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

"This is How I Teach" Blog

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Teaching shouldn't be a private activity, but often it turns out that way. We don't get to see inside each others' classrooms, even though we'd probably benefit if only we could! In order to help Make Teaching Visible, we've introduced this blog, called "This is How I Teach." We will be featuring the voices of STP members twice a month. Psychology teachers will tell us about how they teach and what kinds of people they are -- both inside and outside the classroom. 

Are you interested in sharing your secret teaching life with STP?

We’d love to hear from you!  To get started, send your name, institution, and answers to the questions below to the following email:  

  1. Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
  2. What are three words that best describe your teaching style?
  3. What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

"This is How I Teach" edited by: Rob McEntarffer, Editor (Lincoln Public Schools), and Virginia Wickline, Associate Editor (Georgia Southen University)"
  • 02 Oct 2020 9:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Miami Dade College (MDC has eight campuses throughout Miami-Dade County and my home campus is North.)

    Type of school: Teaching Institution (THE community college of Miami-Dade county since 1960 educating diverse local and international student populations ranging from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and African American.)

    School locale: Miami, Florida

    Classes you teach: Psychology and Student Life Skills courses fully online, hybrid, and face-to-face (mainly teach 16-17 weeks/semester of Introduction to Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Abnormal Psychology, Psychology of Personal Effectiveness, and First Year Experience courses)

    Average class size: 30-40; Fully online courses are cap at 30. The smallest class size I’ve taught has been 10-15.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  My doctoral mentor in graduate school mentioned to consider the student holistically. It’s about quality not quantity of work.

    I also heard this question as a full time faculty member from another colleague, how does a faculty member learn? From and With each other. This rings true in so many aspects, I’ve learned most when I share with my colleagues and ask for their perspective.

    Recently, the power of the pause and being a transparent convert are guiding principles.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I was trained in a research track and had no real training on the science and art of teaching psychology, except for what I recall my undergrad and graduate school professors do.

    In my earlier years, I relied heavily on my research background of developmental science and mental health counseling, especially the theoretical framework of Freire and positive youth development. Later, I found Angelo & Cross’ CATs Handbook and Saundra McGuire’s work invaluable.

    Within the last five years, I credit a lot to the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) courses for enhancing and in some cases transforming my teaching. In the last year, I have met amazing STP members that I have now proclaimed as my own teaching mentors, because of their vast years of experience and they are just really kind J

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  I really enjoy teaching Psychology of Personal Effectiveness because it is an applied psychology course. It’s a positive psychology course at its core and it blends the best of both worlds, the counseling realm with empirical research. It’s an interdisciplinary course so it’s a requirement of those students on the A.S. track and so I get a mix of majors that have never taken a psychology course before. It’s a gateway course that really tries to capitalize on teaching emotional intelligence for the workplace. We know from research that most employees are not looking for the “hard” skills, they are looking for candidates that demonstrate how to utilize “soft” skills, and how do you teach teamwork, conflict resolution, active listening skills, emotional intelligence? You have to demonstrate/apply it and this is why I love teaching this class, it makes you “walk the talk”.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. One of the first hands-on assignment I use that also serves as an icebreaker is a paradigm shift activity with an ambiguous figure.

    Concepts/topics targeted: neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, delay gratification, ambiguity, anxiety, team work, vulnerability, self-efficacy, self-esteem plus so many others.

    We first define what is a paradigm, brain malleability, what novel stimuli does to our brain, how does knowing all of that relates to everyday student life, (i.e., help students in their fear/anxiety of math class or chemistry or physics, etc.) and how can we practice it, how do we do it? To apply it, I give them an ambiguous figure and I ask them to first individually figure it out. I ask to pay attention to how their body reacts too. How does anxiety feel for them? When someone answers correctly, I ask that person to help others see it. They all get that “aha” moment look and engage with each other. It’s a great experience of deep learning.

    Then we process all these concepts and how just because we can’t see something at first glance, it doesn’t mean it’s not there (and connect that to their struggles in other courses like math). Also, how and what ambiguity makes us feel (usually uncomfortable) can be the answer for growth and change. That’s a huge positive message that we reference back throughout the semester. It’s a game changer for motivation and building rapport.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I’m very hands on. There is usually a microlecture with team work or handouts or as a class we engage on focus questions. I also like documentaries and clips to demonstrate how the concepts we covered exist in real life and how students can find alternatives/coping skills to thrive.

    What’s your workspace like?  I do have my own little office vs. sharing an office. Most of my students say it feels very cozy and calm, but also very packed with books and knickknacks.  Since early March, I’ve been working from my home office/guest bedroom. See pictures pre and post COVID-19 J

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Passionate, Intentional, Personal.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Co-participatory, transparent teaching and passion for life-long learning.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Most of the ones I can think about happened when I was a graduate student teaching large lecture halls up to 200 students. I think mainly because I was so young, the same age of the students or younger, I got questioned about the research I cited and probably read too much from my slides. I think I would definitely show it when I blushed because I felt like I had to prove that I knew what I was talking about.

    As a 23 year-old, I would double and triple check my information and would come up with questions students may have to make sure I could answer. I had students come up to me after class reassuring me of what a great job I did and how much they learned, especially when a particular student would persist and keep questioning or interrupting for minute details in front of the whole class.

    I learned how compassionate students can be. I realize there was nothing to be embarrass about and I was there because I knew my topic, but it definitely made me doubt at times my confidence in teaching the material and classroom management.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?  My students and some colleagues might be surprised to find out I have an immigrant story very similar to the Dreamers. I was brought here by my parents when I was eight years old in the late 80s from Nicaragua and crossed the border. In the 90s, immigration laws were different for those seeking political asylum, and my family found a path to naturalization, however, the first decade was extremely hard financially and psychosocially.

    Additionally, my students might be surprised that I was an English minor (almost double major). I played the flute and was in band in middle school. For most of my adolescence and undergrad years I played and taught piano. I also love calligraphy, drawing, painting, and crafting.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I always have a goal of reading at least 4 books during the summer, but this never happens. I end up reading only 2-3 books. Lately I tend to start them, but then another catches my attention…so on my bedroom bookshelf right now I have these half-read: “ Becoming” by Michelle Obama, “City of Girls” and “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “On Being a Master Therapist” by Kottler and Carlson, “The Untethered Soul” by Singer, “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown, “A First-Rate Madness” by Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” and “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom, “What I Know for Sure” by Oprah Winfrey and more poetry books by Sin, Kaur and Faudet…

    What tech tool could you not live without? LMS Attendance and Gradebook tool.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? It depends…we are thirty five psychology faculty college-wide spread across seven campuses and often, we only see each other in person 2-3 times throughout the academic year (it can take over an hour to get to some campuses!). My home campus is North, the farthest up from the city, and I’m in the Social Sciences Department, so it is interdisciplinary. We are thirteen faculty ranging from History to Anthropology. We tend to talk about students and the usual “…could you believe a student….?” And when we have departmental meetings, it’s about family and travels, world news, chocolate, food...

  • 04 Sep 2020 2:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Ithaca College

    Type of school: Regional comprehensive university (but mostly undergraduate)

    School locale: Ithaca, NY (Finger Lakes region of upstate NY)

    Classes you teach: Research Methods, Research Team, History of Psychology

    Average class size: 25 students

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  

    Students want you to succeed as a teacher as much as you want to succeed, so be prepared and do your best to work with the students. And don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, although as Charles Brewer said, try to reduce the frequency with which you have to say it.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    Bill McKeachie’s Teaching Tips never goes out of style. That being said, my decades of interacting with people in STP have consistently shaped the way I think about teaching; I’ve benefitted the most simply from the many conversations I’ve had with my good teaching friends and colleagues. As successful teachers know, the interactive, human element is critical for effective teaching and learning. I’ve recognized that again and again in my collaborations with stellar teachers.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    I am fortunate to be in a situation where I love all the courses I teach. So all of my courses are my favorite course.

    In Research Methods, I stress that what they are learning is relevant if they never do a minute of research after they graduate because they are learning a new way of thinking about complex issues in life. As the maxim states, for every complex question, there is always a simple answer. And it is always wrong. Nothing about human behavior is as simple as we would like it to be, just as most issues in life are more complex than we would want.

    So we have to learn that, as scientific and critical thinkers, we have to be willing to change our minds when new, better information appears. Research Methods is an ideal course for students to learn to ask themselves why they believe as they do and what evidence it would take to change their minds.

    What the students learn in Research Methods can help them evaluate claims about many complex personal and society issues, even if they don’t involve psychology directly.

    In the History of Psychology class, I try to impress to students that history isn’t something that used to be. Because psychology is a human science based in a societal context, many of the same human elements that led to psychology’s development are relevant now. The History of Psychology course is an exercise in identifying how psychologists (and others in our society) have evaluated and categorized people. As the students learn, the thinking has often not changed in the past century.

    Students learn about how psychology has dealt with “the other” from within different theoretical frameworks and how our discipline has invariably found ways to incorporate already-existing societal attitudes into a new theoretical framework.

    So the History of Psychology course reveals to students how our scientific approaches have differed in the last century and a half but also how psychologists, like others, place their thoughts in a social context that is far from objective.

    Material for my classes are accessible through my website:

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    It is not unusual for people to claim that psychology is the science of the obvious. They hear about research and wonder why anybody bothered to ask the question because the outcome is so obvious. E. C. Sanford reported on this as long ago as 1906. One of my favorite activities involves showing that research results are only obvious after you know what they are. That is, given any research outcome, we can weave a good story (i.e., an interpretation) that makes sense. But how well can we predict that story?

    I provide students with potential results of 15 published research studies, but without the results. They try to predict the actual outcome (e.g., A > B, A = B, A < B) and generate the rationale for their predictions.

    For example, which of the following outcomes actually occurred?

    A.    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score lower than women not wearing lipstick.
    B.    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score about the same as women not wearing lipstick.
    C.    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score higher than women not wearing lipstick

    Palumbo, R., Fairfield, B., Mammarella, N., & Di Domenico, A. (2017). Does make-up make you feel smarter? The “lipstick effect” extended to academic achievement. Cogent Psychology, 4.

    The actual outcome is C, which 16% of my students guessed correctly. I have tried to avoid “Gotcha” studies where the results are opposite what a person would normally suspect. Across the 15 studies, my students are consistently at chance levels, right around 33% correct.

    The question I pose to them has to do with why the “obvious” result wasn’t all that obvious before they knew the actual outcome.

     (The entire activity is available on my website:

    In my other favorite course, History of Psychology, in one unit, I ask students to read reports published a century ago about African Americans. Some of the reports are quite disturbing, but I tell the students that, although psychology today presents a better depiction of “the other,” many of the issues that appear in the research literature are the same as they are today.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I undoubtedly talk too much in my classes, but for a critical thinking course like Research Methods, breaking the class into discussion pairs gives students the chance to talk about the complexities of the ideas we pursue. In addition, when different pairs report to the class, it become apparent that when issues get complicated, there isn’t just one potential answer. Different explanations can each form part of the answer to a question.

    I also create reaction papers for students based on popular media research reports. These assignments require students to assess some methodological concept (e.g., correlation versus causation) but also to draw a conclusion from their perspective as a consumer of the news. By bringing students’ personal reactions into the discussion, they begin to see the relevance of research to their lives.

    And just as I create assignments for students, I have a standing assignment for myself that for each class meeting, I need to bring in a new research application or current topic that I can relate to the aspect of research that they are learning about. I often introduce it with a statement of “I just came across this in the news. . . .” Students recognize that research is an ongoing endeavor, which I hope they keep in mind even after the semester ends. In addition, as I spend an hour before every class meeting preparing for it, it doesn’t become stale; I can introduce it in class with enthusiasm.

    In addition, over the decades, I have discovered that reading a diversity of nonfiction books informs my teaching, even when the books are not directly tied to the courses I teach. Books about exceptional people provide insights into psychology as a whole. For example, The Witch of Lime Street deals with Harry Houdini’s attempt to spot the trickery that a medium used in supposedly contacting the dead. It turns out that Harvard psychologist William McDougall monitored Houdini’s attempts to debunk the medium called “Margery.”

    What’s your workspace like? 

    I suspect that my workspace is like that of many people whose teaching I respect. I can describe it as books, books, and more books. And being of a certain age, I am surrounded by a lot of paper. Much of the paper involves ideas for my teaching—resources on paper are more user friendly, so I keep the printouts handy for quick reference. (For reasons that should be relatively apparent, there are virtually no printouts of memos from the dean.)

    I also have pictures of my grandchildren running as a slideshow on my computer. Sometimes, it is refreshing to step back from my work just to enjoy their images.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Humorous, interactive, thoughtful

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Try not to be boring

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    They might be surprised at some of the summer and other jobs that I’ve had in my life prior to becoming a professor. Some of these include selling cleaning products door to door, mowing lawns in a cemetery, helping dig graves (very briefly), working in the press room of a newspaper as a paper handler (and proud member of the international union of paper handlers and sheet straighteners), and science reporter for the NPR affiliate in Columbus, Ohio.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I am in the middle of two books right now and just finished one.

    Bacteria: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Trudy Wassenaar

    This book is about the hidden world of bacteria around us. Life as we know it would not exist if not for bacteria, although sometimes bacteria destroy life as we know it. They are fascinating, marvelously evolved organisms.

    The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball by Frank Deford

    The history of baseball is populated by quirky and interesting characters. Although we would recognize baseball in 1903 (when the first modern World Series took place) as the game we know now, it has undergone changes that, in the 1910s and 1920s turned it into our modern game.

    Three Shot Burst by Phillip DePoy

    This is a fun, trashy detective novel for summer reading.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Like everybody else, I’m completely dependent on my cell phone, which I use as a book, telegraphy, encyclopedia, weather forecaster, and other, but seldom as a phone. For teaching, I’m pretty old fashioned: I use a desktop computer, although I gave up on my Apple II computer a long time ago.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Aside from asking colleagues whether there is a department meeting in the afternoon, I regularly talk about the results of the Ohio State football games (and other sports scores), ancient Roman holidays, and which of our elected officials win the award for having the least grip on sanity. In addition, my colleagues are remarkably helpful about how to navigate through the school’s increasingly frequent changes in software applications.

    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Barney's keynote address from the 2018 New England Psychological Association conference  "Psychology From Beginning To End: What Do We Want Our Students To Learn?"

  • 03 Aug 2020 12:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: When I received the invitation to contribute to this series, my initial reaction was to say that I’m a has-been who may have little to say to my younger colleagues—colleagues who are much more conversant than I with current technology, who represent the future of the discipline, and who are exploring unknown terrain as they adapt to teaching in the face of a worldwide pandemic. However, my friend Rob McEntarffer did some gentle arm-twisting, suggested the title you see above, and posed some questions. So here we go.

    School name:University of San Diego

    Type of school:USD is a private university, with a Carnegie classification of “Doctoral University: High Research Activity.” However, the heart and soul of the university is the College of Arts and Sciences—a primarily undergraduate college that places a premium on quality teaching. My home was in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College.

    School locale: San Diego, CA. USD is located in the diverse, multicultural neighborhood of Linda Vista.

    Classes you taught: Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Cross-Cultural Psychology Lab, History of Psychology

    Average class size: Class sizes varied over many years, but were rarely smaller than 10 students and rarely larger than about 40.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Like anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the profession, I’ve read, heard, and sought advice of many types from many quarters. But perhaps the best advice I received over the years did not relate directly to the “how to” aspects of teaching; it was, rather, advice about the attitude, the general approach one might take to all dealings with students: Respect the audience and the occasion. This advice came from my long-time friend and colleague, the late Clifford Fawl of Nebraska Wesleyan University. Every class, Cliff believed, was an important occasion, an occasion and an audience that should be approached with respect.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? It would be really tough to identify a single title. An early influence was B. F. Skinner’s 1956 American Psychologist article, “A Case History in Scientific Method.” In it, Skinner discussed his approach to science, and I was powerfully influenced, but it was his opening line that really caught my eye: “It has been said that college teaching is the only profession for which there is no professional training . . . (p.221).” I have also tried over many years to integrate psychological science with the sciences more broadly, and with the liberal arts and sciences in the widest sense. Some key books along these lines have included Jacob Bronowski’s (1973) The Ascent of Man, Carl Sagan’s (1996) The Demon-Haunted World, and James Watson’s (1968) The Double Helix. I guess I have always been attracted to the stories of science and the lessons of stories, as evidenced by Robert Coles (1989) in his The Call of Stories. Finally, I have been able to pretty well follow Skinner’s (1970, p. 17) sentiment, one I quoted in the introduction to my dissertation: “I have built apparatuses as I have painted pictures or modeled figures in clay. I have conducted experiments as I have played the piano. I have written scientific papers and books as I have written stories and poems.”

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. This is another question that doesn’t have a single simple answer. In recent years, cross-cultural psychology has been my passion, but I have loved introductory psychology since the first time I taught it in the 1967-68 academic year. In fact, I’ve never taught a course that didn’t feel like my favorite at the time. If I must choose one, I’d say introductory psychology, for two key reasons: first, intro. requires the instructor to know at least a little about nearly every facet of the field, and I’ve always found that both rewarding and challenging; second, intro. is the first (and sometimes the only) exposure that students have to our field, making it a critical course—if we do it well, the student will be hooked for life.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. Although I’ve used many, perhaps hundreds, of teaching activities and assignments, one stands out as a favorite. For many years I asked my introductory psychology students to write letters home (e.g., Keith, 1999). I generally required four letters, spaced across the semester, explaining or discussing, in ordinary English, some aspect of the course. Students wrote the letters to anyone of their choosing, with the intent to share their experience in psychology with a parent, sibling, high school teacher, or friend. I provided some general guidelines, and students submitted two copies of each letter—I mailed one to the recipient, and retained one for grading and feedback purposes. This was a popular activity that helped students to clarify their own understanding, in order to explain it to someone else. As we moved further into the electronic age, some students thought the assignment was a bit quaint, but they received a lot of reinforcement from family and friends who were delighted to receive real letters from the students.

    What teaching and learning techniques worked best for you? Early on, my training as a behaviorist convinced me that the most effective learning comes from doing. As a result, I became a firm believer in the importance of active engagement of students. I tried, then, to get students out of their seats whenever possible, and to engage them in demonstrations, a variety of activities, or in data collection and analysis. I wouldn’t say I was ever powerfully enamored with any particular technique, except to the extent that it could accommodate meaningful student activity. I also agree with my old friend Ludy Benjamin (2002), who argued that there are key aspects of teaching techniques, including lecturing, that determine their effectiveness. Among these are passion, clarity of goals, spontaneity, being oneself, and avoiding doing the same thing all the time.

    What’s your work space like? I can imagine that a first-time visitor to my office would immediately bring to mind a predictable word: cluttered. But I have close at hand my books, my computers, and music when I want it. My space is quiet, although not as well organized as it probably should be. But it works for me, and I like it.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Flexible, interactive, respectful.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Respect the audience: Students are colleagues in learning.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Many years ago I received an invitation to give a talk to a large audience on another campus. This was in the pre-PowerPoint era, so I had brought my trusty slide carousel. After the introductions, I began. Soon the carousel stuck and would not advance. It was far out in the center of a large room, and I saw no graceful way to try to fix it under the circumstances, so I simply mentioned that the slides seemed to be stuck, and I’d just go on without them. Then I was interrupted by a voice from the back, a woman saying loudly, “No, you won’t.” She got out of her seat, removing a pin from her hair, and proceeding to the projector. After a minute or so of poking and prying at the offending slide, she looked up at me and said “Now try it.” I did, and of course it worked. She had fixed the problem, and the only casualty was my pride; she exposed my technologic ineptitude, which was already pretty well known among my colleagues.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? Although many of my students over the years have known that I appreciate a variety of kinds of literature, I don’t think many knew that I write poetry.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I like to read both fiction and nonfiction. I recently finished Michael Lewis’s (2017) The Undoing Project, about the relationship and collaboration of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I also recently read Alan Furst’s (2019) Under Occupation, a novel set in occupied Paris in World War II. And I keep going back intermittently to the medieval Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters; I think I’m on the eighth one now, The Devil’s Novice (Peters, 1983). And of course, I read a little poetry, with Billy Collins being a favorite.

    What tech tool could you not live without?  I am heavily reliant on computer technology. I can use the university library from my desk at home, and that is critical for my writing. I access this technology via the laptops on my desk, a smartphone, and a tablet.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? I communicate regularly with a half dozen colleagues who are longstanding friends. We talk about current events, books we have enjoyed, politics, and a variety of common interests. One frequent topic during the Covid pandemic has been the ways that various organizations, agencies, and government officials use and misuse data.

    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Ken Keith talk about his academic journey and how he combines his love of travel, poetry, and psychology.


    Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2002). Lecturing. In S. F. Davis & W. Buskist (Eds.), The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer (pp. 57-67). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Bronowski, J. (1973). The ascent of man. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.

    Coles, R. (1989). The call of stories: Teaching and the moral imagination. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Furst, A. (2019). Under occupation. New York, NY: Random House.

    Keith, K. D. (1999). Letters home: Writing for understanding in introductory psychology. In L. T. Benjamin, Jr., B. F. Nodine, R. M. Ernst, & C. Blair-Broeker (Eds.), Activities handbook for the teaching of psychology, Volume 4. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [reprinted in Psychology Teacher Network, Jan.-Feb., 2001]

    Lewis, M. (2017). The undoing project: A friendship that changed our minds. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

    Peters, E. (1983). The devil’s novice. New York, NY: Warner Books.

    Sagan, C. (1996). The demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark. New York, NY: Ballantine.

    Skinner, B. F. (1956). A case history in scientific method. American Psychologist, 11, 221-223.

    Skinner, B. F. (1970). An autobiography. In P. B. Dews (Ed.), Festschrift for B. F. Skinner. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

    Watson, J. (1968). The double helix. New York, NY: Atheneum.

  • 03 Jul 2020 11:42 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    School name: Spelman College

    Type of school: Historically Black liberal arts college for women

    School locale: Atlanta, GA

    Classes you teach: I’ve taught many courses over the years.  In recent years I’ve taught Developmental Psychology, Psychometrics, Learning & Behavior, Statistics II, Research Seminar, and Honors Seminar.

    Average class size:  It depends on the class; I’ve taught as few as 3 or as many as 55 in a section. Most classes are between 15-25 students, I’d guess.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? I’ve learned a lot over the years from my STP colleagues and others, but I can only pinpoint a few pieces of advice per se.  My big brother, who is a math professor, advised me when I started teaching to never prepare more than one class session in advance.  I’ve modified that somewhat, but I have found that preparing a bit each day as the semester unfolds lets me respond to the needs of each class in a relatively agile way. Plus it indulges my penchant for procrastination. I think I’m going to have to change my ways if we move fully online in the fall, though.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? So many; I can’t even pick one SoTL article or book. I’m a developmental scientist by training and always go back to the classic developmental theorists to inform my teaching. Bruner, Vygotsky, Thelen, and others all get thrown in. Right now I’m venturing into developmental aspects of narrative identity theory and working out how I can incorporate that more fully and intentionally into some of my courses. 

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I generally enjoy all of my courses, ‘tho I like to switch them up every few years so I don’t get in a rut.  Although I haven’t taught it in a while, I really enjoyed teaching introductory statistics classes.  I had fun helping students get past any mental barriers that they set up before taking the class, and seeing their eyes light up when they ‘got it’.  If they didn’t absolutely hate the class, they gave me credit for being a good teacher – it gave me a pretty low bar to leap to be thought of as ‘good’!

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. One that the students and I have a lot of fun with comes from Learning and Behavior. They complete a major behavior-modification project for which they use learning principles to change one of their own behaviors in a way that supports sustainability.  They write up a report on their results, but my favorite part is asking them to tell the story of their subjective experience along the way. Each student develops a 12-panel cartoon that provides an overview of how she responded to the project at different points in time.  Because it is a cartoon, I think students lower their guard and tell more authentic stories than they would in a more traditional write-up.  We share the cartoons on the last day of class and during the last part of the final exam period, which ends the semester on a fun note. 

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? Again, it depends on the class. Mixing up interactive lectures with small-group activities in larger classes usually works pretty well for me.  And I like incorporating storytelling when I can.  But I think I am most effective working one-on-one with students as they develop and conduct research projects for research seminar courses and thesis projects.  I’m a better mentor than I am a teacher, I think.

    What’s your workspace like? Right now my workspace is my sewing room, and my desk is an ironing board.  Surprisingly, it makes a good sitting/standing desk.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Reflective, transparent, old-school

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Build trust and share the journey. (“Don’t say anything stupid” is a close second)

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Many years ago I had students create short PSA videos about something in psychology.  I thought it would be a good idea to have each team film their videos in class while other teams continued to work on their projects.  It was not.  I focused so much on the filming schedule that I stopped interacting with the rest of the class, and they just started loudly chatting among themselves.  When I tried to ask them to quiet down and re-focus in the auditorium-sized classroom, my voice came out as a frustrated shriek, which didn’t help. I apologized and talked things through with the class, but I think my rapport with that group of students was damaged that day. I learned a lot from that episode. 

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? It seems students are often surprised that I have a life outside of my office at all, and that I have had a lot of adventures over the years.  (Happy to chat about those over a meal or drink at a teaching meeting when we get to the After Times and can do that again, by the way!)

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Usually I read historical mysteries for fun, but right now I’m reading When in Rome, a travel memoir that I found in a Little Free Library.  It’s along the lines of A Year in Provence, about a young woman who moves from Australia to Italy as an adventure.  I love to travel and spent time in Rome as a grad student, so I can relate to a lot of her experiences adapting to a new language and culture.

    What tech tool could you not live without? Yikes. I’m using more and more tech tools each year, it seems. I guess the ones I rely on most are email, the course LMS, and Dropbox/Google Docs.  And my laptop, of course. I used to get things done before I had any of these, but I don’t remember how.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? In Normal Times we often talk about campus goings-on, families, or what’s going on in society.  As I write this in early June 2020, our Zoom Happy Hours tend to drift to the same things that occupy the whole nation: Covid 19, the fight for social justice, and how the two intersect. But we still talk about families too.

  • 21 Jun 2020 12:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Avila University

    Type of school: Small, private liberal-arts university

    School locale: Kansas City, MO

    Classes you teach: Research Methods & Statistics, Cognitive Psychology, Introduction to Psychology, and Senior Seminar, along with my research lab. I’ve also taught special topics courses on scientific thinking and metascience in psychology.

    Average class size: 15

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  Probably the best advice I’ve received in my entire life: “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the possible.” My PhD advisor taught me this and it’s so true – especially right now -- having to adapt to a new format and trying to fight the urge for everything to go perfectly. First, perfect is not a thing that exists in education, and second, the desire to approach perfection can keep you from taking risks and trying new things.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire. I am re-reading it right now with our current situation; even though it was first published in the 1970s, the concepts have never been more timely.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  My favorite lecture topic *right now* is experimental methodology. With all the questions around possible treatments for COVID-19 (including “remedies” being promoted by folks like Jim Bakker), understanding the benefits of randomized controlled trials – as well as why we have to wait for them to be completed and potential dangers if we don’t -- is so important. The story of Thalidomide’s failure to be approved by the FDA to treat morning sickness is a very good cautionary tale here.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  Right now, my favorite thing to do is include a question on EVERY assignment for a couple of points of extra credit that just asks students to tell me how they’re doing. If they don’t want to answer, they can say “pass” and still get the credit. It’s allowed me to connect folks to resources and also extend some grace on assignments without them having to ask.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? Now that I’m at home, working my cats into my lectures has been essential… Especially since the cats leave me little choice.

    What’s your workspace like? Normally, my office is small, and clearly defined with things like doors and windows. Right now, my workspace is a hypothetical construct that is impossible to measure even indirectly.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  My “Pandemic response”: Flexible, encouraging, and understanding.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? My COVID-19 teaching philosophy is “Make it work”. Thanks Tim Gunn!

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I embrace embarrassment and bounce back pretty easily. See:

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? That I pretended to be hypnotized by The Amazing Kreskin on New Year’s Eve in Times Square in 2007 and it aired on Fox News. There are multiple pieces here that are orthogonal to so many of my values.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez and about five other books that I’ve started and haven’t decided if I’m going to finish. I’m also reading this super cheesy YA sci fi novel but honestly I can’t remember the title OR the author and it’s all the way on the other side of my house so you’ll just have to live in suspense.

    What tech tool could you not live without? Instacart. But you probably meant about teaching, so let’s say … nope, still Instacart.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? The hallways are pretty empty right now, but we’ve pretty good about texting each other general encouragement and funny memes. When school’s in-person, we talk about pretty much everything. The area between my office and my two colleagues across the hall has been affectionately nicknamed “the vortex” because if the three of us are in, you WILL be sucked into a conversation about… something.

  • 05 Jun 2020 3:40 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Eureka College

    Type of school: Small liberal arts college (undergrad only)

    School locale: Eureka, Illinois

    Classes you teach: Oh, I teach a ton: General/Intro Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Human Memory, Sensation & Perception, Learning Psychology, Social Psychology, Cognitive Neuroscience, Research Methods, Health Psychology, Biological Psychology, & History of Psychology

    Average class size: about 25 (range is usually 15-35)

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  

    I think the best advice I have received is something along the lines of being yourself and being enthusiastic about the topic. The reason I teach so many courses is because I am really into each of those topics, and so my enthusiasm is a part of my approach, which is me being me. This carries over to my students, who are quite a bit more engaged when I’m animated and goofy. This is helping me a ton during the distance education/COVID pandemic, because I can just geek/nerd out on some of my favorite topics and still keep folks engaged hundreds of miles away.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    I don’t think there is a book or article. I think my answer to this question is the Society itself. Being a part of STP has shaped my teaching considerably in the past several years. The brilliance and dedication of so many awesome teachers in this group makes me want to be a better one.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    My favorite course to teach is Cognitive Psychology, as it is my specialization. Every class I get to share with students how their minds work, and importantly apply it to their daily lives. Why do we miss little details in our environments? We don’t have the capacity for such nuance if it doesn’t impact our survival! Little things like this are crucial for explaining the black box of cognition has relevance to everyone and their daily experiences.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    In General Psych, I play a variation of Let’s Make a Deal with my students. I ask them to wear costumes per the original idea of the game, and we go through the Monty Hall problem several times. I use this class activity to illustrate event probabilities are usually connected, but also there’s no sense in sticking to your first gut intuition if it’s going to be wrong! 

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I generally use a combination of lecture and active learning strategies. Each class I try to have some direct action performed by students, whether it be a demo (just yesterday I tried to get my distance students to try an echo location task and said they should put it on social media), or a scale, or a group chat.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    My current distance learning workspace is my basement office. I have a long desk/table that fits two monitors. Behind me is a large piece of carboard with a green screen sheet draped over it. My mic for livestream classes is a Blue Yeti connected to a shock mount and boom arm (this was mainly created for my podcast).

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Jokes, trivia, animated

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Trust me, psychology is a fun science!

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    To apply this to our current online education struggles during a pandemic, I was embarrassed the other day when online trolls found my public stream on Twitch and began to harass me and my class in the chat. I had to pause mid-discussion to deal with a minutes-long onslaught, using my moderation tools to ban them. I was able to learn from this event, though. Twitch features followers-only chat, so that helps mitigate the threat. The stream is public, but chat requires a few extra steps. It is similar to the stories I hear about Zoombombing—I wish my friends and colleagues the best of luck in their online teaching endeavors!

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    That I didn’t start out as a psychology major in college. I tell this to some students if they ask about my academic journey, but most students don’t actually know this.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I currently can’t read for pleasure. I watch things for pleasure. Lots of TV, movies, and YouTube.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Adobe CC. It fuels my hobby, podcasting, and it is currently my online teaching lifeline (e.g., Premiere Pro, Photoshop, Audition).

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    Mostly random things; family/home life; vacation plans; search committees and progress.

  • 27 May 2020 9:53 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Oregon State University

    Type of school: 4-year university

    School locale: Corvallis, Oregon

    Classes you teach: Quantitative Methods in Psychological Science, Research Methods, Intro Psych

    Average class size: 25 (online), 50 (in-person)

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? In my first ever workshop about teaching college, the facilitator said “What would it mean for a student to get a C in your course”. My naïve reply was that it would mean the student came to class every day. The facilitator challenged me to really think about what I wanted the students to experience in my class and how they would demonstrate their learning. That has always stuck with me when creating my courses or planning class periods.  

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I’m currently reading “Radical Hope” by Dr. Kevin Gannon. I’m only two chapters in, but he has very eloquently captured my every emotion regarding teaching. I highly recommend it to folks.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  I’ve taught an incredible range of courses – I was a community college professor before I came back to school for my PhD. But truly the one I’ve enjoyed the most is online stats. The course is usually full of non-traditional students who have previously struggled with statistics. Connecting meaningfully with them and helping ease their anxiety and increase their mastery of the subject is incredibly fulfilling.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  My favorite approach to in-person or hybrid teaching is Interteaching. In this class format, students complete a “Preparation Guide” for their homework, which asks them to apply what they learn in the course readings to real-world situations. Then, in class, they spend most of the time co-teaching in small groups. Only 1/3 of each class period is dedicated to lecture, during which the instructor covers only what is requested by the students. This format has allowed me to engage more meaningfully with students and motivates their learning to a greater degree than other formats I’ve tried.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I’m a big fan of any strategies that engage students with the material, make it relevant to them, and encourage them to ask a lot of questions. I love to see them make connections between the material and their own lives or have an a-ha! moment where they’re able to achieve something they didn’t think was possible. 

    What’s your workspace like?  As a graduate student, my “work” desk is in a shared office space of 13 cubicles. Luckily, my desk is alone under a window and next to the coffee pot. My home office is complete chaos – a laptop connected to an extra monitor and books and papers everywhere. It’s a wonder I can even get any work done.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Flexible, compassionate, engaging

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? A pedagogy of “radical hope”: life-affirming and inclusive. (Credit to Kevin Gannon)

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. When I first started as an Assistant Professor at a community college in Florida, I was trying to embrace the “flipped classroom”. As part of this, students were required to come to class with their notes prepared and I would take attendance by visiting each student at the start of class. One day, some students arrived late and so I didn’t grade them (per the class policy). The student interrupted me during lecture some time later to ask why, I explained the class policy, and he stood up and yelled a bunch of profanities at me and left the classroom. I was stunned. I actually excused myself to go cry in my office for about 10 minutes. Then I returned to class and kept teaching. I think about that experience a lot.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? My students would probably be surprised to learn I quit my first PhD program. I went straight out of undergrad and it was a terrible fit for me. I left after 4 years to pursue teaching.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I am part of a book club with some of my friends. We just finished “A Gentleman in Moscow”. It took me 125 pages to get into, but it turned out to be an absolutely delightful story with a few good life lessons peppered in.

    What tech tool could you not live without? My “Happy Light”! Probably not the type of answer you were looking for but the PNW gets a bit dreary and I’m originally from Florida. My happy light helps keep me sane (plus my Vitamin D supplements) during the winters and soggy springs in Oregon.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? Hallway chatter usually involves me trying to convince all the other graduate students how important teaching is and why they should love it as much as I do!

    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Raechel talk with Eric about starting her dissertation and her love of teaching during this great PsychSessions podcast!


  • 08 May 2020 9:58 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: University of Central Missouri

    Type of school: Public four-year university with Master’s programs

    School locale: Warrensburg, MO, about 50 miles southeast of Kansas City metro area

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Advanced Statistics (graduate)

    Average class size: This is a case where reporting the mean would be misleading due to variability! General Psychology 30-60, Cognitive Psychology about 25, Advanced Statistics 8-12.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  

    During my first year of full-time teaching, a couple of colleagues invited me to go to a workshop led by the author of our Intro textbook, a guy named Doug Bernstein. Doug suggested something that has stuck with me for the ensuing 30 years. He advised us to do something fun in every class meeting. He shared a number of activities as examples, some of which I have used, but the important thing to me was to make teaching a fun experience. I think about Doug’s advice every time I’m planning a class, whether face to face or online.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? 

    I can’t point to one particular book or article. I run across numerous cool ideas in journals such as Teaching of Psychology. Instead of one particular book, I’m going to say that Steven Pinker’s writing has been a big influence on me. Books including The Language Instinct and How the Mind Works made me think about how the topics in our discipline cut across textbook chapters. He presents ideas in an interesting, thoughtful, and sometimes provocative way. I’m no Steven Pinker, but the way he communicates makes me think that we can engage students and get them excited about our field.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    My favorite course to teach is General Psychology (Intro Psych). I enjoy introducing students to the field. It’s fun to be able to pick a few interesting concepts from different areas and help students appreciate the relevance to their lives. I like the opportunity to change how students perceive the world.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    For online courses, I like to use SoftChalk Lessons. I think about what I want students to learn, then I create pages in SoftChalk that are a combination of text, video clips, links, and review or reflection questions. These lessons are available asynchronously. I give students multiple opportunities so that they can get more points if they don’t get them all the first time through. I want all students to have the opportunity to be successful…if they are willing to put in the effort.

    My favorite FTF activity is a demonstration of a neural circuit. It involves three rows of students, who simulate the neurons, and some running around by me.  The neural circuit is something I learned about from one of my graduate school professors, Dennis McFadden, who was an excellent teacher. It’s a circuit that localizes the direction of a sound, so the activity is appropriate for either for the Bio or Sensation & Perception chapters. I have run across examples of really cool activities in which students act out the process of neurons sending messages. But I want students to understand that neurons working together can actually do things, the kinds of things that we’re interested in understanding. If a circuit of 30 neurons can localize a sound, what can billions of them do? If anyone is interested, there’s an article in Teaching of Psychology about this activity.

    Kreiner, D.S. (2012). An activity for demonstrating the concept of a neural circuit. Teaching of Psychology, 39, 209-212.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    This semester, after unexpectedly taking on a section of General Psychology, I decided to try something a little different. Instead of organizing the class by content area (basically chapter subheadings), I organized each class meeting around interesting phenomena and then connected to whatever concepts (for that chapter) were relevant. For example: let’s look at this illusion; now, what concepts about sensation and perception does that help us understand?

    With the transition to all-online teaching due to the COVID-19 situation, I am using the same organizational style with online lessons. I had already been using SoftChalk for my online Cognitive Psychology course. So, for the last week or two I have been creating SoftChalk lessons for General Psychology, organizing them the same way I did for face to face meetings. It makes me enthusiastic about approaching each lesson. I hope that enthusiasm will come across to my newly online students.

    I like to use face to face class time for activities and group work. Any of these types of activities could be done online. For Sensation & Perception, I moved to using class time mainly for small group activities followed by discussion. Students read and take a quiz before class so that they are prepared to apply what they learn. I later found out this was called a flipped classroom.

    I did something similar when I started teaching our capstone course, History of Psychology. I didn’t want to validate the mistaken idea that history is boring, so I had students work together to apply what they had learned in various Psychology courses in the context of historical issues. For example: after watching video of the Little Albert study, apply your knowledge of Developmental Psychology to evaluate Albert’s behavior.  Sadly, I haven’t been teaching History of Psychology or Sensation & Perception in recent years due to my administrative duties.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    My situation is a bit unusual as I am chair of an academic unit (called a School) that includes several disciplines and is geographically separated across two campus buildings. I have an office in each building. Each office is set up with a monitor and docking station. I use electronic documents as much as possible to reduce the clutter. As I write this, I am now working from home due to the COVID-19 situation. My reliance on electronic documents has made this transition a little easier. I do not have a home office as I normally leave work at the office as much as possible.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    I can hear my young son watching Dr. Seuss videos and as a result the three words that immediately come to mind are: “stink, stank, stunk.” I hope those are not the right ones.

    These three words are more aspirational: focused, flexible, fun.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    It’s all about what the students learn.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    In the early days of using PowerPoint, when our classrooms did not yet have digital projectors, we had a cart set up with a projector and laptop. It was so cutting edge! I was all prepared for the first day of a summer statistics course. I rolled the cart into the classroom and plugged it in. Then it started smoking. I unplugged it and had a moment of panic about how I would teach. As the smoke cleared, I remembered that I had taught statistics for years without using a projector at all. It was a good reminder not to be too reliant on slides or any particular technology.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

    That there is a ton of stuff I don’t know. I think there is a perception that I know how to do a lot of things. But that is an error of attribution. When I’m able to solve a problem or answer a question, it’s almost always because other people are helping me. I am not at all ashamed of that, as I think it’s just as good to know who to ask for help as it is to know how to do it myself.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I recently read Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, Born to Run. I like stories about people, which is the same reason I was happy to teach History of Psychology. I just started reading Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers. I also read an essay every now and then from David Sedaris’s Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. It’s a nice stress reliever. I am not one of those people who is constantly reading something, but lately I am doing more leisure reading as a coping method for being cooped up at home.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Dropbox changed my life. I know pretty much everyone uses a cloud service now, but when I started using Dropbox everything changed for me in terms of what I could access and where. It doesn’t have to be Dropbox specifically, but if the cloud “evaporated,” it would be a big problem for me.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?

    As we were leading up to the change to working remotely, much of the hallway talk (from six feet away) was speculation about what would happen and how we would deal with the changes.

    Generally, I find that the type of conversation differs across different colleagues. It may be following up on something, such as asking how something turned out or whether we resolved a problem. Often, it’s mutual support and humor. It will be interesting to observe how informal communication changes now that we are handling everything remotely.

    Psychsessions Update: Listen to Eric's interview with David about his path toward teaching psychology and his current leadership roles (Chair of the School of Nutrition, Kinesiology, and Psychological Science!)


  • 24 Apr 2020 12:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Centre College

    Type of school: SLAC (small liberal arts college)

    School locale: Danville, KY

    Classes you teach: Introduction to Psychology, Physiological Psychology, Foundations of Behavioral Neuroscience, Sensation & Perception, Human Neuropsychology

    Average class size: 15

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  Take 15 min. after each class (or as soon as possible) to reflect on what worked, what didn’t, and what you want to change for the next time you teach the class. Keeping a “pedagogy log” or teaching notes has been a lifesaver!

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Oh, so many! Make it Stick by Mark McDaniel & Peter Brown has had a lasting impact on my teaching. I started giving low-stakes pre-class quizzes over the reading, and my classes suddenly went from mostly lecturing to dynamic, interactive discussions. The students were more prepared, aware of what topics they needed more information on, and curious about other issues that had piqued their interest. I’m now trying mastery-based grading, where the students have the option to re-do assignments to demonstrate their mastery of a topic. I hope this method will alleviate the frustration that comes from giving an exam and discovering that the students haven’t learned what you wanted to, and with no way to go back and correct their mistakes. Allowing them to correct their errors has been a lot more satisfying than having just to accept that they don’t know something and go on.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. Hands down, my favorite course to teach is Sensation and Perception. I tell my students that if they don’t leave class every day with their mind, just a little bit blown, then I haven’t done my job. It’s so much fun to reveal to students that what they perceive is only that which their sensory systems can provide. There are so many fun illusions and demonstrations to do in that class. Inevitably, students start sending me examples of illusions that they’ve discovered on their own. Often they are things I’ve not seen before, so I add them to my arsenal of “Stuff to blow your mind” examples. I teach it with a lab where they collect data on themselves, so they also learn more about statistics and data analysis. My course evaluations generally indicate that although they had learned about data analysis and statistics in their research methods class, they learned more from applying it in my class. That’s also very satisfying.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  I do a one-eye dark adaptation activity in my sensation & perception class that I absolutely LOVE. The students cover one eye with sterile bandages (no conjunctivitis vectors!) and keep it covered for a ½ hour while they do depth perception related activities (tossing a ball back and forth, navigating a maze, etc.). I hand out a sheet of paper (face down) that has color photos and a couple of paragraphs written in colored text. It’s on heavy paper so they can’t see what’s on it. Then I turn off all of the lights (there is a slight amount of illumination from a window in the door) and ask them what they can see. Most can see the outline of the paper, so I have them turn it over and tell me what they see. Some say it has pictures and words, but don’t know what the images are of or the words are. Many say they can’t see anything. Then they take the patches off, and the whole room erupts in various exclamations of surprise, confusion, or disbelief. I ask them again what they can see, and walk them through the differences between scotopic and photopic vision in all it’s glory. It’s worth noting that I do warn them ahead of time that many students find this activity unsettling, and some even get nauseated because their brain can’t reconcile what is happening in their visual system. I’ve done this for over ten years now, and it never disappoints! Best day of the year every year!    

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? As noted earlier, I have found repeated low-stakes quizzing before the class meeting time has raised the quality of the in-class discussions considerably. I also use a lot of spontaneous think-pair-share, especially when I get the impression the students are getting confused or struggling with the material. This slows things down a bit, but I’ve learned to value quality over quantity. I’ve shifted my focus from teaching content, to teaching students how to be independent learners. The content then ends up being a byproduct of that method. I also used to think that every class period had to be a neat, complete unit. But one year, I got off by about 1/3 of a lecture and kept ending the class meeting period in the middle of a topic where the students were still struggling to understand the material or didn’t have the complete story. I was frustrated and upset with myself for leaving them hanging. But over a few class periods, I discovered this was actually an effective technique. It ended up, that because the students were frustrated and confused, they continued to reflect on the topic they were stuck on, and continued to think about it to try to figure it out between class meetings. Many students would go back and study the topic again between classes and come back with a better understanding next time. We would start class with their questions and work on clarifying what they were still struggling to understand. What I discovered was that when the lecture was neatly tied up with a bow a the end, they basically closed the book on it, assumed they understood everything and didn’t reflect at all between classes. But when they left the class feeling a little frustrated and confused, they remained more engaged with the topic and worked to understand the material better. I now understand that confusion and frustration, in moderate and controlled doses, are very effective teaching methods!

    What’s your workspace like?  I LOVE where I work. My colleagues are amazingly collegial, supportive, and kind. We are very fortunate not to have a lot of the typical political and hierarchical struggles that many campuses have. It’s a very small college, so we pretty much have to get along. The students are also generally very high achieving. Most of them were in the top 10% of their high school classes, so they come to Centre with the expectation that the courses will be rigorous and challenging. Many first-year faculty discover that they have to raise the bar considerably in their classes to meet the expectations of the students. But it keeps us all on our toes and at the top of our game. You really can’t slack, but most of us earned our PhDs because we too want to be challenged, so I often feel that my students are more like collaborators than students. 

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Spontaneous, Improvisational and Socratic

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Make it personal and make it real.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I’d have to say this moment in time is the biggest challenge I’ve ever faced. I’m rolling with it like everyone else is. I am trying to keep everything as much the same as possible, keeping as much of my class housed in our CMS software (that I already used a lot) and not asking my students to learn new platforms or add new things to their repertoire. I’m cutting back on workload and just trying to make due as opposed to make well.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? This is tough to answer because I’m very open with my students. I tend to use a lot of personal stories to create relatable examples in class, so things students might find surprising (like the fact that I had a concussion in my 20’s and lost six months’ worth of memory) come up in class. So I’m drawing a blank on this one!

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I’m re-reading James Clear’s “Atomic Habits.” It’s been a game-changer for me.

    What tech tool could you not live without? My computer and the internet. Even though I (usually) teach face to face, I use our course management software for quizzes, exams, assignments (every essay is typed! No more deciphering handwriting!), and I use a lot of videos and animations to make the material come alive.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? We are a very teaching-focused institution, so our whole world revolves around teaching and students. Yes, we sometimes talk about specific students, but usually, we’re bouncing ideas off of our colleagues about how to do things better, or if they think a certain idea would work, or how they’re doing something we also want to do.  Sometimes we talk about research or family, but usually, it’s just “how are you holding up today?” Of course, right now we have to “chat” via zoom or text message. There aren’t many opportunities for hallway chats these days… but hopefully, we’ll continue to find ways to connect.

    One additional thought: Before pursuing a degree in Behavioral Neuroscience, I spent the first ½ of my life as a horse trainer. I started in my teens and trained professionally (competing at the national level) up into my 30’s, so this is my 2nd career.

    I firmly believe that everything I ever needed to know about being a college professor I learned from training horses. The horse training part was easy. Teaching their owners how to ride them that is hard. Being a riding instructor requires you to be able to communicate to someone else, how to communicate with yet another creature who not only doesn’t speak your language but also has an entirely different agenda and communication style. The only way you can tell if your “student” is doing it right, is by observing the horse they are riding to see if it’s receiving the messages effectively. Sometimes the horse is doing their own thing regardless of what the rider is doing, and vise versa.

    It was in this context that I received the best lesson in “how to teach.” It is a well-known fact that you should never give a family member lessons in anything. But, I was a successful trainer, and one of my older sisters wanted to ride. I found her a very well trained horse to ride with the goal of getting her into the show-ring quickly. One day, while I was giving her a riding lesson, the horse’s performance just kept getting worse and worse. Her reins were un-even and her position was all wrong. She was frustrated and getting angry, the horse was frustrated and getting angry, the instructor (me) was frustrated and getting angry. The horse was to the point that it was going to express its frustrations (do something bad), so I told her to just STOP what she was doing, and do it RIGHT instead. She did stop (the horse), threw down the reins and looked dead at me and said: “I’m doing what you are telling me to, so if I’m doing it WRONG, then you must not be explaining it RIGHT.”

    I was rather taken aback, but she also had a good point. I realized that the reason the horse was getting worse was because of how she was interpreting what I was saying. She was earnestly trying to do what she thought  I was saying. I realized that if she wasn’t doing it right, I needed to change what I was saying or how I was saying it. It’s really the same as training a horse. If you are trying to get the horse to do one thing, and they do the opposite, you have to stop and figure out how to communicate with the horse in a way that they understand what you want (not the other way around).

    This personal experience has shaped everything I do as a teacher. Granted, I can’t be responsible for every students’ learning. Sometimes there are things that are outside of my control that I just can’t accommodate or anticipate (like our current events!). But if several students aren’t “doing it right,” then I need to step back and think about how I’m communicating what I want from them. What am I doing that’s creating this result? It’s not always my fault, but taking that moment to reflect often reveals things that I can do better the next time.


  • 10 Apr 2020 12:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Valley City State University

    Type of school: 4-year public regional state institution

    School locale: Valley City, North Dakota

    Classes you teach: Introduction to Psychology, Cognition and Brain Science, Developmental Psychology, Psychology of Learning, Social Psychology, Health Psychology, Understanding Statistics, and Intimate Partner Violence

    Average class size: 10-20

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? “You’re here to educate, not entertain.” And, “You should feel (a little) nervous – it means you care!”

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? McKeachie’s Teaching Tips

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I love so many courses, but I would have to say my favorite topic is teaching operant conditioning. It’s so dicey for some, but I have been told I teach it really well and get students involved in creating tons of examples. I start by explaining the importance of freewill. Then, I move to defining and discussing reinforcement and punishment. Finally, I tell students to think mathematically about + (plus) and – (minus) when describing positive and negative. All that’s left is to determine whether we’re adding or removing something desired (appetitive stimulus) or something undesired (aversive stimulus). We discuss many examples, and I end by showing a clip from The Big Bang Theory where Sheldon actually mistakenly refers to “negative reinforcement” when describing positive punishment, and students catch it! Such a great lecture. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  I love creative submissions from students. In all my courses, I have students create a presentation about a topic of their choice related to the content we’ve discussed that semester. I’ve had students relate martial arts, running, and hunting to psychology and inform the class about rare disorders and how they connect to the field. Students also comment on each other’s presentations. This has worked quite well as either an in-class discussion throughout the semester or online recorded submissions at the end of the semester.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I’ve been told I teach very “conversationally.” I have an open dialogue with the students, eliciting answers and examples from them routinely. My most successful moments in the classroom come from creative activities that require students to think critically and apply new concepts to everyday situations.

    What’s your workspace like?  I enjoy my double-monitor setup that allows me to easily have a Word document open at the same time as a web browser or other application on the other screen. One unique element of my office is a futon. I can’t take credit for that – it was my brother’s idea to have a nice place for students to sit when they visit me. I face outward so I can always smile and wave at everyone walking by. I also have a mini-fridge and microwave because I try to bring my lunch as often as possible. I couldn’t live without my desk calendar and sticky-notes that are right in the center of my desk. Books are behind me on the shelves unless I’m actively teaching that course, in which case they’re on my desk for easy access.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Conversational, enthusiastic, animated 

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Students learn best from everyone in the room.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I once had a student approach me after class about a distinction I’d made in class between concepts the student had learned were the same. After a lengthy discussion, the student left having learned a lot about the difference and the importance of research, so I considered that a success.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I am an accidental psychologist. I found psychology when I learned being an English major was going to be a lot of reading books I didn’t particularly want to read (rather than grammar). Psychology fit into my schedule when nothing else did, and I fell in love with it. They might also be surprised to learn that I love board games.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I’m a psych nerd so even my reading is most often psychology related. I checked out Gender, Global Health, and Violence from our campus library right before spring break along with The Voices of #MeToo.

    What tech tool could you not live without? I am really enjoying Yuja for screen-capture right now.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? We talk about everything from family to pets to what we’re watching on Netflix. I love a department that allows us to be the true humans we are.


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