School name: Marian University (Wisconsin)
Type of school: Private Liberal Arts College
School locale: Small town/rural
Classes you teach:
I primarily teach Statistics, Research Methods, and General Psychology; I also occasionally teach Social Psychology and Cognitive Psychology
Average class size: 20
What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?
I was told about NITOP (National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology) from a fellow graduate student and my undergraduate mentor. They attended the conference as graduate students and couldn’t say enough good things about it. They both went directly to teaching jobs after school, and I knew I wanted to do that too, so I decided it was important to go. My first time at NITOP was during my last year in grad school. I learned so much from the other attendees that I immediately started using the ideas I had, in the class I was teaching in the spring semester. I’ve now gone a second time and the feeling is the same. I got a chance to meet up with folks I met last year and meet some new ones. I think the best thing about NITOP is the collaborative nature of it. Everyone loves teaching so much and just want to share their experiences, ideas, and even their materials!
What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?
If I had to pick one thing its David Gooblar’s Pedagogy Unbound blog on the ChronicleVitae. I get the most out of talking with other teachers, so blogs and articles like David’s are among my go-to when I’m not conferencing.
Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
I love teaching statistics. It’s one of those classes that is hard from the start because students don’t want to be there. I really push my students with application based assignments, exams, and projects so I know some students leave still hating it. But every class also ends with a handful of students who really got a lot out of it and some who even say they loved the class. With a class like statistics, that’s the best feeling!
Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.
One of my favorite assignments is from General Psychology. I have students create a study plan for an upcoming exam based on principles of learning and memory. It asks students to think about how things like operant conditioning or the testing effect can help them be better studiers. Some students really get into it and I’ve gotten some great plans.
What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?
I’m only in my second year of teaching full time so I’m still exploring, but I have had good success with short lectures meant to build on readings with more emphasis on in-class work. In statistics, I like that it gives me time to work one-on-one with the students who really need the help and allows for students to help each other. I love hearing a student explain it to another student in a different way than I’ve taught it.
What’s your workspace like?
I’m pretty Type A so I like to keep my workspace organized and clean, with everything at my fingertips. When my desk and office get messy mid-semester, I have to take the time to organize and clean out or I can’t get anything done. I also like to have a lot of color around the office to combat the boredom of white cinder blocks. I like to tell myself it makes up for not having a window (it totally doesn’t).
Three words that best describe your teaching style.
Evolving. Research-based. Real-world.
What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
Develop independent learners with real-world applicable skills.
Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.
This spring I lost my voice out of the blue for a couple of days. On the worst day I had three classes to teach. In one of my classes I had to write on the board instructions for the day and had the students work through the posted lecture on their own. I then went around whispering to students who had questions. Luckily, a lot of students were absent that day.
What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m a bookaholic. I read more than 100 books a year. Mostly fiction.
What are you currently reading for pleasure?
I just purchased The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger by Stephen King. I saw the trailer for the movie and it had Idris Elba in it. I knew I would want to see it, but I also knew the book would be better so I’ve got it on the docket.
What tech tool could you not live without?
E-readers. It’s the bookaholic in me. While I definitely prefer the paper versions of books, the cost savings and convenience of reading from an app on my phone or tablet wins out.
What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?
We mostly chat about work related things. There has been a lot of new initiatives on campus that have sparked great conversations. We also talk a lot about our kids. As a mom of a toddler, I get a lot of great advice and stories from moms whose kids are older; I also get babysitters!
PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Eric talk with Ciara about her blog ("The Novice Professor,") , her path from her original major toward psychology, and her career as a new-ish college teacher.