retrieved from

    Provitera McGlynn, A. (2001.) Successful beginnings for college teaching: Engaging students from the first day. Madison, WI: Atwood Publishing.

    Raiscot, J. (1986). Silent sales. Minneapolis, MN: AB Publications.

    Richmond, A. S. Gurung, R. A. R., & Boysen, G. (2016).  An evidence-based guide to college and university teaching: Developing the model teacher. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Rogers, D. T. (2015). Further validation of the learning alliance inventory: The roles of working alliance, rapport, and immediacy in student learning. Teaching of Psychology42, 19-25.

    Weimer, M. (2013, August 13th) Five things to do on the first day of class. The Teaching Professor Blog. Retrieved from

    Weimer, M. (2015, August 9th). The first day of class: A once-a-semester opportunity.  Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from

    Weimer, M. (2017, July 19th). The first day of class activities for creating a climate for learning. Faculty Focus: Higher Ed Teaching Strategies from Magna Publications. Retrieved from

    Wilson, J. H., Ryan, R. G., & Pugh, J. L. (2010). Professor–student rapport scale predicts student outcomes. Teaching of Psychology37(4), 246-251.

  • 06 Sep 2017 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Janie H. Wilson, Ph.D., Georgia Southern University

    I will begin by admitting that I started teaching 25 years ago as part of my graduate-school assistantship. At that time, I asked the department chair to avoid assigning me to teach statistics because I had seen many years of student struggles, including my own. I agreed to teach research methods, where I could share my passion for experimental and correlational designs. A few weeks into teaching the course, I realized my mistake. I explained to students that the two-group design we were using could be analyzed with a t-test. They stared blankly. I briefly explained that a t-test analyzed two groups when the dependent variable represented interval or ratio data. They glanced around the room at other students, clearly wondering if anyone knew what the heck I was talking about. One student raised her hand and assured me that she “kind of” remembered it.

    Based on the curriculum, I knew research methods had a prerequisite: statistics. How could they not remember a t-test? That term, I had to reteach the t-test, ANOVA, Pearson’s r, simple regression, and chi square. I did not do a good job of teaching the topics – I simply was not prepared to tackle detailed statistics in research methods.

    After the term ended, I gave a lot of thought to teaching statistics. Clearly I would have to teach analyses in research methods, so why not tackle the prerequisite course? To prepare, I looked back on the way I learned statistics. Mainly the focus had been on hand-calculations. Thinking about it now, I believe the approach made sense at the time. After all, when I began college, we typed term papers on a typewriter, not a PC! Computer labs popped up on campus pretty quickly, but even then, undergraduates did not learn statistical software as part of a statistics course. Later when I attended graduate school, hand-calculations remained the focus, including exams covering matrix algebra.

    Based on my undergraduate and graduate training, I prepped my statistics course with a heavy emphasis on hand-calculations. When I taught statistics for the first time, I spent a week helping students work through their math anxiety as best I could. On exams, I graded based on the process rather than the final answer because students usually made minor math errors along the way. Throughout the term, after students struggled through hand-calculations, I showed them the magic of statistical software. When the answer appeared in a matter of seconds, students often asked me why they had learned all of the math. My answer was always the same: If you know the math, you will understand the analysis better.

    As the years passed, I stood by my decision to focus on hand-calculations. Even when my (younger) colleagues urged me to consider focusing on computer software so I could spend class time on theory and more examples, I gave the same response: If they know the math, they will understand the analysis better.

    It turned out that my noble intentions had no substance. When my colleagues taught research methods, students who had taken my statistics course did not remember how to analyze data using – you guessed it – a t-test. The simplest analysis was lost in the fog of a summer or holiday break. I had done nothing to solve the problem of students forgetting statistics. In fact, I had to be honest with myself that I never had any evidence that my students understood analyses better after going through hand-calculations.

    I wish I could say my course immediately changed, but that would be untrue. I can say that my eyes had been opened, and I started watching what was really happening in my classroom. I would go through how to calculate standard deviation by hand, appreciating the “aha!” moment when students understood that we were obtaining an average spread of values. But rather than feel the elation of a job well done, I wondered what the point was. They were never going to work in a lab where they would calculate values by hand. In today’s world, most students have a powerful computer in their pockets.

    As I continued to take students through hand-calculations, I noticed that about 50% of my class time was used when students worked through examples. Sure, the activity kept them awake, but they often produced the wrong answer and became so bogged down in the math that the big picture was never clear to them. I began to ask them to put down their pencils and talk through an example with me. I explained that whether or not they remembered to take the square root of the final number was not the point; they needed to understand what the number meant for research. No matter what I said, they grabbed their pencils as soon as they could and dove into the problem again, determined to conquer the math.

    Although I have been slow to change the way I teach, the process has begun. And with so much class time free from hand-calculations, I can work with students on research design to provide context for each analysis. We have time to work through more examples, and I have even started incorporating APA style. I remain determined to help students build a solid foundation in our discipline with knowledge of statistics and research methods, the backbone of psychology as a science.

    I am open to change. My next goal is to fully integrate research methods and statistics. Even if the curriculum continues to offer statistics and methods as separate courses, I can integrate methods into statistics for context, and I can integrate statistics into the methods course for repetition and more complete examples. Integration enhances student retention of the information, and I am delighted that Psychology Departments are beginning to rethink the curriculum and abandon sequenced courses in favor of integration. By letting go of hand-calculations, we make room for the important context offered by research methods.

    Recommended Readings

    Barron, K. E., & Apple, K. J. (2016). Debating curricular strategies for teaching statistics and research methods: What does the current evidence suggest? Teaching of Psychology, 41(3), 187-194. DOI: 10.1177/0098628314537967

    Pliske, R. M., Caldwell, T. L., Calin-Jageman, R. J., & Taylor-Ritzler, T. (2016). Demonstrating the effectiveness of an integrated and intensive research methods and statistics course sequence. Teaching of Psychology, 42(2), 153-156. DOI: 10.1177/0098628315573139

    Stranahan, S. D. (1995). Sequence of research and statistics courses and student outcomes. Western Journal of Nursing Research, 17(6), 695-699.

    Wilson, J. H. (2017). Teaching challenging courses: Focus on statistics and research methods. In Obeid, R., Schwartz, A. M., Shane-Simpson, C., & Brooks, P. J. (Eds.), How we teach now: The GSTA guide to student-centered teaching. Society for the Teaching of Psychology e-book

    Wilson, J. H., & Joye, S. W. (2017). Demonstrating interobserver reliability in naturalistic settings. In Stowell, J. R. & Addison, W. E. (Eds.), Activities for teaching research methods and statistics in psychology: A guide for instructors. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

    Wilson, J.H., & Joye, S.W. (2017). Research methods and statistics: An integrated approach. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.

  • 06 Sep 2017 10:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Jonathan E. Westfall, Ph.D., Delta State University

    The term “deliverable” is not one often heard in education, it being more at home in a project management context. Deliverables are tangible or intangible products that are delivered to customers. The closest thing we may have in education are “learning outcomes.” In a certain sense, a deliverable captures attention and sparks memory and association in ways that we don’t always consider. Over the past five years, I’ve attempted to use Open Educational Resources (OER) to create deliverables in my classroom, producing tangible products that my students can refer to long after our class has concluded. The goal in mind: provide something that keeps the content alive in some way. To do that, I’ll discuss three methods using OER.

    The Custom Textbook We Published

    David Wiley, from Lumen Learning, relates a story about the custom textbook. The idea is simply to take an OER textbook that allows derivative work (which is specified by using a Creative Commons license that does not specify “no derivatives”) and have students expand the work, customizing it for niche classes that otherwise would not have a specific text. Over a number of semesters, Wiley’s students have created such a book that becomes the book for the class, which students can download in PDF format.

    However a PDF can sometimes lack the “realness” and “concreteness” of a book. We hold books to be standards of information, and while the PDF is quickly becoming a similar standard, there is something fulfilling about holding a book or seeing a book in print. Several years ago, I challenged students in a Learning & Memory class to write a parenting manual based upon the learning concepts they’d just mastered (e.g., classical conditioning, operant conditioning, modeling, incidental learning, etc…). Students were given sheets of acid free paper and asked to illustrate their tip or suggestion. These were then scanned in and a PDF created which could be uploaded to a print-on-demand service. The result was “My Future Parenting Manual: Advice from Childless Me” (, a collection of work from the class that they could download for free, or order a print copy for a small fee. Indeed, today anyone can order it, as it has an ISBN number and is stocked at and others. An added bonus to this is that it can also be used as a fundraiser for a group or class, with profits going toward a group activity.

    The Class Slide Deck

    Students often struggle to remember what specifically they learned in each course. Therefore, one method I’ve used is to ask students to create a PowerPoint slide (or several slides) with the big ‘take aways’ from the semester. I’ve asked them to include their photo and name on the slide as well. I then assemble the slides together and we go over them in class. But most importantly, I make the slides available for download to the entire group. This allows students to have a tangible memory, in electronic format, from the semester. It also includes the people they took the class with, allowing them to tap into memories not just of material, but also student reactions. Coupling this activity with an OER resources (for example, material that could be modified/expanded upon, or freely distributed) and a self-publication service, can again create a tangible item that the students can keep. The modern “yearbook,” only specific to a course, department, or discipline.

    The Learning Tools We Build

    Statistics can be a difficult course because of the many concepts learned. These concepts tend to be best learned when integrated into examples and visualized. For many years we’ve been dependent on publishers to create such examples, or to build visualization engines that allow students to see how, for example, a distribution changes based upon established parameters.

    Today, however, a set of open-source software tools exists that can change that. R, the statistical language (, provides sophisticated statistical operations to anyone at no cost. RStudio ( along with Shiny ( allow students and instructors alike to create immersive statistical examples. A classic example of this is the “Old Faithful” dataset app ( which allows students to change the size of the bins in a histogram to see how it affects the data visualization. The code that runs it is shown on the right. With practice, one can easily create these apps on their own. In my classes, I’ve used Shiny to produce analyses that would be too sophisticated for a student to run on their own, but not too sophisticated to interpret. Seeing their data come alive in a series of inferential tests or descriptive plots adds a level of realism to my statistics and upper-level seminar classes. Future plans include prompting students to write their own scripts and apps, to show off their research.

    Deliverables Revisited

    Through these examples, I hope that you’ve seen what I mean by the term “deliverables” in the classroom. By providing these physical or electronic products to students, we not only make information more memorable, but also enhance their skills and backgrounds. Remember that the student who helps build onto an open source textbook is not only your student, but also now an author. The student who uses R to analyze her data is not only going to do well in your statistics course, but also can now run complex calculations for her employer without the common complaint of “If I only had SPSS installed.” By working together to integrate OER and deliverables to our classes, we enrich our students, our institutions, and our disciplines.

  • 12 Aug 2017 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Stephen L. Chew, Ph.D., Samford University

    Every beginning instructor discovers sooner or later that his first lectures were incomprehensible because he was talking to himself, so to say, mindful only of his point of view. He realizes only gradually and with difficulty that it is not easy to place one’s self in the shoes of students who do not yet know about the subject matter of the course.

    -Jean Piaget (1962)

    I came into the test really confident that I knew the material but it didn't show that on the test.

    -Student Email Message to Me

    This blog post is about egocentrism, on the part of both you the teacher and your students. Both teachers and students are subject to misunderstanding how well the students are comprehending and learning the course concepts. In teaching, we talk about metacognition, which is a more general term than egocentrism. Metacognition is a person’s awareness of their own thought processes. For the purpose of teaching, we can define metacognition as a people’s awareness of their level of understanding of a concept (Ehrliger & Shane, 2014). Students with good metacognition have an accurate understanding of how well they understand a concept. Student with poor metacognitive awareness lack a true grasp of how well they understand a concept. Typically, students with poor metacognition are grossly overconfident. They believe they have a deep, thorough understanding when their grasp is actually superficial and riddled with gaps. They fail to distinguish between popular beliefs they may have brought to the class with them and the empirically supported concepts presented in class. Egocentrism, then, is a form of poor metacognition.

    A form of egocentrism can affect instructors as well. Teachers often overestimate the level of understanding of the class. This is known as the curse of knowledge (Fisher & Kelli, 2016). As far as the teacher is concerned, he or she has explained concepts clearly, carefully, and completely. The teacher, however, no longer remembers how challenging it was to learn the concepts for the first time. Because students lack the expertise of the teacher, the teacher may have gone faster than the students could follow, or left out critical aspects of a concept because it seemed obvious to the teacher. To the teacher, there may have been only one possible interpretation of what he or she said, the correct one. To the students, however, without any prior knowledge of a concept, there may be multiple ways to interpret the class presentation through faulty assumptions or inferences.

    Most all veteran teachers have experienced following scenario. The teacher believes he or she has explained the material clearly and the students have understood it well. The students have attended class and studied the material on their own. On the exam, however, the students do poorly. The teacher is disappointed in the students, and may think, “Those lazy students. They must not have studied.” The students are also disappointed. They think, “That sneaky teacher. The test was full of obscure and tricky questions.” Each blames the other, but both teacher and students may be wrong. Neither may have had an accurate awareness of the students’ actual level of understanding.

    So how do we detect this egocentrism on the part of the teacher and student? We use formative assessments to gauge and promote student learning. Formative assessments are brief, low or no stakes assessments that are given before a high stakes exam (Angelo & Cross, 1993). They reveal the level of student understanding to both student and teacher. Formative assessments come in many varieties, such as think-pair-share, minute or muddiest point papers, or so called “clicker questions” (e.g. Angelo & Cross, 1993; Ritchart, Church, & Morrison, 2011; Barkley & Major, 2016).

    For example, say you are covering Piaget’s stages of cognitive development. After your presentation of all the stages, you can check on the class’s comprehension using a conceptest (Chew, 2004; Mazur, 2001). Present the class with the question below.

    Jean calls Papa Johns and orders a small pizza. “Do you want that cut into 6 slices or 8 slices?” asks the clerk. “Oh 6 slices,” says Jean, “I could never eat 8 slices.” Jean is showing

    1. Egocentrism
    2. Lack of object permanence
    3. Lack of conservation
    4. Assimilation

    Have everyone determine their answer silently. Then, on a signal, have everyone in the class raise their hand with the number of fingers indicating their answer. Both they and you can look around and gauge the frequency of different answers. Next have them discuss their answer with someone around them, preferably with someone who had a different response. After a few minutes of discussion, poll them using hand signals again. Then call on people with different answers and ask them to explain their reasoning. (I’d say the answer was #3.) Conceptests follow the specific procedure above (poll-discuss-poll-explain). Not only do conceptests give both teacher and students a sense of their level of understanding, they have been shown to be highly effective in promoting student learning, even when students get the answer wrong (Smith et al., 2009). You may recognize the question as a “clicker question” that you can use with a student response system, but the pedagogy ensures that students process and reflect on their answers. You can do conceptests with “clickers”, but often just a show of hands is faster, simpler, and just as effective.

    Here is an example of a Think-Pair-Share you could use.

    I was walking in a parking lot holding my 3-year old son over my shoulder. He was facing backwards and looking behind me. “Watch out, Dad,” he said, “There is a car behind you.” I was very impressed by this statement. Why?

    You can present the item to students and let them think about it, then pair off with another student and think about it, then share as a class. Once again, you can get a sense of the level of understanding of students. In this case the child realized his Dad couldn’t see the car behind him. Preoperational children are supposed to be egocentric.

    And that’s not all. Formative assessments are useful for achieving many desirable learning goals. Here is a list:

    • Improving metacognition for students and teachers
    • Addressing and countering tenacious student misconceptions
    • Illustrating the desired level of understanding of knowledge for students (especially in preparation for exams)
    • Promoting student learning and understanding through retrieval practice and peer learning
    • Promoting rapport and trust between teacher and student
    • Modeling critical thinking and problem solving

    Teachers who have never tried formative assessments often ask me: If the formative assessments are low stakes, why would students be motivated to do them. I can give several reasons. First, they are engaging and students find them fun to do. Second, they preview the kinds of questions and problems students will see on exams. Finally, the students recognize this is a learning opportunity that will help them master the material. Some teachers tell me that they have too much to cover to use formative assessments. What is the value of covering material if students don’t understand it? Formative assessments make learning visible. If you want to learn more about using formative assessments, check out my video series on the Cognitive Principles of Effective Teaching (


    Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Barkley, E. F., & Major, C. H. (2016). Learning Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Faculty, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Chew, S. L. (2004). Using ConcepTests for formative assessment. Psychology Teacher Network, 14(1), 10-12

    Crouch, C. H., & Mazur, E. (2001). American Journal of Physics, 69, 970-977. doi: 10.1119/1.1374249

    Ehrlinger, J., & Shane, E. A. (2014). How Accuracy in Students’ Self Perceptions Relates to Success in Learning. In V. A. Benassi, C. E. Overson, & C. M. Hakala (Eds.). Applying science of learning in education: Infusing psychological science into the curriculum. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site:

    Fisher, M., & Keil, F. C. (2016). The curse of expertise: When more knowledge leads to miscalibrated explanatory insight. Cognitive Science, 40, 1251-1269. doi: 10.1111/cogs.12280

    Piaget, J. (1962). Comments on Vygotsky’s critical remarks concerning The Language and Thought of the Child and Judgment and Reasoning in the Child. Addendum in L. S. Vygotsky, Thought and Language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Downloaded from

    Ritchart, R., Church, M., & Morrison K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

    Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N., & Su. T. T. (2009). Why peer discussion improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science, 323, 122-124. doi: 10.1126/science.1165919

  • 10 Aug 2017 12:00 PM | Anonymous

    By David B. Strohmetz, Ph.D. & Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr., Ph.D., Monmouth University

    “What can I do with a psychology degree?” “Even though I love psychology, should I major in something more practical?” “Will I be able to get a job?” Your students will inevitably ask you these questions. How will you respond?

    We often tell students that psychology prepares them for a wide range of career paths, but we can be vague as to what those paths may be. One solution is to give students career exploration resources (e.g., Appleby, 2016). But we argue that the better way to address students’ questions about their future is to emphasize that psychology helps them acquire skills that employers value. These include: communication skills; critical thinking and research skills; collaboration skills; self-management skills; professional skills; technological skills; and ethical skills (Appleby, 2014). The importance of skill development in the major is integral to the APA 2.0 Guidelines (APA, 2013), but have you asked yourself how you are intentionally helping your students build and strengthen these skills? With a few simple tweaks and/or modifications of existing assignments, you can help nurture the skills associated with postbaccalaureate success.

    Take, for example, communication – a critical skill for everyone. Do you focus primarily on having students write APA style papers? While this is clearly useful for communicating within the discipline, APA style papers have limitations outside of academia or when explaining psychological science to the general public. With this in mind, you could have an assignment where students write an op-ed piece or blog post sharing findings from a research article with a lay audience. Better yet, have them do this assignment several times where you increasingly restrict their word count (maybe reducing it from 1000 words to only 500 words). Besides enhancing their reading skills, students will strengthen their ability to write succinctly and clearly, an important (and rare) skill that will benefit them in any career.

    We should remember that writing is not the only way to communicate. Many students are petrified by the prospect of giving a presentation, yet public speaking is something that they will most certainly have to do at some point in their career. What is the best way to overcome this fear? Practice! You can accomplish this by having your students give multiple low-stakes presentations in your class. Remember that the goal is to have them learn how to give effective presentations. Don’t just say – “give a presentation” and sit back hope for the best. Take the time to discuss what makes an effective presentation. You could have students develop a top ten list of signs of a bad presentation and use this as a springboard for discussing how to give a quality presentation, including the effective use of PowerPoint. You may even pick up some pointers on how to improve your own presentation skills!

    It is hard to imagine any career that does not involve working collaboratively with others. Even professors do group work – we call them “committees!” While we do assign group work to our students, it is worth examining whether these assignments really help students learn how to collaborate effectively with others. We seem to take a “sink or swim” approach where we put students into groups and hope that collaborative learning takes place. Clearly, this is not an ideal way to promote skill development. The problem is that we don’t always take the time to teach students how to collaborate effectively nor do we always structure the assignment itself to promote such learning. Whenever you assign group work, take time to discuss strategies for dealing with group conflicts and working effectively together. You might also assign individuals to specific roles or responsibilities to fulfill within the group, reminiscent of Aronson’s Jigsaw Classroom technique (Aronson & Patnoe, 2011). There should be a level of accountability where other group members evaluate each student’s contributions, similar to what happens in the workplace with respect to performance evaluations. Having several small group projects where these roles or responsibilities rotate among group members will allow each student the opportunity to reinforce these skills. For example, rotate the role of project manager so that one student has the responsibility for overseeing all the other group members. Not only does this promote accountability, but also give students valuable leadership experience.

    One set of skills we often don’t think about cultivating in the classroom involves self-management, or the ability to manage time or stress. By completing small and large-scale assignments throughout the semester, students learn to balance multiple projects, similar to what they will be doing in the workplace. Again, don’t simply assign students this workload without also helping them to develop the skills necessary for success. Discuss strategies for how to manage the workload while maintaining a balance between their school and personal lives (a common challenge in academia!) Have students in groups discuss possible strategies and share them with the rest of the class, reinforcing their collaborative and presentation skills. Explain the value of breaking a large project into smaller tasks to make the project less overwhelming.

    As you intentionally incorporate skill development into your classes, remember that it is important that students recognize what you are doing and why. When on job or graduate school interviews, students should be able to describe learning experiences that illustrate the types of skills they developed as a psychology major. One strategy is to discuss the skills students will be developing both on the first day of class and when discussing individual course assignments. Periodically remind students the connections between what they are learning in their psychology classes and the skills that employers value in recent college graduates.

    APA 2.0 Guidelines are valuable for reminding us the types of skills that students can and should develop through the psychology major. It is up to us to intentionally help students develop those skills so that they no longer ask, “what can I do with a psychology degree?” but rather exclaim, “I have a psychology degree, let me tell you what I can do!”


    American Psychological Association (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Retrieved from

    Appleby, D. C. (2014). A skills-based academic advising strategy for job-seeking psychology majors. In R. L. Miller & J. G. Irons (Eds.), Academic advising: A handbook for advisors and students Vol. 1: Models, Students, Topics, and Issues. Society for the Teaching of Psychology Retrieved from

    Appleby, D. C. (2016). An online career-exploration resource for psychology majors. Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Retrieved from

    Aronson, E., & Patnoe, S. (2011). Cooperation in the classroom: The jigsaw method (3rd ed.). London, UK: Pinter & Martin.

  • 09 Aug 2017 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Jeffery Scott Mio, Ph.D., California State Polytechnic University, Pomona

    The results of the 2016 Presidential Election were a surprise to many, particularly, one might argue, to organizations responsible for polling potential voters to get an accurate estimate of the outcome. While some might view this as a sign that polling is flawed, the issue may be taken up more specifically with how the samples for the polls were drawn rather than the method itself. The discussion that follows aims to elucidate several of the problems with the polling technique used to forecast the results of the 2016 election. This real-life example may serve as a useful demonstration to students about issues that may occur when proper sampling methods are not used, thus resulting in a non-representative sample.

    First of all, the polling agencies do not and probably cannot sample a representative sample.  They typically poll those who have landline, as opposed to cellular, telephone service.  This skews to older people, as many if not most young adults do not have landlines.  However, if they poll only those who have cell phones, this will skew to younger people, and older voters will be lost.  The same is true with Survey Monkey polls, as this will skew to younger voters because younger people are more comfortable with computers than older people.  This method also skews to more urban and suburban people and away from rural people.

    Second, not only are any of these methods questionable, there is also the problem of who answers the poll.  For example, I have a landline, but I never answer it unless it is from someone I know.  If it is a pollster, I will not answer it.  So what kind of people answer a pollster?  We don't know, and we don't know how representative these people are.  Secondarily, pollsters call multiple people at once, and when one person answers the phone, all of the other calls are dropped, so again, what kind of people are answering the poll, and how representative are they?

    Third, related to #2, pollsters admit that even if they talk to a live person, many do not answer the polls, so they end up getting only about 10% participation.  (By the way, the absolute minimum accepted percentage of respondents acceptable from a scientific perspective is 25%.)  Who are these people, and are they representative of the voting public?  Those who answer the polls may be good people and are answering honestly, but they simply are not necessarily representative of the voting population.  A "sample" is an estimate of the "population," but if the sample is skewed, we have an inaccurate picture of the population.  Therefore, when pollsters say that polls are a "snapshot," they may mistakenly be pointing the camera in a wrong direction.

    Fourth, the real question is, "How do we sample 'likely' voters when we do not know who is likely to vote?"  As it turned out, Trump actually did turn out many first-time voters or people who haven't voted for a long time.  On the other hand, Clinton did not excite enough of her voters, and especially because everyone thought that Clinton was going to win, many people did not show up, or younger generations of voters felt free to vote for third-party candidates.  If only a very small percentage of those who voted for third-party candidates had voted for Clinton (especially in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin), Clinton would now be president.

    Finally, as polls indicated, the "undecided" vote was four times higher than in most other elections.  Most people read "undecided" and figure that they will break about 50-50, so Hillary's lead will remain the same in the final count.  However, history tells us that most undecided voters actually break in one direction.  In my estimation, most of the undecided voters were actually those who normally vote Republican, were reluctant to support Trump, but had a difficult time crossing party lines to vote for Clinton.  Their indecision was mostly, "Should I vote for Clinton, or should I vote for a third-party candidate (or should I not vote)?"  However, when the then-FBI Director, James Comey, announced an evaluation of a new batch of emails, I think that most of the undecideds said, "Oh, I can't deal with more Clinton scandals, so I will hold my nose and vote for my party."  Earlier estimates were that Clinton had over 90% of the Democrats, but Trump only had in the low 80% range of Republicans, but in the actual vote count, Trump had over 90%.  This tells me that the undecideds came home to the Republican Party.

    The bottom line is that polls are supposed to sample a population, and that sample is supposed to be representative of the population.  If you do not have a representative sample, your poll will necessarily be inaccurate.  Because some actual voters may have been more suspicious of polls, the media, and anything that smacks of tradition, they probably did not answer the polls in sufficient numbers, thus resulting in a biased sample.  This is why all of the polls seemed to support the notion that Clinton was going to win, which in fact did not happen.  One thing that is accepted by all social scientists is that any one poll may be wrong, but the aggregate of polls are accurate.  The problem with that line of thinking is that all of the analysts were blind to the fact that all of the polls were skewed in Clinton's direction, so of course, she would be systematically thought to be the winner.

  • 01 Aug 2017 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Jonathan Golding, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, University of Kentucky

    Getting ready to teach a class (even a lab) for the first time, here are two words of advice based on my 30 years of higher education experience: “Think positive!” It sounds so simple, but it is critical that you enter your classroom with the belief that your time in front of the classroom will be a great experience, both for you and your students.

    Keep in mind that when I started teaching (first as a graduate Teaching Assistant in 1981 and then my own class as a graduate student in 1985) I was no different than most of you. I had not had a course in teaching--still haven’t. Also, I had heard the horror stories from my peers that teaching a class was, as one put it, “a NIGHTMARE!” So how can you avoid having a negative experience, and find out that teaching can be a great experience? Here are 10 tips:

    1. Get your head together, because teaching is hard work. There is both your mental effort and the time it will take to get everything done. The latter includes the time to prepare your lectures, syllabus, quizzes, and exams, and then there is the grading and dealing with all kinds of student issues (e.g., make-ups). At first, all the work will seem endless, but you will soon get the hang of things and figure out ways to increase your efficiency.
    2. If all you want to do is give a “speech” to a group of people, then become a politician. I know this sounds tough, but when you teach don’t just plan to go in and read off your notes as though you were reading off a teleprompter.
    3. If you are keep thinking that you will hate being in the classroom, or resent having to teach undergraduates, you might (strongly) consider getting a job where all you have to do is conduct research. No one will think less of you, and you and your potential students will sleep better at night. Bottom line--teaching is not for everyone.
    4. Start thinking about teaching in a different way. Take some time to think about who was your best teacher as either an undergraduate or graduate, and figure out why you think so highly of him or her. This thought activity will likely be the catalyst for the way you will conduct yourself in the classroom.
    5. Understand the distinction between your Teaching Philosophy and the Teaching Techniques you will use in the classroom. The former may include your belief that active learning is critical to student success, whereas the latter includes the use of group work, discussion, in-class writing, and student response systems (i.e., “clickers).
    6. Make sure you are clear on how you want to deal with your students. For example, I do not want to be anyone’s father or “bro”, but I do try hard to break down the barriers that often exist between professors and their students.
    7. Figure out some ways you can "connect" with your students that help forge a sense of community in your classroom. This can be as simple as letting students know something about you. For example, I give a short autobiography about myself using PowerPoint. This includes the fact that I was the school mascot (the “Temple Owl”) when I was in college—I kid you not!.You can also make sure to answer every email, talk to students before and after class, and contact every student about their class performance.
    8. Be flexible. I think it is fine to be a bit tough at the start of the semester when you are trying to lay down the rules of the class. However, once things get rolling there will be times when it will be important to bend a bit to accommodate a student dealing with personal issues or a time when the class needs you to deviate from your schedule in order to grasp really difficult information.
    9. Use technology to your advantage. No one says you have to use every new piece of tech that hits the market, but it is likely that there are certain things that can make your life easier in your classroom. These can include using a course management system, “clickers” to allow for student responding during class, videos (e.g., for a class on operant conditioning, check out this video on YouTube), or even the use of social media to offer all students the opportunity to connect to one another and to the Instructor on a 24/7 basis.
    10. Students need to understand that you are running the show—yes, you are the Boss! Therefore, you need to decide both what you will put up with (e.g., computers and cell phones) and how your class will run. The later includes simple things like how you will start and end class and more complicated issues like attendance rules.

    In the end, although it may sound trite, it is really an honor to be teaching. To know that you can serve as a real inspiration in a person’s life is not to be taken lightly. Don’t be like some of the faculty I can still recall from my college days—they just didn’t care or were on a major “power trip”. Be there for your students and embrace your role as a teacher—you won’t regret it!

  • 29 Jul 2017 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Michelle ("Mikki") Hebl, Ph.D., Psychology and Professor of Management, Rice University

    I was asked to write a blog post and offer some “teaching tips for graduate student instructors amidst modern teaching environments.” I will offer just one piece of advice for graduate students. It’s hard to believe I will offer only ONE piece of advice if you know me because I am chock-full of free advice and lots of words. But here it is – advice for students who may range from potentially nervous, first-timers in the classroom to those who have been teaching their own sections or classes for 4-5 years already.  I offer this tip regarding evolving technology-related practices with the belief that it might be relevant regardless of current and future technological and pedagogical advances.

    My caveat is that my advice is NOT based on much research, at least not in a knowingly reference supported, experimentally derived, or quantitative, large-sample-size sense. Instead, my straightforward advice comes from my idiographic experiences; from watching others; and from talking to other faculty, graduate, and undergraduate students. The advice may not be a blanket recommendation and lead to efficacy for all but it is based on a basic conclusion that I have drawn from teaching for 25 years at a combination of the following hodgepodge of places: Rice, Dartmouth, Texas A&M University, Baylor University, and on Semester at Sea programs.

    So here it is. I offer you my anti-technology advice about modern teaching environments. Sorry if you were expecting otherwise

    Please consider dissuading the use of computers, iPads, cellphones, or similar electronic devices in the classroom.

    There is a reason that driving accidents increase as people answer their phones, text, apply their makeup, fiddle with their music, or do any of the other hundreds of crazy things people try to do at the same time they are driving. Take it from me – the daughter of a driver’s education teacher who has heard and seen lots of memorable things – and as someone who personally has changed from work clothes into a bathing suit on the way to masters swim class… while driving (yes, an officer stopped me). These things take our attention away from what we are trying to do. And so it is the same in the classroom. We divide our attention and take it away from the valuable messages that the teacher is trying to deliver to us.  But... you might have a knee-jerk response, especially if you are one of those classroom electronic users… ”my mind wanders so much that I’m not learning anyway,” “at least I’m learning something on my device as I’m listening to some monotone teacher drone on and on,” or “surely I can multi-task and answer a few emails or check the headlines at the same time.” But I would argue… NOT without the potential of a lot of lost learning and without the possibility of mind wandering and getting further distracted.

    This semester will be the third semester I have begun this practice in my undergraduate classes and I will initiate it in my graduate classes in future semesters. Of course, there are always exceptions to each rule and if a student has a convincing argument (e.g., disability) for using electronics in the classroom, I will likely be open to it

    But I would like to tell y’all how I came to my opinion that we should go back to a less technological world in the classroom (or at least one without the use of what I will call “computers without boundaries”).  The reason is NOT because people forget to lower the volume on their computers and they make very disruptive noises or because the phone has gone off many times in my classrooms. It is not because I have a personal vendetta against computers. I prize and love my MacBook Air. It is not because I want to make students mad. I assure you, my students are some of my favorite people in the world.

    Instead, two experiences led me to this conclusion. First, I had the wonderful experience of evaluating my colleague’s teaching performance when she was going up for tenure. She is a gifted teaching and there are no known (!) reports of students who would describe her as boring or unskilled at teaching. Then, it amazed me, as I watched from the back of the class and unbeknownst to most students, I noticed just how many of them were on their laptops doing completely random and none-class related activities. Many were reading the news, some were surfing, others were all over Facebook looking up pictures, some were doing emails and texting, and three people were playing video games. I have to admit two of them were doing videogames that I watched for about three minutes and then saw out of the corner of my eye on and off again for the rest of the class. The videogame was a Texas duel in which the object was to shoot the opponent faster than they could shoot you. Granted, this sort of videogaming during lectures may become really important given Texas’s new law that allows students to carry concealable guns into the classroom (and in September, Texans can open carry swords… but don’t get me started here… ). Students have become unabashedly bold about using their laptops to do work unrelated to note-taking during classes. It’s not the exception, it’s the norm.  When did it become the norm, when a teacher is talking, to not give him or her your full attention and try to learn from the expert as much as you possibly can?  I’m not cynical. I’m not old. Okay, maybe I’m becoming a little of both,  but graduate students becoming burgeoning teachers, let’s shut off the really leaky faucet until we have better stoppers. I argue we are NOT helping our students, rather we might be reinforcing an attention-deficit world. Spoken from someone who seems a little attention deficit.

    Second, I recently taught a graduate student class of a very small number. Very small number. I rather liked each one of these students and they all used their computers throughout the class. Only it became readily apparent to me that one particular student was actually doing all sorts of other work during the class. Every class. If you don’t think we know, you’re wrong. It’s really obvious when we pose a question and pause and you aren’t looking, you are madly typing away with purpose, and you forget to even look up and pretend to be paying attention. Maybe I wasn’t interesting enough. Maybe I was droning on. Maybe the student already knew everything I was trying to teach. Maybe she had other issues that were more pressing.  Or maybe… just maybe… our inability to filter, put boundaries around, or altogether prevent the use of computers and electronic technology has reinforced a culture in which students no longer feel like they have to even play the game of respect in the classroom. I’m not mad at the student. Again, I rather like her. But what it shows me is that the interruption of evolving technology needs to be more carefully considered.  And until then, I’m doing something a little radical. I’m preventing them from entering the classroom. Call it radical. I am one of the last mother holdouts from buying her 13 year-old son a cellphone. Maybe I’ve been on a ship at sea for far too long.  Will I regret having written this ten years from now?  Will I seem like a dinosaur? Probably.  But for now, I wholly recommend that if you are serious about the craft of teaching… if you want to maximize the attention that people direct away from you… if you want people to give their full devotion to the sage things you are hopefully teaching… then, I would highly recommend you make them turn off their devices too.

  • 26 Jul 2017 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Susan A. Nolan, Ph.D., Seton Hall University, Vice President of Diversity and International Relations for STP

    Does your research have an international bent or focus on issues related to diversity? Do you include international or diversity-related content, methods, or examples in your teaching? Do you make efforts to foster an inclusive classroom (or online) environment when you teach? Do you want to expand your research or teaching to embrace issues related to diversity and internationalization? If you answered yes to any of these questions, STP has several current diversity-related and international initiatives that welcome graduate student involvement.

    Project Syllabus. Project Syllabus is a repository of peer-reviewed syllabi for a range of psychology courses. Look specifically under the headings for culture, diversity, and international syllabi, but also scroll through other categories. Many content areas (including clinical, human sexuality, peace, social psychology, special topics, and women and gender) have relevant syllabi. There also is a grant-funded initiative spearheaded by the STP International Relations Committee Chair, Dr. Kelley Haynes-Mendez, to expand the number of syllabi in Project Syllabus from non-U.S. instructors. For more information, see: Now, several of the peer-reviewed syllabi are for courses taught in non-U.S. countries. Scroll the course titles and look at the universities at which the professors teach to identify which ones are from countries other than the U.S. Beyond exploring syllabi for ideas for your own courses, consider submitting a syllabi for peer review. Guidelines for creating an excellent syllabus and the rubric used by peer reviewers are posted on the Project Syllabus Web site.

    International Conferences. Consider attending a conference outside the U.S. STP now has a Director of International Programming, Dr. Dana Dunn. Dana is targeting at least one international teaching conference each year where STP is a co-sponsor and has a physical presence for recruitment of new members. STP-sponsored conferences are listed here: If you attend any of the sponsored conferences, contact Dr. Dana Dunn ( if you want to volunteer at the STP table. Volunteering is a great way to give back to STP and to network at the same time.

    International Twitter Poster Conference. No travel money? Participate in STP’s annual International Twitter Poster Conference, begun in 2016. With an organizing committee headed by Dr. Anna Ropp, the conference typically occurs toward the end of the fall semester. Both graduate students and faculty members are encouraged to tweet teaching-related posters, and there are several prizes of a free STP membership for one year. Watch the various STP social media outlets and newsletters for more information. Note that you are welcome tweet a poster that you’ve already presented at another conference, so you can get more mileage out of work that you’ve already done and gain a wider audience for your work.

    International Relations Committee and Diversity Committee. From time to time, the International Relations Committee, Diversity Committee, and International Twitter Poster Conference Committee seek new members. Keep an eye on STP’s Get Involved Website for opportunities. All of these committees would welcome a GSTA member on their rosters.

  • 23 Jul 2017 5:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Sue Frantz, Professor of Psychology at Highline College

    Having spent my career – 26 years and counting – teaching Intro Psych, I have had a lot of time to think about Intro Psych. What is its purpose? Why have I spent so many of my waking hours – and some of my sleeping hours! – teaching this course?

    Somewhere over a million students take the course annually. The vast majority of those students are not psychology majors. They are going into the fields of business, politics, engineering, and medicine, to name a few. David Myers asks, “What does an educated person need to know about psychology?” I wonder, “If we were to create an Intro Psych course today, from scratch, what would it look like?”

    Of all the courses in the psychology curriculum, Intro Psych is the hardest one to teach. I taught my first Intro course as a graduate student. I felt pretty comfortable with the social psych chapter since that was my area of study. And I felt equally comfortable with the chapter on research methods – correlations and experiments with one independent variable, easy peasy! But after that? After that I relied heavily on the textbook. Sure, I had taken classes devoted to some of those chapters as an undergraduate, like abnormal, development, and learning, but that was years ago. And then there were all of those chapters I, frankly, had no formal education about, like sexuality, personality, motivation, emotion, stress. Like everyone else who is teaching Intro Psych for the first (second, third…, nth) time, I learned from the textbook, right along with my students – or, more accurately, about one chapter ahead of my students. The Intro course is arguably the one course where we, as instructors, are most heavily reliant on our textbooks. I’m not a cognition researcher; I have no idea what the key concepts are in cognition. I’m happy to have someone else figure it out and deliver it to me (and my students!) in a 40-page chapter.

    I relied on the textbook to tell me what the general public needs to know about psychology, although I didn’t think of it that way. I just thought, here’s the textbook, students need to learn what’s in the textbook, and I’m here to help them do that – and to assess to what extent they have done that.

    Then textbooks started to expand in size, drifting toward the encyclopedic. Intro Psych instructors spent quite a bit of time discussing depth vs. breadth. Those in the depth camp liberally cut content (e.g., motivation, emotion, intelligence, language), opting to spend more time on a select number of concepts. Those in the breadth camp covered a wider swath of content, opting to help students see how many different kinds of questions psychology addresses. While I’ve been a part of many of those discussions, I don’t recall anywhere we addressed the origin of the content itself. We took the textbook as gospel. That’s the pool of content we are to draw from.

    As research started to mount showing that our Intro Psych students don’t remember much after the course is over (e.g., Landrum & Gurung, 2013), the discussion shifted. There were those who were ready to toss content out altogether. “Let’s teach skills, such as information literacy and research methods, and not worry about the content.” But there were plenty who weren’t quite ready to let content go. Some think we should take a myth-busting approach to teaching content (e.g., Bernstein, 2016): “Let’s find out what misconceptions students have and address those.” Others think we should be more applied in what we teach: “If it applies to students’ lives – self-reference effect, people! – students will remember content.”

    And once again, the content of our textbooks – what we all use as a foundation to build our courses, regardless of our approach or our emphasis – remains undiscussed.

    A number of years ago I had a conversation with an Intro Psych textbook author who had just joined an existing set of authors to work on a new edition. When a textbook is new or is going into a new edition, faculty are asked to review a few textbook chapters. I, for example, would most often choose social psych (my area), research methods (I’m always on solid footing there), and sensation/perception/learning/memory (one of those because I find them fun to teach). While I was happy to offer my thoughts, I never quite grasped the impact of my words.

    The author gave me an example of the problem she saw throughout the textbook. When the chapter reviews came back for the neuroscience chapter, she said, the biopsych/neuroscience folks advised the authors to remove everything about the action potential. The action potential isn’t important to us, they said. Focus on the synapse and the neurotransmitters; that’s where the drama is. But when the authors looked at the reviews of that exact same content submitted by the cognitive, social, development, etc. folks, they all demanded that the action potential stay. Why? “Because I teach that!” And now it’s just the physics of economics. There were many more reviewers standing on the “keep it!” side of the scale than on the “ditch it!” side of the scale. The action potential stayed. As a biopsych colleague pointed out to me, the action potential does not appear in the Intro Psych textbooks outside of that initial coverage of the neuron.

    Our textbooks are crowd-sourced from a crowd that shouldn’t have an opinion.

    What other content in your Intro Psych textbook is “legacy” content – content that was put in the textbook at one time and now can’t be removed because a lot of instructors say, even though it’s not in their field of study, “I teach that!”?

    With that said, let’s all step away from the textbooks. Let’s take a collective deep breath. And let’s ask each other, “1.) What does an educated person need to know about psychology? 2.) If we were to create an Intro Psych course today, from scratch, what would it look like?”


    Bernstein, D. (2016, January 6). Bye-bye Intro. Address presented at National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology in Tradewinds, St. Petersburg Beach.

    Landrum, R. E., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2013). The memorability of Introductory Psychology revisited. Teaching of Psychology, 40(3), 222-227. doi:10.1177/0098628313487417

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