Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. As a blog team, we advocate for and promote inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in pedagogy (see updated GSTA Position Statement from the Steering Committee). At this critical juncture in history, we have declared our solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and are motivated to use this platform to feature voices for change in the following areas as outlined by the GSTA:

  • Suggestions relating to decolonizing syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds.

  • Tips on adopting anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.

  • Recommendations on creating inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and do not tolerate discrimination.

  • Strategies on discussing how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us  with students and colleagues.

  • Tips on engaging with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in classrooms, institutions, and communities.

  • Input on being compassionate and supportive to students, colleagues, and ourselves during these times.

We are also still committed to diversifying blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. Example topic areas include:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research

  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest

  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology

  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom

  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

  • We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

As we focus the spotlight on inclusion and non-discrimination, we will continue to provide  graduate students and faculty an outlet to share their experiences, ideas, and opinions regarding graduate students’ teaching practices.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf. If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at 

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 10 Mar 2020 8:25 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Jennifer L. W. Thompson, Ph.D., University of Maryland Global Campus

    The original title for this post was Online Teaching: Quest for the Magic Bullet. This title has several benefits, not the least of which is that it has a colon which makes it instantly more valid. In addition, administrators are increasingly looking to online classes as the panacea for rising costs and lowering enrollments. However, the most important thing about this title is that it implies that we are looking for the best formula, the right formula for teaching our students. Is there a right way to teach online? No. There is no one right way, there is no best way, but there are many things that teachers can do to make the online experience more effective and engaging for students.

    As with any teaching, preparation is the key. Successful online teaching is not as simple as taking what you do in a face to face class and “moving it online.” Rather there are other things to think about such as, good design principles, online etiquette, content delivery mechanisms, etc. It also requires that you start thinking about the classroom as a learner centered environment rather than one that is focused on the instructor. Teaching online requires even more planning and preparation which starts by designing the course and the classroom.

    Keep in mind that it is often the case in online teaching that you need to be a little extra. Go further, be bolder, have extra enthusiasm.

    Welcome your students to the class. This can be through a first day announcement, or sending students an email, or do both. The messaging can give students an overview of what they will learn throughout the semester and generate enthusiasm, and it can give students a good first impression of the classroom and of you as the faculty member. It is a great way to introduce students to yourself, your teaching philosophy and your personality. Do not be afraid to let your sense of humor shine through. Students, likewise, should introduce themselves to you and to one another within the classroom. You should welcome each student to class individually as they introduce themselves, which is a good way to begin building rapport and mutual respect. It can also help you to learn about the background experiences that students are bringing to the classroom, which can, in turn, inform how you present certain topics, or how you frame discussion questions to tap into their previous knowledge and experience.

    In this Welcome message be sure to communicate your expectations for the students and the classroom, including things like due dates, frequency and substance of contributions, and codes of conduct for the classroom. Often faculty will share their expectations for students and tell them what they can expect of them as well, again fostering a sense of rapport, respect, and community. Something like, I expect you to do your reading and preparation in a timely manner, I expect you to show interest and courtesy and to ask challenging questions, I expect you to meet deadlines and communicate with me if you have any difficulties.  In return, you can expect me to be professional, motivational, fair, and responsive, and to provide timely and constructive feedback.

    Also, as part of your introductory remarks to students, tell them how to navigate the classroom-the more organized it is the easier this will be. Consider your audience when doing this. Are these new students to your program, new students to online learning? --If so, they may need links to tutorials for using the Learning Management System (such as how to post assignments or responses to discussion board questions. For instance, should they post as replies or as a new thread) or links to support services. If your audience is more experienced students in a research or capstone course, they may need reminders about support services and you may need to tell them about any assessments or software tools that you are using that they may not have encountered previously.

    During the course, be present. Just because the class is taking place in a virtual space where you cannot go does not mean that you should be an “absentee professor.” Check into the classroom often, but more than that let the students know you are there by posting announcements and reminders at least one a week, by answering student questions within the classroom, by responding to emails in a timely manner, and by posting comments or new information within the discussion boards at least every other day or so. Encourage students to engage with you, the material and one another.

    In terms of content, it is not so much deciding what to include, but rather thinking about the mechanism for delivery.  However, I would encourage teachers to really consider whether they need to include all 16 chapters of a textbook or if they can be more selective with the content needed to meet the learning outcomes in the course. Not only can students read about a topic, but they can also listen to a lecture or podcast or watch a video or slide presentation. They can then actively interact with the content.  We know that students learn by transferring their learning to new situations, problems and contexts and that student learning is largely dependent on practice. Provide a variety of occasions and contexts in which students can use and practice their knowledge. 

    Get feedback throughout the course and reflect on your teaching at the end of the course. Feel free to ask students whether they need clarification on an assignment or on your expectations or the layout of the classroom. At the end of the class think about how the class went, are there areas for improvement? Are there things that worked well that can be incorporated further? Review and update the content for the course. Make slight alterations to your assessments and discussion topics to make them timely and unique from the previous semester.

    When it comes to teaching online, just remember what you already know about good teaching. Students perform better when they are given opportunities to engage with faculty and with each other, when they are given tasks that require active learning, are encouraged to spend “time on task”, and when they are given prompt feedback and high expectations (Chickering and Gamson, 1987). Each of these principles can be introduced, promoted and perfected in the online classroom.


    Chickering, A. W., Gamson, Z. F., & American Association for Higher Education, W. D. (1987). Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education. AAHE Bulletin, 3–7.

    Dr. Jennifer Thompson has been teaching online for over 14 years and is currently Program Director and Collegiate Professor in the Department of Psychology at University of Maryland Global Campus.  Jennifer is past co-chair of APA’s Committee on Associate and Baccalaureate Education and is on the Program Committee for the Eastern Psychological Association.  Jennifer received her B.A. from Vanderbilt University and her M.A. and Ph.D. from American University­­­. She served on the Steering Committee for APA’s Summit for the National Assessment of Psychology (SNAP), is co-editor of Project Assessment, and is on the Steering Committee for APA’s Introductory Psychology Initiative.

  • 06 Mar 2020 9:12 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    GSTA Blog co-editors Maya Rose and Sarah Frantz recently had the opportunity to sit down with Jill Grose-Fifer, Patty Brooks, and Maureen O’Connor to talk about their new book, Teaching Psychology: An Evidence-Based Approach, and discuss what student-centered teaching is all about. Their book (pictured below) offers an in-depth guide to student-centered teaching in the undergraduate classroom, providing practical advice and effective teaching techniques based on multi-disciplinary research and scholarship on teaching and learning.

    From left: Maureen O'Connor, Jill Grose-Fifer, and Patty Brooks with a copy of the book!

    What are you most passionate about in teaching?

    Jill: I think teaching is really fun when you see the light bulbs going off in students’ minds and you see them really getting excited about what you are excited about. I like seeing students’ excitement, seeing them grow and develop, and transforming into confident mature critical thinkers. 

    Patty: I love making things and doing projects with my students. As such, my teaching philosophy stems from constructionism and the idea that when you create things, you feel empowered. You look at what you made and you think how cool it is and you realize that you developed skills that you didn't even know you needed. So I think that my passion for teaching is about figuring out ways to do creative work with my students that also informs their understanding of psychological science.

    Maureen: I think I am passionate about teaching because it extends from my interest in mentoring. So when I'm in the classroom I feel like I'm guiding and helping students find what they really already can do and know. I'm putting in place the structures they need to learn those things themselves. So to me it feels like an extension of my passion for mentoring.


    We know that the Teaching of Psychology taskforce was the inspiration for the book. Can you tell us about the taskforce and what inspired the book?

    Maureen:  I remember a graduate student coming into my office at the Graduate Center literally in tears, sitting down in front of me and saying, “I've just been told that I have to teach Developmental Psychology at Hunter College. I've never taken Developmental Psychology and I've never taught. What do I do now?” I thought, wow, what's wrong with this picture? I said, “There's nothing wrong with you. What's wrong is that we think you should be able to do this with absolutely no support, no training, and no teaching.” At that point there were about 500 doctoral students in psychology in CUNY undergraduate classrooms, and I realized at that moment that they had been sent there almost completely without any preparation or training. So I and a wonderful group of student leaders created this task force to really think about how we address this. It really was student-led and students figured out they were passionate about it. We developed the idea for a conference and for a class. The first class was this amazing group of student leaders and we really used the class to figure out what do we need to know, what do students need to do, and how should we best support them? This student leadership group was called the Pedagogy Task Force.

    At first, this book was nowhere in our minds. It wasn’t anything to do with the book. It had to do with: We are psychologists and we understand what it takes to do teaching and learning. Let's figure out how to develop a course that brings the best of psychology to this process. And then Patty and I co-taught the course, and then Jill came in to guest lecture because Jill was already my model. [Jill chimes in to reassure M and P as well as the interviewers that it was more guest activities than lectures!] And it had been clear to me as Chair at John Jay that Jill was the most sophisticated thinker about pedagogy that I knew. Then it turned out Patty was equally sophisticated and amazing, so we started being a team. 

    Patty: I think what was really frustrating was that when we were trying to find readings for the students in our course, a lot of readings seemed to be saying the opposite of what we were emphasizing. There is a tension in higher ed between lecturing and information transmission and the other point of view which focuses on student development. As a developmental psychologist, it was always, to me, about student development––not about trying to get somebody's brain to have the same content that I have in my head. So I think that we were struggling to find the readings that were really resonating with where we were coming from.

    Jill: I think also it's really challenging because there is a lot published about evidence-based teaching. But how do you put together a manageable set of readings for a course on a weekly basis which really are giving a comprehensive overview that you can use in a very practical way as well? And sometimes I think pedagogy papers don't always adequately describe how they actually taught the course. They did something, it's described relatively briefly, and here are the assessment data. But it's sometimes not quite enough to really think about, “Oh, well how could I adapt this to my course with some more specific ideas?” I think for me it was always like we're just kind of scratching the surface all the time. We're not really giving a broad enough overview of what's out there and also we're not necessarily helping our students to see how to apply it in their own classes. So the practice part of the class is really important. It's a practicum where the students are teaching mini lessons.


    How do you respond to those who are convinced lecturing is the gold standard in teaching?

    Jill: I think you have to push back on that and say, “Well, where's the evidence that lecturing is better?” I had a conversation just before the book came out and I was talking about it to an older colleague who said, “Well, yeah, but you know there's also something to be said for lecturing.” And I said, “Based on what evidence?” I think if we're social scientists or neuroscientists, we base our research on evidence. So just saying, “I’ve enjoyed a few lectures in my life”, doesn't mean that it's an effective way to help students learn.

    Patty: I would just add to that, when we say lecturing, we're not saying direct teaching. There's always a lot of direct teaching that sets up more active ways of engaging with material. One of my student’s dissertations demonstrated that students often flounder under conditions of pure discovery where they are given an unstructured task and have no clue what they are supposed to do. But they do better, when compared to lecturing, when the assignment or activity is scaffolded. There's a big difference between pure discovery, where the student is kind of left on their own to solve some problem, and scaffolded instruction, where you are a guide and you provide a lot of direction.

    Jill: Right. I think lecturing is really a presentation and sometimes it's a terrible presentation as well. Maybe it's entertaining at times, but it's a presentation, it's not teaching. It's so ironic that so many people in Psychology are locked into this lecturing style when so many of the other subject areas, like the humanities, would never think about doing that. They have a much more student-centered focus. I think STEM has really led the way in this field because it's often in subject areas where students are struggling to understand abstract ideas, you have to be more intentional about the way you teach. As a cognitive neuroscientist, some of the classes that I teach are about the biological basis of psychology and it's not everybody's cup of tea. But it is a course that most students will take, and so how do you make it somebody's cup of tea? And how do you make people feel empowered in that course, that they're confident they will be able to manage the material and get something out of it that's really meaningful to their own lives?

    Patty: There’s now quite a lot of evidence, as indicated by a large-scale meta-analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that when you pit lecturing and active learning against each other, students have higher rates of passing courses and higher exam grades when they're doing active learning. Another recent study showed that when students enjoy the lecture and have the sense that everything in the lecture makes perfect sense, often times that experience is actually negatively correlated with their learning. 

    Jill: Other research has shown us now, too, that when you're using a student-centered philosophy in your classes, students are outperforming the lecture students largely because they're engaging in more critical thinking. They show evidence of more in-depth critical thinking in their work.

    Maureen: The wonderful thing for me about working with the students and with Patty and Jill on this is that we all came from different theoretical frameworks and backgrounds. So Patty brought the developmental piece, Jill brought the brain and cognition piece, and my training in the law actually had really informed my teaching. What I didn't realize until I had the sort of framework to know what I was talking about, was that I was doing active learning because in the law you develop hypotheticals. I realized now why that was working and why students were so engaged in those classes. It was interesting material, but it was also active learning! I didn't have the words for it until I started working with these guys.

    Jill: I think that teaching is really a process. Nobody comes to it as an expert and, even as you get better, all the time you're improving. It's really evolving all the time. And sharing and learning things from others and with others is really important.

    Patty: I also think it has to do with what kinds of attributions you make when you are teaching and you feel like the class didn't go as you intended. When the class didn't go as intended, there are people who are quick to dismiss it either because the students didn't read or they weren’t prepared for class. I really think that our job is to teach the students who are in our classes, not some idealized version of them. If we are dissatisfied with the way that our classes are going, then it is our responsibility to do some research and figure out what we could be doing differently that would make our classes more effective. I think that's what makes the distinction between my teaching interests and my research increasingly blurred. I think you have to be looking towards yourself as an agent of change when there are situations in your classrooms that you're dissatisfied with.

    Jill: We hear so much that so many students aren't college ready. Instead of saying that, what we should be saying is, “Are our colleges or our faculty or instructors student-ready?” So thinking about who it is that's in our classes and teaching to them. We have to really be thinking all the time about trying things and adapting them so that we support our students in a holistic way.


    How have your experiences at CUNY, which has a highly diverse student population, motivate you to focus on inclusion in the classroom?

    Maureen: I think a lot of the teaching focus, and a lot of the energy around teaching of psychology, comes from really small liberal arts, heavily upper middle class institutions. I think all of us, because of our commitments around CUNY and what CUNY represents, and the access to education that it allows, it's like the rubber meets the road. We can't pretend that we're able to help every kind of student succeed if we target our learning strategies to people who don't really need our help. 

    Patty: Instead of teaching some minutiae about some study that was conducted three decades ago, let's have students work with data and learn how to manipulate data in spreadsheets, and try to draw some conclusions from the data. Once you start moving away from the sort of esoteric content to very general skills, then all of a sudden, it's all very relevant to the students. I love to have them learn skills that they could potentially put on their resume.


    What types of activities do you use in the classroom?

    Jill: I like that I have a flipped classroom in Sensation and Perception so we do mini labs and workshops in the flipped class. That's a lot of fun because students are kind of discovering the sensory perceptual experiences but also how to graph that data. I love that and I also like workshopping writing assignments with students. That's fun as well because I think often students have never really thought about writing in their own words. They've plagiarized a lot in the past and they don't know that it's plagiarism because that's just what they've always done. So just helping them to think about writing in their own words and giving them permission to write maybe in a more colloquial kind of them permission to write in a way that's more natural. I think it's really helpful to students. I also love role-playing in class.

    Maureen: I always had students debating. I did a lot of mini debates: three best arguments and then switch sides. I think it really helps to sharpen thinking and to realize that there's a difference between an opinion and an evidence-based argument.

    Patty:  One of the best assignments is the five-slide presentation. Five slides, but not even five slides, really––one is the title page and one is references, so it's really just three slides. And first-year students in Intro Psychology teach the class in week four with these slide presentations. I think it makes the students more sympathetic to my position and that makes the class nicer! And the students do a beautiful job. I'm also very much committed to having my students write Wikipedia articles. That has been transformative for me. Every semester when I look back on my students’ work, I am so proud of them.


    One of the main goals of the handbook is to promote the implementation of teacher training in psychology. Do you see doctoral programs beginning to implement teacher training?

    Jill: I think at least locally it's changing. Some years ago Maureen and Patty and a whole lot of people from the GSTA contributed to a handbook of the various psychology programs around the country that were offering some kind of training. I think it's surprising to me how many colleges now have teaching courses in their psychology departments which is encouraging.

    Maureen: I think relative to 20 years ago, it's improved. I think an interesting challenge for our field is we tend to see things a little bit either-or, right? You do clinical or you do research or, in our case, you do teaching. And what is beautiful about what Patty and Jill do, and the GSTA, is seeing how those are related. But I still think there's some resistance: the idea that time spent on pedagogy can be time away from the other kinds of work you should be doing. So I run up against that now at my own institution. We have a lot of people who are very interested in pedagogy and doing some really good work. We offer workshops but they are not yet required. Notice I said not yet. And because of that, not everybody is exposed to it. We are doing what Jill suggested, which is in order to teach, you have to have participated in the workshops. But I think we've got a long way to go honestly. I had an interesting discussion recently with some faculty about the idea of being student-centered as being a “anything the student needs, they get” kind of thing. So there's not a shared understanding in our field about these values that we've been talking about.

    Jill: I was at a faculty development workshop recently where we were actually giving a workshop on how to make your syllabus more welcoming. Some faculty asked, “But don't students take advantage of you?”  And it's not like you can do whatever you like in my class. It's like let's work together to try and make sure this is a good learning experience for you.

    Patty: For us, student-centered is about thinking about what we want the students to get out of the course. I think we can expand that by asking, “what do you think the students hope to get out of the course?” If we can also incorporate some of what the students hope to get out of the course and not just what we hope the students will get out of the course, we're actually creating an even better environment where the students are going to be more invested in their learning. But it always starts out with what we and the students expect to get out of the course and then making sure that we have created the opportunities for the students to get there. We also need to be finding out whether we're getting the job done, and if we're not getting the job done, figuring out how we can change our instruction to do a better job.


    How do you want faculty and graduate students to utilize this handbook?

    Maureen: One of the things I hope for is that people in our field recognize that all we're asking them to do is use the best information from our field to inform one of the really important things they do. It's like owning the fact that we're psychologists and that we produced most of the literature in that book and yet we haven't always translated that into the practice. 

    Patty: I would like for it to be something that people can fall back on when they are frustrated. So they might try something for the first time, try to do something with group work in the class and they weren't very satisfied with how it turned out. I'd like for them to then be able to say, “well, let me see how other people are doing group work.” And be able to read our book and have a place where they can get some ideas, so that they are encouraged to try it again. I do think that we're really practiced at presenting and we are really trained to be good presenters at conferences. But then when we try any of these other things, we feel like we're novices. We don't always feel like we get it right, and it's just too easy to say, “Oh, it didn't go well. I'm not gonna do that again!” I want people to have a resource where they can learn a little bit more about the craft of it. 

    Jill: You don't have to read it from cover to cover. Instead, to be able to say, “Hmm, I'm sure I want to do this but I'm not quite sure how to go about it. Let me see if I can get some ideas.” And it can just be a tiny little thing. It doesn't have to be a really huge project. It might just be, “My students don't seem to want to talk in class. Why not? What can I do to try and encourage that? How can I change my classroom environment?” For instance, after exploring the book, you might say, “Well, I'm not ready to do a big group project but maybe I can do a think-pair-share in my class.” The book is just very explicit about how you might be able to do some things. And it also backs it up with evidence, so you can feel confident that you're doing something that is likely to be successful in the classroom.


    If there are three takeaways from this book, what would they be?

    Jill: My takeaways are nurture the whole student by teaching in a culturally responsible way, teaching is not presenting, and learning to teach well is a process constantly evolving. 

    Patty: Teaching means that the student has to be doing and that doing needs to be intentional and purposeful. I think it's really important to communicate to the student what the purpose of the class or the activity is from the outset and get the buy-in, because it's something that you're doing together.

    Maureen: Psychological science has contributed substantially to what we know about teaching and learning. We should embrace that and use that knowledge in our own teaching.

    Jill: So effective teaching is evidence-based and, because of that, we know it has to be student-centered: active learning.

    Maureen: So much of psychological science and training even in Psychology is about the individual. It focuses on individual learning and individual accomplishment and what’s your impact factor. But it was collaboration that produced this book. Collaborative learning is what we did to produce the book and I think collaborative teaching is what allowed us to do that. In collaborative work, students are learning from each other and they're learning alongside the instructor. We did the same thing. This book would not be what it is if we had just sat down and looked at the literature.


    Can instructors outside of Psychology use the book?

    Jill: It can be used by anybody!

    Jill Grose-Fifer, PhD, is a cognitive neuroscientist and Associate Professor of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. She earned her bachelors and doctoral degrees from the University of Aston, in Birmingham, U.K. Her current neuroscience research focuses primarily on event-related potential investigations of adolescent brain development.

    Patricia Brooks, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, where she directs the language Learning Laboratory. Her research interests are in three broad areas: 1) individual differences in first- and second-language learning; 2) the impact of digital media on learning and development; 3) development of effective pedagogy to support diverse learners. Dr. Brooks served as the Faculty Advisor to the GSTA from 2014-2019.

    Maureen O’Connor, PhD, JD, is President of Palo Alto University (PAU), an institution dedicated to education and research in psychology. At PAU, she supports an annual evidence-based teaching conference. Prior to that, she was Professor and Chair of Psychology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, and Executive Officer of the Doctoral Program in Psychology at CUNY’s Graduate Center.

  • 04 Mar 2020 8:35 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Sam Sommers, Ph.D., and Lisa Shin, Ph.D., Tufts University

    We’ve been there. Even though we’re old enough that our students may assume we’ve been professors forever (literally so, in some of their minds), we still remember vividly the anxieties and uncertainties of teaching for the very first time, as graduate student instructors. Some of those original worries and challenges never go away! Others we have found ways to manage over time.

    So now that we are — let’s go with — experienced instructors, we sometimes get asked to offer advice to those who are embarking on their own teaching careers. One common question is how to balance the various responsibilities of graduate school once you add teaching to the mix. What do we say in response? Well, there’s good news and bad news when it comes to time management in graduate school. 

    First, the good news. There’s an easy formula you can follow, which varies by institution and discipline, but typically looks something like this: you should be spending 75% of your time and effort on your research, 50% on your teaching, and another 40% on your classes.

    The bad news, of course, is that the math doesn’t add up. In graduate school, not to mention faculty positions, no matter how much work you get done, there is always more work waiting. Given that you won’t be able to muster 165% of your time and effort most days, you must figure out ways to wear all these proverbial hats at one time. So, below are a few specific strategies we’ve developed for fudging the numbers in this formula — ways you can game the system, so to speak.

    1) Make these categories less mutually exclusive. Your allocation of time to research, teaching, and coursework can exceed a sum of 100% if you allow these endeavors to overlap. Incorporate your newest research project into your teaching. Use your teaching as a time to develop new research ideas. Take your graduate seminar writing assignments as the opportunity to design new research programs or explore new literature that broaden your scholarship. 

    We have also found that that research and teaching include crossover skills. Teaching well will make you a stronger researcher: talking in front of your students is an experience that will leave you far better at presenting your research at departmental colloquia and national conferences. Answering students’ questions will help you do the same in your academic talks. Devising and implementing strategies for explaining technical concepts to classes with different skill sets will serve you well when you present your work across disciplines or to lay audiences.

    2) Learn low-investment, high-reward tricks to successful teaching. You can cheat the time management percentages by learning that the little things mean a lot when you’re a teacher. A surprising number of positive teaching evaluations read something as follows: “The professor was so enthusiastic about the material,” or, “It was an excellent course that was very well organized,” or even, “It meant a lot that the instructor learned all our names.” It’s amazing how far you get as a teacher by simply paying attention to being enthusiastic, organized, and interpersonally accessible. Accomplish all three, and your teaching ratings (and more importantly, effectiveness) soar. 

    We’ve learned that so much of what makes you an effective teacher are the same characteristics that make you the type of person with whom others enjoy having a conversation. Being present and engaged. Being a good listener. Respecting others’ opinions but having something interesting to say. Being able to sense how your audience is responding (or not responding). No one likes a conversation with someone who can’t pick up on how bored you are, who can’t tell that you’re composing a grocery list in your head while they prattle on. Imagine how students feel when this happens in class.  Effective teachers can tell when their students are struggling and need a concept explained in a different way. They can sense when they’re losing the class and need to break things up with an activity or small group discussion.

    There are straightforward ways to develop and foster these skills. Remember what it is about your discipline that excited you in the first place and share it with your students.  Set up a clear plan for the structure of the course and stick to it — when modifications are necessary, explain why. And make the effort to learn your students’ names! Being enthusiastic, organized, and accessible are goals we can all accomplish without a huge amount of effort. 

    3) Be disciplined. One of the best aspects of a career in academia is that, for the most part, you’re an independent contractor who sets many of your own priorities. You must be disciplined to make it work. If you set up expectations with your students regarding how quickly you’ll respond to their emails, or regarding what type of questions you will and won’t answer over email, be sure you stick to those rules. If you must grade 40 papers in 7 days, set aside time each day for 6 papers.  It’s much less daunting than pulling a marathon session the night before they need to be done, and we’ve found that it also helps us do a better job of evaluating assignments.

    And what about when you give a lecture and realize it was a few slides too short, a few slides too long, or needs work in the middle third?  As soon as the lecture ends, make those changes to your lesson plan and/or slides so they’re ready to go for next time. Or, if you can’t pull that off, at the very least, immediately write yourself a detailed memo outlining the needed changes for the next time around. We can’t tell you how many times we’ve felt a debt of gratitude to past Sam and past Lisa for their conscientiousness from semesters prior.

    Do all these strategies work all the time? Of course not! Perhaps, more so than any other aspect of academia, teaching is all about trial and error. So, don’t be afraid to experiment.  And make sure to keep a list of what has worked well, what hasn’t, and why: believe it or not, before you know it, new instructors are going to be coming to you for advice, and you may very well start off your response with something like, we’ve been there; it feels like just yesterday that we were new instructors…

    Sam Sommers and Lisa Shin are Professors of Psychology at Tufts University, where they co-teach Introduction to Psychology.  Along with Carole Wade and Carol Tavris, they are co-authors of Psychology and Invitation to Psychology.  In addition to research programs in social psychology (Sommers) and clinical neuroscience (Shin), they collaborate on research examining the influence of textbook modality on student reading tendencies and learning outcomes, with a particular focus on how students use and learn from electronic textbooks.

  • 26 Feb 2020 7:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Flora Ma, M.S. (Ph.D. Student), Palo Alto University

    It is typical for graduate students who have completed their doctoral degrees to be thrown into institutional or faculty roles within various academic settings. However, there is much more to teaching than domain expertise. How do you help students care? How do you teach when there are so many different personalities in the room? How do you handle strong personalities? How do you cope with your own emotions and stress as a teacher?

    Many graduate schools provide minimal to no adequate training or appropriate support for novice professors. A national survey reported that 62% (146 out of 236) of graduate psychology departments prepare their graduate students for teaching with some form of teacher training (Buskist & Benassi, 2012). However, only 42% of those 146 graduate psychology departments have a formal graduate course that focuses on the teaching of psychology (Buskist, 2013). Research also shows there is a significant gap between the rated importance of training and the actual training graduate students receive on how to be an effective teacher and involved member in academia (Meyers, Reed, & Quina, 1998). In order to address this training gap, I had the opportunity to collaborate on the development of the Center for Educational Excellence (CEE) at Palo Alto University (PAU) to expand pedagogical support from faculty to graduate students.

    PAU recognizes the value of providing resources and training in evidence-based teaching strategies for instructors at all stages of their career for excellence in education through an inclusive, student-centered, and active learning environment. The vision of CEE aligns with PAU’s mission to engage minds and to improve their students’ learning outcomes and academic success of the overall university through innovative pedagogical education. The recent pedagogy shift emphasizing the importance of learning and the learner/student rather than focusing on teaching and the teacher (Barr & Tagg, 1995) has led to new expectations for faculty. These include knowing how to support students, how to facilitate active learning with the use of collaborative and innovative practical learning experiences (e.g., service in the community), and how to ensure a high-quality learning experience for graduate students. 

    PAU’s CEE provided teaching workshops that challenged me to critically think about multifaceted elements of classroom education. Instead of simply meeting course goals, I had to think about creating measurable learning objectives, accessible learning materials, and the right learning environment for my specific students. These trainings expanded my ability to navigate common teaching challenges with practical examples and integrate technology intelligently into teaching. For example, I learned about an audience polling tool, Participoll, to gather students’ learning progress and thoughts as well as how to integrate video technology like Arc video in a flipped classroom. By embedding these videos in my courses and harnessing active learning strategies during class time, I have been able to optimize learning and help students better assimilate and process concepts. Another benefit of this video resource was that it provided me with information like which students viewed the videos and when, as well as the feedback they have about the materials in real time. 

    The PAU CEE’s biggest event is our annual evidence-based teaching (EBT) conference that aims to improve faculty members’ teaching competencies to increase student classroom engagement and satisfaction and to prepare PAU students interested to enter future faculty or teaching roles. Our 2019 EBT conference sparked novel ideas, such as writing a Wikipedia entry as a course assignment and experience in publishing professional writing. Other workshops, such as one on the Cognitive Theory of Multimedia Learning, helped me to better understand the assumptions, cognitive processes, and key principles (i.e. segmenting, pretraining, modality, personalization) related to effective learning. 

    Here is my favorite initiative: a podcast series called “Teaching at PAU” which interviews PAU faculty members to illuminate innovative tools and perspectives on the multidimensional nature of pedagogy. This podcast fosters and strengthens the culture of continuous learning among PAU faculty, students, and other individuals interested in psychology and instruction. My favorite podcast episode (episode #4) was on pedagogy humility, which addressed the importance of cultural humility and intersectional pedagogy (i.e. effective teaching and learning strategies that address intersections of identity; Case, 2016) to continuously learn and adapt to be an effective teacher for a diverse student audience. 

    An offshoot of the student teaching summer workshops – the Society for Pedagogical Excellence (SPE) – was designed to provide year-round support for graduate student teachers across programs. Students in the SPE have been actively involved in research, often presenting their findings at the EBT conferences, and have taken leadership roles in managing student-led projects. Participating students have also gained knowledge and explored options to better prepare them for a career in pedagogy. Most recently, the SPE workshop speaker addressed general teaching competencies, ways to develop a teaching-related professional identity, and the various roles and responsibilities between research, teaching, and administrative services as a professor among different teaching contexts (e.g., research-intensive, regional comprehensive, liberal arts, community college). 

    Now’s your time. Find your local Center for Teaching and Learning or Center for Academic Excellence online. If you need help finding any and resources, I’m here for you - Find the insights that can help you the most. Find that you’ve discovered a new pedagogical home.

    Teaching is about understanding. Knowing my students and the relationships I hold with them matters as much as the content itself. Participating in the CEE has inspired me to think creatively and flexibly about how to implement strategies (e.g., the intersection of pedagogy with technology and diversity) to create meaningful results for and with my students. This is just the beginning of my pedagogy journey, and I’m relieved to know that I’m not alone. You’re not either. This insight into the CEE isn’t a secret; it’s an open invitation to join in.



    Barr, R. B., & Tagg, J. (1995). From teaching to learning—A new paradigm for undergraduate education. Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning27, 12-26.

    Buskist, W., & Benassi, V. A. (Eds.). 2012: Effective college and university teaching: Strategies and tactics for the new professoriate. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Buskist, W. (2013). Preparing the new psychology professoriate to teach: Past, present, and future. Teaching of Psychology40, 333-339.

    Case, K. A. (Ed.). (2016). Intersectional pedagogy: Complicating identity and social justice. Routledge.

    Meyers, S. A., Reed, P. T., & Quina, K. (1998). Ready or not, here we come: Preparing psychology graduate students for academic careers. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 124–126.


    Flora Ma, M.S., is a Ph.D. Clinical Psychology doctoral student at Palo Alto University (PAU) with experiences as a teaching assistant and a tutor in graduate courses including research methods and statistics, cultural differences, ethics, and professional standards. She also co-developed pedagogical evidenced-based teaching resources and co-hosted the Annual Evidence-based Teaching Conference for the Center for Educational Excellence at PAU. In her clinical work and research, Flora has focused on the intersections of culture and innovative technology in psychological interventions for underserved populations, specifically the geriatric population.

  • 11 Feb 2020 3:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Hallie Jordan, M.A. (Ph.D. Student), The University of Southern Mississippi

    At the Society of Teaching Psychology’s (STP’s) 2019 Annual Conference on Teaching (ACT), I had the opportunity to talk with Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. about her book Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning, co-authored with Patrice Bain, Ed.S., a middle school social studies teacher. We discussed the origins of Pooja & Patrice’s research together, explored the ways Pooja currently uses the book’s featured power tools in her college classrooms, and ended with a conversation about how I can implement these power tools as a graduate student instructor of an introductory statistics course. 

    Power Tools: Retrieval, Spacing, Interleaving, and Metacognition

    Powerful Teaching highlights four power tools: retrieval, spacing, interleaving, and metacognition. Pooja and I focused our conversation on the first two – retrieval and spacing. Retrieval is simply the practice of recalling previously learned information – what we think of when we think of traditional testing. Pooja describes this process as getting information “out” of one’s head, which counters ideas that learning is all about getting information “in.” Spacing includes retrieval; however, this is the process of recalling older information. This delayed recall, which by nature is more challenging, actually can help strengthen learning because of the challenge associated with recalling information from weeks or months ago.

    Powerful Teaching’s Origins

    As Pooja became more involved in research and teaching as a graduate student while at Washington University in St. Louis (under the mentorship of memory scholar Henry L. Roediger, III), it became apparent that teachers already use many of the strategies demonstrated to be effective for learning (e.g., retrieval). During the 2006-2007 school year, Pooja observed Patrice’s class full-time and saw just that: Patrice was already implementing retrieval practice using clicker quizzes. As their research collaboration began, they decided to begin manipulating the clicker quizzes.

    Pooja reflected on how they started by exploring effects of more vs. fewer clicker quizzes and noted “almost everything we did was a within-subjects design. For example, if Patrice was teaching a lesson on ancient Egypt, 10 of the 20 facts would be on the clicker quizzes, while 10 facts wouldn’t. Over time we played around with what if the quizzes are multiple choice or short answer, should they be online or at home, should they receive immediate or delayed feedback…it was uncharted territory!”

    This research started in Patrice’s classroom, but quickly grew to include the entire middle school and ultimately the entire school district in Columbia, Illinois (in the St. Louis area). Overall, they conducted research on the science of learning with more than a thousand students for an entire decade!

    Powerful Teaching in Pooja’s Classrooms

    The years of research Pooja conducted at Washington University in St. Louis occurred in middle school classrooms. As an instructor of college students, I was curious how these strategies transfer to classrooms in higher education. Pooja has incorporated retrieval practice in her college classrooms from the start (she teaches four psychology courses at the Berklee College of Music in Boston each semester), and this was initially through using clickers. As her teaching has evolved, she has shifted to using paper & pencil as well as GoogleForms, while acknowledging many instructors enjoy using mobile phone apps. For example, in a recent course, she incorporated spacing & retrieval practice using GoogleForms. The GoogleForm included a pre-test of neuroscience mythbusters before beginning a new unit (e.g., We only use 10% of our brain – true/false), but at the top of the form, Pooja asked her students to share one thing they learned about mental health from the last week’s lesson. So, even though they were completing a pre-test, they still had to retrieve – and the retrieval was spaced out.

    Since writing Powerful Teaching, Pooja has thought more about incorporating retrieval practice spontaneously during class rather than separately at the beginning or end of class. This highlights a significant benefit of powerful teaching strategies – they do not require significant pre-planning or grading, and they can be implemented spontaneously. If things seem to be dragging in class, the instructor can generate a retrieval question related to course content on the spot. For this purpose, Pooja likes to keep index cards on hand (she will pass them out for students to answer a spontaneous retrieval question), but notes instructors can alternatively have students write these responses on their own paper or have a “QR” code in the slides (with a little pre-planning) that students can scan to submit their response.

    When reflecting on retrieval practice using index cards, Pooja stated, “I love when students write something on an index card or piece of paper, and come up after class and give it to me – they’re expecting me to grade it. But it’s for them!” This captures the essence of retrieval practice: it is recalling information for learning’s sake, rather than for evaluative purposes.

    Powerful Teaching in My Classroom as a Graduate Student Instructor

    Pooja’s passion for helping instructors implement evidence-based practices in the classroom was no more evident than when she shifted the conversation to asking me about my classroom! We discussed strategies I could implement while teaching an “Introduction to Statistics for the Behavioral Sciences” course of 50 students. Again, none of the strategies we discussed required extensive prep time or even significant re-organizing of my class. Instead, it was just re-working a couple ways I approached teaching.

    Two Things: Prior to my conversation with Pooja, I was spending 2-3 minutes at the start of each class reviewing the main objectives from the previous class via simply reminding students what we learned. Pooja suggested I instead use spaced retrieval to accomplish this review. So, I started asking students at the start of each class to write down two things they learned last time. After they wrote their two things, they shared their two things with their neighbor, and added one of their neighbor’s two things to their list. This became a daily practice in our classroom and provided students another opportunity to practice getting information out.

    Weekly Quizzes: This is a strategy incorporating retrieval and spacing that I tried once and will absolutely implement again! Simply administer a low-stakes (key: low-stakes!) quiz at the start of class on previously learned information. This requires students to get information out at least several days after they initially put the information in. Research tells us this works. I elected to share the answers with the class at the conclusion of the quiz, where students could grade their own work (as it did not count for a course grade) and keep the quiz as a study tool. Although my students seemed initially nervous when I announced this small quiz, they were relieved at the low-stakes nature and noted this provided them an opportunity to practice their learning before a higher-stakes unit exam.

    Retrieval During Lessons: Pooja also recommended building retrieval in during the lessons – not just during exams. Throughout my PowerPoints, I added slides with a question relevant to that day’s lecture for students to answer independently. Vast research shows that, again, it is this retrieval of knowledge that is essential for learning to occur and last. When those slides came up, we would pause for students to think about and jot down their answer (in their notes), and then I would ask a student to share their response. I would provide feedback to the provided response and answer any clarifying questions that came up. In future semesters, I plan to incorporate more spacing in this exercise (so, asking a question about content from a previous class period). Additionally, I have considered ways to make this exercise more interactive through having students submit answers through a GoogleForm so we can see in real-time how the class was doing in their understanding.


    Pooja & Patrice’s work captures the reciprocal ways in which classroom experience can inform research, and then how research informs classroom experience. Pooja captured the essence of retrieval and spacing when she shared a beautiful metaphor she tells her students (who are all music students at Berklee College of Music): “As music students you have to practice your instrument, so in this class we’re going to be practicing your knowledge. The same reason you can’t cram the night before a gig, we use to approach other learning. You have to space it out, you have to practice in advance, you need feedback to know how well you’re doing; you can’t just watch someone play the piano and then just do it. You have to practice your instrument, just like we have to practice our knowledge.”

    Although we may find ourselves searching for fancy teaching strategies, at our core we know what works. When we let science guide our teaching, we can use these powerful strategies to help our students engage in effective, life-long learning.



    Check out Pooja & Patrice’s book Powerful Teaching to learn more about the research they conducted on four learning power tools (retrieval, spacing, interleaving, metacognition) as well as specific suggestions for implementing these strategies in a variety of classrooms.

    Pooja actively disseminates recommendations for implementing retrieval practice through her Retrieval Practice website and on Twitter @RetrieveLearn. You can even subscribe for a weekly email of retrieval practice suggestions straight to your inbox!

    Visit Pooja’s website for more information about her research, keynotes, and workshops.


    Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. is a cognitive scientist, conducting research on how students learn since 2005. She is the author of the book Powerful Teaching: Unleash the Science of Learning and an Assistant Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, teaching psychological science to exceptional undergraduate musicians. She is also the Founder of, a source of research-based teaching strategies for more than 15,000 teachers around the world. Pooja’s research has been published in leading journals; highlighted by The New York Times, NPR, Scientific American, and Education Week; and recognized by the National Science Foundation.

    Hallie Jordan, M.A. is a fourth-year doctoral student in The University of Southern Mississippi’s counseling psychology program with experiences teaching introductory psychology, statistics, and counseling theories courses. She has been a member of the Graduate Student Teaching Association’s (GSTA) Blog Editorial Team since 2018. As a member of the Behavior and Addiction Research Lab, her research focuses on college student substance use. Clinically, Hallie is interested in behavioral health and providing clinical supervision.

  • 10 Feb 2020 12:56 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By William S. Altman, Ph.D., SUNY Broome Community College

    You’ve probably noticed that as scholars, we tend to do an awful lot of writing.  We write articles, blog posts, and lots of other kinds of documents to communicate our thoughts or research findings.  Sometimes we write to help us understand what we’re trying to learn, or to clarify our own thinking about something.  But quite often, we face the daunting task of knowing HOW to get our thoughts down in some coherent way.  It would be nice to find some method to make this easier and less stressful.

    One possible solution is the V-diagram, originally developed by D. Bob Gowin at Cornell University.  Using this format will help us to develop our thoughts, organize our ideas automatically, and see where we might need more information or better connections.

    So, let’s see how using a V-diagram might help us.  The sides of the diagram represent conceptual information (on the left) and data-driven information (on the right).  The center of the V contains the focus question that the writer hopes to answer with their work.  The actual event or object that the writer has observed is placed at the bottom of the V.  In other words, once you have your focus question, you work your way down the left side to develop your experiment or observational method, and once the experiment or observation is done, you work your way up the right side to deal with the data and draw your conclusions.  In general, the entries on the left and right sides will tend to mirror one another, as you’ll see in the examples below.

    Here’s how the V-diagram is constructed:

    Just as an example, let’s use the diagram to write about research on how to be safe when hiking in the forest.

    As you can see from the example above, it would be pretty easy to translate this into a finished article or book chapter.  Tackling a typical psychological paper would be very much the same:

    In fact, this method has been so helpful over the years, I used it to help write this piece.  Here was my diagram:

    So, as you can see, the V-diagram does make writing a lot simpler.  I definitely encourage you to try it!

    You can learn more about V-diagrams by reading Learning How to Learn (Novak & Gowin, 1984) or The Art of Educating with V Diagrams (Gowin & Alvarez, 2005), or by visiting the following websites:


    Gowin, D. B. & Alvarez, M. C. (2005) The art of educating with V diagrams. Cambridge University Press.

    Novak, J. D. & Gowin, D. B. (1984). Learning how to learn. Cambridge University Press.


    William S. Altman is a professor in the Psychology and Human Services Department at SUNY Broome Community College, and currently serves as The Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Vice President for Resources. Dr. Altman holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees in Educational Psychology and Measurement, and an M.P.S. in Communication Arts from Cornell University, and a B.A. in History from the University of Pennsylvania. In 2018, STP honored him with the Wayne Weiten Teaching Excellence Award.

    He spent over a decade sharing information about education and psychological science on local radio, been a professional photographer, and performed in theater and as a standup comic (ostensibly to work on classroom presentation skills, but mostly because it's fun).

    Bill Altman is driven by a wide and unpredictable curiosity, an almost pathological and sometimes annoying need to solve problems of nearly any sort, and a sense that it all ought to be fun.

  • 27 Jan 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Yuliana Zaikman1, Jamie S. Hughes2, and Laura Madson3

    1 Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi

    2 The University of Texas of the Permian Basin

    3 New Mexico State University

    As a graduate student TA, should you seek training in a specific teaching strategy, like team-based learning (TBL), inter-teaching, or cooperative learning? What are the risks and benefits on the job market and as an early career faculty member of having adopted a specific teaching strategy? Two of us (YZ and JH) tried team-based learning as graduate students while being mentored by LM. YZ and JH continue to use it as early- and mid-career faculty members. Our experiences with TBL have featured unexpected benefits and challenges. We will start by shortly explaining what TBL is and then discuss some of the benefits and challenges we experienced with it.

    A typical TBL module takes 2-4 weeks of class time. In TBL, the majority of class time involves students working in permanent teams (5-7 students) on disciplinary tasks that require and reward creative, critical, and collaborative thought (Michaelsen, Knight, & Fink, 2004; Sibley & Ostafichuk, 2014; Sweet & Michaelsen, 2012). For example, the instructor might ask teams to choose a mental illness that disrupts the most of one’s daily routine and have the teams justify their choices. Teams work on the same, significant problem, make a specific choice, and report their choice simultaneously. After within-team discussion, all teams report their choices and the instructor leads the full class in a discussion of different teams’ reasoning for their choices. Because there is no “right” answer, this discussion and students’ understanding of the material is enriched when teams disagree.

    TBL is a complete teaching strategy that guides all aspects of course design and assessment and leads to improved learning and student engagement (Madson, Zaikman, & Hughes, in press). In TBL, the instructor’s job is not to lecture about the material, but rather to create learning opportunities for the students to get hands-on experience with the material while working with their team members. Team activities can be graded or ungraded and students can complete typical individual examinations as well.

    TBL can be fun and engaging for instructors and students. Instructors can get to know their students better, and students (along with instructors) feel a greater sense of accomplishment after having fully explored and applied subject matter following activities and tests. Within- and between-team discussions expose students to different perspectives and allow students to practice oral communication and critical thinking skills. Further, student attendance, conversations, and course evaluations suggest they are engaged and enjoy the work.

    In addition to providing a more engaging and fun way of teaching, YZ believes that TBL may provide a leg up on the job market. It gave her something additional to discuss in her teaching philosophy statement and during interviews. Search committees almost always asked her something about TBL, and it felt amazing to be knowledgeable about such a progressive and fun method of teaching.

    There are some challenges with TBL, especially for a beginning graduate student or early career faculty member. One challenge was the necessary mental shift about the role of the instructor. For example, YZ’s original reaction to TBL was, “What do you mean I am not the center of attention, the fountain of knowledge the students ‘have’ to listen to?” YZ resisted at first. Even recently, YZ noticed that she lectured much longer than is normal for a TBL classroom. However, over time one becomes more comfortable with the flow of the TBL classroom and we feel “off” if we lecture for more than 15 or 20 minutes. 

    Another challenge with TBL is that creating interesting and productive activities is not easy. It is sometimes very difficult. For example, it is important to create activities that interest and engage students and that require students to make a specific choice. Open-ended questions can be challenging because they can be less conducive to teamwork. It can be incredibly time consuming to develop all course materials before the beginning of the semester. This means that during your first three to six years as an assistant professor, you will spend much of your time developing new courses or revising courses you had taught before. However, the amount of time spent developing courses early on is similar to the amount of time others spend to create engaging courses or lively lectures. We also find that creating activities can sometimes be even more rewarding than writing lectures.

    Starting out we created some very interesting, challenging, and engaging activities, as well as many activities that were not stimulating or challenging and were just plain bad. Over time we began to understand, more intuitively, the types of questions and response options that work best for team activities. For example, overtime we discovered the types of answers that might be attractive given a question, but that are nonetheless not correct. Creating questions with really good distractors takes practice. For example, the best activities are those in which teams must debate options that may seem equally attractive. There are workshops available through STP or the TBL collaborative that can help one improve in a number of areas, such as activity or multiple-choice question development.

    Another potential challenge of TBL is the amount of support you have surrounding you. It is highly dependent on your institution whether or not you will have teaching assistants or graders. If you have activities for every single class, someone needs to grade those! This is where having a grader can be VERY helpful, particularly if you teach large sections. However, it is not impossible to teach TBL without graders (JH has never used a grader but has had small class sizes (n < 30)). You can have students complete the activities for completion grades, or grade random questions, or you can grade only one or two components of an activity (e.g., tell teams that you’ll collect answers to questions 1 and 3).

    The lack of support can also manifest itself in lack of understanding from (or among) faculty members in your department. JH’s first department did not understand why she was using TBL. Her approach to teaching was very different from the normative method and several believed that her non-conformity was troublesome. Fortunately, JH was able to make a move to another university and her new work team encouraged her independence in the classroom.

    What can you do even if you don’t have a mentor like LM in your life?

    There are a lot(!) of resources about TBL online. We recently published an article about the applicability of TBL in psychology, but there are whole websites (; that have very useful tools for TBL. There is also a Facebook group that is primarily dedicated to TBL in psychology ( You can join it and reach out for ideas or tips. Through these domains you can try and find a mentor – someone who already practices TBL and can provide you with support while you embark on this wonderful journey of TBL[sf1] . We have found that students in TBL classrooms are more engaged, have more opportunities to practice applying and evaluating course concepts, and have more opportunities to form bonds with their classmates compared to lecture-based classrooms. As instructors, we have more opportunities to get to know our students, we find teaching TBL more challenging, and in short, we have more fun than we did using lecture methods. We hope you will give TBL a try and experience its benefits.



    Madson, L. J., Zaikman, Y., & Hughes, J. (in press). Psychology teachers should try Team-Based Learning: Evidence, concerns, and recommendations. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

    Michaelsen, L. K., Knight, A. B., & Fink, L. D. (Eds.). (2004). Team-based learning: A transformative use of small groups in college teaching (1. Stylus paperback ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

    Sibley, J., & Ostafichuk, P. (2014). Getting started with team-based learning (1st ed.). Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing.

    Sweet, M., & Michaelsen, L. K. (Eds.). (2012). Team-based learning in the social sciences and humanities: Group work that works to generate critical thinking and engagement. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing


    Yuliana Zaikman, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor at Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi. She teaches social psychology, human sexuality, experimental psychology and media psychology. Her research interests involve gender inequality such as the sexual double standard.

    Jamie Hughes, Ph.D. is an Associate Professor at the University of Texas Permian Basin. She teaches courses on social psychology, psychology and law, research methods, and statistics.  She conducts research related to teaching pedagogy, moral psychology, and social justice.

    Laura Madson, Ph.D. is a Professor in the Psychology Department at New Mexico State University. She teaches 300-400 Introduction to Psychology students every academic year using team-based learning, has written a textbook specifically for use in her team-based learning Intro Psych classes, and offers regular workshops on team-based learning for the Teaching Academy. She also teaches a graduate course in the Teaching of Psychology. Her scholarship focuses on helping instructors adopt team-based learning.

  • 24 Jan 2020 11:22 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    By Stacie M. Spencer, PhD, MCPHS University, Boston, MA

    Now more than ever, students, parents, employers, and the media are questioning the value of the bachelor’s degree. The term “return on investment” (ROI), once used figuratively in higher education to refer to intellectual growth and increased potential for employment, is now used literally as the financial relationship between the cost of education and future earnings. The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (CEW) recently used U.S. Department of Education College Scorecard data (net price, median debt, median earnings ten years after first attending college) to rank-order 4500 colleges and universities in terms of financial ROI (Carnevale, Chesh, & Van Der Werf, 2019). The Washington Post report of the Georgetown CEW report was titled “Is College Worth It?”

    You might be thinking, “Of course college is worth it!” You also might be wondering what ROI has to do with you, one instructor who only teaches a course (or a few) within the curriculum. Although you do not determine college costs or establish wages, you do have the ability to prepare students to succeed in the workforce and to help students make explicit connections between the knowledge and skills gained through coursework and employer expectations. Professional development, one of the five goals for undergraduate psychology majors established in Guidelines 2.0 (APA, 2013), includes career exploration and the development of transferable skills. Career exploration is the iterative and nonlinear process of determining which occupations best fit an individual’s work values, interests, and skills. Transferable skills include the cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological skills developed through the psychology major that cross employment domains and are valued by employers (Naufel et al., 2018).

    Professional development belongs in the curriculum. You do not have to be a career expert or seasoned faculty member to facilitate career exploration and skill development; you just need to create opportunities for students to engage in these processes. Think about the courses that piqued your interests. Perhaps you remember as an undergraduate thinking, “I love this course! I wonder if I could find a job related to this!” For most psychology students, that line of thinking typically ends by adding “psychologist” to the course title. You might have heard students say (or said yourself) “I like social psychology, I want to become a social psychologist” or “I like human development, I want to become a child psychologist.” These course-career connections are perfectly reasonable and are easy to mentor when in alignment with your training; however, only 14% of psychology baccalaureates earn a graduate degree in psychology and only 4% earn doctoral degrees in psychology (APA, 2018). We need to mentor the remaining 86–96%.

    The best way you can support career exploration in your courses is to engage students as active participants in the process of connecting course content to real-world applications and job opportunities. Simple and effective ways to engage students in identifying real-world applications are to send them to the Divisions of APA webpage, the APA Monitor, and the APS Observer to look for ways in which course concepts are used in diverse settings. To identify course-related job opportunities, challenge students to locate bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral level job postings using job search engines (e.g.,,,, Prior to sending students on the search mission, establish search terms and criteria (Tip: for maximum search results, avoid using “psychology” as a search term).   

    When students share the information they gather, their appreciation of the breadth of applications of course content and the diversity of job opportunities grow exponentially. Working together to organize the applications discovered through the APA and APS websites, students improve their abilities to articulate concepts and examples. Writing job titles on the board and talking about respective roles and responsibilities provides a powerful illustration of the diversity of job titles and helps students see the connections between the major and potential job opportunities. Taking this one step further, identifying additional courses, volunteer, internship, and/or research opportunities that will prepare them for jobs provides the opportunity for students to take control and continue career exploration and skill development after the course ends.

    Skill development is just as important as career exploration and is often less intimidating for instructors to infuse into their courses. You can assess how well you are incorporating skill development in your courses by reviewing the five domains (cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technological) and seventeen corresponding skills described in The Skillful Psychology Student: Prepared for Success in the 21st Century Workplace (Naufel et al., 2018). If you already include activities and assignments that facilitate the development of employer-valued skills, you should make these connections explicitly clear by including skills in course learning objectives, connecting course content to skills (e.g., discuss how group think concepts can be used to improve group projects), and providing opportunities for students to reflect on skill development (Naufel et al., 2019).

    Another way you can support professional development is to design assignments that yield portfolio artifacts (i.e., evidence of skills). Artifacts can include traditional course assignments, such as APA-style research papers and slides for oral presentations; however, most employers are interested in products that more closely resemble non-academic tasks. Generating workforce-relevant assignments does not mean eliminating traditional and important assignments. For example, rather than replace the research paper, you can have students use the information submitted in the research report to create an infographic for a specific audience. Whereas the research report demonstrates critical source synthesis and writing, the infographic assignment demonstrates the ability to communicate concisely and visually with non-academic audiences.

    When designed well, professional development assignments help students identify interesting career paths, develop and demonstrate employer-valued skills, and assess the value of their investment in the bachelor’s degree as a positive ROI. For you, adding professional development assignments to your courses will result in an incredible set of student-generated examples you can use in mentoring beyond the classroom. As more departments seek ways to incorporate professional development across the curriculum, you will also be a strong candidate for faculty positions.


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

    American Psychological Association. (2018). Degree pathways in psychology. [Interactive data tool]. APA. Retrieved from

    Carnevale, A. P., Chesh, B, & Van Der Werf, M. (2019). A first try at ROI: Ranking 4500 colleges. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. Retrieved from

    Naufel, K. Z., Appleby, D. C., Young, J., Van Kirk, J., Spencer, S. M., Rudmann, J., Carducci, B. J., Hettich, P., & Richmond, A. S. (2018). The skillful psychology student: Prepared for success in the 21st century workplace. APA. Retrieved from

    Naufel, K. Z., Spencer, S. M., Appleby, D. C., Richmond, A. S., Rudmann, J., Van Kirk, J., Young, J., Carducci, B. J., & Hettich, P. (2019, March). The skillful psychology student: How to empower students with workforce-ready skills by teaching psychology. APA. Retrieved from

    Additional Resources

    Halonen, J. S., & Dunn, D. S. (2018). Embedding career issues in advanced psychology major courses. Teaching of Psychology, 45, 41-49.

    Spencer, S. M. (2019, October). One course, two courses, three courses, more? Providing career support throughout the undergraduate curriculum. APA. Retrieved from

    Strohmetz, D., & Ciarocco, N. J. (2019, December 9). Enhancing skill development: The potential of high impact practices. GSTA Blog. Retrieved from

    Stacie M. Spencer, PhD, is professor of psychology at MCPHS University (formerly known as Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences), director of the BS in health psychology program, and recipient of the MCPHS Trustees’ Award for Teaching Excellence. She earned a BA in psychology from Allegheny College and PhD in experimental social and personality psychology from Northeastern University. Dr. Spencer completed a post-doctoral fellowship in behavioral medicine at the University of Miami and a post-doctoral fellowship in psycho-oncology at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute. Her current research focus is on professional development and interprofessional education. 

  • 23 Jan 2020 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Aaron S. Richmond, Ph.D., Metropolitan State University of Denver

    Hello Graduate Students! I wanted to take this occasion to tell you that there are exciting changes coming to the Society of Teaching of Psychology’s (STP) flagship journal Teaching of Psychology (ToP) and I want you to be involved. But first, let me take this opportunity to thank Drew Christopher, the outgoing Editor-in-Chief, for his exemplary service to ToP and STP. He has helped shape our field and has guided graduate students (like me at the time) with a gentle, supportive, and constructive hand in the process of publishing their first work in ToP. His editorial style and guidance are responsible for instilling the passion of the science of teaching and learning to many of us. Thank you Drew, we will be forever in your debt.  

    Now, the exciting changes to ToP that you, as graduate students, can be a part of. First, we are integrating Open Science practices into ToP. You as an author in ToP (hint, hint) can now have your materials be open, your data be open, and include preregistration with each manuscript. Second, much like most medical journals, were moving to a structured abstract for both data and non-data driven articles. This will allow graduate students to better access, summarize, and cite the important work that is published in ToP because the structure will allow you to go directly to the results, or the method, or the educational implications. Third, we have reorganized the types of submission that you can submit to ToP. Specifically, we are now accepting manuscripts in one of four corners: Replication Corner, Proof of Concept Corner, Science of Teaching and Learning Corner, and the Scholarly Teacher Corner.

    The Proof of Concept Corner will house promising pilot studies or small-scale studies. In this corner, we are looking for  shorter articles that provide quantitative evidence for teaching and learning related interventions, establish associations in teaching of psychology variables, and/or to present descriptive data to purpose problems to solve. For graduate students, this is HUGE. It will allow you to develop the seed of an idea and get it published in a quality journal. You can then use this “proof of concept” as a rationale or evidence for a larger project like a grant proposal (hint, hint).

    The Replication Corner will encourage graduate students and their collaborators not only to replicate findings from previously published studies, but to also have some novelty to their study (e.g., different type of institution, psychology subject matter, class size, additional measures). The beauty of this corner is that it does not require you, as an overextended graduate student, to reinvent the wheel.

    The Science of Teaching & Learning Corner will be full-length articles that are data- or theory-driven, meta-analytic investigations, or conceptual position articles. Submissions to this section are meant to illuminate teaching of psychology topics with broad implications or importance to SoTL researchers.

    Finally, the Scholarly Teacher Corner will be a forum for shorter articles that provide practical reviews, activities, and/or resources for teachers of psychology to directly use in their classroom or teaching responsibilities. They can be reflective essays, practical activities, nondata driven emerging ideas, subject specific (e.g., abnormal, developmental), how to incorporate a book into your course, research reviews that illuminate findings for teachers of psychology, translating new research, issues to consider, etc. This is another type of submission that is perfect for graduate students. Typically, you won’t need IRB review (halleluiah) to write up and review these materials. For more details about the changes to ToP follow this link.

    Another change that is coming to ToP is our emphasis on involving graduate students. In the past, graduate students have not been officially involved (although they were welcome). Therefore, I’ve specifically reserved a seat on the editorial board for at least one graduate student that serves a 3-year term. I am pleased to announce that our first  graduate student and GSTA member to serve as a Consulting Editor (not just an ad hoc reviewer) is Raechel Soicher from Oregon State University. Moreover, I highly encourage you to volunteer to become an ad hoc reviewer for ToP. By becoming an ad hoc reviewer, you are on the path to becoming a member of any editorial board. It is a great line in your Curriculum Vitae. If you are interested in becoming a reviewer, please contact me @  

    Finally, I would like to leave you with a few ideas on how to create cultural shift of involving GSTA and graduate students with ToP and the field of science of teaching and learning in general. First, I want to create a mechanism by which you become more involved in the science of teaching and learning. STP is a community of teacher-scholars and scholarly teachers and the entire society starts with you. Meaning, many of us “seasoned” society members had someone who was passionate about STP, or teaching, or the science of teaching and learning that sparked a desire to be a part of this incredible community. Whether they modeled exemplary teaching, or they were incredible scholars, or whether they introduced us to STP—it started in graduate school and we are committed to this wonderfully supportive academic community. Consequently, I want to involve you in this outstanding field and especially through ToP. You may ask: How may we accomplish this task? My first idea is to suggest that you apply to be a part of STP’s SoTL Writing Workshop. Dr. Georjeanna Wilson-Doenges is the Director of this program and (a) she is incredible, and (b) if you are accepted into the program you will be matched with a scholar in our field and be mentored for over 6 months on your project. You will then meet at STP’s Annual Conference on Teaching to participate in the workshop. I have mentored several graduate students in this program and it is in an amazing opportunity to learn how to become a scholar in the field and invariably get published and do great work. My second idea is to create a mentoring program for reviewing for ToP. I would like to establish and match graduate student reviewers with experienced Consulting Editors so that they could guide students through this somewhat “implicit procedural knowledge” process. In other words, there are weird social norms and templates used to review manuscripts that most students do not receive guidance or training on—they are just expected to know how to do it. Thus, having someone who has literally done 100s of reviews is extremely important.

    I would like to leave you with an open invitation to contact me about what I have proposed, ToP, career advice, or whatever you would like. I welcome your thoughts and wishes.

    Dr. Aaron S. Richmond is a professor of educational psychology at Metropolitan State University of Denver and is the Editor-in-Chief of STP’s flagship journal Teaching of Psychology. In more than 85 publications involving over 50 undergraduate and graduate students, Dr. Richmond has explored effective pedagogical approaches to instruction in both the k-12 and higher education setting. He is a passionate and accomplished teacher who loves to engage and mentor his students. 

    Contact Dr. Richmond via email ( or Twitter (@AaronSRichmond).

  • 13 Jan 2020 12:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Jeffrey D. Holmes, Ph.D., Ithaca College

    Since you are reading this blog, it is likely that you aspire to become the most effective teacher you can be.  Perhaps you are already teaching or are working as a teaching assistant for college classes.  Perhaps you attend teaching conferences or read empirical research about teaching.  If you are particularly lucky, you may have had the opportunity to take a course designed specifically to teach you how to teach.  You may even consider yourself to be passionate about teaching.  Although “follow your passion” is a common mantra that does not always represent sound or realistic advice, it is quite relevant to your career as a teacher because such intangible teacher variables likely have a substantial impact on student outcomes. 

    There is extensive scientific literature on the relative effectiveness of various pedagogical strategies.  For at least a century, researchers have been on a perpetual search for the techniques likely to yield the greatest benefit in terms of student learning.  These researchers have provided us with expansive ideas about how to approach our roles and responsibilities as educators.  To be sure, such research is sometimes used to advocate for exclusive implementation of certain strategies and the denigration of others.  Findings often are discussed—perhaps unintentionally—in falsely dichotomous terms as if even a single study, at a single institution, often in a single academic subject, revealing modest effects without controlling for a host of relevant variables justifies sweeping, generalized conclusions such as “lectures don’t work.”  It is certainly true that some studies show certain methods to be superior to others in certain contexts and for certain objectives, but virtually none of these studies control for the interests, motives, engagement, or other characteristics of the teachers who implement the strategies.  Moreover, most studies comparing teaching methods are conducted by instructors who are invested in the efficacy of a specific method; therefore, conclusions warrant particular caution especially since blinded studies of teaching strategies seldom are feasible (see Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999).    

    Even in light of such methodological limitations, the difference in student learning outcomes associated with differing teaching strategies tends to be small.  This is not to malign the critical efforts of those who conduct pedagogical research, as it is extraordinarily challenging to conduct studies that are both methodologically rigorous and ecologically valid in terms of actual classroom implementation.  Nor is it to say that what we do in the classroom does not matter or that we should not carefully scrutinize our strategies and objectives.  However, mountains of research data have not helped educators to identify methods that are unambiguously superior across instructors, students, and contexts.  Moreover, meta-analyses sometimes indicate that as study quality improves, effect sizes indicating differential effectiveness of various strategies declines (e.g., Kavale & Forness, 1987).   

    The disappointing reality is that differential teaching strategies are associated with less variance in student outcomes than we might like to think (Detterman, 2016; Jacob, Lefgren, & Sims, 2009).  The more palatable interpretation is that as long as instructors are motivated in their work and passionate about student learning and inspiring students to think, there is little evidence that varying teaching strategies will have a dramatic separate effect.  Aspiring teachers, as well as those with years or decades of experience, would be wise to maintain their familiarity with the scientific research on teaching.  Such familiarity helps us to continue moving incrementally forward in our endeavors to help students learn, and it also helps us to avoid unproductive paths such as attempting to teach students according to their presumed learning styles (Pashler, McDaniel, Rohrer, & Bjork, 2009).  Most people who take the time to conduct or consume pedagogical research are probably already among the most passionate instructors.  Research comparing the effectiveness of teaching methods is a critical tool for those wishing to maximize their teaching efficacy, but lesser-studied factors such as teacher enthusiasm, engagement, and rapport with students may be just as important.  There is little reason to hope that any teaching method will counteract the detrimental effects of a disengaged instructor; however, there is likewise little reason to fear that any method will substantially disadvantage students when implemented by a passionate, reflective, inspiring instructor.      


    Detterman, D. K. (2016). Education and intelligence: Pity the poor teacher because student characteristics are more significant than teachers or schools.  The Spanish Journal of Psychology, 19, 1-11.

    Jacob, B. A., Lefgren, L., & Sims, D. P. (2009). The persistence of teacher-induced learning. The Journal of Human Resources, 45, 915-943.

    Kavale, K. A., & Forness, S. R. (1987). Substance over style: Assessing the efficacy of modality testing and teaching. Exceptional Children, 54, 228-239.

    Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2009). Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9, 105-119.

    Springer, L., Stanne, M. E., & Donovan, S. S. (1999). Effects of small-group learning on undergraduates in science, mathematics, engineering, and technology: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 69, 21-51.

    Jeffrey D. Holmes, Ph.D. is Professor of Psychology at Ithaca College where he teaches courses on psychological testing and assessment, abnormal psychology, controversies in psychology, and introductory psychology.  He is the author of Great Myths in Education and Learning, and has published research in journals such as Teaching of Psychology, The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Basic and Applied Social Psychology, and the Social Science Journal.  He is currently Treasurer of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, and he is a licensed psychologist specializing in psychological testing.

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