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


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.

  • 27 May 2020 7:12 PM | Anonymous

    By: Stephanie Baumann, MS, MA, Georgia State University

    We’re often taught to think there are two kinds of students sitting in our classrooms: ones that need special learning accommodations, and ones that don’t. What this dichotomy fails to take into account is that we all have different ways of connecting with, remembering, and engaging with material – accommodations or not. You and I could sit in the same lecture, and undoubtedly our notes would look different, the details we remembered would be different, and the way that we connect the material to our own experiences would be different.

    So how, then, are we as instructors supposed to teach students who all learn like individuals?

    Thankfully, there is a framework for that!

    The Universal Design for Learning (UDL), created by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST), is a teaching framework to help improve and optimize teaching and learning for all people based on scientific insights into how humans learn (CAST, 2008). Essentially, it breaks down teaching and learning into three main components, Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression:

    The CAST website provides an interactive walkthrough, complete with targeted research, of the UDL guidelines that instructors can use as to include multiple forms of Engagement, Representation, and Action & Expression into all aspects of your course.

    Because wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could get our students to be purposeful, motivated, resourceful, knowledgeable, strategic, and goal-directed learners?

    While the UDL Guidelines are amazing, I will also admit that they can feel overwhelming, particularly if you’re new to the idea of UDL. What I want to suggest here are just a few examples of ways that you could make small, but impactful, changes to your class that would not require a major course overhaul. You do not need to make all of these changes, or even make more than one at a time, but I would encourage you to think through at least 3 small changes that you could make to your own course.


    Lectures – the backbone of most courses. Yet despite their importance, we often don’t spend enough time thinking through how our students might connect with those extremely important words on a slide. While there are many ways you could make your lectures more in line with UDL principles, here are a few small ideas that would not require much effort but could make a great impact to students.

    Engagement – Pare down your lecture slides to include minimal text information or irrelevant distractions (like busy themes), and instead use visuals, color coding, or highlighting to draw students’ attention to key information.

    Representation – Use visual cues (e.g., page numbers, logos) to help students visually connect content to topics, and use a variety of methods for presenting information, such as text, images, videos, websites, etc.

    Action & Expression – Provide students with different ways to answer questions regarding your lecture content to demonstrate what they know (e.g., polls, think-pair-share, discussions, one word response, one test question). This is also a great opportunity to utilize technology in your classroom.


    Many times instructors feel as though they are boxed into to a standard list of assignment options: papers, discussions, and presentations. While I would argue that there are many more options than this, there are ways that you can make small changes to even these three assignment options in the prompts, the formats, and the interaction that will benefit students.

    Engagement – Give students the opportunity to make the content relevant to them. Consider giving them a choice in their topic areas or article selection, or provide questions or assignments that are open-ended enough that students can make their own links. Also consider opportunities for self-reflection where students can forge their own connections to the material.

    Representation – Do you always use essay assignments in your class? Consider swapping it out for, or even using it in addition to, other formats such as presentations, discussions, or different paper styles. Do you frequently use discussions? Could you turn one into a debate or an online forum? If you require presentations, consider whether students could have more choice in the style or format of how they present.

    Action & Expression – Providing a variety of different assignments also gives students different ways to show what they know. You may find that some students are better able to articulate what they know in visual formats over written formats, or are shy in discussions but are willing to share their knowledge in a discussion board or small-group project.  


    We often think of exams only as ways that students show us whether or not they’ve learned the material. But consider that the standard multiple choice exam only gives students one single way to make connections to the content and share what they know.

    I challenge you to consider ways that you could use multiple types of questions on your exams; for example, add in some matching definitions that rely on memorization of key terms with multiple choice questions and/or fill-in-the-blank choices that encourage students to draw on what they know. Could you also include some short answer or essay questions (even better if you offer a choice of questions) that allows students to synthesize multiple concepts or apply what they’ve learned?

    Providing an exam with multiple question formats connects with all areas of the UDL framework.

    These are just a few of the many ways that you could make small changes to your class that could make a universal impact to your students. While it may still feel overwhelming, I encourage you to choose just one or two and start incorporating them into your courses, and see how students respond. I am confident that you will find that students, especially those who are benefitting from those small changes, will notice a difference! 

    References and Resources

    CAST Website and UDL Guidelines:

    UDL Exchange – UDL Course Builder:

    UDL Curriculum Toolkit:

    CAST Website for Research:

    SETOP 2020 conference Presentation: Making Small but Impactful Teaching Changes using the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) Framework:

    Stephanie Baumann, M.S., M.A., is a PhD candidate in Developmental Psychology at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta, GA. She has experience as an instructor of record for both intro-level and upper-level undergraduate courses, including Introduction to Human Development and Multicultural Issues in Psychology, as well as experience as a graduate teaching assistant for research methods labs. She has also presented information about Universal Design for Learning at teaching conferences and disability conferences, including the Southeastern Teaching of Psychology (SETOP) in 2020. She also has an assistantship with the Center for Leadership in Disability at GSU and is a former Georgia Leadership and Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) trainee. Stephanie’s primary research focuses on early verbal and nonverbal language development in children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and ways that parents, teachers, and interventionists can use different formats, such as cartoons and virtual media, to enhance learning for all children.

  • 20 May 2020 3:06 PM | Deleted user

    By Richard J. Harnish, Ph.D., Penn State University, New Kensington Campus

    Beginning in the 1970s with the use of televisions in the classroom to the video teleconferencing of today (e.g., Zoom, Microsoft Teams), computer technologies have impacted how students learn and how instructors teach. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the widespread use of computer technologies to deliver instruction is unprecedented. Thus, the purpose of this blog post is to briefly discuss various challenges associated with using computer technologies to deliver course instruction.

    Although there are different ways of thinking about and classifying the challenges instructors face when using computer technologies to deliver course instruction, I find it useful to classify them into three broad categories: physical, environmental, and psychological. Physical challenges are issues related to the learner’s physical and learning disabilities that may impede the use of technology. Environmental challenges are those pertaining to the richness of resources available to the learner. Psychological challenges are those issues associated with the learner’s attitudes and motivation to use such technology. Each of these challenges are discussed briefly below.

    Physical Challenges: Physical and Learning Disabilities

    According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2017), approximately 19% of undergraduate students reported having a physical or learning disability. Physical disabilities affect a student’s motor control (e.g., Cerebral Palsy, Muscular Dystrophy, Multiple Sclerosis, Arthritis). Given that discussion boards are frequently used to engage students in online course material, students with physical disabilities will require more time to post comments and may post less often or have shorter posts due to the fatigue experienced while typing. Other students with physical disabilities may not be physically able to type, and may dictate into a voice-recognition program. If the voice-recognition program is not compatible with the learning platform, comments will not be posted (Knopf et al., 2018).

    Students with vision impairment or loss may use a screen reader to access the text that is displayed on a computer screen. This is done by various computer programs that convert text into speech (using a speech synthesizer) or into braille. Some screen readers are free (e.g., NVDA, Serotek System Access, Apple VoiceOver), while other screen readers charge a licensing fee (e.g., JAWS). Those with less severe vision impairment may use magnifiers, or digital screen protection glasses to reduce digital eye strain. Regardless of the tool used, it will take longer for students with vision impairment or vision loss to access, read, and respond to course material.

    Students who are deaf or hard of hearing may have found the transition from resident instruction to online instruction to be particularly challenging because many deaf or hard of hearing students rely on an American Sign Language (ASL) interpreter to understand speech and to communicate with others in the class. Online lectures can be especially challenging if the lecture format is an instructor’s preferred method of transferring knowledge (i.e., “sage on stage”). Providing key points to lectures or lecture notes prior to class is a simple accommodation that instructors can make. Although some students may use hearing aid compatible, computer-assisted note taking, all media used in the course should be closed captioned. 

    Students who have learning disabilities (e.g., Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, Dyslexia) may have difficulty comprehending concepts explained in lectures and applied in assignments. Providing instruction in a multi-modal way (e.g., providing printed text, visual aids with lecture, videos, simulations) may meet the needs of these learners. Instructors should be flexible in their method of assessment by offering alternatives (e.g., performance, project, application) to traditional multiple choice or essay exams. Additionally, instructors should permit the use of assistive technologies like speech recognition, offer extended time for exams, and provide an alternative exam location that is monitored, quiet, and distraction-free (Orr & Bachman Hamming, 2009). Finally, the instructor should ensure that the course is highly structured and organized (Knopf et al., 2018).

    Environmental Challenges: Low Resource Environments

    The COVID-19 pandemic has made the digital divide more pronounced as instruction has moved online. The digital divide, however, is not a single gap which divides a society (Gorski, 2005); rather the divide is comprised of multiple gaps ranging from computer ownership, lower-quality connections (narrowband vs. broadband), disparity in cost for connections, difficulty of obtaining technical assistance, and lower access to subscription-based contents. Essentially, if students do not have Internet access, they are cutoff from course instruction and content. Universities have acknowledged as much when they set up free Wi-Fi “hot spots” in parking lots and garages to allow students to practice social distancing while accessing the Internet. However, this approach assumes that students own or have access to a car.

    One potential solution to gaining Internet access is through the use of mobile technology. The Pew Research Center (2019) reported that 37% of Americans access the Internet using a smartphone because they do not have broadband access at home. Indeed, college-age students, as compared to other age groups, were more likely to report using their smartphones to access the Internet. However, the use of smartphones to access course materials has its own challenges. Some of these challenges involve the ease of navigating the university’s learning management system (LMS), the ease of reading text or accessing media via the smartphone, and the ease to which students can submit assignments, post on discussion boards, or complete exams (Christopherson, 2018).

    Psychological Challenges: The Learner’s Attitudes and Motivation

    Even in resident instruction courses, students fail to engage with course materials; some do not read the textbook, do not take notes, skip lectures, or fail to complete assignments. Engaging in course content can be more challenging in online courses where personal attention can be difficult for students to obtain and for instructors to provide. Many LMSs can provide students with immediate feedback through the use of low-stakes quizzes or practice quizzes. Instructors also can facilitate engagement with course content by providing students multiple attempts on assignments (Miller, 2014).

    Discussion boards are a popular method for engaging students. However, research has shown that students can become bored, inattentive, frustrated, or feel isolated when discussion boards are used (Du & Xu, 2010). Perhaps as a result, their posts tend to contain basic facts rather than insight (Morrison et al., 2012). To engage students in discussion boards, one alternative to text-based replies is for students to reply using video. Students need to understand that their posts and replies are expected to be substantive and, at all times, they use good netiquette. Instructors can make their presence known by making weekly announcements (these can be videotaped as well as provided in text form), provide commentaries on class performance, and monitor student participation.

    I hope the challenges and potential solutions I have identified and discussed will be helpful to your teaching. For a more detailed discussion of these topics, please see the Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s eBook, The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning.


    Christopherson, K. M. (2018). Going mobile in the college classroom. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning. Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

    Du, J., & Xu, J. (2010). The quality of online discussion reported by graduate students. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 11(1), 13-24.

    Gorski, P. (2005). Education Equity and the Digital Divide. AACE Journal, 13(1), 3-45.

    Knopf, A. H., Knopf, E. K., Anderson, S. G., & Waranka, W. J. (2018). Designing inclusive online environments for students with disabilities. In R. J. Harnish, K. R. Bridges, D. N. Sattler, M. L. Signorella, & M. Munson (Eds.). The Use of Technology in Teaching and Learning. Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

    Miller, M. D. (2014). Minds online: Teaching effectively with technology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

    Morrison, J. R., Watson, G. S., & Morrison, G. R. (2012). Comparison of restricted and traditional discussion boards on student critical thinking. The Quarterly Review of Distance Education, 13(3), 167-176.

    National Center for Education Statistics. (2017). Digest of education statistics: 2017. Chapter 3: Postsecondary education.

    Orr, A. C., & Bachman Hamming, S. (2009). Inclusive postsecondary strategies for teaching students with learning disabilities: A review of the literature. Learning Disability Quarterly, 32, 181-196.

    Pew Research Center (2019, June 13). Mobile technology and home broadband 2019.

    Author Bio:

    Richard J. Harnish is Professor of Psychology at Penn State University, New Kensington Campus, where he has taught since 2003. His scholarship includes research on maladaptive purchasing behavior, volunteerism and the scholarship of teaching and learning. He is a Fellow of the Eastern Psychological Association and is the special issues editor for Psychology & Marketing. He was an associate editor for The Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s eBook series and serves as a reviewer for The Society for the Teaching of Psychology’s Project Syllabus. Prior to joining Penn State, he worked in marketing and advertising for 13 years with his last position being director of research for a large advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Pittsburgh, and Washington DC.

  • 11 May 2020 3:39 PM | Anonymous

    By Paul Schnur, EPA Executive Officer, Jef Lamoureaux, EPA Program Director, Amy Learmonth, EPA President, and the EPA Board of Directors

    This year’s scheduled meeting of the Eastern Psychological Association and the celebration of EPA’s 125 year history could not go on as scheduled in Boston in March.  Although we were disappointed to have to cancel our meeting, we would like to invite everyone to attend our meeting in cyberspace. The EPA Board of Directors is pleased to announce the dates of the EPA 2020 Virtual Meeting as June 17-18, 2020. The meeting will be accessible from our website:

    The meeting will be very similar, in terms of content and organization, to the March 12-14 meeting that was canceled due to COVID-19. You will even have an opportunity to ask questions during the virtual meeting via live chat.  In addition, following the virtual meeting, you will be able to access the meeting On-Demand for 90 days.  That means you will not have to choose among presentations that occur at the same time, as you would at a physical conference.  You may attend any presentation you missed virtually by attending On-Demand at your leisure.   

    Our exhibitors also will be present virtually and On-Demand.  Have a question about a book title, professional service, or graduate program?  You can ask our exhibitors during the virtual conference ‘live chat’ or by leaving your questions and your contact information for follow-up.  

    Finally, the virtual meeting will enable more attendees from around the country and world to attend, including those who have traditionally found it challenging to participate in the meeting. If you have already paid your membership for this year, you will have access to the virtual meeting. If you were not planning to attend the Boston meeting, but would like to attend the virtual conference, all you need to do is join or renew your EPA membership. As always, there is no additional fee for the conference.

    Although we are not accepting new submissions for this year’s conference, we have a fabulous program ready to go, and we welcome you to attend the conference as 2020 members or associates. We are excited to offer you this opportunity to participate in EPA’s 2020 conference. We hope you share our excitement, and we look forward to seeing you online.  Please mark your calendars.

    Bio: Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) was founded in 1896 and is the oldest of the regional Psychological Associations in the United States. Its sole purpose is to advance the science and profession through the dissemination of professional information about the field of Psychology. EPA achieves this goal by conducting its annual meeting where the members of EPA present the latest advances in professional and scientific work to their colleagues. EPA welcomes psychologists from all fields across the discipline.

  • 27 Apr 2020 2:53 PM | Anonymous

    By Donald A. Saucier, Ph.D., Kansas State University

    As teachers, we strive to create positive learning experiences for our students. We try to collect tips, tricks, and techniques to improve our teaching craft so that our students will learn more. Our goal is to promote their learning and their success, and we devote a lot of time and energy to finding ways to achieve this goal.

    Engagement is the key to our students’ learning. Engagement is a complete investment in your experience, at cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and even physiological levels. Our data show that when students are engaged, they see their classes as more interesting and valuable, they look forward to class and pay better attention, they see the content as more valuable and relevant, and they even look forward to demonstrating their learning on exams and other assignments. Promoting engagement, then, should be the priority in our teaching.

    In thinking about my own experiences as a student, I realized that I engaged the most, and consequently learned the best, when my teachers were also engaged in the course content and in the experience of teaching it. This led me to develop my “Trickle-Down Engagement Model” that simply states that teacher engagement impacts student engagement which, in turn, impacts student learning. Trickle-Down Engagement (TDE) is founded in positive psychology theories and research, self-determination theory, intrinsic/extrinsic motivation, optimal experience, and emotional contagion, and our data support these links between teacher engagement, student engagement, and student learning.

    Many teachers have heard of the “Sage on the Stage” teaching model in which teachers stand in front of a class and lecture profoundly to their passive student audience. Some teachers have adapted the “Sage on the Side” teaching model in which teachers act as guides while their students engage in active learning, such as in a flipped classroom. We use the term “Engage the Sage” to extend beyond these teaching models to emphasize the importance of teacher engagement in whatever teaching model they employ. When “Engaging the Sage”, you focus on your engagement first. Rather than taking the students’ perspectives initially, you focus on your own. We believe, and our data show, that if you lead with engagement, then your students will follow with engagement, and, consequently, will learn more successfully. For this to work, you will need to demonstrate your engagement to your students while you are teaching. Below, I list some recommendations for doing that.

    First, prepare to make your engagement, your passion, excitement, and interest in your material palpable. This will need to be authentic! The information we teach should be important to learn (or we should not be teaching it). Tell your students why it is important.  Use “cue statements” by which you share with your students your “favorite” studies, “fascinating” findings, “thoughtful” methods, etc. The concepts we teach are often the products of someone’s years of work. Genuinely acknowledge your respect for their work.

    Second, make your content relevant and valuable for both yourself and your students.  Contextualize the content in common experiences. Use relevant and current examples. Explicitly frame the content to fit your objectives for the course as well as your students’ goals for taking it. It is easier to engage when the content matters.

    Third, show your engagement in teaching. Genuinely thank your students for choosing to take the class, for coming to class, for their attention, and for offering their thoughts. Collaborate with them in learning the content and ask them why it matters to them. Let their engagement further inspire your engagement. Actively promote your students’ success and tell them often that you want them to succeed. This does not mean that you will not have standards and rigor in your class – instead, explain that you challenge them to promote their learning. Let your students know you love three things – your content, your students, and teaching.

    Finally, treat the classroom, and the time you have with your students, as an oasis away from all the other personal and professional responsibilities and distractions you are facing. Right now, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, I am writing this article while my spouse (also a professor) and I are trying to handle all of our teaching and research responsibilities from home, while also taking care of, and trying to keep the education going for, our 8-year-old son and 11-year-old daughter. The time that I have for my students has always been sacred to me, and I regularly have made a point to thank them for temporarily taking me away from cranky kids and grumpy reviewers. But now more than ever, I value the (now virtual) connection they provide to me as we learn together. I love that I have this opportunity to teach my students, and I lean into that.  Teaching is the best thing we do. I am engaged when I teach because I prioritize my engagement. By “Engaging the Sage”, I can optimize the teaching and learning experience both for me and my students.

    For more information:

    Saucier, D. A., Miller, S. S., Jones, T. L., & Martens, A. L. (under review). Trickle Down Engagement: Effects of Perceived Teacher and Student Engagement on Learning Outcomes. Manuscript available upon request from the first author.

    Saucier, D. A. (2019a, September 19). “Having the time of my life”: The trickle-down model of self and student engagement. ACUE Community.

    Saucier, D. A. (2019b). Bringing PEACE to the classroom. Faculty Focus: Effective Teaching Strategies, Philosophy of Teaching.

    Author Bio:

    Donald A. Saucier, Ph.D. (2001, University of Vermont) is a Professor of Psychological Sciences and Faculty Associate Director of the Teaching & Learning Center at Kansas State University.  His research examines expressions of prosocial and antisocial behavior, as well as teacher and student engagement.  He is a Fellow of the Societies for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP), the Psychological Study of Social Issues (SPSSI), Experimental Social Psychology (SESP), and the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA).  His teaching awards include the Coffman Chair for University Distinguished Teaching Scholars and Presidential Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.  He discusses teaching philosophies and practices on the “Engage the Sage” YouTube channel.

  • 20 Apr 2020 10:10 AM | Anonymous

    GSTA Blog co-editors Raoul Roberts and Sarah Frantz recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Kenneth Carter, the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Oxford College of Emory University, about his 2020 NITOP Conference session titled Psychology in Context: The Psychology of Thrill-Seeking. Dr. Carter also discussed his instructional approach and shared his insights on how teaching psychology in the undergraduate classroom compares to disseminating the same knowledge in a public forum like TED or NPR.

    What were some of the highlights for you at NITOP?  

    NITOP  is probably one of my favorite annual conferences to go to, and I try to get there every time I can. I had such an amazing time. I was excited to get the invitation to do a talk at NITOP because getting people who teach psychology together to talk about teaching is one of the most amazing things. I was even more excited when I was asked to be on the organizing committee of NITOP, so I'll start working on that this year. People who have never been to NITOP should go; it is a wonderful experience. You meet many dynamic people and learn new techniques which you can incorporate into your teaching instantly.

    According to Rate My Professors, 100% of your students would take your class again. You have taught Intro Psych – how do you incorporate the psychology of sensation seeking into that course? 

    So, I teach a lot of Introductory Psychology and a lot of times Introductory Psychology feels like a stream of different kinds of topics that are really disconnected for students. It just feels like, "Okay, today we're going to talk about this and today we're talking about this." And there's not really a way to connect them together. So, one of the things I've been doing for a while is to group strands of ideas together into central stream. A central stream can either be four different lectures, or a week, or a whole section of a course. One of the ways to organize a central stream is to find a topic that students find interesting, and you can link the topics that you're normally going to talk about to that theme, thereby giving the students something to which they can hang those ideas. So, in my class, since I've been researching thrill seeking, I talk about thrill-seeking in terms of research design, in terms of personality theories, in terms of four or five different topics that I connect together to answer the question, "why do people do these kinds of things?" It provides a great way to talk about personality theories in a way that we don't normally talk about them.

    Do you adapt sensation-seeking-related activities for use in your classroom? If so, can you describe one such activity and the typical responses you get from students? 

    I would show students a video of a thrill seeker – somebody on a slackline or someone jumping off a cliff doing wingsuit flying. Then I would ask the question, "So, why do you think this person does this?" I did this at NITOP with a lot of psychology faculty there, and they raised all these different ideas and theories of personality that we teach. So, rather than just march through the theories of personality in a decontextualized way, the thrill-seeker video provides context for the lesson. We come up with theories in order to solve a problem, so the idea is to give the students a problem to solve. Why would a person jump off a cliff in a squirrel suit? Why would a person walk across a slackline in high heels? First, stimulate their imagination and their curiosity, then use psychology for what it's for, which is to solve problems.

    Are you a sensation seeker?

    I am not. I'm the opposite. So, Zuckerman's sensation seeking questionnaire  goes from zero to 40 with higher numbers meaning higher sensation seeking. And when I took it, I scored an eight out of 40, so I am low on the scale. I stumbled across it when I was thinking about writing a book about people who are called chaos junkies. There are people out there that are chaotic and I  wasn't sure why they were being chaotic, so I was going to write a book about helping people be more organized and less chaotic. Then I came across this research – there have been four or five academic books about sensation seeking and 50-70 different research articles; however, before my book , nobody had written an easy-to-understand book about what I think is a very fascinating psychological concept.

    Is there something special about sensation seekers that impacts their learning and development as college students? Say, you have college students who are high on the Zuckerman's scale, what about that student makes them more engaged in this otherwise dry topic?

    Yeah, I think part of it is that people want to understand themselves. A lot of high sensation seekers say they feel really misunderstood because the number one thing that people ask is, do they have a death wish? Do they want to kill themselves by doing these things? But one of the challenges can be that some sensation seekers, one of the scales looks at their boredom susceptibility and that some of them can get bored relatively easily. So, you want to find ways to make sure to keep them engaged. In fact, I think one of the things that's tough about our society in general is that we don't necessarily have to be bored that often, because we have access to all of the information that we could possibly absorb right in our hands a lot of the time. And so, keeping students engaged, keeping them connected, can be a challenge sometimes. Some faculty want to do that by making sure they're as entertaining as possible. Part of what I do is try to pique their curiosity, you know? And so, I feel like if they're engaged in terms of being curious about getting to the bottom of the answer, they're going to want the tools that they need to get to the answer. And so sometimes it's packing that normally dry stuff in a bigger question. And I tell my students that research is a tool and it's the tool to find out those big answers that we're all looking for. That people don't build houses because they like using hammers, they build houses because they want the house. And so, what is your house? What do you want to know about? What do you want to build? And so, I try to pique their curiosity by giving them big questions and that goes back to the idea of those central themes that I try to build into courses, so it doesn't feel so disconnected from their actual lives.

    Can you tell us about some of your past work and about any current research on which you are working?

    I have this idea that there’s all of this amazing research that's been done that, for the average everyday person, is sort of trapped in academic books and journals. And so, I really like writing these translation pieces to help people understand the cool stuff that we do as psychologists. And I feel like that's part of our job as psychologists. There are people out there that are doing original research, which is amazing, but there are also people that can be the storytellers, to connect that research to the everyday person.  I’ve talked about the psychology of thrill seeking on NPR and so it's really a great way to be able to connect people with the real science of psychology. And right now I'm working on two textbooks—a Psychopathology textbook and an Introductory Psychology textbook. And it's the same sort of thing. It's translation work, making sure that students understand the concepts in a broad way. I have an idea for another book that I'm thinking about once I wrap these things up. But a lot of my work is trying to find those connections in the things that other people have done, but really telling the story of their work in a broader way. It's been exciting for me and I think it really shines a different kind of light on the scholarship that other people have done. And I just hope I'm getting it right when I tell their stories.

    You have purposely sought out forums like TED, NPR, and the South by Southwest festival to reach the broader public. Is this something that you were just drawn into by chance or was this part of your mandate going into psychology?

    A little bit of both. I feel like I do a lot of training in my main job at Oxford College of Emory. I teach a lot of undergraduates and so I feel like you learn about the concept that people call edutainment, right? How to make somewhat dull things kind of interesting. But I also conduct a lot of training for clinical psychologists: I teach them how to understand medications, and that can also be kind of dry. I realized that there's a way that I can teach to a class of students, but there are other people that might really like to understand these concepts, and that they are fascinated by thrill seekers, they're fascinated by psychology, they want to read the books that I want to read—books about why people do the things they do. So, I've been delighted that people invite me to speak to them about these concepts. It's been a fun experience.

    Dr. Kenneth Carter is Charles Howard Candler Professor of Psychology at Oxford College of Emory University. He has published in both academic and lay publications, translating psychology research into engaging everyday language. His articles have been published in magazines such as Psychology Today and Women’s Health, and he has appeared on news programs such as NPR’s ShortWave and NBC’s Today show. The psychology of thrill-seeking is the current focus of Dr. Carter’s research. He has delivered a TEDx talk on thrill-seekers. His most recent book is Buzz!: Inside the Minds of Thrill-Seekers, Daredevils, and Adrenaline Junkies (Cambridge University Press). When not teaching, speaking, or writing, Dr. Carter prefers reading and relaxing on the beach to wingsuit flying or BASE jumping.

  • 21 Mar 2020 10:06 PM | Anonymous

    By Regan A. R. Gurung, Ph.D., Oregon State University

    Note: Teaching during the next few months will not be business as usual for anyone. While preparing in the best of times takes effort and energy, remote teaching in Spring 2020 calls for extra resilience. Faculty and GTAs in particular need to not push themselves too hard. Keeping students' best interests in mind and respecting educational outcomes may still cause for modifications and changes. In some classes we may not be able to do all we would have normally. And that should be OK. 

    Although some faculty and graduate students may see having to teach as a chore, the opportunity to teach undergraduates provides manifold benefits and arguably can do more to advance psychological science than getting a research article published. While these are fighting words, when you consider the millions of students who take psychology classes and the ability to apply psychology to life, the previous claim may not be too far off from the truth (and an empirical question I am tempted to try and answer). That said, teaching is hard work. In this short piece I provide some advice to graduate student instructors teaching undergraduates. I have taught for over 20 years, supervised over a hundred undergraduate teaching assistants, and am director of a general psychology program where I teach a course on teaching and the psychological science of teaching and learning. In my graduate courses, I prepare graduate students to teach (both online and in face-to-face classes). I have also had the good fortune to work with hundreds of teachers. Here are some key pieces of advice I share when I get the chance:

    Get the fundamentals down. Teaching is not an impromptu act. There is an art and a science to it. The good news is that the critical elements are well known (Richmond, Boysen, & Gurung, 2016). Even if you do not have the opportunity to take a course in teaching, the basic elements to aim for include clearly defining your course goals and student learning outcomes (check what the department expects of the course), designing assessments to measure if the outcomes are met (e.g., exams, assignments), and planning how you will deliver the content and plan each class to engage students. The go-to resources to help you get these teaching fundamentals down include Tools for Teaching (Davis, 2009) and Teaching Tips (McKeachie & Svinicki, 2012).

    Unshackle yourself from content delivery. One of the biggest challenges for the novice instructor is covering content. Here is something freeing: Don’t. Yes, the average instructor tries to shoehorn more content in a term or semester than is needed. Especially in introductory classes, the tendency is to teach all the chapters. The reality is that even APA guidelines do not suggest teaching all chapters in a book. There is sufficient justification to cut down on content (APA, 2014; Gurung et al., 2016). Cut down on content so you have more time to give students different ways to interact with the content.

    Borrow unabashedly. It is completely acceptable to use material to teach from other sources. You may be given a syllabus and access to lecture slides. Your program may even set up the shells of your online classes and give you exams to use, essentially everything you need to teach. Even if they do not, there are great resources available. The Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) website is packed with sample syllabi, assignments, and exercises. In particular see the complete guides to teaching introductory psychology published by the STP Early Career Psychology group (Leder-Elder, Good, Afful, Keeley, & Stiegler-Balfour, 2015) and from NOBAPsychology (

    Start strong and end stronger. The first day of class is critical (Henslee, Burgess, & Buskist, 2006). Students form an impression of you quickly and the tone you set in the first minutes can go a long way to set how the class will go. Have fun. Take time to talk about the exciting, counter-intuitive, provocative elements of the course. Keep the syllabus discussion for the end. Script out your entire first day and try to pack it with diverse activities and opportunities for students to participate. You get them talking on day one, they are likely to keep talking. Make sure you also spend time on the last day. Go beyond just finishing content. Plan a summary of the course with the highlights.

    Remember you have a chance to reset. Even if one day does not go well, or worse, the entire class seems to have gone sour, remember that you get another chance. If Tuesday did not go well, rebook, reset, and hit Thursday out of the park. It is alright to tell students you were not happy with how a class went. They appreciate it and it serves in your favor.

    Keep the student perspective in mind. Novice instructors are often so focused on establishing their credibility that they forget to take the student perspective. Remember that students are taking many classes and may work, together with having the same stressors that we do. Take the time to build rapport with them. When students see you as human and empathetic, they are likely to work harder and with you.

    Ditch the Imposter syndrome. It is easy to feel like you do not belong in the classroom (or even in graduate school). We faculty work hard to select graduate students and instructors. We have checks and balances. If we gave you the job/position, you deserve it! Now get beyond that. Even if you went to graduate school right after your undergraduate degree, if you are selected to teach, you still know more than the students in your class. More importantly, students in your class think you know a LOT more than them.

    Find a teaching mentor. Not all faculty are passionate about teaching. Some are downright antagonistic and see it as a distraction from research. If a graduate advisor does not see the benefits of teaching, it is easy to be disillusioned or see it as a chore. First remember that teaching can actually make you a better researcher – the Nobel prize winning physicist Richard Feynman famously said “I DON'T believe I can really do without teaching. The reason is, I have to have something so that when I don't have any ideas and I'm not getting anywhere I can say to myself, "At least I'm living; at least I'm doing something; I'm making some contribution"—it's just psychological” (Feynman, 1985, pp. 165-166). There are many passionate teachers out there. Find one. Get coffee with them. Your whole take on teaching can change.

    Consider yourself lucky that you get to interact with undergraduates and share psychology. I hope the list above makes it more enjoyable, effective, and efficient.



    American Psychological Association. (2014). Strengthening the common core of the introductory psychology course. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, Board of Educational Affairs. Retrieved from

    Feynman, R. (1985). Surely you’re joking Mr. Feynman! (Adventures of a curious character). Norton.

    Gurung, R. A. R., Hackathorn, J., Enns, C., Frantz, S., Cacioppo, J. T., Loop, T., & Freeman, J. (2016). Strengthening introductory psychology: A new model for teaching intro psych. American Psychologist, 71(2), 112-124. doi:10.1037/a0040012

    Henslee, A.M., Burgess, D.R., & Buskist, W. (2006) Student preferences for First Day class activities. Teaching of Psychology, 33, 189-191.

    Leder-Elder, S., Good, J. J., Afful, S., Keeley, J. & Stiegler-Balfour, J. J. (2015). Introductory Psychology Teaching Primer: A Guide for New Teachers of Psych 101. 2nd Ed.

    McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (12th ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Richmond, A. S., Boysen, G., & Gurung, R. A. R. (2016). An evidence-based guide to college and university teaching: Developing the model teacher. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Regan A. R. Gurung is Professor of Psychological Sciences at Oregon State University, where he is also Director of the General Psychology Program, and Interim Executive Director of the Center for Teaching and Learning.

  • 10 Mar 2020 8:25 PM | Anonymous

    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

    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

    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 | Deleted user
    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.

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