School name: Saint Francis University.
Type of school: Private, catholic, primarily undergraduate university with about 2,000 students.
School locale (including state and country): Loretto, PA, USA.
How many years have you taught psychology? I began teaching psychology as an adjunct lecturer in 2007 and been teaching full time since 2014.
Classes you teach: Biopsychology, Sensation & Perception, Learning, Canine Learning & Behavior, Psychopharmacology, Introduction to Psychology, Neuroscience Seminar, Animal Minds, and Animal-Assisted Health & Education.
Specialization (if applicable): e.g., clinical, cognitive, teaching, etc. I am trained as a behavioral neuroscientist with a specialization in psychopharmacology. Within the past few years my focus has expanded to include animal-assisted interactions and the scholarship of teaching and learning.
Average class size: There are 10-12 students in my smallest classes (Canine Learning & Behavior), and 25-30 students in my largest classes (Biopsychology, Introduction to Psychology).
What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Have fun in class! If you are having fun, your students are probably having fun too.
What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Animal Cognition by Clive Wynne and Monique Udell. The book celebrates the capabilities demonstrated by animals, combining rigorous science with pure fascination and love for animals. The book inspired me to create my “Animal Minds” course.
Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. My favorite course is my “Canine Learning and Behavior” Course. Enrolled students live with shelter dogs for an entire semester, bring them to class, train them according to psychological ‘learning’ methodologies and facilitate their adoption. We end every semester with a ‘Puppy Graduation’ ceremony. Working closely with the community, my students learn to write animal shelter-focused grant applications and integrate the dogs into human-animal interactions in nursing homes and elementary classrooms. This course embodies everything that I love about teaching.
Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. It is commonly believed that the consumption of a poppy-seed pastry can lead to positive results in a drug-use test. Well, this is not a myth. I use saliva drug detectors, poppy-seed pastries, and a ‘within-subject’ or ‘between-subject’ experimental design to demonstrate this concept to my students. This activity is integrated into my “Psychopharmacology” course (e.g., pharmacokinetics), “Biopsychology” course (discussing the opioid pandemic) or even into my “Introduction to Psychology” (discussing research methods or psychological misconceptions). It is an activity that students do not forget.
What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? During my first year of full-time teaching, I wanted to know what students were experiencing in my courses. I thus integrated mid-term and final surveys that were tailored to course content and enabled me to receive feedback from students throughout the course. I found the surveys (especially at mid-term) to be super helpful since they gave me ‘real-time’ reflections of details that I could improve in my course design, miscommunications that I could clarify, and an opportunity to let my students’ voice be heard. Years later, I still use these in all my classes.
What’s your workspace like? My office is packed with books, human (and dog) snacks, and random equipment that I need for my courses. I love my office, but I spend most of my day running around campus, checking up on animals housed in other buildings and participating in activities happening all around campus.
Three words that best describe your teaching style. Enthusiasm, passion, dedication. I am certain that one day I will be teaching “Biopsychology”, talk about the wonders of the brain, and will just spontaneously combust . I honestly love what I am doing.
What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Every problem can and will be solved.
Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. It was the first class of the first day of my first year at Saint Francis University. As I stepped into the classroom my shoe broke open, right at the front near the toes. Every step I took, my shoe opened, closed, and made a funny squeaking noise. Well, I pretended that nothing was happening, my students pretended that nothing was happening, and I taught the class till the end. Today I would probably have taken my shoes off and taught in my socks.
What about teaching do you find most enjoyable? I truly enjoy creating new courses that allow me to learn new topics in depth. To me, there is no better way to learn then to teach. I also cherish my collaborative work with my students, finding that I have so much to learn from their perspectives, opinions, experience.
What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? When I was preparing for my move from Israel to the USA in 2007, I knew that I had to work on my English. I also needed motivation. My students may be surprised to learn that I improved my English by reading “Harry Potter” books. Literally, with a dictionary.
What are you currently reading for pleasure? ‘Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat: Why It's So Hard to Think Straight About Animals’ by Hal Herzog.
What tech tool could you not live without? Canvas, and other LMS platforms. They allow me to remain organized and consistent.
What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? Since I started teaching the “Learning” class (involving rats), the “Canine Learning and Behavior” class (involving dogs), and lately, the kitten-integrated variation of the “Learning” class, hallway chatter mostly revolves around animals; how cute they are, how much trouble they can get themselves into, how they can be trained, etc. Talking about animals seems to brighten everybody’s day .
Has your teaching changed because of the Covid19 pandemic? If so, how? (positive and/or negative changes) Prior to Covid19, a student who had to be away from campus (due to an athletic event, family or health-related reason, etc.) would be forced to miss a class session. During the pandemic, I discovered how easy it was for students to join class remotely or for me to record my session and share it. Today, I allow students (within reason) to join my sessions via Zoom. My students understand that face-to face course attendance is required but appreciate the opportunity to remain on track when away from campus.