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)"
  • 27 Mar 2020 9:25 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Utah State University

    Type of school: R2

    Location: Rural Northern Utah

    Classes you teach: (Exclusively Online) Intro, Methods, Counseling & Interviewing, Advanced Behavioral Interventions, Pseudoscience

    Average class size: 25

    What’s the best advice about online teaching you’ve ever received? There are multiple challenges from working from home, and people who choose this type of learning do so generally because they have competing resources – account for those competitions in creating a course structure and assignments. This will allow people to get an education, and stay the course, who might not otherwise be able to do so. 

    What book or article has shaped your work as an online psychology teacher?  Bawa, P. (2016). Retention in online courses: Exploring issues and solutions—A literature review. Sage Open, 6(1), 2158244015621777.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  I really love teaching pseudoscience. I enjoy pressing students to think critically, and to make this part of their routine. Their weekly assignment for the class is to bring in something that they have seen or heard of as a falsifiable fact, and to look up a credible source to fact check it. The idea is to ensure that they are neither immediately discrediting or crediting anything they hear, but checking it out for themselves, and making that just part of their routine – attempting to avoid confirmation bias as well as disconfirmation bias. Students regularly contact me after the course to let me know that this has changed how they engage with facts from friends, family and social media after the class has ended, and that alone makes it my favorite course to teach – plus I personally love reading about this topic and discussing it with students.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or online activity.  My favorite activity I already described, but an activity that I do in all of my courses that I think is really useful is a form of scavenger hunt to make the online lectures more engaging. Before the lecture, there is a PDF to download of different questions for which that the student can look for the answers throughout the lecture. I try to make these questions things that I especially want to draw attention to, like concepts that might be hard to understand but that I go over in some detail in the lecture. Then, when the person is going over the lecture (or the set of multiple shorter lectures) they are rewarded for attention by listening for those answers, because at the end of the lecture there will be a “scavenger hunt quiz” or “attention quiz.” On that quiz will be the answers to the questions that they were meant to seek out through the lecture. If you are particularly worried about cheating, you could leave out the PDF in advance and do a larger test bank at the end, however to me this is all about respecting the students and trusting them and their time – I give these a low percentage value in their overall grade, but it feels good to the students to know that listening and attending to the lectures was worth something tangible.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I’m not sure that it works best, but one thing that I think works well is to bring elements of social media engagement into the online discussion forums. My first rule for myself of required discussions is to ensure that they have a meaningful purpose – that discussions are not there just for the sake of being there. But for the classes for which that is true, then I like to make it feel more like a space that is already rewarding, a space like twitter. To do that, each discussion has a topic, and then it has basically an “answer menu.” The menu is a set of hashtags, each of which are defined, and each one has a separate sort of rubric for how it would be graded. So it could be #understand, in which case the student would be asking a question about a specific aspect related to the topic at hand that shows an attempt of looking it up oneself before asking (#understandresponse is a separate menu item, where another student would respond to an #understand). It could be #example, which could be describing an anecdote to help other students remember the concept which is being described in the topic. For each response, it has to have the tag, which is how it alerts me to what rubric it will be graded off of, and none of the menu items include something that would give any points for “OMG, I agree,” regardless of what tag they add to the end. And the last part I like to do here is add one point of extra credit for the original post with the most ‘likes,’ where I ask students to give out one ‘like’ per week to the post that was most useful and well thought-out.

    What’s your workspace like?  My disability is such that I have chronic pain that intensifies when my foot is not elevated. As such, I have a ‘work bed’ with a monitor that swings above my head (or away when I get up), and it’s in my home office, separate from my sleeping bed. I am very careful about the stimulus control of this workspace, to keep it only for work. I do have a desk space that is structured primarily for how it looks in zoom meetings, as these are the main time that I am not working from bed.  When I get sleepy or have trouble focusing, I do sometimes choose pain anyway, and switch to the desk for a few hours of grading or writing.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Thoughtful, Connected, Respectful

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Students are adults, and education and grades matter.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I had a student in my pseudoscience class argue in a discussion that science had “proven” the existence of God, and before I got back to the message board there were already three sort of increasingly heated responses with another student arguing angrily that science has “proven” that God does not exist. I responded both on the discussion board, and to the two students individually who were arguing. I live in Utah, so while this is a delicate issue anywhere, this feels especially disastrous here, with both sides feeling particularly strong in this state. My response was that the very cool thing about “knowing” was that there is more than one “way of knowing,” something that we had already learned in the class, but not applied to this situation. That faith is not related to science in terms of ways of knowing, and that these are simply “different hats.” There wouldn’t be a way to know faith through science, just like there wouldn’t be a way to know if you are attracted to someone through a science experiment, or knowing if a joke is funny to you. Those are not scientific questions; those are questions of a different kind. And whether there are or are not artifacts related to the life of figures in the bible is not something I’m an expert in, but again that just isn’t a faith question, that’s a history question – and both people could see those same facts if they existed and have opposite faith conclusions, which is how you can tell that it is a different way of knowing. Then I reminded them that this was a science question, so while these were really interesting philosophical or faith questions, they weren’t really appropriate for the ways of knowing we could contact here, and to please stick to the scientific way of knowing for the remainder of the class They were both were surprisingly happy with that answer.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I actually don’t think they’d be too surprised to learn anything about me! One thing that I think the online engagement literature seems to say consistently is that retention and engagement does best if there is a lot of “you” in your classes – and I take that to heart. So my students really know me, or I try my best to let them know me, through anecdotal stories in lectures, through emails and announcements, through discussion responses, and especially through giving feedback on assignments. I try to really have a genuine voice in my courses whenever there is an opportunity. I once had a student taking my fourth class, and she emailed me to let me know that her husband walked in to say, “Is that Crissa talking about her dogs again? What is she using them to teach today?” So, while I’m sure there are things many of them don’t know about me, I honestly can’t think of what they would be!

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I am just starting Helter Skelter. I am a part of a fantastic true crime book club, and that was their most recent choice. We just finished Under the Banner of Heaven.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    All of them? I think Audacity is the tool that I would be most desperate without. It’s a free software for audio editing, and it’s how I record and edit all of my lectures. I really like it better than all of the other options because of the specificity it has – you can really see the separation of lines better there for editing. And when the audio is great, it doesn’t really matter what you use for video I think. That said, I also really love this newer tool called Descript. You can upload an audio or video into Descript, and it will transcribe it for you, and spit it into a text version. Then you can cut, or cut and paste, the text portions, and the software will modify the video or audio for you based on what you do to the transcript. It’s not cheap, but it really is a time-saver for A/V editing.

    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 work from home for all but one or two days a month traditionally, my chatter involves texting colleagues or bothering my spouse when he is working from home, who is also a faculty member in my department. For my closest colleague, with whom I co-mentor a distance-only research lab for undergraduates, we generally chat about functional things like how to move forward with a project, with a hint of co-ruminating about how far behind we are on grading or similar things. When it’s my spouse or other colleagues in the department, a significant majority of the time it’s something related to cooking or food!

  • 09 Oct 2019 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Texas State University 

    School locale: San Marcos, Texas: Nestled in the Texas Hill Country, sitting atop a hill, a spring-fed, crystal clear river runs through campus.

    Classes you teach: All undergraduate courses, I teach both online and face-to-face sections of Psychology of Adulthood and Aging. In addition, I teach several sections of an 8-week hybrid course, Professional Seminar: Careers in Psychology.

    Average class size:

    • Online format of Adulthood and Aging- 25 students
    • Regular section of Adulthood and Aging- 100 students
    • Professional Seminar: Careers in Psychology- 30 students

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

    I’m deeply grateful to have an ongoing, 20-year mentoring relationship with my undergraduate professor turned master’s research chair, Dr. Sam Mathews. There’s been many salient conversations over the years around crucial academic and professional decisions and turning points in my career. What should I highlight? Well, we chatted on the phone to reminisce, laugh and converse about this very question.

    On teaching advice, he spoke about fostering the ability to teach and run discussions with a class of 50, one student at a time. The technique he used to make these individual connections is intentional eye contact, systematically making eye contact one student at a time in a class of 50. Also, asking open-ended, reflective questions while pausing and giving students time to think and interact. Naturally, I have modeled my teaching style after his.

    He also offered insight around professional identity. Sam described how one’s professional identity is incorporated into your own, and how one informs the other. From one developmental psychologist to another, his wisdom resonated- your career path and style of teaching is a part of you and your identity. Don’t lose yourself; rather, incorporate your professional self into who you know yourself to already be.

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

    These are not resources on teaching, but the conceptual framework for each of these books are running in the background of my mind while teaching various developmental psychology courses over the years:

    Erikson, E. H. (1950). Childhood and society. New York, NY, US: W Norton & Co.

    Ford, D. H., & Lerner, R. M. (1992). Developmental systems theory: An integrative approach. Thousand Oaks, CA, US: Sage Publications, Inc.

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

    Did you know that humans are genetically predisposed to live upwards to 110-120 years?

    I present to you the topic of genetic limits, one theory of primary aging that reads like the opening to a science-fiction short-story; yet, the theory is a reoccurring theme discussed in my Aging course. Genetic limits is embedded in the bio-ecological, developmental context of culture, lifestyle choices, telomeres and the notion of personal control as mechanisms of influence for aging.

    The students find the theory fascinating and I so enjoy hearing their opinions on why there is still a substantial gap between the present-day average lifespan and our genetically preset potential for longevity.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    In my Careers in Psychology hybrid course, students work in groups of 2-3 based on similar career interests in various psychology subfields. Students are given discussion prompts to work through together such as:

    • Identify the type of degree you need to earn, and in what type of program you would earn the degree.
    • As a group, discuss anticipated challenges (e.g., academic record, performance on previous standardized tests, and financial resources) for attaining a degree and working in one of these professions

    Students leave the class with more clarity and realistic expectations around the requirements and obstacles to achieving career goals in a range of subfields within the psychology profession. The group activity commonly spurs additional career-related questions that lead to important and meaningful one-on-one conversations with students outside of class.


    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I try to communicate with students in a way that keeps them thinking. I ask open-ended questions, solicit opinions on contradicting research findings, and request anecdotal stories of how concepts play out in real life. Typically, I have students approach me after class or in office hours sharing their opinions or stories based on class discussion. My goal is to keep them thinking long after the class meeting or semester ends. While I keep a conversational tone, I expect students to rise to the occasion and engage their intellect.

    Also, there’s an abundance of social media relevant to aging; I’ll follow up a class meeting with an article or video that I post to my Twitter feed augmenting the concepts discussed in class. Again, engaging students in an alternative way that keeps them thinking.


    What’s your workspace like?

    I prefer natural light in my office. And there’s some uniformity in how I scatter my papers that makes sense to me. I have a small collection of seashells from various beach trips that are special to me, and I dote on my plants when I need a quiet moment to reflect and be with my thoughts.

    Also, I have several of my graduate texts and almost every course notebook from my master’s and doctoral classes. I have this romantic, nostalgic notion about someday sitting down and reviewing old course notes.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Socratic, reflective, story-driven


    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Adapt studies and concepts to real world examples.


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

    When I was a first-year doctoral student administering my first test, there was one remaining student completing the test long after the class wrapped up. She was worried about her pending test grade, so I offered to grade it right then. Well, I had to tell her she failed miserably, and spent the next few minutes trying to calm down an inconsolable student- bordering hysterical. I made a mental note to never repeat that mistake again.


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

    When I began my doctorate, I was fully focused and invested in furthering my research, and carving out a research-based career in developmental psychology. My graduate assistantship package included teaching my own undergraduate class, Developmental Psychology. It quickly transformed from a work obligation to the highlight of my doctoral-training experience. Although I miss the mental stimulation that comes from science writing, I still get giddy introducing students to Erkison’s psychosocial theory, longitudinal research designs, and genetic limits!

    Also, I teach Aging at 8am sharp; I think my students would be surprised to learn that I'm not a morning person.


    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I reread Gone with the Wind prior to the start of the semester.

    Currently skimming Thanks: How the Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, and a dozen or so journal articles on positive psychology and/or aging.


    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Twitter, power point and my university’s LMS via mobile app.


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

    “…that smells delicious…” and “…I have an idea to run by you for an upcoming…”

  • 03 Sep 2019 4:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

    Type of school: Public R1 university

    School locale: Small city (Lincoln, Nebraska)

    Classes you teach: Introductory psychology, honors introductory psychology, social psychology, advanced social psychology, motivation and emotion, and career planning for psychology majors (co-taught with advising staff).  Most are undergraduate classes, but advanced social psychology and motivation and emotion are cross-listed for both undergrads and graduate students.

    Average class size: As large as 440 for introductory psychology, to about 40 students for senior-level classes, to about 15 for honors and learning community classes.

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

    Do less.  I have a bad habit of getting overwhelmed and burned out because I tackle too much at a time—major structural changes to several classes at once, changing the textbook and the assignments and the structure of a class simultaneously, or saying yes to too many service activities on top of a full teaching load.  I try to fight day-by-day burnout by adopting the 1-3-30 rule suggested by a colleague when revising slides: write 1 note for next time, revise no more than 3 slides, and spend no more than 30 minutes revising.  Beyond that, I’m mostly just nitpicking.  And I try to fight long-term burnout by giving myself permission to make just one mid-sized change to each course each semester.

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

    The very first teaching book I was introduced to, during my first semester of graduate school, was McKeachie’s Teaching Tips.  I still come back to it for succinct recommendations backed up with evidence.  More recently, I enjoyed Small Teaching by James Lang, which is a great reminder that small changes in my teaching practices can have a big impact on my students.

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

    My favorite course is Advanced Social Psychology.  It’s comprised mainly of junior and senior psychology majors, with a few sophomores and first-year graduate students thrown in.  The course is structured around a series of yes/no controversial questions such as, “Is there a replicability crisis in social psychology?”  I begin each unit with an interactive lecture to provide students with a refresher of the basic content from social psychology and some relevant extensions and updates from recent research.  Then students get into discussion groups of about 12 and spend 50-60 minutes in peer-led discussion, delving deeply into the empirical research on both sides of the question and real-world implications of either possible answer.  Although students get panicky at the beginning of the semester when they hear they will be responsible for leading an hour-long discussion, I give them plenty of support, encouragement, and feedback along the way—and the peers they initially feared in their discussion group often become close friends.  Their term paper involves an in-depth analysis of empirical work on a yes/no question of their choice, and with the weekly practice they get building their critical thinking and analysis skills in response papers and discussion, students produce some very impressive final papers.  At the end of the semester, students look back with pride at having accomplished tasks that felt overwhelming just a few months earlier.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    For the past several years, I’ve presented Stephen Chew’s depth-of-processing demonstration in my introductory psychology class.  The class is split into quadrants, which are asked to process a word list shallowly or deeply, and with or without being forewarned of a quiz.  They score their recall on the word list, then I have the whole class stand up.  I ask them to sit down when I call out the number of words they got correct.  It becomes apparent very quickly that those who processed shallowly performed worse than those who processed deeply, regardless of whether they knew they would be quizzed.  I finish up with a brief presentation on evidence-based learning strategies, including how they can use deep processing while reading, in class, and while studying.  The demo works every time, and is a great way to introduce aspects of research methodology and memory, or just to improve study habits.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    My techniques vary widely from class to class.  My 440-student Introductory Psychology class meets in a performing arts center without aisles, fold-out desks, or movable seating, so I generally use interactive lecturing (Bernstein, 2018) with clicker questions, think-pair-shares, small group work, videos, etc.  In my smaller senior-level classes, I love using student-led discussions and small homework groups.  In these classes, I assign groups carefully based on self-report surveys and observations in the first week of the semester, then keep the groups consistent throughout the semester so they really get to know each other.  It’s so rewarding for students and for me to see how the groups negotiate differences, incorporate diverse peers, and accomplish things together that they couldn’t do alone.

    What’s your workspace like? 

    It starts organized and gradually descends into organized chaos, with piles growing in number and volume throughout the semester, until that glorious post-semester purge.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Supportive, evidence-based, challenging

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?  Improve scientific reasoning and application through evidence-based practices.

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

    Midway through the semester in my 400+ student section of introductory psychology, I was having problems with students using their laptops inappropriately and excessively in class, to the extent that peers were complaining about the level of distraction.  In response, I introduced students to empirical evidence on the harmful effects of multitasking and digital distraction, showed them why it’s better to take notes by hand than on a computer, and gave them strategies for managing and reducing distractions.  I then required that students wanting to use a laptop in class had to be “pre-approved” by showing me they had been taking notes appropriately and by displaying a tag on the front of their laptop so I could tell who had been pre-approved.  I thought it was a reasonable request, but a small (and vocal) group of students did not.  They deeply resented the new restriction on their freedoms, and complained both in class and online.  The frustration (both mine and students’) spiraled, and after three weeks of increasing tension, poor participation, and distraction from students holding frequent side conversations, I gave up and just let them be the victims of their own distraction.  (I also encouraged others to switch seats if they were being distracted.)  I wish I had a fairytale ending to this story, but nope—I just had to tough it out to the end of the semester.  This is my own hard-learned example of how it’s better to start with restrictions and then loosen them, than to start lenient and try to introduce restrictions.

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

    I have been in zero gravity.  (Protip: It’s not for people with a weak stomach.)

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    The best book I’ve read in the last year is The Humans by Matt Haig, which tells the story of an alien who comes to Earth to kill a mathematics professor who is about to solve a major mathematical proof that will give humans the ability to travel through interstellar space, but while carrying out his mission, the alien begins to fall in love with humanity.  It’s like a mash-up of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Notebook.  Hard to explain, but amazing.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I have two nominees: (1) to let students arrange their own appointments during my office hours, and (2) Canvas to make an entirely paperless class with easy-to-use rubrics, student-friendly gradebook, and easy tracking of student group work.

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

    Teaching ideas, campus news, and what we’re currently reading/watching.  I’m particularly passionate about non-tenure-track faculty rights and academic freedom, and as a member of my institution’s faculty senate I try to keep my colleagues updated about relevant happenings.

  • 01 Aug 2019 12:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Temple University


    Type of school: Large 4-year school in the heart of Philadelphia


    School locale: Philadelphia, PA


    Classes you teach: Conducting Psychological Research, Learning and Behavior Analysis, TA for Honors Psychology


    Average class size: 10-20


    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Right before I began teaching my first course, I told my advisor that I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to answer their questions or explain the material adequately. He told me that when in doubt, act like you know it all. Don’t make up an answer, but always answer with confidence – even if it’s just to say that you’re not sure and you need to look it up and get back to them.


    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I can’t say there was a specific book or article that really influenced me. However, as a graduate student I worked as a TA with the same professor for three years and she greatly influenced my teaching style. This professor was so engaging, dynamic, and passionate about what she did that it was a true privilege to learn from her. Additionally, she went to bat for her students in a way that was deeply inspiring and showed me the type of teacher I want to be.


    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I really enjoy letting students design their own research projects. When I teach Conducting Psychological Research, we move through the sections of a research paper one at a time. I lecture on the topic, and then we spend some time discussing each students’ individual project as a group: challenges, things they’re struggling with, etc. I love seeing each student‘s project develop over the course of the semester, and the interactive nature of them helping each other brainstorm ideas and troubleshoot problems.


    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  Learning and Behavior Analysis is a tough sell in my department – most students are taking it as a gen ed course rather than from a genuine interest in Behavior Analysis. Although I am in a Developmental Psychology program now, I trained as a Behavior Analyst and am very familiar with the science and research methodology of the field. However, most of the students indicate a desire for clinical psychology, which is VERY different from the goals and ideals of Behavior Analysis. At the end of the semester I always do Behavior Analysis Jeopardy which is a great way to review the topics from the course as students prepare to submit their final papers. The students get really into it and I give a few extra credit points to the winning team as additional incentive


    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I very strongly believe in a student-centered approach to both teaching and learning. Each student comes to the classroom with individual strengths and weaknesses, so a one-size-fits-all model is really not effective. I always make an effort to humanize myself through sharing stories and experiences from my own life, while making it clear to them that I see them as humans too. For example, I do my best to get to know each student, their post-undergraduate goals, etc., which shows them that I genuinely care about them and helps them to buy into me as an educator.


    What’s your workspace like?  I am an extremely organized and detail-oriented person – and my workspace reflects that. The first thing I do when I get into the office is clean off my desk of any outstanding tasks, then clear out my e-mail. I can’t work in a messy space! I also believe in fun and whimsy, so I keep lots of pictures and colorful magnets etc. in my office. My (and my students’) favorite is one of those notebooks with the sequins that you can swipe back and forth to reveal different colors. It has a rainbow unicorn on it and when students come in stressed I have them play with it for a minute to chill out. Works every time – even for me when I’m stressed!

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Student-centered, proactive, human


    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Students are individuals, treat them as such


    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I’m not sure this is a disaster or embarrassment per se, but it was certainly a challenging situation. I had a student completely stop engaging in my 6-week online summer class after the first week, so I e-mailed her to see if she was still planning to participate in my course. No response. About 2 weeks before the end of the semester, she reached out to me with a sob story asking if she could catch up on all the missed work and still be able to pass my class. I was willing to work with her and agreed to let her rejoin the class and make up the missed work for a penalty. She tried her hardest but was not able to finish everything by the end of the semester. Given that she’d worked extremely hard, I agreed to let her take an incomplete in my course and finish the work before the beginning of the fall semester. It was my first time giving an incomplete… so I had no idea there was protocol to be followed. I got an e-mail from Academic Advising asking for her incomplete contract, so after I figured out what the heck that was, I completed and submitted it. Then I received an e-mail from another academic advisor saying that this student was on academic probation and was not allowed to receive incompletes. I had no idea! Fortunately, the advisor was willing to be flexible and the student ended up passing my course but it was a learning experience all around!


    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? For my 21st birthday, my parents and I went skydiving. That’s right – I jumped out of a plane. Fun experience, crossed something off my bucket list… but I don’t think I’d do it again!


    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I love YA fantasy novels – they are a great way to disconnect and relax. I’m currently reading a book called “The Glass Spare” by Lauren DeStefano


    What tech tool could you not live without? I don’t rely a whole lot on technology in the classroom…. So the best I’ve got here is youtube! I often use videos to illustrate my points, and to break up the monotony of lectures.


    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? My colleagues are the other graduate students in my program, so we are all friendly. We often chat about experiences with students, whine about grading, and discuss our personal lives (relationships, family, etc.)


  • 18 Jul 2019 9:19 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

     School name: Florida State University

    Type of school: Public, R1 University

    School locale: Tallahassee, Florida

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Social Psychology, Psychology of Personality, Child Psychology, Research Methods, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology

    Average class size: About 100, but I’ve taught classes from as small as 19 to as large as 250.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  To be as honest and transparent with my students as possible. I can think of two different ways this has been helpful.

    As a graduate student, I was particularly nervous about what to do when students asked questions that I didn’t immediately know the answer to, but it was such a relief to know that I could simply say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Since then, with most of my students having their smart phones with them in class, this has morphed into, “I don’t know, but let’s find out!”

    Furthermore, I think that students appreciate when a teacher will take risks in the classroom, but this occasionally means that sometimes things won’t work out as planned. When this happens, rather than pretend that the activity went great, I admit that I was trying something new and that it could be improved, so I ask my students what they did/did not like about the activity and how it could be adjusted for future classes.

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

    This book isn’t about teaching, specifically, but the first book that comes to mind is Quiet by Susan Caine. As a lifelong extrovert, it was easy for me to forget that a large proportion of my students looked at the world in a very different way than I do, and that these students probably have much different preferences in the classroom, as well. Since reading Quiet, I’ve tried to be much more mindful about whether incorporating groupwork truly enhances my class activity/assignment or not. I’ve also been giving my students extra time to brainstorm on their own before asking students to share their thoughts on a given topic. Some students will always be eager hand-raisers (me, for example), but it’s been great to see how other students are clearly more comfortable and willing to sharing their thoughts once they’ve had time to reflect.

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

    My favorite course to teach is Social Psychology. This was one of the courses that first drew me into the field of psychology as a student, because I enjoyed how applicable its theories and lessons are to real life. Although I like teaching most lessons in this course, one of the lectures I find most interesting is about social identity. It’s fun to open students’ eyes to the ways in which we enhance our self-image and relate to others, as well as the multitude of ways that culture shapes the ways that we view ourselves. In this class, I’m able to use examples that most students relate to (such as “basking in reflected glory" when our football team is doing well vs “cutting off reflected failure” when the team is struggling). After introducing the topic with these initial examples, I can also integrate in discussions of more serious topics that some students might shy away from initially like race, religion, and politics.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    When I teach personality, I have my students think about and list some of their more dominant traits, and then I ask them to think about how these traits can be both strengths and weaknesses in their lives. To get the discussion going, I’ll highlight how students who are more introverted possess strengths that I do not, and that sometimes my high level of extroversion can present problems (again, you can see the impact from when I read Quiet in this example). I especially like this activity because I’ve had many students tell me afterwards that they’ve never considered how some of their “less desirable” traits can indeed be strengths.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    If you ask my students, I think they would say that I will provide them with examples, then more examples, then more examples after that. I know that not every student is going to pursue a career in psychology, so I really try to make the material as accessible as I can by describing the concepts from class in ways that students can relate to. Then, when students ask how they can study for my exams, I encourage them to practice coming up with their own examples as well!

    What’s your workspace like? Let’s just say that my typical office layout might bother people who are especially high in neuroticism or conscientiousness. (But I’m working on it).

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Enthusiastic, challenging, and encouraging

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    High expectations don’t mean you can’t have fun.

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

    When I was younger, I would occasionally pull the “sit in a desk on the first day and pretend to be a student” trick. It would typically work well enough, letting my students know that this class might challenge their notion of what common sense is, but one semester…it backfired. Specifically, this innocent deception led one of my students to constantly question whether was I telling the truth. This problem culminated one day when the student raised his hand and asked whether I’d “told the girl sitting in front of him to spend the entire class playing on her cell phone because it was very distracting.” Needless to say, I had not, and the other student who’d been on her phone was mortified. I had to announce that I would unequivocally no longer be using any deception in that class, and I haven’t pulled the prank since.

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

    I’m pretty open in the classroom, but I do think that students are often surprised to learn that I didn’t always know I was going to be a psychology professor. Sometimes, I think students feel tremendous pressure to know exactly what they should do or what their future should look like as soon as they get to college. It can also seem like everyone else is much more confident in their futures than you are, but that certainly wasn’t the case for me. When I share my experience about changing majors as a junior, I also ask other students in the class to raise their hands if they’ve changed majors during their time at school, and it never fails that a large proportion of the class raises their hand as well. I think students appreciate when I share this about myself, as it reassures them that they still have time to figure things out.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I just finished reading Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. If you’re familiar with this comedian, you likely already know that he is a parent of FIVE young children. I’ve always enjoyed his comedy, but as a new dad, myself, this was the perfect book to help me see the humor in topics like sleep deprivation and self-doubt that most parents deal with from time to time.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Youtube! This isn’t the only way to share video content into my classroom, of course (e.g. Databrary, TED Talks, etc.), but it’s hard to imagine not using videos in my classes. Videos are a great way to illustrate concepts, to show both classic and contemporary experimental designs, and to include a greater range of diverse perspectives in my courses. Sometimes I have to be careful not to overdo it (it would be easy to show too many cute baby videos in Child Psychology, for example), but if I’m ever developing a lesson where it’s apparent that I’ll be talking for too long, finding a good video resource is always my first step to liven things up.

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

    I’ll chat about just about anything, honestly, but most recently, the topic of conversation almost always turns to my son who was born in March. It’s been an exciting and challenging transition, and he’ll definitely be included in lots of new examples when I teach Child Psychology in the fall!

  • 15 Jun 2019 12:36 PM | Anonymous

    School name: St. Edward’s University

    Type of college/university (e.g., R1, community college, small liberal arts school, high school): a Masters-granting liberal arts institution. St. Edward’s has a total enrollment of about 5,000 students, with about 3,800 undergraduates. The Department of Psychology and Behavioral Neuroscience is the largest on campus, enrolling 320 Psychology majors and another 125 Behavioral Neuroscience majors, or about 450 students total. We currently have 13 full-time tenure-track faculty and several visiting, one-year, or adjunct positions

    School locale (e.g., small town, rural area, city, country/region): Austin, TX 

    Classes you teach: 
    My duties as department chair have limited the amount and variety of courses I teach, but I routinely teach Statistics to sections of about 20-25 students, and Industrial/Organizational Psychology to similarly sized classes. At various points I’ve taught Social Psychology (my area of specialization), Research Methods, Introductory Psychology, History and Systems, Cognitive Psychology, Advanced Research Methods, Psychometrics, and a few one-shot courses here and there.

    Average class size: 20-25 students

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? 
    I’ve been fortunate to have associated with really great mentors over my career, and their guidance, from many different perspectives, has strangely shown a great deal of consistency. For example, my undergraduate mentor, the late Maureen O’Sullivan, advised me explicitly through our research collaborations and implicitly through her style and approach to teaching. Similarly, I was fortunate to be a teaching assistant for the late Dev Singh during my graduate school career. I was fascinated by the way he strolled into a classroom carrying nothing whatsoever – no notes, no chalk, no gimmicks – yet held the attention of everyone in the room as he wove compelling stories of science. The secret of his success was that he invited his students to join him on a journey of intellectual exploration, investing them with a stake in the learning process as he guided their discoveries.  Finally, my dissertation advisor, Dan Gilbert, and my former brother-in-law, the late Dan Wegner, showed me that great researchers also can be great teachers, and vice versa. Both Dans are renowned for their pathbreaking contributions to the science of psychology, but fewer people may know that they’re also really great instructors in the classroom. I’m sure all these people, at one point or another, gave me some specific teaching advice, but really they “advised” me more through their actions than their words.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
    With no small amount of perversity, I’d say Statistics is my favorite course to teach, but that’s possibly only because I’ve now taught about 100 sections of it. Most instructors wouldn’t gravitate toward a class that students don’t want to take, that many students think they can’t or won’t understand, and that promises such a high degree of fear and loathing from its audience. Yet those moments – and there have been many of them – when the proverbial light bulbs illuminate over students’ heads, and the “this is easier than I thought” comments flow freely, make it all worthwhile.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.
    Also perversely, I’m not sure I’ve got a favorite activity or assignment. The oddity here is that I’ve enjoyed a multi-decade association with Pearson Education and other publishers, creating instructor's manuals, online content, study guides, test banks, textbook content, and yes, even transparency masters back in the day, but I use almost none of it myself. I guess I’m good at thinking up clever activities for other people to use, but you’d think that with a storehouse of suggestions that large, I’d draw from it myself a little more often!

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?Active engagement in material, peppered with liberal doses of humor – the smart kind, not “Dad jokes” or goofy asides – seems to do the trick. I’d much rather have students talking and thinking, even if they’re getting the wrong answers, than sitting around waiting to be told what to think or what to do.

    What’s your workspace like?
    My workspace, aka “office,” tends to be an organized jumble of curiosities (see photograph). My other workspace – the classroom – tends to be a high-energy modernist/minimalist affair.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.
    Interactive. Encouraging. Hilarious.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
    Make students smarter than they were before.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.
    Fortunately I haven’t had real disasters or embarrassments in the classroom, of the “did you know your zipper’s been down?” variety or delivering, say, a personality lecture to a social psychology class and never realizing it (I’m not naming names, but it’s happened). Two related events do come to mind, though. First, every fall semester, like clockwork, I’d lose my voice for a few days. I was never sick, but allergies or strain or whatever caused my main “teaching instrument” to conk out. So more than once I delivered the day’s lecture via writing on an overhead projector or (more recently) typing in a document projected onscreen. The bizarreness of students silently reading and writing, but occasionally asking a question that received my nonverbal answer, was strangely calming. To counteract my hoarseness, I eventually wised up and started bringing a glass of water to each lecture. That worked well until, during one final exam, I promptly spilled the entire glass over the entire stack of exams, minutes before I distributed them. I got even wiser and started bringing a cappedcontainer of water to class…

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?
    Students might be surprised to learn that I’m a big record collector. In these days of downloaded music, I cling to having the actual vinyl article in hand, but decidedly not in any hipster-come-lately sense. Trolling thrift stores for elusive finds leads to amassing some 6,000 LPs, but I still see that as “small” compared to the real fanatics. Students might or might not be surprised to learn that I play the drums and guitar, and dabble in bass, synthesizer, and Theremin, yet I can’t play a harmonica to save my soul. And putting all that together, they’d be really surprised to learn that my first paying gig was playing drums with a Lithuanian polka band in San Francisco.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?
    I tend to read books by and about musicians. I just finished Jorma Kaukonen’s autobiography, Been So Long. (Jorma was the guitarist with Jefferson Airplane and is the guitarist with Hot Tuna.) I’ve read almost everything by or about the Ramones. A Tom Petty biography is next on the list.

    What tech tool could you not live without?
    I could live without almost any tech tool. Does a turntable count?

    What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?
    I’m very lucky to be surrounded by supportive, agreeable colleagues who are passionate about what they do, and that characterizes both the psychology crowd and my colleagues in other departments. We certainly chat about business – that tends to come with the chair gig – but we talk a lot about food, family, fun…the kinds of things that make Austin a great place to live and that energize people in their daily lives.

  • 30 Apr 2019 1:58 PM | Anonymous

    School name: The University of Memphis

    Type of college/university (e.g., R1, community college, small liberal arts school, high school): Public research university offering bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and doctoral degrees

    School locale (e.g., small town, rural area, city, country/region): Urban community of Memphis, TN

    Classes you teach: Introductory psychology, abnormal psychology, and introduction to clinical psychology (co-taught with my graduate mentor) all at the undergraduate level

    Average class size: 35

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

    The best advice about teaching I have ever received was that “research is teaching and teaching is research.” I received that advice from a great teacher I had as an undergraduate student, John Norcross. He taught me a lot about how teaching and research are two professional activities that can (and should!) coexist in productive harmony.

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

    Several articles and books have shaped my work as a psychology teacher. I regularly read articles from journals like Teaching of Psychology, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, and Psychology of Learning & Teaching. A few books that I incorporate are entitled What the Best College Teachers Do (Bain), McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, and An Evidence-Based Guide to College and University Teaching (Richmond, Boysen, & Gurung).

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

    My favorite course to teach is abnormal psychology. It’s a course with a lot of inherently interesting material. I feel lucky to teach that course because students are curious and interested in the material from day one. Their curiosity raises a lot of questions and leads to interesting discussions about human behavior. I do not need to exert any extra effort as a professor to enhance students' interest. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    In introduction to clinical psychology, I teach students fundamental clinical interviewing skills – open-ended questions, closed-ended questions, reflective listening, etc. Students pair up and role play interviewer and interviewee for increasingly longer periods of time during the semester. While the students are role playing, I walk around the classroom, listen to interviews, and offer tips to guide their interviews. Students typically feel anxious to conduct interviews at the beginning of the semester, but many of them say how much they learned after we continue to practice.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I find that using a variety of teaching/learning techniques works best for me. My number one rule is not to lecture for great lengths of time because students become bored or distracted. In class, I use several semi-flipped classroom approaches, discussions, some video clips, and iClickers (they are a great tool for showing me when I was not effective in explaining a topic!). I also use a mix of weekly quizzes and writing assignments in my courses.

    What’s your workspace like?
    My current workspace is shared with three other graduate students. Usually there is less clutter on my desk (mine has the photo of the dog) but I am in the process of wrapping up my dissertation before heading off to internship. And yes, there is a large tin of cookies as well as two lint rollers in my workspace.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Active, organized, enthusiastic

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Meet students where they are and facilitate learning

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

    One embarrassment (that I’m willing to share!) readily comes to mind. In an introductory psychology class, I tripped over a small garbage can and fell to the floor while I was teaching. My students and I all laughed hysterically when they saw I was not hurt.

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

    They might be surprised to learn that I initially did not intend to pursue psychology as a major when I was an undergraduate student. I started as a computer science major but quickly learned it was not for me. Then, I spent some time as a philosophy major while enrolled in some psychology classes. I did not think I would pursue psychology until I took a careers in psychology class during my junior year. That’s when I “caught the fever!”

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I am embarrassed to write that I am not currently reading anything for pleasure. There has not been much time for extra curricular reading as a graduate student… Typically I enjoy reading books about science that are from academic disciplines outside of psychology.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My personal computer. I own a small netbook that is easy to carry with me.

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

    I primarily talk to other students (graduate and undergraduate) about our ongoing research projects. We also talk a lot about music, sports, and our pets.

  • 17 Apr 2019 5:04 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School Name: University of Roehampton London – Online & University of the People - Online

    Type of School: Public Universities. Both universities have a diverse student body that represents the six continents – Asia, Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Australia.

    Classes you Teach: Undergraduate and Graduate psychology courses including Research Project (Master’s Thesis) Supervision

    Average Class size: In undergraduate courses, class size ranges from 15 to 40 students. While in the graduate courses, class size ranges from 15 to 25 students. Supervision of master’s thesis varies from 4 to 15 students. 

    Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.

    Out of all the psychology, undergraduate and graduate courses - psychopathology, personality, and health psychology are the courses that I enjoy teaching as I found that most students someway and somehow relate to the topics with their personal experiences, and at times discovers something new about themselves. As much as I love teaching these courses, I like organizing and presenting the materials in a way that makes it easier for the students to understand which can stimulate discussions that foster learning and engage the students in active learning.

    These courses that I enjoy teaching are aligned with my research interest which reflects on the student’s masters thesis that I am supervising that has an emphasis on how adverse environmental experiences (stress, trauma, social disadvantages, alter development processes) shapes emotional, cognitive and neurobiological development throughout childhood and adolescence that predicts the increased risk for psychopathology, particularly in adulthood.

    What are three words that best describe your teaching style? Interactive, Engaging, and Supportive.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I am a licensed clinical psychologist and currently in active psychological practice. I amfrom Houston, Texas but presently residing in Alberta, Canada. Psychology is not my first undergraduate studies, but Business Administration.

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

    Teaching using a learning platform can be challenging compared to teaching in a classroom as being familiarized with the different learning software is vital in facilitating the course/class, engaging the students to participate in activities must be sustained and students tend to need more support. Because of this, flexibility, adaptability, and communication are imperative.

    The best advice that I learned from my professors and mentors are keeping it simple even if the course material is difficult as it enables the students to learn the material and knowing after the course is over that they have learned what should be is the rewarding part of teaching.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I love the books that are authored by Oliver Sacks in particular, The Case of the Colorblind Painter as it clearly displays the relationship between cognitive processing and behavior. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment.

    Writing a research proposal is my favorite assignment as it demonstrates the student’s subject of interest, why it interests them, and showcase their writing skills. Based on the students’ feedback, they find this assignment challenging, but they are also excited in doing an activity that they have not done before.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you? Active learning is my teaching/learning style which allows inclusion of the different learning styles and motivates students to be engaged learners.

    What’s your workspace like? Tons of paper all over my workspace. It is evident that the semester term is over when all the paper disappears, and everything is organized.

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

    When I was new on teaching online, I announced the date and time of the synchronous class and realized the day before the scheduled date that some of my students are geographically located in places wherein the date is a day ahead of North America. Luckily, that day I managed to show up although I was ten minutes late and good enough some of my students are still online waiting. I ended up facilitating the class though slightly disorganized. Because of this error, I ended up giving two synchronous class instead of one and sending emails that contains some materials and resources that I did not manage to cover during the synchronous class.

    At the time that I made this mistake, all I can do is go with the flow though I was really flustered. Now, when I look back, it always brings a smile on my face. 

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Recently, I became enthused about the holistic approach such as meditation that I ended up reading Aware, the science and practice of presence.

    What tech tool could you not live without? Collaboration app is essential in teaching and communicating with students, and the use of SPSS to validate the students’ statistics work.

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

    In the faculty lounge forum, the discussion between faculty members tends to be more suggestive as the topics that are most talked about pertains to student’s situations or circumstances such as academic integrity or inappropriate/unusual behaviors. In some instances, a faculty member might discuss an activity that they intend to introduce or already presented in class that is out of the ordinary that usually creates a lot of buzz.

  • 29 Mar 2019 3:13 PM | Anonymous

    School name: Columbia College

    Type of school: Small liberal arts school

    School locale: Columbia, MO

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Lifespan Development, Research Methods, Social Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Capstone Research, and Writing for the Social Sciences.

    Average class size: 20-30 students

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

    In one of the first courses I TA’ed as a graduate student, the major professor gave me a Louis Pasteur quote about “chance favoring only the prepared mind.” The quote confused me at first, but I quickly realized how fast things moved inside the classroom and how quality-teaching moments were products of being prepared when students asked difficult questions.

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

    Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. I read this when I started teaching and have aspired to implement these practices ever since.  

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

    General Psychology is one of my favorites. It’s the doorway to the rest of the major and because it has so many topics, I never get bored. I bring a lot of passion and enthusiasm into this course and love hearing students say they took a psychology course to satisfy a requirement but enjoyed it so much that they signed up for more. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    Whenever I lecture on Latané and Darley’s (1970) decision making model for helping behavior, I always recruit a student to help me create a scene at the beginning of class (e.g., falling down, spilling a stack of papers, dropping a cup, etc.). I try something different every year and I’m amazed by students’ reactions. It makes for a great talking point later in the lecture when I post an image of my student accomplice and ask why so few of their classmates got out of their seats to help (diffusion of responsibility!).

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    Retrieval practices! I read Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel’s, Make it Stick, and was immediately convinced I should implement low-stakes retrieval practice activities in all of my courses. Now, I can’t go more than a few days without engaging students in some type of retrieval practice. 

    What’s your workspace like?

    Most of the time, my office is relatively clean. However, this is not always the case around the middle and end of the semester (see attached photo for proof).

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    Energetic. Active. Fun.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Always have fun with the material. 

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

    At one point during my first year as a faculty member, the power went out in my building 15 minutes before I had to teach. My course was in a windowless, basement classroom and I had to think fast if I still wanted to lecture about attachment theory. Instead of canceling class, students illuminated their cell phones and I taught the entire lecture by getting students to role-play Ainsworth’s Strange Situation Task. The class got a kick out of the tall student athlete from the football team playing the role of the baby. (The guy did a great job!) Every semester since, I incorporate some element of role-play when discussing this topic.

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

    I was quite the runner in college and graduate school, completing 10K’s, half-marathons, marathons, as well as an Ironman triathlon. Exercising helped me manage all the stress that came with school.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I attended a Supreme Court session last summer and got hooked on all things Supreme Court. I started listening to Radiolab’s podcast, More Perfect, and even bought Justice Sotomayor’s autobiography, My Beloved World, in the Court’s bookstore. I get in a few chapters whenever I have “free time” during my breaks.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    ZipGrade completely changed how I administer and score exams. Since adopting this tool, I haven’t looked back.

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

    Mostly, my conversations are teaching focused. My colleagues do amazing work and I’m always fascinated to learn more about their approaches to teaching. Their stories inspire me to continue dreaming big in my own courses. 

  • 28 Feb 2019 12:34 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Duke University

    Type of school: R1

    School locale: Suburban meets small hipster city

    Classes you teach: My primary focus is on teaching our large (250 student) Introductory Psychology course, but I am also teaching a first-year seminar called The Psychology of Student Success, and I teach seminars on teaching and on doing classroom research.

    Average class size: My class size is bimodally distributed. J Classes are either huge (230-250) or small (<18)

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

    I think probably the simplest, most impactful advice I received was just to be “intentional.” Instead of just doing my best impersonation of my own college professors, or trying to shove as much content into my class as possible, my teaching choices should intentionally reflect my goals for my students. This seems so obvious to me now, but as graduate student teaching for the first time, it wasn’t obvious at all. I really thought of teaching as more of a performance than as a project with desired outcomes. This advice came indirectly from two of my colleagues at Stanford: James Gross and Kelly McGonigal, who are two of the best teachers I know. They talked about teaching in this way, and it really changed the way I thought about it.

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

    Over the years I’ve really tried to find a way to fall in love with each and every topic I teach. I have to discover something—a story, a particular study, a theme—that makes me really eager to share that topic with students. If I can’t connect with its meaning or purpose, then why am I covering it? As a result, I truly love all the topics I get to teach. If I had to pick a single favorite, I think I’d choose Sensation and Perception. Visual illusions illustrate at a very basic level how the mind constructs reality. The active role of the mind in shaping our experiences is one of the most powerful lessons that a psychology course can teach a person and this all begins with how we interpret information coming through our senses.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.

    For years, I have been illustrating the reconstructive nature of memory in my introductory psychology course by planting a false memory about the first day of class. This idea was originally conceived in collaboration with my former colleague at Stanford, Greg Walton. In a lecture on the brain, I describe the function of the cerebellum and offer a joke: “this part of the brain wasn’t working very well for me when I spilled my water bottle the first day of class.”

    Several days later, I give students a survey that they can complete for modest extra credit (a single point on an exam). The survey contains a number of questions related to memory, including questions asking students to recall details about events from the first day of class. The false event from the first day of class—me spilling my water bottle—is listed alongside three to four true events.

    Although most students report not remembering this false event, anywhere from 20-35% of my students do, and most will confabulate details of the incident, including the color of the bottle, where I was when I spilled it, the noise it made, what I said, the fact that students laughed, etc. I then use student quotes describing the false event in my lecture on memory. After sharing some of Elizabeth Loftus’ and others’ classic research on false memory, I reveal students’ own data illustrating their false memories.

    Critically, we discuss the ethics of the demonstration. I explain how much I value honesty in the classroom, and don’t use deception without careful consideration. I further explain that I want students to experience the vulnerability of their memory in a safe setting, where the worst thing that can happen is that they feel mildly embarrassed that their anonymous description ended up on my PowerPoint slide. Students overwhelmingly think the demonstration is worth the mild deception, and appreciate the lengths I’m willing to go to help them understand psychology.

    What teaching or learning techniques work best for you?

    I have two favorite teaching techniques. First, I love telling stories as a pedagogical tool. Listening to a story has always been one of my favorite ways to learn, and I think that creating a compelling narrative is a strength of mine. My lectures are structured to be story-like, and I use specific stories to illustrate important concepts and to describe a classic experiment. Telling a successful story forces me to take my students’ perspective: What do they already know? What will they care about? What will surprise them? Anger them? Inspire them? I’m always collecting new stories by listening to wonderful podcasts that feature psychologists and their work. My favorites are This American Life, Invisibilia, Hidden Brain, Radiolab, and the Ted Radio Hour.

    Second, I love a good discussion. I like to pose a good question and really listen to and build on what students have to say. I used to think that teaching was all about “talking,” until I observed some brilliant friends and colleagues who were skilled at facilitating discussions. They knew how to pose thought-provoking questions and then just listen, really listen, to what students had to say. With intense listening, they would easily come up with a great follow-up question or comment that would inspire other students to join in and create a true conversation. I’ve really enjoyed developing this skill myself because it forces me to be in the moment with my students, learning along with them.

    What’s your workspace like?

    When I’m getting down to the business of lesson planning or grading, my workspace is just me and my computer, because everything is digital. I have a sit-to-stand desk so that I can get up on my feet. I like to have multiple screens for lesson planning, because I’m usually doing a mix of reading, writing, and building slides all at once. I also think a lot about teaching when I’m walking and driving. While driving, I prep for class by listening to previously recorded lectures from my own classes or to podcasts that have stories I want to share with students. While walking, I sometimes use “retrieval practice” and mentally walk through the lesson I have planned for the day.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.

    theatrical, empathetic, meticulous

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Always start from a place of empathy.

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

    I’ve made so many mistakes over the years, most small, but occasionally a bigger one. Probably my worst teaching disaster was when I was in graduate school, teaching a summer session course that I helped to design on “The Psychology of Mind Reading” (really a course about social cognition). This was one of my first real teaching experiences. At the last minute, I’d decided to add a description of a recently published study to my lecture plan. When it came time to explain the study in class, my mind went completely blank. I just could NOT remember the details of the study and just stood there, looking blankly at my slides for a long time. Eventually I gave up, tried my best to laugh about it, and explained that I would “study up” before our next class session. I think my students gave me the benefit of the doubt because they’d seen how prepared I’d been for our previous classes, and they knew I cared. By the next class we seemed back on track. Ever since, I’ve been extra careful to make sure I understand the studies I plan to cover in class, taking time to check out the original article and make sure I have a grasp of the methods, partly to make sure I can explain it, but also to be prepared for interesting questions students may ask.

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

    Most of my students are surprised to learn that I’m also a group exercise instructor who likes to choreograph fitness routines to music. I love to exercise and have been teaching exercise since my first year of graduate school. Occasionally one of my students stumbles into my exercise class on campus and then takes a few minutes to recognize me because I look pretty different decked out in my workout gear.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I don’t have very “elevated” book selections—I love fantasy fiction written for young adults because I can read it before bedtime without having to strain my brain too hard at the end of the day. I most recently read Sabaa Tahir’s Reaper at the Gates which is part of her Ember in the Ashes Series. I haven’t picked a new book yet. I love audio books because I can listen while walking or driving.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    I could not live without Google image search. My lecture style is very visual. I don’t like a lot of words on my slides and Google’s image searching capability makes it so easy for me to find the perfect picture to compliment whatever I am trying to say.

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

    I definitely ask my colleagues about how their teaching is going this term. Because I’m at an R1, I don’t think faculty talk as much about their teaching, so I try to start that conversation. We also talk a lot about our kids. I have two daughters, aged 7 and 10, and they are always up to something fun that I like to share.

    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Bridgette Martin Hard talk with Garth about connections between teaching psychology and storytelling, theater, and improvisation!

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