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.

  • 18 Sep 2018 4:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Philip Higham, Ph.D., University of Southampton

    Technology is having a huge impact on all aspects of our lives. Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, and Snapchat might have sounded like rock-and-roll bands two decades ago! Today they are all part of the modern lingo and most young people have an account with one or more of these services.

    Education is not exempt from the impact of technology. Gone are days of lectures being delivered with chalkboards and students taking copious notes on blank pieces of paper. Chalkboards have been replaced with software such as PowerPoint, which is used to present lecture material in the form of digital “slides.”  Moreover, students commonly rely on laptops and tablets to take notes and have access to lecture material that they can download prior to lectures. Sometimes, that downloadable material consists of copies of the lecture slides themselves, which may relieve the pressure on students to take many notes at all during lectures.

    For educators, technology is developing so quickly it is often difficult to decide what is the best way to use it to enhance education. One problem in making good decisions about this issue is that students and educators alike often fall for metacognitive illusions (e.g., Yan, Bjork, & Bjork, 2016). These illusions are false beliefs or assumptions about the way that memory works. They often stem from a common but false heuristic that “if learning is fluent and easy, then I will remember what I learn for a long time.” Thus, students often feel they learn more from a fluently-presented lecture compared to a disfluently presented one, or from massing their learning (i.e. cramming) rather than spacing it (i.e. spreading study time over several short, spaced intervals). Fluently-delivered lectures or reviewing material when related material is already in working memory, as it would be during a cramming session, make learning seem easy and hence memorable. However, the data do not support these assumptions. As long as the same material is taught, the fluency of lecture delivery seems to make little difference to later test performance (and sometimes even favors disfluent delivery). Similarly, even though it is harder, hundreds of studies have shown that it is better to engage in multiple, short learning sessions distributed over time than to learn material in a single marathon session (see Cepeda, Pashler, Vul, Wixted, & Rohrer, 2006 for a review).

    Instead, enduring memories are usually formed under learning conditions which Robert Bjork from UCLA describes as desirably difficult (see Bjork & Bjork, 2011). According to this principle, the presence of difficult but surmountable obstacles that create disfluency and slow the process of learning are usually good for learning, and not things to avoid at all costs.  Much like the common adage applied to physical exercise – “no pain, no gain” – if learning is to last for longer than 24 hours, it usually requires effort. 

    Does that mean that teaching should be a sadistic process of turning simple concepts into difficult ones so students will remember them? Of course not. That is where the term “desirable” comes in; speaking in a foreign language that students don’t understand or deliberately cutting sentences short to make an incomprehensible lecture would create undesirable difficulties rather than desirable ones. However, there are desirably difficult activities that can be easily implemented in lectures or tutorials, and there are some modern technological advances that can facilitate this.

    One activity that I have started implementing regularly in my large classes is interpolated testing (e.g., Szpunar, Khan, & Schacter, 2013). Instead of speaking for the full length of the lecture, break your lecture into several segments of, say, ten minutes each separated by three-minute pauses. Have your students do nothing but listen during the ten-minute segments. Then, during the pause, use a tool such as MeeToo1 to have students answer a series of questions about the previous lecture segment using their smartphone or tablet. Once the time is up, provide some feedback, and then continue on to the next lecture segment. If you do not have access to a tool like MeeToo, then ask your students to generate on paper some key points about the preceding segment during the pause.  

    Interpolated testing has been shown to not only enhance memory for the material being tested (i.e. the previous lecture segment), but it also facilitates learning of the upcoming lecture segments, most likely because of improved attention (e.g., Jing, Szpunar, & Schacter, 2016). It also reduces negative feelings toward high-stakes cumulative exams (Szpunar et al., 2013). In other words, there are multiple benefits to interpolated testing. And, far from being tortuous, most students enjoy the activity even though being tested during lecture pauses can be quite difficult. It wakes them up, gives them a challenge, and helps them to monitor their understanding.

    Generally, technology-enabled learning has great potential, but it is important that educators base their decisions about how to use that technology on the science of learning rather than intuition. If you use these tools to have your students engage in retrieval practice over spaced intervals, which is what the activity described above is all about, then you are bound to see good results because countless studies dating back to the 1800s show that they work (for a review of the benefits of retrieval practice, see Rowland, 2014, and for spaced practice, see Benjamin & Tullis, 2010). Furthermore, your students will enjoy the activity as well!

    1 MeeToo is software that allows students to anonymously answer questions and take polls in class using their smartphones, tablets, or laptops. Instructors can then display results to the whole class. See


    Benjamin, A. S., & Tullis, J. (2010). What makes distributed practice effective? Cognitive Psychology61(3), 228-247.

    Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2011). Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. Psychology and the Real World: Essays Illustrating Fundamental Contributions to Society, 56–64.

    Cepeda, N. J., Pashler, H., Vul, E., Wixted, J. T., & Rohrer, D. (2006). Distributed practice in verbal recall tasks: A review and quantitative synthesis. Psychological Bulletin132(3), 354–380.

    Jing, H. G., Szpunar, K. K., & Schacter, D. L. (2016). Interpolated testing influences focused attention and improves integration of information during a video-recorded lecture. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied22(3), 305–318.

    Rowland, C. A. (2014). The effect of testing versus restudy on retention: A meta-analytic review of the testing effect. Psychological Bulletin140(6), 1432–1463.

    Szpunar, K. K., Khan, N. Y., & Schacter, D. L. (2013). Interpolated memory tests reduce mind wandering and improve learning of online lectures. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences110(16), 6313–6317.

    Yan, V. X., Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2016). On the difficulty of mending metacognitive illusions: A priori theories, fluency effects, and misattributions of the interleaving benefit. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General145(7), 918–933.

    Philip Higham, Ph.D. is a Reader in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Southampton. His research focuses on long-term human memory and metacognition as well as methods to ensure that student learning endures over time.

  • 05 Sep 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous
    By Jaclyn Ronquillo-Adachi, Ph.D., Cerritos College, Jennifer Thompson, Ph.D., University of Maryland University College, & Christina Shane-Simpson, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin, Stout

    Need ideas on assignments? Ever wonder whether your students are actually grasping course content? If so, you should check out APA’s Project Assessment! Project Assessment ( is a digital library of assessment tools that were designed to help psychology teachers demonstrate evidence of teaching and learning effectiveness. The site is available at no cost and requires only a quick registration process. Experienced and innovative teachers are continuously adding new tools and materials to the site, making it a continuously-evolving source of information on assessment. Although the site is accessible to APA members of all ranks, this resource could be particularly valuable for graduate students and early career professionals. As a graduate student, finding the time to prepare for a new course and create new assignments from scratch can be difficult and time-consuming. Project Assessment is a fantastic starting place if you’re looking to save time on your course prep. The website includes a variety of evidence-based assessments that can be easily integrated into the most commonly-taught psychology courses in higher education.

    Image 1. The search feature allows users to browse by learning goals, among other assessment aspects, as well.

    All of the assessments found in Project Assessment align with the learning outcomes identified in the APA Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major: Version 2.0. Visitors to the site can search by assessment topic (e.g., ethics, development, methods), assessment type (e.g., quiz, presentation, creative product), or by learning goal(s) for the assessment based on the APA guidelines (see Image 1). Within each assessment document, teachers will find an overview of the assessment, a description about how it aligns with the APA guidelines, and the corresponding teaching materials. Sample assessments include Designing a Restaurant Menu for Zombies (see Image 2), Psychology in the Public Media, and The Effect of Music on Performance.

    Image 2. "Restaurant Menu for Zombies" activity showing outcomes, indicators, and an overview of the assessment.

    Project Assessment was designed by teachers as a resource for teachers. It is a win-win for graduate students who are new to teaching, as materials on Project Assessment can help novice instructors develop their teaching skills in Psychology. This can provide your students with an enhanced learning experience in the classroom, increasing engagement via activities and other assessment materials. The Project Assessment review team is also accepting innovative and evidence-based assessments. If you have an assessment that you feel may be valuable to other teachers, you also might consider sending the Project Assessment review team through the “Become an Author” link on the site. Check out this valuable resource at!

    Jaclyn Ronquillo-Adachi, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and department chair at Cerritos College. Dr. Ronquillo-Adachi is an active member of the APA Committee on Associate and Baccalaureate Education (CABE).

    Jennifer Thompson, Ph.D., teaches courses in introductory psychology, research methods, human sexuality, memory and cognition, counseling psychology, clinical psychology, and senior seminar. Dr. Thompson is also an active member of CABE.

    Christina Shane-Simpson, Ph.D., is a former GSTA Chair and current professor of psychology at University of Wisconsin, Stout. Dr. Shane-Simpson is an active member of CABE.

  • 04 Sep 2018 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Bethany Fleck, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver

    You're a grad student not a miracle worker, right? And here I am, suggesting yet another thing to be added to your to-do list that's already a mile long and a few hours late. I know how this feels, but let me see if I can convince you of an overlooked but powerful influence that your soon-to-be faculty position has on the bigger picture… on our democracy.

    Am I being dramatic? Yes and no. We are facing times unlike any we have seen before. The very thread of our democracy is being challenged by sentiments such as “fake news” and the complacency of youth in their lack of participation in the political processes and community issues that make our country what it is today, for better or worse. For example, participation in the 2016 election was down among millennials, a group that will soon take over the baby boomers in number of eligible voters (Khalid, 2016). But, the tide could be changing. We see a new wave of participation in, for example, the youth protesters that organized in Florida after the massive school shooting that took place in Parkland. These people are our students now, or will be tomorrow when you take your first teaching jobs. What should we do to serve them and to increase the civic engagement of our current college goers? 

    In 2012, The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement released a national call to action. The first essential action recommended was to “reclaim and reinvest in the fundamental civic and democratic mission of schools and of all sectors within higher education (p. vi).” This action recognizes that higher education plays a critical role in fostering civic engagement (also known as civic learning). One entity working toward this goal is The American Democracy Project (ADP), an ever-growing network of state colleges and universities whose mission is to “produce college and university graduates who are equipped with the knowledge, skills, attitudes and experiences they need to be informed, engaged members of their communities (ADP, n.d.).”

    What does this have to do with psychology? Everything. These desired outcomes are in line with the American Psychological Association Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major. Students should become “ethical and socially responsibility in a diverse world” (2013, p. 26). Objectives for students under this goal include applying ethical standards, fostering interpersonal relationships, and adopting values that build from community up to global levels (Fleck, Hussey, & Rutledge-Ellison, 2017). Furthermore, civic learning embraces psychology domain-specific academic knowledge alongside more global values such as justice, critical thinking, public problem solving, and ethics (Saltmarsh, 2005). Simply put, we can use psychology-specific education and training to help create ethical citizens who value and participate in democracy.

    How should we do this? First, I beg you to consider integrating innovative civic engagement teaching techniques into your psychology courses. You can do this through service-learning, community-based research, internships, and other experiential learning opportunities. (For more information on experiential learning, see Schwartz, 2012).  These techniques are called high impact practices according to Kolb (1984), who describes how knowledge is created through the alteration of experience based on a person’s new involvement in different settings. Each of the pedagogies listed above warrant their own blog posts, and if you look back (thanks to the GSTA) some have already been written about–for example, see Shor’s (2018) blog post on Transformative Service Learning.

    A second way you can integrate civic engagement into your courses is slightly simpler. In the content, assignments, and discussions of your classes you can highlight community issues and use psychology research to help find solutions. Connections to community issues can be made within all areas of psychology. For example, in developmental psychology, my area of expertise, you might consider adding content around current educational policy at either the local, state, or national level. A fantastic example is given by Ahmed (2017) in another GSTA blog post called “Being Betsy DeVos: Bringing Politics into the Study of Developmental Psychology.” Another community issue you might consider is mental health and the opioid epidemic. A ballot initiative in Denver in the 2018 election cycle proposes to increase taxes to fund mental health and substance abuse programs (Daley, 2018). Psychology students can study the pros and cons of this initiative, educate others on campus, and cast their own informed vote on the subject. In previous work I have found that focusing on local level issues is a strong motivator for college students’ voting behavior. I encourage you to consider what other connections you can make between the community and your course content, and to work to bring those issues into the classroom.

    Last but not least, consider participating with ADP. To be an official ADP school your institution must be part of the AASCU (American Association of State Colleges and Universities, ADP, n.d.). A list of schools already participating can be found on the ADP webpage. If you are not already a member, or an AASCU school, you cannot officially join but you can still utilize all the great resources ADP offers. One example of a current initiative is called the Digital Polarization Initiative, or for short “DigiPro” led by Dr. Michael Caulfield of Washington State University Vancouver. This project has “students participating in a broad, cross-institutional project to fact-check, annotate, and provide context to the different news stories that show up in our Twitter and Facebook feeds (Digital, n.d.).” It is being pilot tested at 11 universities across the country (MSU Denver being one of them) right now and will take off widely very soon.  ADP has ongoing projects, such as this one, and will prove to be a great resource for you.

    In conclusion, I urge you to use the ivory tower to break it down. What I mean is that you have the potential to influence your students’ behavior in a way that can increase their participation in their community and in the political system. You can create a movement where universities contribute to the communities in which they are located. If you want to see change, cultivate it in your students. However, be cautious. You are not drawing conclusions on issues for your students, you are not telling them the positions they should take when they vote, and you are certainly not able to solve the nation’s problems single-handedly. But, you are communicating to your students that they need to vote and you are asking them to do so using psychology content to inform their decision-making. You are encouraging them to participate in tough conversations so that community problems can be addressed. Avoid pushing your own political agenda, yet send a clear message that motivates students to take ownership of their own power to vote and their power to participate in their communities. This might seem like a fine line to walk, but it is an important one. The time is now, and you can make a difference.


    ADP, (n.d.). About. Retrieved from

    Ahmed, T. (2017, October) Being Betsy DeVos: Bringing politics into the study of developmental psychology. (GSTA Blog). Retrieved from 

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

    Daley, J. (2018, August). Denver voters to decide on a tax that will fund mental health, substance abuse care Colorado public radio. Retrieved from

    Digital Polarization Initiative (n.d.). American Democracy Project. Retrieved from

    Fleck, B., Hussey, H. D., & Rutledge-Ellison, L. (2017). Linking class and community: An investigation of service learning. Teaching of Psychology, 44(3), 232-239, DOI:

    Khalid, A. (2016, May). Millennials now Rival Boomers as a political force, but will they actually vote? Retrieved from

    Kolb, D. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Saltmarsh, J. (2005). The civic promise of service learning. Liberal Education, 91(2), 50-55. Retrieved from

    Schwartz, M. (2012). Best practices in experiential learning. Ryerson University. Retrieved from

    Shor, R. (2018, June). Transformative service-learning. (GSTA Blog). Retrieved from

    The National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement. (2012). A crucible moment: College learning and democracy’s future. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities. Retrieved from

    Bethany Fleck, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor at Metropolitan State University of Denver. She is committed to an active, learner-centered approach to teaching. Her research centers on cognitive development in K-12 and university classroom contexts. Recently her work focuses on innovative teaching pedagogy that supports student civic engagement.

    To learn more, consider attending The American Democracy Project Regional Institute hosted by MSU Denver on Friday, November 2, 2018:

  • 27 Aug 2018 7:00 PM | Anonymous

    By David Myers, Ph.D., Hope College

    My in-class teaching of introductory psychology changed over time. My initial compulsion to cover everything—with micro explanations of many things—evolved into focusing on fewer, bigger ideas. Textbooks, I realized, could more efficiently cover the gamut of psychology’s insights into our humanity. Books—which can be read at double a teacher’s speaking rate—are efficient vehicles for transmitting ideas and concepts from one head to another. Moreover, textbooks are broader, less idiosyncratic, and more carefully checked and edited (thanks to editors and reviewers) than any one instructor’s lecture could possibly be.

    Recognizing the functions of the text freed me (especially after I started using my own text, which stole my best lecture material!) to keep this question at the front of my mind: What does an educated person need to know? For example . . .

    1)    In today’s “post-truth” world, how can we enable students to think smarter about life-relevant matters? Educating students about psychology’s scientific methods enables them to supplement their intuition with critical thinking, encouraging them to ask, what do you mean and how do you know? As I have explained elsewhere, our intuition—our automatic, implicit, unreasoned thinking—is vast. But it is also perilous and can lead to implicit prejudice, poor risk assessment, and overconfident predictions.

    So, when in conversation about, for example, the supposed criminality of immigrants, the effects of well-meaning educational and therapeutic interventions, the realities of sexual orientation, and much more, let’s guide our students to reach beyond anecdote, to embrace evidence, to be truth-discerning—in short, to be open to new wonders but not to be gullible. And let’s ensure students fully understand that psychology is a science that they can use.

    2)    How can we not only expand students’ minds but enlarge their hearts? How can we restrain judgmentalism with compassion? How can we help students appreciate both our human kinship and our diversity?

    In a world that divides “us” from “them,” educated people should, first, appreciate our essential unity as humans who share an evolutionary and biological heritage. We therefore sense and perceive, learn and remember, hunger and emote in similar ways. As kindred humans, we are all social animals. We flourish in groups, recognize social status, punish offenses, fear strangers, favor those like us, and grieve loved ones’ deaths.

    Yet we also differ. We differ in our individual aptitudes, traits, and vulnerabilities; in our sex, gender identity, and sexual orientation; and in our culturally shaped attitudes and beliefs, social practices, and life priorities. In a world that struggles with national, cultural, and racial diversity, it’s increasingly important both to accept and value our diversity and to affirm our deeper human kinship.

    3)    How can our teaching of psychology enable students to flourish—to become self-disciplined, happy, healthy people, and effective global citizens? In teaching introductory psychology we aim not just to teach a discipline for its own sake, but to support and enrich our students’ lives. Psychology has so much to offer, with its big lessons about the benefits of delay of gratification, aerobic exercise, sleep, supportive relationships, flow, and so much more—including how to effectively learn and remember (for which I offer a 5 minute animated tutorial at

    Mindful that students forget many of the details of what we teach, it seems best to teach fewer things with greater emphasis— focusing each class session on a big take-home message. For example, when teaching Sensation and Perception, you might focus on a small set of topics that you can teach with passion, using captivating examples. For me, these topics have been hearing, as a person with hearing loss who appreciates the wonders of hearing, and ESP, for which I demonstrated a series of pseudo-psychic magic tricks. The “magic” enabled me to astonish students, while leaving them with a reminder that just because something looks like a paranormal psychic phenomenon—because there seems no other explanation—does not mean that it is.

    For more specific teaching tips and demonstration ideas derived from my experience (and that of many other teachers) see here. And for a weekly blog essay that reflects on psychological science and its insights into teaching and everyday life, visit

    David Myers, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Visit to explore his scholarship, science writing, and books.

  • 06 Aug 2018 6:00 PM | Anonymous

    By Jennifer Parada, M.A., Northern Arizona University

    Laboratory courses represent a unique aspect of undergraduate education because they allow for direct application of course content and the scientific process (Beck, Butler, & Burke da Silva, 2014; McKeachie & Svinicki, 2013). Both of these aspects (i.e. direct theory application and scientific inquiry) are highlighted in the current American Psychological Association guidelines for the undergraduate psychology curriculum (American Psychological Association, 2013). Thus, lab courses that are well-taught increase student comprehension and application of essential psychological theories, increase critical thinking (Luckie, Aubry, Marengo, Rivkin, Foos, & Maleszewski, 2012), and increase a general interest in science (Freeman et al., 2014; Misseyanni, Marouli, Papadopoulou, Lytras, & Gastardo, 2016). For instructors, who are often graduate students, teaching a lab is a unique experience that allows for greater freedom to experiment with and apply various instructional styles (e.g., expository, inquiry-based; Domin, 1999). This freedom of experimentation is not always available in traditional lecture courses, and especially for graduate students who are given general teaching assistant assignments intended to support faculty through grading, proctoring exams, hosting office hours, etc.

    Being that lab courses yield multiple benefits to students and freedom for graduate student instructors, I have gathered some structural tips and best practices on teaching a lab:

    1) Weekly Quizzes

    Although there might be high-stake assessment requirements for certain labs (e.g., a poster presentation for a research methods lab, a neuroanatomy exam for a biopsychology lab), frequent low-stake assessments are an excellent way to keep students engaged with lab content and track their mastery. The use of short, weekly quizzes that cover content from the previous lab are a semi-effortless technique to do just that. Ideally, the content covered on the quizzes is independent of lecture (although there will likely be overlap because of the supplementary nature of laboratory courses). For example, in my upper-division behavioral neuroscience lab, quizzes for the neuroanatomy unit are often composed of pictures of brain structures, which students must identify along with questions associated with the structures’ functions.

    2) Mini Lectures

    After weekly quizzes are completed, I suggest providing a mini lecture intended to review relevant content that students will be implementing during the assigned lab. In other words, use mini lectures to prime students on the relevant topics they will need to thoroughly comprehend in order to successfully complete the lab. Students should be well aware of the goal of mini lectures to avoid confusion or frustration during the lab activities (Kenwright, Dai, Osbourne, Gladman, Gallagher, & Grainger, 2017), see a direct connection between lab activities and learning outcomes, and develop increased comfort asking clarifying questions before beginning the lab activities. As the name suggests, mini lectures should last 10-15 minutes, which also helps prevent lab periods from becoming an additional hour of lecture.

    3) Lecture Note Handouts

    Another best practice to ensure student engagement during lab periods is the use of lecture note handouts. Lecture note handouts should be a skeletal outline of the topics covered during the mini lecture (think of this as a fill-in-the blank method of notetaking). These handouts provide a framework of the lecture topics for students and guide their notetaking (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2013). I typically staple the lab directions to the note handout to ensure that the background information and the lab activity are found together for review, as well as to encourage students to utilize the lecture notes while completing the lab.


    4) Fostering Teamwork and Additional Exploration of Course Content

    The last two structural tips involve fostering teamwork in the lab and providing encouragement for additional exploration of course content. Students teaching other students through groupwork yields various positive outcomes for students such as active learning strategies (e.g., active listening, summarizing and organizing content, asking questions), increased collaborative skills, and decreased absenteeism (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2013). Labs are a perfect environment to implement groupwork. All groups should consist of 3-4 students; yet assigning partners is also successful, and can still result in the positive attributes of larger group formations. Lab groups can be changed 3-4 times during the semester; this gives the instructor flexibility in case there is a need to reassign group members due to unforeseen conflicts, or simply to avoid redundancy.

    Lastly, I encourage all students to stay in lab, even after they complete the assigned lab activities (time permitted). This nudge of encouragement is intended to allow students to explore additional content or review previous content with full access to lab equipment, the instructor, teaching assistants, and their group members. Similar to the office hour trend, most students do not take this offer and leave once they have completed the assigned lab activities; however, as exams or other high-stake assessments come closer, students begin staying and reviewing previous content. The majority of students appreciate this (see next section on student feedback), which I believe is fostered by the exploratory nature of labs.


    Student Feedback on Lab Structure

    The following data reflect feedback from a section of an upper-division behavioral neuroscience lab. Students were asked to rate how helpful each of the following lab components were during the neuroanatomy unit. The unit was composed of four lab periods with dissections ranging from brain basics (e.g. directional terms) to complex dissections of limbic system and basal ganglia structures.

    How helpful were each of the following components in your understanding of neuroanatomy?

    Table showing data from in-class responses.

    What did you like the most about the neuroanatomy labs?

    •  “The directions for each lab made everything very clear and easy to follow”
    • “The notes were most helpful for my learning, dissections helped solidify the topics”
    • “Freedom to explore and find brain structures on your own after completing the assigned lab”
    • “I liked that we had some free time to continue dissecting the brains after we found the structures that were required for that day.”


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. [Data File]. Retrieved from

    Beck, C., Butler, A., & Burke da Silva, K. (2014). Promoting inquiry-based teaching in laboratory courses: are we meeting the grade?. CBE—Life Sciences Education13(3), 444-452.

    Domin, D. S. (1999). A review of laboratory instruction styles. Journal of Chemical Education76(4), 543-547.

    Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences111(23), 8410-8415.

    Kenwright, D., Dai, W., Osbourne, E., Gladman, T., Gallagher, P., & Grainger, R. (2017). Just tell me what I need to know to pass the exam!” can active flipped learning overcome passivity. TAPS2(1), 1-6.

    Luckie, D. B., Aubry, J. R., Marengo, B. J., Rivkin, A. M., Foos, L. A., & Maleszewski, J. J. (2012). Less teaching, more learning: 10-yr study supports increasing student learning through less coverage and more inquiry. Advances in Physiology Education36(4), 325-335.

    McKeachie, W., & Svinicki, M. (2013). McKeachie's teaching tips. Cengage Learning.

    Misseyanni, A., Marouli, C., Papadopoulou, P., Lytras, M., & Gastardo, M. T. (2016). Stories of active learning in STEM: Lessons for STEM education. In Proceedings of the International Conference The Future of Education, (p. 232À236).

    Jennifer Parada, M.A., is a recent graduate of the Psychological Sciences Master’s program at Northern Arizona University. Her research encompasses various aspects of the biology of behavior from physiological responses to stress to more applied research on decision-making following stressful experiences. In the classroom, Jennifer aims to apply and experiment with best practices to increase students’ comprehension and interest in neuroscience.

  • 04 Aug 2018 12:00 PM | Anonymous
    By Raechel Soicher, Graduate Student, School of Psychological Science, Oregon State University

    To give you an idea about the power of Twitter, I sent out the following Tweet on June 22nd @ 3:07pm:

    For anyone that's a #gradstudent - what are the pros and cons of using social media professionally for you? Working on a blog post, hoping to quote some folks :) #AcademicTwitter #phdlife @legogradstudent #phdchat

    Within three days, over 21,000 people had seen the Tweet, it got 45 “likes,” 34 “replies,” 18 retweets, and led 81 people to view my Twitter profile. The responses had a surprising amount of overlap. The benefits of using social media professionally?

    1.              Being part of a larger community

                    i.                  @MassSpecMaven says “Some of the best support, on the hardest days of that #phdlife, was from complete strangers with a shared experience.  #WomeninSTEM #BlackandSTEM #marginsci #LGBTinSTEM”

                  ii.                  @rebecca_quelch (among almost every other person that responded) discussed the value of “a whole community of support and similar experiences that is so valuable.”

    2.              Building a professional network

                    i.                  @Elusieum points out “People at conferences recognize me from Twitter, and it is a great conversation starter for networking”.

                  ii.                  @mthomp_soc said “In the few months I've been on Twitter I've found recent publications, people in my field I hadn't heard of, and gotten a better sense of the current debates and the movement in the field. I know better who I need to be citing to be taken seriously as a contributor to the field.”

    3.              Exploring new opportunities

                    i.                  @AlzScience got started in paid science communication freelance work through Twitter

                  ii.                  @amy_nusbaum was asked to contribute a publication through a contact she made on Twitter

                 iii.                  @TheresaWege - found her job through Twitter and has been approached by recruiters there as well. She also speaks to the power of Twitter for introverts.

    4.         Finding Teaching Resources

    Resource for teaching about Open Science and the Credibility Revolution in PsychologyResource for teaching about Open Science and the Credibility Revolution in Psychology

     Resource for improving the effectiveness of multiple-choice questions.Resource for improving the effectiveness of multiple-choice questions.

    Downloadable posters illustrating principles from cognitive psychology for improving learning. (Definitely follow @AceThatTest)Downloadable posters illustrating principles from cognitive psychology for improving learning. (Definitely follow @AceThatTest)

    The cons of using Twitter professionally? Less than a handful of folks actually mentioned disadvantages to using Twitter. Most often cited: Twitter distracts you from [all things PhD-related].  Another person mentioned being “angry at politics all the time.” I was surprised that only one person spoke to this - in my own experience, Twitter is a great, but often depressing, news source.


    Tips for Professional Twitter

    1.              Use your full name - In academia, your name is your brand (Vander Wheele, 2018)

    2.              Follow, follow, follow - If you see Tweets that interest you, give that person a follow. The more people you follow, the wider the range of things you will see in your feed. Follow hashtags for conferences or for topics you are interested in.

    3.              Posting pictures? - Be sure they’re not copyrighted and be sure to include an Alt-tag for accessibility

    4.              Think before you post - Like it or not, potential employers are getting thousands of job applications and sometimes use Twitter (valid or not) to learn more about candidates.

    5.              Take a break - Ok, so you maybe haven’t even started using Twitter yet, but it’s never too early to point out that using social media can get out of hand pretty quickly. The minute it fails to add to your quality of life, take. a. break.


    Additional Resources

    1.              Do yourself a favor and follow @Legogradstudent who hilariously frames the ups and downs of being a graduate student.

    2.              Read this short post from Dr. Christopher Madan on the benefits of social media in academia

    3.              Weinstein and Sumeracki (2017) article on Twitter and blogs for psychological scientists

    4.              Short blog post: Teachers on Twitter

    Raechel Soicher, M.A., is a doctoral student in the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University. Raechel is interested in translating psychological science to promising pedagogical practices. Follower her on Twitter: @rnsoicher

  • 01 Aug 2018 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Barney Beins, Ph.D., Ithaca College

    People sometimes refer to the “hard sciences” and the “soft sciences.” Perhaps a better distinction, if there is one, is between the hard sciences and the difficult sciences. And by any reckoning, psychology is a difficult science.

    Each discipline features its own characteristics, and none is simple. But the nature of the complexity of psychology differs markedly from that of the physical sciences. The complexity associated with thought and behavior is why psychology is one of the difficult sciences. Consequently, when we teach, it is hard to convey to students that what they are learning is neither simple nor obvious.

    I believe that one of the primary tasks we need to engage in is to change the how of thinking in our students. That is, they must change how they think about psychology and psychological knowledge if they are to understand the discipline. On what basis do they form beliefs and, maybe more importantly, on what basis do they change their minds about their beliefs?

    When we see the results of research, it is often difficult to believe that results could have turned out differently because research reports convey a story that follows from earlier investigation and makes sense in the context of its story. All too often, people question why an investigator would engage in such “obvious” research.  The problem is that it is only obvious in retrospect. In my classes, I ask students to predict the outcome of research, such as that illustrated below:

    "Many people have aesthetic (i.e. plastic) surgery in order to boost their social and psychological well-being. Is it actually the case that the effect is to provide such a boost?" [Margraf, J., Meyer, A. H., & Lavallee, K. L. (2013). Well-being from the knife? Psychological effects of aesthetic surgery. Clinical Psychological Science, 1, 239-252. doi:10.1177/2167702612471660.]

    Which of the statements below reflects the main finding of the study?

    1. The surgery has a negative effect on well-being.

    2. The surgery has no effect on well-being.

    3. The surgery has a positive effect on well-being.

    Student guesses in my classes are at essentially chance levels. About 30% of my classes correctly identify the outcome of the study, which is that surgery has positive benefits. This pattern of poor predictions holds true for many of the examples I use in my class.

    What does this mean regarding our teaching? Students have to learn that explaining why we obtained our results is generally easier than predicting them in advance. Yogi Berra is reputed to have said, “Making predictions is hard. Especially about the future.” This point itself is neither easy nor obvious. But it is a critical point.

    Students also need to learn that any single study is only a part of a larger puzzle. That is, it is only one study that needs to be considered in relation to other studies. (This is why our medical doctor should probably not rely on recent reports of research too much in treating us. The striking new finding that just appeared is only one study, and it may be at odds with the general body of research in the area.) When the mass media report on psychological research, we need to be careful because our knowledge progresses in small increments. Sometimes surprising research results stand the test of time. For instance, stereotype threat seems quite real; it was a real eye-opener when it appeared. But we have to ask whether it is a new and important finding or a finding that doesn’t replicate. Until and unless the study replicates, we are in a state of uncertainty.

    If we look at many of the striking findings in psychology that have made the news, we can see why this issue is important. Look at research on the facial feedback hypothesis or on the so-called power pose, or consider the research that found that people primed with thoughts of old age walked more slowly than those not so primed. There are serious questions about the replicability of the research. Which research should we believe? We don’t know until the body of literature begins to converge on a conclusion.

    The issue of what to believe entails taking the long view. John Ioannidis published a paper involving biomedical research called Why most published research findings are false. Perhaps it is an overstatement, but the important lesson is that we should be slow to accept the surprising findings that make their way into the media. Such studies provide fodder for new research, but issues of replicability are paramount in any science.

    It has been publicized that quite a few psychological studies do not replicate. Part of the issue goes back to the initial point of this essay, which is that psychology is difficult. Some replication failure reflects the fact that the phenomena documented in the research simply do not exist. But some failures result from the fact that the dynamics of context differ across experiments and across participants, not because the phenomenon is a chimera.

    As it turns out, psychological research seems to be in about the same state regarding replicability as many other disciplines. Biologists are now tracing psychology’s steps in setting up replicability programs, and biomedical research is fraught with many of the same issues. In fact, this issue pervades many scientific enterprises. For example, a significant number of planets that astronomers think they have discovered may not exist.

    The truth is that when we are on the edge of knowledge, we are going to make mistakes. As we know regarding scientific knowledge, it is always provisional. We can gain confidence in our beliefs with continued empirical support for our findings, but it is a reality that we may need to change our minds when our information advances.

    So, what does this mean with respect to our teaching? When we face our students, they will have beliefs about thought and behavior that are often very simplistic. We need to show them the importance of relying on research in forming our belief systems. The simple picture that students often have about behavior hide complexities that emerge as “obvious” after we conduct studies, but those complexities are far from obvious at the beginning.

    Further, we have to be willing to change our minds. That is what science is all about. Our beliefs change in small, incremental steps, so we should probably be skeptical (but not cynical) about reports of striking research findings.

    This mindset is not easy because we are always in a state of uncertainty. But in the long run, accepting the complexity of psychology and psychological research will ultimately lead to beliefs that we can accept with greater confidence.


    Power Pose

    Carney, D. R., Cuddy, A. J. C., & Yap, A. J. (2010). Power posing: Brief nonverbal displays affect neuroendocrine levels and risk tolerance. Psychological Science, 21, 1363–1368.

    Cuddy, A. J. C., Schultz, S. J., & Fosse, N. E. (2018). P-curving a more comprehensive body of research on postural feedback reveals clear evidential value for power-posing effects: Reply to Simmons and Simonsohn (2017). Psychological Science, 29, 656-666. doi:

    Garrison, K. E., Tang, D., and Schmeichel, B. J. (2016). Embodying power: A preregistered replication and extension of the power pose effect. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 7, 623–630.

    Smith, K. M., and Apicella, C. L. (2017). Winners, losers, and posers: The effect of power poses on testosterone and risk-taking following competition. Hormones and Behavior, 92, 172–181.

    Priming about Aging

    Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype activation on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244. doi:

    Doyen, S., Klein, O., Pichon, C-L, & Cleeremans, A. (2012). Behavioral priming: It's all in the mind, but whose mind?  PLoS ONE, 7(1): e29081.

    Bernard (Barney) Beins, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at Ithaca College. Dr. Beins' scholarship includes research on humor and on the scholarship of teaching and learning, and his teaching focuses on students' development of critical thinking skills. He is the 2010 recipient of the Charles L. Brewer Distinguished Teaching Award from the American Psychological Foundation and received the Ithaca College Faculty Excellence Award. Dr. Beins has also shared his knowledge of teaching as an author or co-editor of over 30 books and teaching manuals.

  • 11 Jul 2018 5:14 AM | Anonymous
    By Scott O. Lilienfeld, Samuel Candler Dobbs Professor, Department of Psychology, Emory University

    Breakthroughs.  Miracle cures.  Paradigm shifts.  Dramatic advances.

    As someone who received his psychology Ph.D. in 1990 (University of Minnesota, clinical psychology), I’ve heard all of these phrases, and many more, over the years. In the intervening 28 years, I’ve lost count of the number of psychological and medical interventions that I’ve seen described as “cures “ or quick fixes for serious or even intractable conditions, such as autism spectrum disorder (autism), schizophrenia, depression, and posttraumatic stress disorder.

    Barely a week goes by that I don’t receive an email in my inbox or a flyer in my mailbox that advertises a workshop on a new “breakthrough” clinical method, such as an energy therapy for anxiety disorders or a brain-based therapy for clinical depression. The field of psychotherapy, family therapy in particular, is especially susceptible to this trend (Meichenbaum & Lilienfeld, 2018). To take merely one example among hundreds and perhaps thousands, one website promotes “The Bulimia Breakthrough Method-2018,” a technique that relies on hypnosis to “work below consciousness to interrupt the addictive behaviours”, as a powerful intervention for eating disorders.  Perhaps the Bulimia Breakthrough Method really does help patients with bulimia nervosa; I don’t know, and despite a literature search, I couldn’t locate a single published study on its efficacy. But I’m exceedingly dubious that it is a breakthrough. Why? There have been few or no increases in the average effect size of psychological interventions over the past three decades (Budd & Hughes, 2009), and even the most effective psychological interventions, such as prolonged exposure for obsessive-compulsive disorder and cognitive-behavioral therapy for major depression, still leave significant numbers of patients with significant residual symptoms (Arkowitz & Lilienfeld, 2006). All of these findings should be grounds for humility in our claims. The same goes for such extensively hyped methods as psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy, described in a recent academic article as a “paradigm shift” (Schenberg, 2018). Perhaps it will indeed prove to be a paradigm shift, but until more compelling evidence is in, I am holding off on encouraging my clinical colleagues to purchase hallucinogens for their therapy clients.

    In my experience as an instructor of graduate students in clinical psychology and allied fields for three decades, one of the most widespread thinking errors that I have encountered, among even the best and brightest of students, is what I term “breakthrough-ism” (Lilienfeld, 2017): the tendency to regard novel interventions as breakthroughs rather than merely as potentially promising techniques that may be worthy of investigation (Lilienfeld, 2017). Breakthrough-ism is potentially dangerous, as it can lead us to latch on to ineffective or even harmful fads. As the literature on placebo effects teaches us, genuine hope can be helpful (Kirsch, 2005), but false hope can be detrimental, not to mention cruel to patients and their loved ones, whose hopes are dashed. In my view, teaching graduate students to avoid the seductive temptations of therapeutic hype is among our foremost responsibilities as teachers.

    Even graduate students in non-clinical fields, such as experimental psychology, developmental psychology, and neuroscience, must be vigilant of claims regarding breakthroughs. Hence, although I am cautiously optimistic about the prospects of genome-wide association studies, epigenetics, the microbiome, computational psychiatry, big data, machine learning, and any number of relatively recent trends in psychological fields, I view them with at least a dose of healthy skepticism, as I’ve witnessed far too many heavily hyped advances not live up to their billing. As one example, I vividly recall when I was a graduate student in the 1980s, many psychologists and psychiatrists were confidently forecasting that positron emission tomography (then a new kid on the neuroscience block) and other newly emerging brain imaging techniques would soon render the field of neuropsychology obsolete. They would also, we were assured, soon replace the in-person clinical interview as a method of arriving at formal psychiatric diagnoses. Well, neither promise materialized, and neither seems to be close to coming to fruition. When the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013) appeared in print five years ago, it did not contain a single brain imaging finding for any of its 300+ mental disorders.

    How can we combat breakthrough-ism? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that learning more about the histories of psychology and psychiatry is a partial corrective (Lilienfeld, 2017). In particular, the appreciation that scores of well-intentioned interventions once widely assumed to be therapeutic breakthroughs did not pass the test of time may help to temper our premature enthusiasm regarding the prospects of contemporary treatments. Regrettably, few of today’s graduate students know much about the history of the discipline, largely because the teaching of the history of psychology has been increasingly de-emphasized in many graduate programs. Several years ago, my own psychology department at Emory University voted to eliminate the history of psychology requirement for its graduate students; I was among the few dissenters.

    In a useful article, Braslow (1999) reviewed the often-sordid history of somatic treatments for mental disorders, including those that turned out to be disastrously ineffective and dangerous, such as prefrontal lobotomy malaria fever therapy, and insulin coma therapy. To that list, one could add a host of others, such as bleeding, blistering, purging, tranquilizing chairs, the Utica crib, and the surgical removal of bodily organs (for a horrific recounting of the latter, see Scull (2007). We rarely teach today’s students about these mistakes of the past, and when we do, we often impart the wrong lessons about them. Specifically, we typically emphasize how cruel and inhumane these interventions were, and how far we have come since the bad old days. Yes, these were indeed cruel and inhumane interventions. Yet, as Braslow wisely observes, the far more important lesson is that most practitioners of the time were earnestly trying to help, and sincerely believed these methods to be beneficial. Indeed, two of these interventions – prefrontal lobotomy and malaria fever therapy – earned their principal practitioners Nobel Prizes in Medicine or Physiology (Egas Moniz for the former and Julius Wagner-Jauregg for the latter).

    Such sobering reminders can help to imbue in us a sense of modesty regarding new techniques proclaimed by their advocates to be breakthroughs. I take the liberty of quoting Braslow at length:

    What does this teach us about our present-day efforts at evidence-based medicine? First, this history should encourage a sense of humility despite our scientific and therapeutic advances. Every generation believes in what they deem as "evidence" and, as this history illustrates, what counts as evidence is not fixed, but evolves over time. Second, this history should encourage us to ask critical questions about our contemporary methods of producing evidence and treating patients, since, if history is any guide, these methods will no doubt be subject to revision (p. 238).

    By all means, let us remain open to new and exciting developments in our field, and be willing to subject them to systematic inquiry should they appear promising. At the same time, however, let us recall how often well-meaning practitioners of bygone eras who were just as bright as us were woefully mistaken. In this respect, learning more about the history of our discipline should be an essential element of graduate education in psychology. Humility should be our watchword, and nothing can keep us more humble than learning about the errors of the past.


    American Psychiatric Association (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5). Washington, D.C.: Author.

    Arkowitz, H., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2006). Psychotherapy on trial. Scientific American Mind17(2), 42-49.

    Braslow, J. T. (1999). History and evidence-based medicine: Lessons from the history of somatic treatments from the 1900s to the 1950s. Mental Health Services Research1, 231-240.

    Kirsch, I. (2005). Placebo psychotherapy: synonym or oxymoron? Journal of Clinical Psychology61, 791-803.

    Lilienfeld, S.O. (2017). Knowledge of the history of clinical psychology: A partial antidote against “breakthrough-ism.” Society for a Science of Clinical Psychology Newsletter, 20 (3), 2-3. Retrieved from

    Meichenbaum, D., & Lilienfeld, S. O. (2018). How to spot hype in the field of psychotherapy: A 19-item checklist. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice49, 22-30.

    Schenberg, E. E. S. (2018). Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy: a paradigm shift in psychiatric research and development. Frontiers in Pharmacology9, 733.

    Scull, A. (2007). Madhouse: A tragic tale of megalomania and modern medicine. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

    Scott O. Lilienfeld, Ph.D., received his B.A. in Psychology from Cornell University in 1982 and his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Minnesota in 1990. He completed his clinical internship at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania from 1986-1987. He was assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at SUNY Albany from 1990 to 1994, and has been a faculty member in the Department of Psychology at Emory since 1994. He is editor-in-chief of Clinical Psychological Science. He is also a visiting Professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia.

  • 06 Jun 2018 10:00 AM | Anonymous
    By Rachel Shor, Ph.D. Candidate, George Mason University

    As instructors, we consistently endeavor to engage students in the classroom, in course material, and in the learning process in order to promote growth and deepen understanding of course material. One pathway to increase student engagement and comprehension is through experiential learning ─ and in particular though service-learning. Service-learning is conducive to building critical thinking skills, empowering students to take an active role in their learning and increasing understanding of material. In fact, there is a substantial body of literature highlighting how service-learning is a powerful educational tool that can have a transformative impact on students, for example, increasing self-esteem (e.g., Celio, Durklak, & Dymnicki, 2011), self-efficacy (e.g., Aston, 2000), as well as engagement in leadership activities (e.g., Astin et al., 2006), social skills, cultural competence, and social problem solving (e.g., Simons & Cleary, 2006).

    Research on Service-learning

    Service-learning courses educate students by engaging them in the classroom as well as the community, while educators facilitate students’ reflection on their experiences in both environments (Giles & Eyler, 1994; Cress, Collier & Reitenauer, 2005; Kiely, 2005). Broken into its simplest components, service-learning consists of a classroom component, a placement within a community organization typically outside of the college, and the students who engage in the course. Educators have significant control over the nature of the classroom and community placements, making those components especially important to study.

    There are a number of different theoretical frameworks that describe the mechanics of change in a service-learning course. A shared theme among these theories is that through community service, students have critical experiences, or “disorienting dilemmas” (Mezirow, 2000), that shake-up how they think about themselves, others, or the world around them. Classroom work helps prepare students for disorienting dilemmas and helps them make sense of their experiences. However, the disorienting dilemma is most likely going to occur at the community placement.

    Key Findings

    The study I describe here (see Shor, Cattaneo, & Calton, 2017) was conducted with undergraduate students in a service-learning course on community engagement and social change. Using poverty as a semester-long case study, the course was designed to teach undergraduates that social problems have social causes, and to apply multi-level analysis to understand the impact of these social problems on individuals and communities. In addition to course readings, experiential classroom exercises, and class assignments, students also completed 20 hours of service with community partners (e.g., a local homeless shelter).

    This study extended research on transformational service-learning by examining the impact that a community placement context can have on college students’ transformational processes. Using the consensual qualitative research (CQR; Hill, Thompson, & Williams, 1997) method of qualitative analysis, we examined 43 essays written by undergraduates taking the course, in which they described an experience they found to be “eye-opening” while learning about the development and maintenance of poverty in the United States.

    Our findings suggest that working inside and outside of a community placement (e.g., a homeless shelter, in a community garden) shapes the types of disorienting dilemmas students’ experience. Students who engaged in service-learning at a homeless shelter, for example, identified experiences in which they learned more about clients’ current or past life difficulties. One student wrote:

    A middle school girl was telling me how her 19 years old sister died giving birth to her baby, and how her three brothers died in war. Her parents and her three younger siblings came to United States 7 years ago. Her parents left three kids back in Somalia because they couldn’t afford to take the other kids with them.

    In contrast, the students whose service-learning placed them outside of a facility identified disorienting dilemmas in which they made a personal connection to a client, but only 20% reported that they learned about the client's difficult life. For example, one student who worked an event that took place in the community wrote that,

    To me this was an eye-opening moment as I got to make a connection with someone I never thought I would have. I did not realize how I had stereotyped and stigmatized the homeless by never thinking I could indeed have a stimulating conversation with them or relate to them. I failed to see them as regular people who have gone through tremendous difficulties in their lives.

    One explanation for this contrast is that students and clients have different role expectations in the different settings. In a shelter, students are typically assigned administrative work and have rigidly defined job responsibilities; for example, they provide resources, open locked doors, answer phones, or tutor. Within the shelter context, students have a clear position of power relative to clients, many times with the physical barrier of a desk or table separating them. These physical and psychological barriers keep them somewhat removed from clients and put them in a position to observe others. Outside of the placement facility, though, role expectations may be less clear, and students and clients may have more opportunity to interact as individuals rather than as helper and client. These findings suggest that different contextual components may therefore expose students to different types of experiences, which potentially facilitate different pathways towards transformation.

    Instructors have a profound impact on students’ classroom experience and choosing community partners, and these findings have the potential to allow educators to customize service-learning experiences for students. Educators may choose to foster specific community partnerships that emphasize home-based services rather than working at a shelter, knowing that interactions in and outside of an organization's physical location may lead to qualitatively different experiences. Alternatively, instructors may vary their in-class activities and course material based on the context of students’ placements to foster different reflection and critical thinking skills. Ultimately, these findings support the existing literature that service-learning with adequate reflection has the potential to transform students’ thinking and promote growth.

    To read the full article on pathways of transformational service-learning, please refer to the following:

    Shor, R., Cattaneo, L., & Calton, J. (2017). Pathways of transformational service learning: Exploring the relationships between context, disorienting dilemmas, and student response. Journal of Transformative Education15, 156-173. doi: 10.1177/1541344616689044.


    Astin, A. W., Vogelgesang, L. J., Ikeda, E. K., & Yee, J. A. (2000). How service learning affects students. Los Angeles: University of California Los Angeles, Higher Education Research Institute. Retrieved from

    Astin, A. W., Vogelgesang, L. J., Misa, K., Anderson, J., Denson, N., Jayakumar, U., Saenz, V., & Yamamura, E. (2006). Understanding the effects of service-learning: A study of students and faculty. Report to the Atlantic Philanthropies, 1–155. Retrieved from, Durklak, & Dymnicki, 2011

    Cress, C., Collier, P.J., Reitenauer, V.L. and Associates (2005). Learning through serving: A student guidebook for service-learning across the disciplines. Sterling, VA: Stylus.

    Giles Jr., D. E., & Eyler, J. (1994). The theoretical roots of service-learning in John Dewey: Toward a theory of service-learning. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning1(1), 7-85.

    Hill, C. E., Thompson, B. J., & Williams, E. N. (1997). A guide to conducting consensual qualitative research. The Counseling Psychologist, 25, 517–572.

    Kiely, R. (2005). A transformative learning model for service-learning: A longitudinal case study. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, 12, 5–22.

    Mezirow, J. (2000). Learning as transformation: Critical perspectives on a theory in progress. The Jossey-Bass Higher and Adult Education Series. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

    Simons, L., & Cleary, B. (2006). The influence of service learning on students’ personal and social development. College Teaching, 54, 307–319.


    Rachel Shor is a doctoral candidate in Clinical Psychology at George Mason University. With experience as a trauma counselor and a doctoral student researcher, she has examined the impact of interpersonal violence and multicultural counseling. Rachel’s current research investigates the interpersonal dynamics of power, implicit social cognition, and disclosure during the process of help-seeking.

  • 01 Jun 2018 11:00 AM | Anonymous

    By Jordan Troisi, Ph.D., Sewanee: The University of the South

    Navigating the job market for faculty positions is never easy. This is true of research-oriented positions, and it’s also true of teaching-oriented positions. This blog post highlights some tips on how to specifically navigate the job market for teaching-oriented faculty positions.

    Why this focus? Well, that is where my experience lies. In the past 8 years, I have twice entered the full-scale, nationwide job market in search of teaching-oriented positions. I served as a visiting assistant professor at Widener University for three years, then I took on a position at Sewanee: The University of the South, where I have recently been awarded tenure. I have served on many search committees for tenure-track and visiting appointments. I also serve as the Co-Director of my university’s Center for Teaching, so I interact with lots of new faculty, many of whom have been beleaguered by job market trials and tribulations.

    Before delving into specific tips, I should point out that this piece draws substantially, but not exclusively, from a chapter in Preparing the New Psychology Professoriate (Troisi, Christopher, & Batsell, 2014). If you haven’t seen this e-Book and you are applying for faculty positions at teaching-oriented schools—or will soon be applying—download it. It’s free. Stop reading this, download it, then return when you’ve done that.

    (Welcome back from your downloading excursion!)

    Tip #1: Know the nature of the job to which you are applying.

    Faculty positions come in great variety. Some are tenure-track jobs, some are short-term visiting (e.g., 1 semester, 1 year), some are long-term visiting (e.g., 1-3 years), and some do not really fit any of these categories.

    To the extent you can, try to determine what type of position is being offered. The job ad might have some hints, and often some reading between the lines will be necessary (hint: if there is text referencing a “sabbatical replacement,” then this most likely means this job is a short-term gig). Your professional networks might also have some insight, so ask around with those you might know, especially near the school.

    Knowing the nature of the position allows you to tailor your application materials appropriately. At my teaching-oriented institution, if we are hiring a sabbatical replacement, it does relatively little good for job application materials to trumpet research prowess—we are simply not hiring for that.

    Tip #2: The cover letter is the most important piece of the application; the vita is a close second.

    Here’s the dirty little secret from the hiring side of the job interview process: most candidates’ application materials look pretty much the same. When we have a pile of 20, 70, or 150 job applicants, one article reprint from one applicant usually does not stand out in the pile. What does stand out though—at least to me—are thoughtful, well-crafted cover letters and vitas.

    Let me address the vita first. At teaching-oriented schools, if your vita does not highlight and elucidate your teaching-oriented accomplishments, well, it’s game over. List courses you’ve taught and courses for which you’ve served as a teaching assistant (and please make sure to distinguish between the two). Also list teaching workshops you’ve attended, publications or presentations of Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), mentorship of students, and anything else that will make you stand out at job where your primary duties will be working with students (and most often at teaching-focused institutions, undergraduates).

    Now, the cover letter. This I view as the most important part of the job application. This is where you highlight what’s important to you. Ideally, these things should also be valued by the school to which you’re applying. This is where you pick out pieces of your vita that are particularly relevant. This is also where you tell the story of why you want this job, at this university, in this department, and ideally, in this part of the country. Teaching-oriented universities want strong teachers, they are likely not looking for research stars. So, tell us why you want to teach and make a life here.

    Tip #3: Communicate how you will be a team player.

    This one almost goes without saying. But then again, I’ve been on the hiring side of the selection process for new faculty members, and some people did not appear to get this advice. Teaching-oriented universities are smaller, and often have smaller departments. Duties get shared within units at the school (e.g., departments, divisions, colleges), and especially when those units are small, it is important that those involved in the completion of those duties work well together.

    What does this mean for you, the job candidate? Both on paper and during phone and campus interviews, make clear that you can make a valuable contribution to the enterprises currently underway. Does the department need you to teach new courses that are not yet in the course catalog? If so, express your excitement for developing those new courses (it will be work, sure, but it will also be exciting!). Teaching-oriented institutions want candidates to be a part of the intellectual and community life of their students. Make clear that you are interested in making a contribution and impact.

    Though, a word of caution on being a team player is warranted. Do not go overboard with promises, especially promises that would be difficult to keep. Making a promise then failing to follow through can lead to resentment. Make the promises you know you can fulfill, then for other requests, point out that you would harness the skills you have, connect with the people on campus who have information, and do your best to make progress. This, after all, is the best that anyone can do when they don’t have the answers they need.


    Troisi, J. D., Christopher, A. N., & Batsell, W. R. (2014). Ten suggestions for securing a faculty position at a selective liberal arts school. In J. N. Busler, B. C. Beins, & B. Buskist (Eds.) Preparing the New Psychology Professoriate: Helping Graduate Students Become Competent Teachers, 2nd ed. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology web site:

    Jordan Troisi, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Sewanee: The University of the South, where he also serves as the Co-Director of the Sewanee Center for Teaching. Dr. Troisi has demonstrated a commitment to the teaching of psychology, having served in various capacities within the STP, including his current post as the Director of the Annual Conference on Teaching. In addition to his research examining best practices in college teaching, Dr. Troisi also studies the mechanisms through which humans achieve belongingness.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software