E-xcellence in Teaching
Editor: Manisha Sawhney
Associate Editor: Annie S. Ditta

  • 02 Jan 2020 10:52 AM | Anonymous

    Donald A. Saucier (Kansas State University)

    The Promise of a New Day

    I love the first day of class.  As it approaches, I get excited.  I get antsy.  It is the beginning of a new academic experience with a new bunch of collaborators, and on that first day I get to introduce my course and my content to people who may come to love it as much as I do. The first day is not a “syllabus day”.  While I do review the syllabus with my students, I do much more than read through the course policies, describe the student learning outcomes, and outline the schedule of topics.  If that were all I did (and to be honest, some students expect and even want that), then I would have missed the opportunity to engage my students in the wonderful learning we will do together.  My goal on the first day is to inspire my students to want to come back for the second day of class (and then the third day, and the fourth day. . .).  On that first day, I try to show my class how engaging, valuable, and relevant the class will be for them and for me.  I set the tone, norms, and expectations that will provide the foundation for our shared and engaged academic experience.

    My Teaching Philosophy

    My approach to the first day of class is grounded in my teaching philosophy that focuses on maximizing the intrinsic motivation that I have in my teaching and that my students have in their learning.  When we are intrinsically motivated to engage in an activity, we do it because we gain inherent pleasure in the activity.  That is, we do it because enjoy it.  When we are extrinsically motivated to engage in an activity, we do it to gain an external reward.  That is, we do it to get something.  Research on these types of motivation and on self-determination theory shows that when we engage in activities due to intrinsic (rather than extrinsic) motivation, we engage in them more consistently and enjoy them more.  When we engage in activities due to extrinsic motivation, it is possible that the extrinsic motivation may undermine the intrinsic motivation.  Knowing this, I use the first day of class to highlight for my students why they may be intrinsically motivated to take the class.  I have designed three components into my first day approach to maximize my students’ intrinsic motivation for the course.  I inspire their choice to learn, nurture their voices, and use trickle-down engagement to inspire them to leave the first day of my class wanting to come back on the second day and beyond.

    Inspiring the Choice to Learn

    The first component of my first day engagement strategies is inspiring my students’ choice to learn.  I believe that students must be intrinsically motivated to learn if they are to learn well.  That is, they must make the choice to learn for themselves because they see the content as valuable, interesting, and personally relevant.  On the first day of class, I ask my students why they enrolled in my class, and they typically respond with answers that fit into one of two categories.  The first, and usually more frequent, category of responses is that they took the class for extrinsic reasons, such as to satisfy a requirement or because an advisor told them to.  The second category of responses is that they took the class for intrinsic reasons, such as to learn about a topic they thought would be interesting.  I use these responses to discuss the differences between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation, with an emphasis on the possibility that extrinsic motivations may undermine intrinsic motivations.

    This conversation becomes more powerful as I help them make their choices to learn.  I ask my students to stand up if they are able and to repeat after me.  I make statements such as: “I don’t have to be in this course.”  “I don’t have to come back.”  “If I come back, then I am choosing to take this course.”  “If I choose to take this course, I do so because I find it valuable for me.”  “If I come back, it means that I love psychology!”  These public affirmations, reminiscent of the force compliance paradigms used in cognitive dissonance research, make salient my students’ autonomy in their course decisions and the role their intrinsic motivation for the course has in their educational decisions.

    My course semantics and policies also reflect this choice to learn.  I tell my students that they have no points at the start of my course and also that my course has no “requirements.”  Instead, they will have “opportunities” to earn and accumulate points throughout the semester.  I do not tell them they have to do anything.  Instead, I make recommendations regarding the choices I hope they make.  I will recommend, for instance, that they come to class to engage in the material and that they read the relevant readings for an upcoming exam so that they will have the best opportunity to learn the material, and consequently earn points.  If students ask me if they have to do anything, such as “Do I have to read Chapter 2?”, my answer is always something like, “No, but I recommend that you choose to do that if you would like to learn the material.”  By emphasizing their choice to learn in their decision to take the course and engage in the content, the students become more inspired to do the work for themselves.

    Nurturing Student Voices

    The second component of my first day engagement strategies is starting to nurture my students’ voices.  This is an important objective in my courses, and I provide opportunities for students to use their voices on the very first day of class.  I explain to them that their voices are their most powerful social tool and, either through speaking or writing, their voices are the means through which they may influence their futures and their worlds.  On the first day of my courses, my students use their voices in three ways.  As stated above, my students use their voices to tell me their initial motivations for taking my course, and they also use their voices to affirm that they understand their motivation for staying in my course should be intrinsic.  The third way that my students use their voices on the first day of my courses is by asking me questions.  By asking questions, students are able to guide their own learning, and this is a skill I want to nurture in my students.  They practice this skill by first asking me questions on that first day in writing.  I offer my students the opportunity to ask me questions about anything, and their questions generally bridge a number of domains from questions about course content and policies, to questions about my professional background and education, to questions about my personal life and opinions.  Importantly, I answer ALL of their questions.  In large classes, I may collect their questions on the first day (and often have them submit questions in groups of two of three) and use the entire second day of class to answer every question they asked.  By taking all of their questions seriously, and answering them all, I reinforce my students for using their voices and validate the specific ways in which they used them.  After answering their questions, I offer my students the opportunity to ask additional or follow-up questions.  This helps to create a community of learners in which we collaborate to create learning, and this norm that we set on the first day of the course continues during the semester.  Through this conversation, we also build rapport, making the learning environment safer and more engaging.

    Using Trickle-Down Engagement

    The third component of my first day engagement strategies is that I intentionally and palpably employ my teaching philosophy of trickle-down engagement.  We have the best jobs in the world.  I cherish the opportunity to teach my classes.  I love my content, and I love having the opportunity to share that content with my students.  I found that as a student, I engaged best and learned best when my teachers enjoyed their content and enjoyed teaching it to me.  Their engagement was contagious.  It helped me to engage and it helped me to learn.  I have found that telling my students how much I love my content and how much I love collaborating with them in learning it during our shared class time has made the class become a more engaged community of learners.  I explicitly share my intrinsic motivation to teach the course with my students and discuss my “choice to teach” as a parallel to their choice to learn.  I also show my students why the course matters to me and my optimism for what the experience may be.  In overviewing my course, I discuss how important and interesting the content will be.  I discuss how the assignments will be wonderful ways for students to apply their learning in creative and personally relevant ways.  I discuss how excited I am to pursue the course objectives with them, and how honored I am that they have chosen to take the course with me.  At the end of class on the first day, I tell my students how excited I am to have them come back on the second day. 

    Importantly, my engagement in my content and in teaching it is authentic.  This is not something that I (or you) can fake.  I truly believe that the classroom is an oasis that provides relief from any other professional or personal responsibilities, distractions, and anxieties.  I enjoy my class time and the opportunity to spend that time with my students learning our content.  When I tell them about my intrinsic motivation, and thank them for the opportunity to learn with them, I am completely sincere.

    Sustaining Student Engagement

    Once you have rocked the first day, you can then rock the second day!  After greeting my students on the second day of class, I ask them why they are taking the course.  They usually respond with a chorus of, “Because we chose to!”  This use of their voices to reinforce their intrinsic motivation and autonomy affirms my mission to teach.  It inspires my engagement in my teaching and excites me about sharing my passion for the course content.  This in turn trickles down to inspire their engagement and facilitate their learning.  My students and I do this again and again over the course of the semester as we engage each other in our course.


    The methods that I employ to engage my students and me in my course are simple.  They can be adapted and employed by virtually any teacher in any course.  But while simple, I believe they make a substantial difference in the motivations of the teacher and the students, and in the climate they enjoy as a community of learners.  The first day is a unique opportunity to set the tone, norms, and expectations that our courses will be valuable and engaging experiences, and the days that follow are periodic opportunities to reinforce that.  I invite you to choose to use these methods in inspiring your students’ choice to learn, nurturing your students’ voices, and using trickle-down engagement to engage your students and yourself to learn together.

  • 02 Dec 2019 12:01 PM | Anonymous

    Dustyn J. Leff & Rebecca J. Gilbertson (University of Minnesota – Duluth)

    Traditional approaches to teaching involve the instructor imparting knowledge to students (Edgerton, 2001). The students are expected to absorb the information and put it into practice at some later time. Though lectures are necessary in many learning situations, they do not promote a higher understanding of course material when used as the only teaching method (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005). Edgerton (2001) states that understanding material involves the ability to explain ideas, support the ideas with evidence, find examples, and apply ideas in new ways.

    Active learning requires student activity and engagement in the learning process (Bonwell & Eison, 1991). The outcome of hands-on activities has been shown to enhance the level of understanding reached and general cognitive development (Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Prince, 2004). With this in mind, we chose active learning activities to demonstrate brain related concepts to middle, secondary and higher education students (Marzullo & Gage, 2012; Shannon, Gage, Jankovic, Wilson, & Marzullo,


    The goal of this project was to bring neuroscience activities to middle school classrooms using a “Mobile Neuroscience Lab”, as part of a community engagement component of a physiological psychology course. This outreach model eases the financial and logistical burden of the community school to facilitate a field trip to the university. Another goal was for the middle school and university students to have the opportunity to engage in hands-on neuroscience related activities.

    Learning Outcomes and Strategic Goals

    Outreach was performed by undergraduate and graduate students. Faculty members within the department also assisted with the outreach. This addresses the American Psychological Association’s five learning goals and outcomes for the undergraduate psychology majors, including: knowledge base, scientific inquiry and critical thinking, ethical and social responsibility in a diverse world, communication, and professional development (APA, 2013). Students had the opportunity to fulfill these five learning goals in various ways through the outreach experience. The APA also recommends, in their outline for quality undergraduate education in psychology, activities that engage students in academic work and group activities (Halpern, 2010).

    This outreach is also beneficial for graduate students. Gardner and Barnes (2007) noted that graduate students have goals and outcomes that differ from undergraduate students. Their study included a survey of graduate students and assessed participation in professional and non-professional activities. They found that graduate students sought professional development opportunities that would help them gain experience for their careers. It was also reported that networking, and learning how to network, was important to the graduate students as well.

    Finally, the project met university level strategic goals including: strengthening ties within the community through shared values of research and service, promotion of innovative and integrated curricular learning, preparation of students to be critical thinkers and reflective learners, advance research activities of faculty, students, and students in the community, and to be sustainable and easily repeatable over time.

    Planning and Implementation

    Multiple steps were needed prior to the implementation of a Mobile Neuroscience Lab which included: equipment purchase, community education partner identification, planning of outreach activities geared towards middle school students, and active learning activity training with university psychology students. Students who completed training received a long-sleeve t-shirt with the project logo and wore the t-shirt during the community engagement activity. Age appropriate assessment materials of attitudes toward science and perceived benefit of the activity was also included. Participation in the assessment component of the activity was voluntary. That is, the middle school students did not have to complete the survey if they did not wish to.

    Assessment of Outreach Activity

    The content of these outreach programs had an emphasis on anatomy, physiology, and laboratory exercises, with middle school age groups in mind. Initially, there was a mix of large and small group activities. Large group instruction typically included a brief overview of central nervous system structure and function. Following, students completed a paper/pencil brain cap activity and labeled the areas and function of the cortex, cerebellum, and spinal cord. A comparison of sheep brains to human brains followed by a sheep brain dissection small group activity (1 university student to 5 middle school students) was then performed. The current format of the neuroscience outreach activity involves small group instruction only.

    Assessments for learning outcomes for middle school students had to be identified. The goal of this outreach program was to inspire young students to take an interest in neuroscience, so we decided that measuring students’ attitudes and beliefs towards science, and the impact of the outreach program on those attitudes, should be the focus. During the first year of assessment, 250 middle school students completed a 19-item satisfaction survey that assessed science attitudes and beliefs, and what they liked or disliked about the activity (BrainU, 2010). The pilot data from this first experience showed that middle school students liked the hands-on activities, but had less favorable attitudes towards large group verbal instruction. We also realized that singular surveys given after the experience did not allow us to compare attitudes before and after the outreach.

    During the second year of the outreach, we gave assessments to 139 students before and after the outreach and a demographic questionnaire. Surveys were administered one week prior to the neuroscience activity and within two days after the neuroscience activity. This allowed us to determine whether attitudes and beliefs towards science changed following the outreach. We assessed science attitudes using the My Attitudes Toward Science (MATS) instrument (Hillman, Zeeman, Tilburg, & List, 2016). The measure looked at four dimensions: a) attitude towards the subject of science, b) desire to become a scientist, c) value of science to society, and d) perception of scientists. The data showed that students attitudes before outreach did not differ significantly from attitudes after

    outreach. However, this was possibly due to students already having positive attitudes towards science, resulting in a ceiling effect.

    Perceived Benefit of Outreach Activity

    Regarding undergraduate and graduate feedback on the experience, we found that students saw it as a good learning experience for themselves and would help them professionally. Graduate students had the opportunity to lead entire classes, while undergraduate students led smaller (5-6 students) groups.

    University students’ attitudes were assessed using a survey (adapted from Burdo, 2012) that asked: if the hands-on activity (or demonstration) a) improved my knowledge of the topic, b) was a positive experience for me, c) was a better learning experience for me than other types of teaching methodologies I’ve had in other courses, d) improved my interest in the topic, and e) I am likely to continue to seek other courses with hands-on activities. Findings indicate that the students’ view of the community engagement activity was generally positive.


    To date, the Mobile Neuroscience Lab has reached over 1000 students (K-12). Nine undergraduate students, fifteen graduate students, and three faculty have participated in these activities, many who have returned over the years to continue volunteering their time. The outreach program was also featured in media outlets, such as local papers and news channels. As an additional benefit, we have been invited back year after year to our community partner, bringing the Mobile Neuroscience Lab to new groups of students.

    However, one limitation of the current project is that a single outreach learning opportunity during the year may not be enough to sufficiently educate or leave long lasting impressions on students (see Dierking, Falk, Rennie, Anderson, & Ellenbogen, 2003). However, other literature suggests that high impact hands-on activities are remembered by students (VanderStoep, Fagerlin, & Feenstra, 2000).

    Overall, science attitudes and beliefs can be positively impacted by neuroscience outreach activities, particularly in small instructional groups. The low cost of outreach makes it a sustainable opportunity to benefit all levels of students and educational institutions. In the future, we plan to continue assessing science attitudes and beliefs before and after the outreach activity to determine the effectiveness of the activity. We continue to make changes based on feedback from students who participate in our activities. In summary, neuroscience outreach activities provide university students, and the community, engagement that could positively affect science attitudes and beliefs of all students who participate in the activity.

    Example neuroscience outreach materials are available from the authors upon request (gilbertr@d.umn.edu).

    The authors wish to acknowledge Nathan Young for his contribution to the title of this essay.


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/about/learning-goals.pdf

    Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. 1991 ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED336049

    BrainU. (2010). Student Science Attitude Survey. Retrieved from http://brainu.org/files/bu_docs/forms/science.pdf

    Burdo, J. R. (2012). Wikipedia neuroscience stub editing in an introductory undergraduate neuroscience course. Journal of Undergraduate Neuroscience Education, 11(1), A1.

    Dierking, L. D., Falk, J. H., Rennie, L., Anderson, D., & Ellenbogen, K. (2003). Policy statement of the

    “informal science education” ad hoc committee. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2), 108111. https://doi.org/10.1002/tea.10066

    Edgerton, R. (2001). Education White Paper. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from

    https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/#inbox/FMfcgxwBWStHrzDHHXJKJhvqbQtMHNNq?projector=1&m essagePartId=0.3

    Gardner, S. K., & Barnes, B. J. (2007). Graduate student involvement: Socialization for the professional role. Journal of College Student Development, 48(4), 369-387. DOI:10.1353/csd.2007.0036

    Halpern, D. F. (2010). Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/12063-000

    Hillman, S. J., Zeeman, S. I., Tilburg, C. E., & List, H. E. (2016). My Attitudes Toward Science (MATS): The development of a multidimensional instrument measuring students’ science attitudes.

    Learning Environments Research, 19(2), 203-219. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10984-016-9205-x

    Marzullo, T. C., & Gage, G. J. (2012). The SpikerBox: a low cost, open-source bioamplifier for increasing public participation in neuroscience inquiry. PLoS One, 7(3), e30837.


    Pascar ella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research. Volume 2. Indianapolis, IN: Jossey-Bass, An Imprint of Wiley.

    Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2168-9830.2004.tb00809.x

    Shannon, K. M., Gage, G. J., Jankovic, A., Wilson, W. J., & Marzullo, T. C. (2014). Portable conduction velocity experiments using earthworms for the college and high school neuroscience teaching laboratory. Advances in Physiology Education, 38(1), 62-70. https://doi.org/10.1152/advan.00088.2013 VanderStoep, S. W., Fagerlin, A., & Feenstra, J. S. (2000). What do students remember from introductory psychology?. Teaching of Psychology, 27(2), 89-92. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15328023TOP2702_02

  • 01 Nov 2019 5:17 PM | Anonymous

    Dietlinde Heilmayr (Moravian College)

    Story-based podcasts provide students with the opportunity to peer into experiences, events, or lives that they may otherwise miss, ignore, or skim past. Storytelling is engrained across cultures and has been used for centuries to teach shared customs, values, and skills (Coulter, Michael, & Poynor, 2007; Zabel, 1991). Despite their being a natural and culturally engrained teaching tool, stories are not regularly incorporated into higher education courses. Story-based podcasts provide an excellent medium to reintegrate this type of teaching and learning into a college classroom. With the goal of using narrative to teach students psychological concepts, I developed an assignment that guides students through reflection, application, and critical thinking using a podcast as a framework.

    This assignment was developed for a Social Psychology course using the segment “All the Caffeine in the World Doesn’t Make You Woke” from Episode 648 of the podcast series This American Life. This segment tells the story of two Black men who were unjustly arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, and Starbucks’ response that entailed a company-wide closure for the purpose of providing employees with racial bias training. Though my class focused on issues of racism, implicit bias, and the science of implicit bias trainings, this assignment can be adapted to fit a variety of topics and courses by selecting a different episode or podcast; suggestions for effective podcasts are discussed at the end of this essay, with specific podcast recommendations provided in the suggested resources section.

    The goals of this semester-long assignment were threefold: 1) To teach students to apply social psychological constructs to real-world events; 2) To engage students in critical thinking by having them first develop an opinion on a topic as a layperson, and then revisit and revise their opinion using a social scientific lens; and 3) To provide students the opportunity to reflect on what they learned over the course of a semester and to explicitly acknowledge shifts in thinking through writing and discussion.

    To achieve these goals, I developed a three-part semester-long assignment. First, after listening to the podcast segment, students wrote a brief “gut reaction” reflection to the podcast. The goal of this component was for the students to put their thoughts and reactions into writing—what did they think of the arrest? Of Starbucks’ response? Of racial bias training? We then discussed these reflections in class. Discussing the initial reflection offers the opportunity for students to hear others’ points of views and to have a constructive conversation about varied and perhaps conflicting viewpoints, providing fodder for idea development throughout the rest of the semester. In our initial discussion, it was important for me to let students feel heard while being careful not to validate and thus entrench all of their opinions, making them resistant to further developing their thoughts. That is, the goal of the initial discussion component of the project should be to open students’ minds to the science of social psychology to which they will be exposed over the course of the semester.

    The second part of the assignment asks students to keep notes on concepts learned through readings and lecture that are relevant to the incident documented in the podcast. For example, many students took notes—ideally in a separate notebook or digital document—about stereotyping, victim-blaming, the Implicit Association Test, and the contact hypothesis. More specifically, students identified and defined relevant concepts, and jotted down ideas about how the concepts relate to the events described in the podcast segment. Students were also asked to find, read, and take notes about media reports of the Starbucks incident, thus engaging with the topic from multiple perspectives using a variety of media outlets. For the second part of the assignment, it was critical to remind students they should be keeping a log of their notes, in particular on days that we discussed many relevant concepts. This ensures students are analyzing, applying, and organizing concepts as the semester unfolded instead of scrambling to apply concepts at the end of the semester when the notes are turned in. The former provides students with the time necessary to reflect and develop ideas, while the latter has the potential to lead to forced and superficial reflections.

    The final assignment component was a research paper that students wrote after listening to the podcast segment a second time. In this paper, students were asked to again explore what they thought of the arrest and Starbucks’ racial bias training. This time, however, students were to ground their thoughts in psychological science, using theories and principles of social psychology to support their reflections. I also asked students to engage with the scientific literature relevant to the podcast segment with the aim of encouraging deeper thinking and analysis than in the first reflection. Students were asked to find and synthesize four scholarly sources in their final papers: they briefly summarized the articles and applied the knowledge they gained from the articles to their reflection. For example, some students found evidence that racial bias training has the potential to backfire (Duguid & Thomas-Hunt, 2015), and thus argued that Starbucks’ training might have done more harm than good. In their final paper, students also reflected on if and how their opinions of the incident and Starbucks’ response shifted since the first reflection assignment, why they shifted, and what a more effective response may have been.

    The final paper assignment and semester notes were turned in prior to the final exam period, which was used as a discussion period to synthesize this semester-long assignment. In discussion, I asked students to synthesize the literature that they found, allowing them to learn from each other and continue to develop their thoughts. The goal of the discussion was to provide the space and time for students to come together and discuss what they learned, as well as acknowledge any mental shifts that took place. I wanted students to leave the class with the critical thinking skills and open-mindedness necessary to know that opinions can and should change in response to high-quality, empirical evidence.

    In sum, there were three main assignments—the initial reflection, the catalog of notes taken throughout the semester, and the final research paper, with class discussions bookending the assignments. Students in the course reported enjoying the assignment and viewed it as a valuable learning experience. Moreover, many students in the course had never listened to a podcast before and appreciated being introduced to the medium. From my perspective, students seemed to not only develop a better understanding of why the events described in the podcast transpired (i.e., the arrest), but they also illustrated their ability to apply social psychological research to critically evaluate the training that Starbucks implemented. Many reported shifts in their thinking that I believe were due to the long-term and focused nature of the assignment.

    Though I developed this assignment for a face-to-face course, it could be easily adapted for an online or hybrid course by shifting the discussions to an online learning platform. For example, students could be asked to post a few thoughts and questions, and also respond to the reactions of their peers. The instructor could then provide comments and probing questions on the nascent discussion, and then have students add additional responses. Over three-to-four rounds of back-and-fourth with other students and the instructor, the students would pushed to think deeply and critically about the issues at hand, emulating the experience of students in a face-to-face course.

    This assignment could also be adapted for different courses or contexts by selecting a different podcast series or a different episode from This American Life. That is, the instructor can change the podcast or podcast segment without changing the assignment itself. That said, given the large amount of time and energy that students will devote to this assignment throughout the course, selecting an appropriate podcast is critical. What I believe made “All the Caffeine in the World Doesn’t Make You Woke” successful for this assignment is first due to the scope of the segment. The episode segment gave enough information about the events for students to become interested, but it did not go into too much detail about the science of implicit bias or implicit bias training. That is, students still had the space to reflect over the course of the semester, to find journal articles to discuss in their final papers, and to come to their own conclusions. Relatedly, this segment was a good length for students—approximately 20 minutes. Episodes or segments that are too long may lose students’ interest, may overwhelm students with information, or may make students feel as if there is nothing to add to the discussion. Finally, this segment resonated with my students because our College is about an hour north of Philadelphia, where the events transpired. Finding a story that is geographically nearby may not be possible for instructors at all institutions, but podcasts that are recent or relatable in some regard is important for keeping students engaged throughout the semester.

    I chose to grade the first assignment leniently and with minimal feedback, as the main purpose of the first assignment was (1) to set a tone for the course that made students comfortable expressing ideas, and (2) to act as a check that students listened to and reflected upon the podcast. This assignment was worth 5% of students’ final grades and was graded for clarity and thoughtfulness. The semester notes and final paper were turned in and graded in tandem. Given that the final papers were meant to be an application of what was learned over the course of the semester, these were weighted more heavily in the final grade (10%) and received thorough, critical, and constructive feedback. The completion of thoughtful semester notes was bundled into the rubric for the final paper. For the final paper, students could earn up to three points each for semester notes; writing style and organization; content (weighted twice); critical thinking (weighted twice); and reflection on opinion change. Students received thorough feedback on final papers, which I asked them to read and engage with prior to our final course discussion.

    In sum, this three-part semester-long assignment provides students the opportunity to engage deeply with a real-world topic through the lens of social psychology. The assignment is flexible, in that it can be adapted for different types of courses (e.g., hybrid or fully-online), and also for different topics (e.g., by using a different podcast). Students in my course reported enjoying the assignment, and I found the assignment to help them develop critical thinking and application skills that can be difficult to refine with more narrowly focused or shorter term assignments.


    Coulter, C., Michael, C., & Poynor, L. (2007). Storytelling as pedagogy: An unexpected outcome

    of narrative inquiry. Curriculum Inquiry, 37(2), 103-122.

    Duguid, M. M., & Thomas-Hunt, M. C. (2015). Condoning stereotyping? How awareness of

    stereotyping prevalence impacts expression of stereotypes. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(2), 343-359.

    Zabel, M. K. (1991). Storytelling, myths, and folk tales: Strategies for multicultural

    inclusion. Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 36(1), 32-34.

    Suggested resources

    This American Life Education Resources. Retrieved from https://www.thisamericanlife.org/education.

    This StoryCorps Education Resources. Retrieved from https://storycorps.org/discover/education/.

    Frantz, S. (2018, Sep 2). Recommended psychology-related podcasts [blog post]. Retrieved from


  • 03 Oct 2019 8:45 AM | Anonymous

    Krisztina V. Jakobsen (James Madison University)

    I have been teaching using team-based learning (TBL; Michaelsen, Knight, & Fink, 2004) for almost a decade. TBL is a flipped classroom method in which student learn course content outside of class and work in permanent teams during class to complete application exercises. Although the literature is somewhat mixed, TBL is at least as effective as other teaching strategies with respect to content acquisition (e.g., Carmichael, 2009; Chung, Rhee, Baik, & A, 2009; Jakobsen, McIlreavy, & Marrs, 2014). I personally use it because it works for my teaching style, course objectives, and students (Jakobsen, 2018). In my view, TBL provides students with opportunities to master core content consistently, while potentially developing transferable stills for other endeavors (Hart, 2006; Robles, 2012). For example, TBL provides opportunities for students to critically analyze information to solve problems, to use effective oral communication, and to collaborate with others.

    A central component of TBL requires students to work in permanent teams throughout the semester. When students realize that they will be working in groups for the whole semester, I can see the hesitation in their faces, as they may not have had positive experiences with group work in the past. Some students have told me that they feel that group work holds them back, that they are taking on more work because of slackers, and that the groups tend to devolve into irrelevant or unproductive discussions. When I explain that we will be working in teams during each class, many of the students are dubious about the team-based format and would prefer lectures and individual work instead.

    Although possibly the most vocal, students who eschew learning in teams are in the minority. Previous studies find that students generally have positive perceptions of group work (e.g., Walker, 2001), particularly in structured, well-defined group work experiences, as is the case in TBL (e.g., Butt, 2018; Vasan, DeFouw, & Compton, 2009; Willis et al., 2002). However, there are conditions under which students report concerns about group work. For example, when students do not feel a sense of being connected to members of their group (Jassawalla, Sashittal, & Malshe, 2009), they report concerns of social loafing (Latané, Williams, & Harkins, 1979). It is in precisely these two areas—being members of a community and decreasing social loafing—that TBL may excel.

    First, TBL holds students individually accountable for learning the course content outside of class through an individual quiz at the beginning of the unit. Following the individual quiz, students complete the same quiz again in their teams. After a short clarification lecture, teams complete application exercises in which they have to make a specific choice that they share simultaneously with other teams before having a full-class discussion. In order to contribute to the team quiz, application exercises, and class discussion, students must be prepared for class and are held accountable for being prepared. Midterm and end of semester team evaluations are also a critical component of the TBL structure. While the midterm team evaluations provide students with feedback on what they are doing well and how they can improve their contributions to the team, the end of semester evaluations determine how many of the team points each individual student will earn toward their final grade.

    Because TBL has some features that may alleviate concerns with previous group issues associated with feeling connected and social loafing, we were particularly interested in students’ perceptions of group work after participating in a TBL course. I asked students (N=68) in a developmental psychology class about their perceptions of group work at the beginning of the semester and after participating in a TBL class. At the end of the semester, I also asked students how their experience working in TBL groups compared to working in groups in other classes.

    Some of the perceptions students had of working in groups did not change over the course of the semester. These tended to skew toward the positives of group work and found that students, in general, have positive views of working in groups, as supported by the literature. For example, students believed that they could learn from working in groups and that they enjoy working in groups. They also believed that working in groups prepares them for their future careers and develops their communication skills along with the ability to work with others, even when they have different perspectives.

    What did change over the course of the semester were student perceptions of being part of a learning community and perceived social loafing. Students’ perceptions of being part of a learning community increased and their perceptions of social loafing decreased  from the beginning of the semester to the end. Permanent teams may increase feelings of being connected to members of a group which decreases social loafing (Jassawalla et al., 2009; Springer et al., 1999). These complementary processes may be key features that promote positive student perceptions of working in teams.

    Although TBL has yet to demonstrate consistent benefits for content mastery beyond those of competing pedagogies (e.g., Jakobsen et al., 2014), TBL may provide the kind of structure that provides an opportunity for students to master other important abilities that are highly desired by employers (Hart, 2006; Robles, 2012). Thus, TBL may provide added value above and beyond the mastering key content. This is one of the reasons that keeps me teaching in this style. Taking the leap to restructure a class to TBL may be daunting, but the principles of providing a good team experience for students can be done without all features of its specific structure. Ensuring individual accountability prior to group work, using permanent teams, and working during class (Springer, Stanne, & Donovan, 1999), can be achieved in almost any class.

    As with all pedagogical strategies, there is much to be done to understand how working with others benefits learning and influences perceptions. While the TBL structure provides opportunities for students to work on numerous other transferable skills, including oral communication, flexibility, and applying knowledge and skills in real-world settings (Hart, 2006; Robles, 2012), little research has examined how TBL may contributes to directly developing these skills. Our next steps are to explore the role of individual differences in group work. As group work becomes more prominent in the college classroom, not everyone may benefit in the same way. For example, individuals with diverse cultural backgrounds, personality traits, and genders may have very different experiences working in groups (Myers et al., 2009; Šerić & Garbin Praničević, 2018), which teachers who use group work should, at minimum, be aware.

    There are a number of pedagogical systems and strategies that have been demonstrated to positively influence learning course content. The strategies that are most effective are those that fit the context, goals, student level and instructor while demonstrably making progress towards the learning goals. Beyond course content, there may be skills and perspectives that teachers hope to integrate into their classes. If one of your goals is for students to become more proficient in employable skills like working in teams, it is laudable to consider those issues as you select your teaching strategies. For me, TBL is a very good fit to meet those additional goals.


    Butt, A. (2018). Quantification of influences on student perceptions of group work. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 15(5),

    Carmichael, J. (2009). Team-based learning enhances performance in introductory biology. Journal of College Science Teaching38(4), 54.

    Chung, E. K., Rhee, J. A., & Baik, Y. H. (2009). The effect of team-based learning in medical ethics education. Medical Teacher31(11), 1013-1017. doi: 10.3109/01421590802590553

    Hart, P.D. (2006). How should colleges prepare students to succeed in today's global economy? Washington, D.C.: Peter D. Hart Research Associates.

    Jakobsen, K. V. (2018). Team-based learning: A tool for your pedagogical toolbox. In W. Altman, L. Stein, & J. E. Westfall (Eds.), Essays from E-xcellence in Teaching (Vol. 17, pp.  1-6). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/eit2017/index.php

    Jakobsen, K. V., McIlreavy, M., & Marrs, S. (2014). Team-based learning: The importance of attendance. Psychology Learning & Teaching13(1), 25-31. https://doi.org/10.2304/plat.2014.13.1.25

    Jassawalla, A., Sashittal, H., & Sashittal, A. (2009). Students' perceptions of social loafing: Its antecedents and consequences in undergraduate business classroom teams. Academy of Management Learning & Education8(1), 42-54. https://doi.org/10.5465/amle.2009.37012178

    Latané, B., Williams, K., & Harkins, S. (1979). Many hands make light the work: The causes and consequences of social loafing. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37(6), 822-832. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.37.6.822

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

    Myers, S. A., Bogdan, L. M., Eidsness, M. A., Johnson, A. N., Schoo, M. E., Smith, N. A., … Zackery, B. A. (2009). Taking a trait approach to understanding college students’ perceptions of group work. College Student Journal43(3), 822–831.

    Robles, M. M. (2012). Executive perceptions of the top 10 soft skills needed in today’s workplace. Business Communication Quarterly75(4), 453-465. https://doi.org/10.1177/1080569912460400

    Šerić, M., & Garbin Praničević, D. (2018). Managing group work in the classroom: An international study on perceived benefits and risks based on students’ cultural background and gender. Journal of Contemporary Management Issues23(1), 139-156. https://doi.org/10.30924/mjcmi/2018.23.1.139

    Springer, S., & Collins, L. (2008). Interacting inside and outside of the language classroom. Language Teaching Research12(1), 39-60. https://doi.org/10.1177/1362168807084493

    Vasan, N. S., DeFouw, D. O., & Compton, S. (2009). A survey of student perceptions of team-based learning in anatomy curriculum: Favorable views unrelated to grades. Anatomical Sciences Education, 2, 150-155. doi: 10.1002/ase.91

    Walker, A. (2001). British psychology students' perceptions of group-work and peer assessment. Psychology Learning & Teaching1(1), 28-36. doi: 10.2304/plat.2001.1.1.28

    Willis, S. C., Jones, A., Bundy, C., Burdett, K., Whitehouse, C. R., & O'Neill, P. A. (2002). Small-group work and assessment in a PBL curriculum: a qualitative and quantitative evaluation of student perceptions of the process of working in small groups and its assessment. Medical Teacher24(5), 495-501. https://doi.org/10.1080/0142159021000012531

  • 03 Sep 2019 8:04 PM | Anonymous

    Lisa H. Rosen (Texas Woman’s University)


    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.

    -Margaret Mead

                Margaret Mead’s powerful words suggest that students can work together to create change in their communities. I include this quotation in the syllabi of my service learning courses, and ask students to reflect on this sentiment throughout the semester. As an instructor, I have been continuously impressed by the positive change brought about through service learning for both my students and our community. In this essay, I set out to define service learning and provide examples of how service learning can be incorporated into a variety of psychology courses. Although there are many benefits of service learning that I note in this essay, there are also possible pitfalls for which I offer recommendations to overcome.

                At the simplest level, service learning enables students to learn about course content while engaging in meaningful community service. Service learning can be considered a field-based form of experiential learning and is a mutually beneficial process; students provide needed service to the community and completing the service activities enhances student’s educational experiences (Furco, 1996). The advantages of service learning for both students and the community are reflected in this often cited quote: “Service, combined with learning, adds value to each and transforms both” (Honnet & Poulsen, 1989, p. 1). The potential for students and the community to equally benefit is what differentials service learning from typical volunteerism and other forms of experiential education (Furco, 1996). Service learning is unique from other forms of community service because it is directly connected to course content and learning objectives and furthers progress toward academic goals (Bringle, Hatcher, & Jones, 2010).

    Reflection is one of the key features of the service learning experience, and successful service learning assignments provide students ample opportunities for reflection throughout the process. In fact, service learning has been said to occur through “a cycle of action and reflection” (Barry, 2017, p. 127). Reflection is what brings about learning from the service experience (Eyler, Giles, Schmeide, 1999).

    Service learning involves collaboration between students, faculty, and key community partners (Felten & Clayton, 2011). Working in the community provides students the opportunity to see the application of course material to a real-world setting (Baca, 2012). Service learning is also considered a high-impact educational practice as evidence consistently suggests that students benefit from its use (Kuh, 2008).

    The nature of the service learning and how instructors guide reflection can take many forms. Service learning has been described as a flexible pedagogy (Savanick, 2018).  As such, service learning is a pedagogical technique that can be applied to almost any psychology course. To demonstrate the flexibility of this technique, I provide two very different examples of how I use service learning: one in a large undergraduate Psychology of Women course and the second in a small graduate Developmental Psychology course.

    In my larger Psychology of Women course, I divide my class into smaller groups and each carries out its own project. At the start of the semester, I ask students to complete a survey assessing academic interests, hobbies, and availability. Based on these surveys, I divide the class into smaller working groups of four to six students. Students are then tasked with designing a service project that is directly connected to the themes of the course. I provide students a list of approved community partners, but also offer them the ability to select other agencies pending instructor approval. Students develop a proposal for a project that aligns with course objectives and share their proposal with the class. As part of the proposal, students describe the community need they wish to address, explain why the community need exists, and discuss how they see their service project benefiting individuals and the community. Students are also asked to articulate how the service learning project aligns with course material. Prior to conducting the service project, students engage in pre-reflection, writing about their perceptions and beliefs about the population they will be serving. Once the proposal is finalized, students implement the project and reflect on their experiences through both a presentation and paper assignment.

    As students are encouraged to use their creativity and draw on their shared interests, I have seen a wide array of projects. Several groups have worked with a local organization that provides an emergency shelter for women who have experienced relationship violence. Students have been able to draw on their interests and expertise to work with women and children at the shelter. For instance, one group with a shared interest in music, made musical instruments with children at the shelter and did a sing-a-long. Another group had an interest in cooking and conducted a demonstration on preparing healthy food on a budget. Similarly, students have worked extensively with our campus afterschool program. Projects here have also been diverse and driven by student interest. As an example, several chemistry majors in my course conducted science demonstrations and taught about female scientists with the hopes of encouraging girls to pursue interests in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). Beyond targeting the children, another group discussed balancing multiple roles with our university students whose children were enrolled in the afterschool program and tried to offer practical suggestions based on the literature on family-work balance.

    I take a slightly different approach when integrating service learning in my smaller graduate developmental psychology course. In this case, we complete the project together as a class and organize a series of activities for a nursing home. Again, I allow student interest to guide the project. As we study the period of late adulthood, students apply the material to designing our class project. For example, as we discuss physical development, students come to see that it might be challenging for some residents of the nursing home to complete a finely detailed coloring page using color pencils. After we finish the project as a group, we discuss the experience in class and students write a paper about their experiences.

    Service learning is associated with many benefits for students (Eyler, Giles, Stenson, & Gray, 2001). Consistently, service learning has proved a way to engage students at higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy and is associated with deep learning of the course material (Kronick, Cunningham, & Gourley, 2011). Further, service learning promotes the development of communication and interpersonal skills such as team work and leadership (Eyler et al., 1999). Moreover, service learning promotes career exploration and students can include this experience on their resumes. Maybe more importantly, service learning promotes a sense of social responsibility; students demonstrate greater understanding of socially complex issues and are more likely to serve their community in the future following service learning (Felten & Clayton, 2011). As an instructor, I have seen the positive impact of service learning on my students and have included a few student quotes, which I believe demonstrate the benefits of this pedagogical approach.

    “After completion of my service project, I now have a more comprehensive understanding of several academic concepts addressed in this course… my service learning project made the course material relevant”.

    “My service project has benefitted many facets of my life including personally, academically, and occupationally”.

    “I encountered situations that were unfamiliar, and I was challenged to see life from a different perspective. I do believe this type of project should be required in all colleges”.


    Although service learning is associated with many positive outcomes, there are a number of well-documented implementation challenges (Kronick et al., 2011). As learning takes place in a real world setting, students are often faced with uncertainty because there are factors that affect their project, which are beyond their control. For many service projects, students do not know the exact number of attendees to expect given the complexity of working with community organizations. One year, a group of students planned to do a painting project with children at the emergency shelter but only adults attended. I find it helpful to address this uncertainty at the start of the semester and discuss some of the potential reasons for this complexity. Another challenge is that organizations may be hesitant to partner with students (Kronick et al., 2011). A strategy that I have found to be effective is to reach out to organizations in our community and create a list of community partners. Service learning does have its challenges and takes extra work on the part of the faculty. However, I encourage you to try service learning in your own courses as I have witnessed groups of students change our community for the better, semester after semester.


    Baca, I. (2012). Service-Learning and Writing: Paving the Way for Literacy(ies) through Community Engagement. Leiden, the Netherlands, Brill.

    Barry, S. M. (2017). Methods of reflective practice in a service-learning dance pedagogy course. Journal of Dance Education, 17, 124-130.

    Bringle, R. G., Hatcher, J.A., & Jones, S. G. (2010). International service learning: Conceptual frameworks and Research. Stirling, VA: Stylus.

    Eyler, J., Giles, D. E., Stenson, C. M., & Gray, C. J. (2001). At A glance: What we know about the effects of service-learning on college students, faculty, institutions and communities, 1993- 2000: Third Edition" (2001). Higher Education. Retrieved from: https://digitalcommons.unomaha.edu/slcehighered/139.

    Eyler, J., Giles, D., & Schmiede, A. (1996). A Practitioner’s Guide to Reflection in Service- Learning. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University.

    Felten, P., & Clayton, P. H. (2011) Servicelearning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 128, 75–84.

    Furco, A. (1996). Service-learning: a balanced approach to experiential education In Taylor, B.and Corporation for National Service (Eds.), Expanding Boundaries: Serving and Learning (pp. 2-6). Washington, DC: Corporation for National Service.

    Honnet, E.P., & Poulsen, S. J (I 989). Principles of Good Practice for Combining Service and

    Learning. Wingspread Special Report. Retrived from: https://www.coastal.edu/media/academics/servicelearning/documents/Principles%20of%20Good%20Practice%20for%20Combining%20Service%20and%20Learning.pdf.

    Kronick, R., Cunningham, R., & Gourley, M. (2011). Experiencing Service Learning. Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press.

    Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Retrieved from: https://www.aacu.org/leap/hips.

    Savanick, S. (2018). Service Learning. Retrieved from:https://serc.carleton.edu/sp/library/service/index.html.

  • 01 Aug 2019 2:30 PM | Anonymous

    Laura C. Edwards (Taylor University)

    Much of thinking, unattended, can be biased, naïve, inattentive, and prejudiced. Alternatively, thinking can be reasoned, reflective, intellectual, and purposeful.  Scholars refer to the latter type of thinking as critical thinking. The importance and challenge of fostering critical thinking in higher education are themes that have commanded worldwide attention.  However, we are not alone in valuing critical thinking.  Employers and governmental agencies also regard critical thinking as a central pillar and one of the most desired outcomes of higher education.

    If you asked me if I teach for critical thinking, I would answer, “of course I do.” Or, as a professor answered, tongue-in-cheek, when asked the same question, “what do you think I teach? Uncritical thinking?” Probing further, if you were to inquire, “How do you do actually foster CT?” My answer would have been something similar to the following:

    • I pose questions that drive students’ thought underneath the surface of things that forces them to deal with complexity.
    • From time to time, I play the devil’s advocate on controversial issues in an attempt to prompt my students to think deeper and ask essential questions.
    • When conducive to the task at hand, I attempt to present multiple perspectives – which is not hard in the field of psychology.
    • I have always been attentive to stereotypical thinking and aware of underlying assumptions and make them salient to my students.

    Your turn. If I were to ask how you teach CT, how would you answer?

    Certainly, how I approached the teaching of CT was not “incorrect,” and I believe my students had the opportunity to think critically during my class time. In addition, I unquestionably modeled an openness to learn and consideration of others’ perspectives, but, according to empirical evidence, my method was not the most efficacious. As I probed, it came as a surprise to me that research findings indicated the majority of professors are not teaching CT skills effectively, and that most college students’ exhibit inadequate CT achievement (Arum & Roksa, 2011; Tiruneh, Verburgh, & Ellen, 2014). 

    While most professors have honed their personal thinking skills through the rigorous requirements of advanced studies, the majority do not have the pedagogical background to integrate critical thinking skills with class content. Some may lack knowledge in balancing the teaching of  CT skills with course content, and others may struggle with the amount of time required to plan appropriately (Tsui, 2008).

    I was curious about what professors, whose students efficiently hone their higher order thinking, were doing. Using a mixed methods explanatory sequential design, my study identified teaching strategies employed by faculty members to infuse preselected thinking skills into course content and the positive effects on students’ higher order thinking abilities. The research involved quantitative data from students’ pretest and posttest CT skill abilities evaluations and in-depth interviews with faculty members from seven distinct departments who were trained in the infusion method of teaching CT and whose students excelled in their CT gains.

    The findings provide a “Road Map” for those looking to employ CT. The infusion method embeds CT skills into the framework of class content in an explicit manner (Ennis, 1987) as to permeate all aspects of the course content.  Educators may optimize their effectiveness in infusing CT skills by adopting or adapting some of the validated strategies that emerged from the interviews. These strategies are not only supported by the extant CT literature, but also contributed to substantial gains in students’ CT skills (Edwards, 2017; Snyder, Edwards, & Sanders, in press).   The strategies for the infusion of  thinking skills include  explicit teaching and intentional implementation, systematic practice, class discussions, teaching for transfer, and fostering reflection. 

    The Strategies

    Be Explicit

    Educators may benefit from recognizing that a simple, yet critical initial step in teaching students to think critically is identifying which CT skills they are already implicitly teaching (I chose two or three) and, subsequently, making them explicit.  Explicit means not only mentioning the skill (e.g., asking good questions), but providing students with the “how-to”, such as employing de Bono’s (1999) thinking hats.  In addition, it means helping students become cognizant of when the skills should be employed (I provide students with handouts including definitions, applications and “how-tos” and refer back to the handout throughout the semester as needed.  According to the faculty members interviewed, making the skills explicit neither required an inordinate amount of time nor affected course content. Teaching explicitly is congruent with (Elder & Paul, 2010; Halpern, 1999) findings indicating that students become more proficient in CT.

    Be Intentional in the Implementation

     A critical step in the infusion of specific CT skills involved being deliberate in the process of embedding CT skills into lectures, assignments, assessments, and class discussions.  The following steps emerged from the interviews:

    1) Designate a few hours during the summer to select a few familiar CT skills which fit well within class content. 

    2) Prepare a packet with selected CT skills, provide definitions, and outline the steps required to achieve them and/or include them in the learning management system.

    3) Deliberately embed the selected skills in the syllabus, power point presentations, assignments, and class discussions.  When professors followed these steps, they ensured the infusion method lasted throughout the semester.  Educators may be encouraged as they realize that, with a few hours of preparation, they can substantially increase their effectiveness in imparting the CT skills. 

    Systematic and repeated practice

    All seven professors purported that systematic and repeated practice is essential for mastering the CT skills.  Some practiced the skills with problem-solving situations; others embedded the skills in the reading assignments. One professor, whose “diagramming” was one of his selected skills, indicated asking the students to draw a diagram of the lecture at the end of each class, while another involved his students in practical research.  According to Beyer (1985), upon teaching the thinking skills, deliberate and immediate application must follow. Philosophy professor Mulnix (2010) concurred, “There is no surrogate for repetitive practice” (p. 468) in teaching CT skills.

    Classroom Discussions

    Discussions provided opportunities for students to think critically about curriculum content. Class debates, using concept maps and decision trees, in small groups, and think-pair-share were dominant strategies. This preferred approach is congruent with Abrami et al.’s (2015) meta-analysis, which revealed that discussion seems to be especially effective in teaching higher-order thinking whether professors utilized whole class or small groups.

    Teaching for Transfer

    Higher education students tend not to transfer CT skills learned in the classroom to other areas outside the classroom. Students generally will do so only if instructors provide opportunities for them to see how a newly acquired skill applies to other situations and experiences, leading to greater CT outcomes (Abrami et al., 2015). Inviting guest speakers from distinct academic fields, who explicitly relate the CT skills to their own areas, is one suggestion provided, while intentional transfer to everyday activities, such as sports or business situations, also proved effective (Edwards, 2017).

    Reflective Assignments

    `           Reflective assignments and exemplars, including journaling and reflective essays, helped students with metacognitive processes.  “Reflective thinking and writing afforded students the opportunity to expand their personal grasp of the thinking skills and promoted intellectual growth, leading to the enhancement of students’ CT abilities” (Edwards, 2017, p.57). 


    Educators may benefit from recognizing that a simple, yet critical, initial step in teaching students to think critically is to identify which CT skills they already implicitly teach and, subsequently, make them explicit.  According to the faculty members interviewed, making the skills explicit neither required an inordinate amount of time nor affected class content. The findings and strategies presented here are, on the whole, congruent with what higher educators already know about teaching and learning. For the past three years, I have been intentional about consistently employing the strategies above in the courses I teach. These rather simple strategies provide a pathway to the complex and multifaceted process of imparting higher order thinking.  May we encourage and learn from one another as we pursue valid teaching methods that promote student growth in critical thinking.


    Abrami, P. C., Bernard, R. M., Borokhovski, E., Waddington, D. I., Wade, A., & Persons, T. 

    (2015). Strategies for teaching students to think critically: A meta-analysis. Review of

    Educational Research. 85(2), 275-291. doi: 10.3102/003465431455106

    Arum, R., & Roksa, J. (2011). Academically adrift: Limited learning on college campuses. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

    De Bono, E. (1999). Six thinking hats. Boston: Back Bay Books.

    Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Boston, MA: D.C. Heath & Co.

    Edwards, L. C., Snyder, S. J., & Sanders, A. L. (2016). Faculty development for fostering students’ critical thinking. Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning, 8, 4-27.

    Edwards, L. C. (2017). The craft of infusing critical thinking skills: A mixed-method research on implementation and student outcome. Journal on Centers for Teaching and Learning, 9, 47- 72.

    Elder, L. & Paul, R. (2010).  Critical thinking: competency standards essential for the cultivation of intellectual skills.  Journal of Developmental Education, 34(2), 38-39.

    Ennis, R. H. (1987). A taxonomy of critical thinking dispositions and abilities. In J.  Baron & R. Sternberg (Eds.), Teaching thinking skills: Theory and practice (pp.  9-26). New York: W. H. Freeman.

    Halpern, D. F., (1999). Teaching for critical thinking: Helping college students develop the skills and dispositions of a critical thinker. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 80, 69-74.

    Mulnix, J. W. (2010). Thinking critically about critical thinking. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 44, 464-479. doi: 10.1111/j.1469-5812.2010.00673.x

    Snyder, S.; Edwards, L. C., Sanders, A. (in press). An empirical model for infusing critical thinking into higher education. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching.

    Tiruneh, D. T., Verburgh, A., Ellen, J (2014). Effectiveness of critical thinking instruction in higher education: A systematic review of intervention studies. Higher Education Studies 4(1), 1-17.

    Tsui, L. (2008). Cultivating critical thinking:  Insights from an elite liberal arts college.  JGE: The Journal of General Education56(3-4), 200-227.

  • 01 Jul 2019 9:42 AM | Anonymous

    Maria Wong (Stevenson University)

    Since 2014, I have been teaching PSY 201: Writing for Psychology, which is a required writing intensive course for our Psychology majors. Initially, being in charge of this course was anxiety-provoking as I did not have any prior experience of teaching something similar. From my students’ perspective, taking another writing course after their two 100-level English courses was also not too exciting. Overtime, however, I have developed a strong passion for teaching this course. Not only do I enjoy teaching writing, I have also developed a few ideas based on evidence-based teaching principles to enhance the quality of my teaching. The purpose of this essay is to share these tips with fellow psychology instructors in the hope that they may find them helpful.

    1. Create a positive and growth-oriented atmosphere

    There is plenty of research highlighting the importance of passion and enthusiasm in teaching (Buskist, 2004). Being energetic and enthusiastic is particularly important for this course as students are likely to bring in their own misconceptions and biases about writing. Throughout the semester, I instill a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006) in my students to help them understand that writing ability is malleable rather than fixed, and everyone can be a better writer through deliberate practice. I explain that perfection is never our goal, but we should strive for incremental improvement. I share openly my own struggle with writing, particularly as an English learner, and my journey of becoming a better writer. Although students typically vary in their writing skills and preparedness, having a growth mindset helps them focus on the process of acquiring new writing skills. From my observations, students who have a growth mindset tend to ask more clarifying questions, work more collaboratively with others, and become more open to constructive feedback.

    2. Be ready to revise assignments to better support learning objectives

    Good teaching involves delineating clear learning objectives and developing relevant assignments (Hattie, 2011). When I first started teaching this course, we spent the first half of the semester working on the “outlier project” based on Gladwell’s (2008) book. This project included several components. First, outside of class, students read the book and wrote a 300-word summary based on each chapter. They then brought the written summary back for a class discussion on identifying the thesis and supporting evidence. The rest of class time was used for peer review, in which the students worked in small groups to read and provide constructive feedback for each other’s work. After finishing the summaries and peer reviews for the first five chapters of the book, students selected an outlier of their choice. They then thoroughly researched the background of this person and wrote a 10- to 12-page APA-style paper discussing the journey of how this person became an outlier based on Gladwell’s (2008) principles and ideas.

    In a way, the outlier project offers several advantages. For one, Gladwell’s (2008) book is interesting and relatively easy to read. Second, the summaries provide great opportunities for students to practice writing thesis statements, topic sentences, transitions, and supporting evidence. Third, receiving feedback from myself and peers frequently within a short period of time helped to improve the quality of their work. Finally, the outlier paper helped students practice their organization and APA style. However, when we got to the literature review project, I found that students had not developed the necessary skills to read and understand empirical articles. Considering that one key learning objective of this course is to help students develop greater confidence in their comprehension of articles, I needed to develop a different project that used empirical articles as the main readings.

    Beginning last semester, I replaced the outlier project with the “marshmallow project.” Commonly known as the delay-of-gratification test, the marshmallow test involves giving a preschool-age child the option of having a marshmallow immediately, or receiving a larger reward (i.e., two marshmallows) later if the child decides to wait and not consume the marshmallow immediately. The largest advantage of this project is that students are exposed to empirical articles early on, rather than waiting until they get to the literature review project. Specifically, students read three articles: one on the original marshmallow studies (Shoda, Mischel, & Peake, 1990), a study examining how the marshmallow test was related to body mass index decades later (Schlam, Wilson, Shoda, Mischel, & Ayduk, 2013), as well as a recent replication of the marshmallow study (Watts, Duncan, & Quan, 2018). For each of these articles, students were asked to write a 2-3 page (double-spaced) summary and critique. Using the feedback they received from myself and their peer reviewers, students wrote a short literature review (10-13 pages) based on the marshmallow test and its implications. The marshmallow project prepared them sufficiently for the literature review project, which I will explain later.  I highly encourage instructors to evaluate the effectiveness of their assignments in light of the learning objectives.

    3. Be mindful of scaffolding

    In a nutshell, scaffolding (see Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1976) requires the instructor to closely monitor the progress of the students and adjust the amount of guidance and support he/she provides as the students become more confident and competent. My teaching on reading comprehension of empirical articles is guided by the scaffolding principle. When students are first exposed to empirical articles, it is important to work with them at a slower pace and provide extra support. For example, I always give out hard copies of the articles so students can see what they are going to read. Together, we locate the different sections of an article, paying special attention to tables and figures as most students do not understand their significance. Following the suggestion from the University of Minnesota Libraries (2014), students read the articles according to this order: Abstract, Discussion, Introduction, Results, and Method. This method ensures that students get a good grasp of the main research question and findings without getting bogged down by complicated methodologies and statistics. During the next class period, students bring back their detailed notes and are ready for a class discussion. In addition to the content of the article, I validate my students’ feelings (including their insecurities) and encourage them to keep practicing their new reading techniques and not give up easily. By the end of the class discussion, students generally report that they have gained a much better understanding of the article and are ready to start writing their summary. Although it takes a lot of time to initially go over a single article, students are undoubtedly building their confidence.

    In addition to reading comprehension, my design of the assignments is also guided by the scaffolding principle. For the marshmallow project, which takes place during the first half of the semester, I provide all the readings for my students and we take our time in discussing each article and the summaries and critiques that they write. In contrast, during the second half of this course, students completed a new literature review project in which they were in charge of conducting a literature search. The literature search was based on one of the three topics provided, reading and understanding empirical articles, writing and critiquing them, and organizing their ideas coherently into a 13- to 15-page APA-style paper. As such, the literature review project not only increased in the level of difficulty and complexity, it also required students to work more independently. For most students, the marshmallow project helped them developed the skills that they need to succeed in the literature review project.

    4. Activate students’ knowledge

    One of the biggest challenges for students is to make meaningful connections among various concepts. To this end, helping students generate accurate, relevant prior knowledge is likely to facilitate their learning of the new material (Garfield, Del Mas, & Chance, 2007). In my experience, I find it important to incorporate activities with the purpose of activating knowledge in students. In one activity, I provide a list of common keywords (e.g., confounds, replication, generalization of findings, correlation, causation, etc.) related to research methods and statistics that students have typically learned in their Introductory Psychology course. I then have students work in groups to discuss these terms, and as a class, we create concept maps to illustrate how these terms are relevant, which helps them develop their critiques. Not only do I demonstrate how important it is to have a clear and thoughtful argument prior to actual writing, I also show my students that prior knowledge plays an important role in writing process.

    5. Use class time to refine writing skills

    For the majority of my classes, I have used a flipped classroom approach (e.g., Wilson, 2013) and dedicated class time to refining student work through in-person feedback. With this approach, students are expected to be well-prepared and have their readings and assignments completed before coming to class. In my class, we have five peer-review sessions in which students work in their small groups to read and provide feedback for each other’s work. In addition, my teaching assistant and I also try to touch base with each student and provide some feedback for their writing in person. To this end, I find that students respond very well to clear and specific comments (e.g., “I like the level of detail that you have included in this paragraph. However, the sentences are pretty choppy in these places. What transitions can you use to smooth your writing out?”) than general comments (e.g., good job or unclear). I also find the use of a detailed grading rubric helpful in communicating my expectations clearly. The time students spend in revising their work also reinforces the growth mindset that I try to instill in them: through a lot of hard work and effort, all of us can become better writers.

    6. Teach APA style throughout the semester

    Based on the principle of spaced learning (e.g., Krug, Davis, & Glover, 1990), teaching APA style in one sitting is probably a bad idea. As such, I tend to incorporate the discussion of APA style throughout the semester. To start off, I discuss what plagiarism is and provide examples of real plagiarism cases (a scare tactic!). I then introduce APA style as a solution to avoid plagiarism. This approach helps students understand the usefulness of APA style as a tool. Throughout the semester, I provide different activities to help students practice paraphrasing using correct in text citations. In terms of teaching students the proper format of an APA style paper, I rely on the APA template available with Microsoft Word, as it spares us from creating a document from scratch. From time to time, students will need an extra boost to reinforce their learning of various APA rules. I find Kahoot! (available on kahoot.com for free) extremely useful in creating fun, engaging quizzes for the entire class. Moreover, the Teaching of Psychology Idea Exchange (ToPIX) found on the STP website also offers other engaging activities that can be incorporated to teach APA style more effectively throughout the semester.


    In sum, I have offered six tips that instructors may find useful for teaching their writing course, which includes: (1) creating a positive and growth-oriented atmosphere, (2) revising assignments to better support learning objectives, (3) being mindful about scaffolding, (4) activating students’ knowledge, (5) using class time to refine writing skills, and (6) teaching APA style throughout the semester. Importantly, each of these ideas are based on evidence-based teaching principles. Future SoTL should consider testing some of these strategies that are specific to the context of teaching writing to determine their effectiveness.


    Buskist, W. (2004). Ways of the master teacher. APS Observer, 17, 23-26.

    Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset. New York: NY: Random House.

    Garfield, J. B., Del Mas, R., & Chance, B. (2007). Using students’ informal notions of variability to develop an understanding of formal measures of variability. In M. C. Lovett, & P. Shah (Eds.), Thinking about Data (pp. 117-148). New York, NY: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

    Gladwell, M. (2008). Outliers: The story of success. New York: Little, Brown and Co.

    Hattie, J. (2011). Which strategies best enhance teaching and learning in higher education? In D. Mashek & E. Y. Hammer (Eds.), Empirical research in teaching and learning: Contributions from social psychology (pp. 130-142).

    Krug, D., Davis, T., & Glover, J. A. (1990). Massed versus distributed repeated reading: A case of forgetting helping recall? Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 366-371.

    Schlam, T. R., Wilson, N. L., Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., & Ayduk, O. (2013). Preschoolers' delay of gratification predicts their body mass 30 years later. The Journal of Pediatrics, 162, 90-93.

    Shoda, Y., Mischel, W., & Peake, P. K. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification: Identifying diagnostic conditions. Developmental Psychology, 26, 978-986.

    Watts, T. W., Duncan, G. J., & Quan, H. (2018). Revisiting the Marshmallow Test: A Conceptual Replication Investigating Links Between Early Delay of Gratification and Later Outcomes. Psychological Science. doi: 10.1177/0956797618761661

    Wilson, S. G. (2013). The flipped class: A method to address the challenges of an undergraduate statistics course. Teaching of Psychology, 40, 193-199.

    Wood, D., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17, 89-100.

    University of Minnesota Libraries. (2014). How to read and comprehend scientific research articles: How to read, take effective notes, and find the main points in scientific research articles. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2K6mJkSWoA

  • 02 Jun 2019 7:52 PM | Anonymous

    Ken Cramer (University of Windsor

    Rebecca Pschibul (Western University)

    Statistical concepts may be among the most challenging for students to grasp in the course of their undergraduate education. Among others, these may include several widely employed statistical concepts such as random sampling, random assignment to groups, correlation vs. causation, Type I vs. Type II errors, and the selection of median vs. mean statistics in the presence of extreme scores (i.e., average income).  Researchers and educators have made considerable strides in rendering these everyday concepts accessible to students via memorable examples, vivid demonstrations and simulations. For instance, students can see the folly in misconstruing the correlation between city parades staged for national sports champions to prematurely hosting such a grand display one week before the big game. Students similarly can appreciate the greater risk associated with sending the innocent to jail, or worse (a Type-I error) rather than letting the guilty go free (a Type-II error).

    More advanced statistical concepts will arguably prove more challenging to students, and demonstrations to make these units more digestible are underway. One such concept, although widespread in its application, has proven particularly thorny to pass along clearly to students – namely factor analysis, a complex statistical data-reduction technique. Factor analysis reduces a larger set of entities or measures into a smaller set of families, or factors, whose constituent members are intercorrelated (Tabachnik & Fidell, 2013). For example, one may derive a series of physical measures of a given individual – including height, head size, hand span, foot size, distance from elbow to wrist, etc. – and find that all measures are moderately to highly intercorrelated based on a singular over-arching latent factor which we might call Body Size. There is no direct way to measure a latent factor; it can only be derived or estimated based on its constituent measures; but the concept is real and directly impacts the derivative means of its assessment (namely, item scores on a personality or intelligence questionnaire or numbers on a tape measure).

    Factor analysis is used widely across a host of fields in biology, education, and in particular the social sciences like psychology. Whether to develop psychometrically sound instruments to measure complex constructs like intelligence or personality, or to determine the degree of overlap between various existing measures of self-esteem, factor analysis can rarely be avoided in a student’s undergraduate statistical training. Until the advent of faster and more high-powered computers, a typical factor analysis would take the researcher approximately one year in hand calculations (which included deriving relevant correlation matrices, standard deviations, and then combined into covariance matrices). Nevertheless, in spite of its easy of execution, students may still fail to appreciate the interplay of the analysis involved, its subjectivity, and the nature of interpretation; thus, we offer the instructor a hands-on, and memorable, pair of useful demonstrations to help instill this material. Efforts to make the lesson engaging has all too often utilized a mathematical approach, and implemented graphs and animations (Connor, 2003; Segrist & Powlow, 2007; Yu, Andrews, Winogard, Jannasch-Pennell, & DeGangi, 2002). Our intention is to move beyond the mathematical world and embrace a rather more substantive and practical world through hands-on activity.

    Demonstration with a Known Factor Structure (Stew Recipe)

    Students can readily understand how a grocery list may be rendered more efficient if sorted into general categories within the geography of a department store – fruits and vegetables, meats and dairy, spices and sauces, etc. This model, on the surface, illustrates the sorting of food stuffs into general categories where the constituent members share a particular feature (the all dairy items need to be refrigerated), and it offers a starting point to the concept of factor analysis.

    The following demonstration utilizes this model of shopping for stew ingredients to show the different categorizations, and member constituencies, taken from a grocery list.  Students are invited to the front of a classroom to draw one of 30 cards (see Appendix A) from a mixed deck, each representing one of the many ingredients of a stew. Knowing the final configuration (namely the number and relative constituency of how the cards are grouped), students move about the room and self-sort to form their respective categories – Meats, Vegetables, Liquids, and Spices/Sauces (or Flavorings).

    Once in their categories, members of each group are asked to designate both their strongest and weakest member; for example, Vegetables might elect ‘potato’ as their strongest, and ‘onion’ as their weakest. This represents a useful vehicle toward understanding factor loadings (or the relative contribution of any constituent entity or measure to a factor). For instance, in the field of intelligence, the subtest of Vocabulary is the strongest single predictor of mental abilities, and Object Assembly is the weakest (Wechsler, 2008).

    Questions for Probing Student Knowledge

    Students may be asked further questions to strengthen their understanding of factor analysis. We include several examples below:

    1.     Following students’ identification of the weakest members of a category (e.g., onions among a stew’s Vegetables), could the contribution of an entity be so low that it fails to meet cut-off criteria and is excluded from further consideration? That is, in terms of factor analysis, the under-representative entity would showcase an especially low loading that one may argue does not contribute to the understanding or definition of the factor (and should not be included). In other words, could it be argued that a stew need not include onions; but potatoes are a must?
    2.      Are there any broad categorical names (e.g., Spices) where a more suitable alternative might be used (e.g., Flavoring) – that is, perhaps unique nomenclature surrounds the designation of a factor (personality has wrestled with how to name components of the Big-Five – is it Openness to Experience or Culture or Intelligence; see McCrae & Costa, 1996), and does this invite subjectivity to this field of study?
    3.     Could any of the broad categories (Flavourings) be further divided into correlated, but still distinct, sub-categories (Spices and Sauces), and would it improve the understanding of the configuration or structure of a stew to split them? Consider how loneliness, originally thought to have two factors (Social Loneliness and Emotional Loneliness) found the latter sub-divided into Family and Romantic Loneliness (Cramer, Ofosu, & Barry, 2000
    4.     What is to be done with entities not finding a genuine home among any one category but perhaps shared among two? What categories might best situate the entity of tomato sauce – it is arguably a Liquid, but it adds Flavouring, so might it better be included among Spices?

    Demonstration with an Unknown Factor Structure (Parts of the Body)

    Students are then invited to participate in a similar activity with a second deck of cards (see Appendix B; Parts of the Body) with a factor structure unknown to them. Students may be similarly probed using this deck of cards: (a) which entity in any family or factor might be its best representative, and what might be the worst? (2) where should one attribute the entity of ‘skull’ – does this belong to Bones or to Face; perhaps both, but which might be stronger?

    Similar follow-up questions may be probed to further student understanding of a factor structure with no a-priori hypothesized structure (based on number or constituency).

    1.      Are there especially strong or especially weak members of any given category?  Students working in the Bones category may struggle to find a high contributing entity, but skin may almost be dismissed from the category of Organs should students debate its belongingness. Is skin even an organ? It is, say biologists – the largest, in fact.
    2.       Students may encounter disagreement concerning the naming of a category: Bones vs. Skeleton, Head vs. Cranium, Bodily Liquids vs. Bodily Fluids – preferring scientific nomenclature over more common everyday language.
    3.       Students might discover cross-listed entities such as the brain belonging both to the categories of Organs and Head. So too, the entity of skull may belong both to Head and Bones. Hereto, students may uncover a stronger belongingness or loading of skull to Head (after all, what is a head without the skull). The entity of tears is arguably a Bodily Fluid, but tears originate from the Face/Head. As such, this conflict (of finding the right home for a given body part) may help students to see the differences in factor loadings when entities belong to multiple categories.
    4.     What is to be done with entities that struggle to find a suitable home among any of the identified categories? Consider hair, which may belong at first glance to the category of Head, but this may also include bodily hair not found on the head.


    These two examples should help students vividly remember the mechanics and inner-workings of factor analysis. The probing questions should offer a lasting analysis that they may apply in later courses of theory, research, and statistical methods.


    Connor, J. (2003). Making statistics come alive: Using space and students’ bodies to illustrate statistical concepts. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 141.

    Cramer, K. M., Ofosu, H. B., & Barry, J. E. (2000). An abbreviated form of the Social and Emotional Loneliness Scale for Adults (SELSA). Personality and Individual Differences, 28, 1125-1131.

    McCrae, R. R., & Costa, P. T., Jr. (1996). Toward a new generation of personality theories: Theoretical contexts for the five-factor model. In J. S. Wiggins (Ed.), The five-factor model of personality: Theoretical perspectives (pp. 51-87). New York: Guilford.

    Segrist, D. J., Pawlow, L. A. (2007). The mixer: Introducing the concept of factor analysis. Teaching of Psychology, 34, 121-123.

    Tabachnik, B. G., & Fidell, L. (2013). Using multivariate statistics. (6th ed.). Toronto: Pearson.

    Wechsler, D. (2008). Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Adults – Fourth Edition. San Antonio, TX: Pearson.

    Yu, C. H., Andrews, S., Winogard, D., Jannasch-Pennell, A., & DiGangi, S. A. (2002). Teaching factor analysis in terms of variable space and subject space using multimedia visualization. Journal of Statistics Education, 10.

    Appendix-A: Stew Ingredients

    Meats (beef, chicken, lamb, pork); Vegetables (potatoes, carrots, onions, celery, mushrooms); Liquids (water, tomato sauce, tomato paste, soy sauce); Spices (salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, sage, thyme)

    Appendix-B: Parts of the Body

    Face (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, tongue, chin, cheek, hair), Organs (lungs, heart, kidney, liver, brain, spleen, skin); Bodily Fluids (blood, urine, pus, tears, bile, phlegm); Bones (femur, tibia, ulna, skull, ribs, radius)

  • 02 May 2019 3:55 PM | Anonymous

    Kameko Halfmann (University of Wisconsin – Platteville)

    I remember the first semester I taught general psychology, fresh, energetic, and a little bit naive. Relatively new to teaching, I would read students’ essays and exams, often in frustration when students clung to misconceptions of psychology that I thought I had adequately dispelled. “How do they not remember me explaining this?!” I would wonder in despair. Since then, it has become one of my missions to figure out how to more effectively teach and dispel these common misconceptions.

    Indeed, students walk into general psychology with a common sense understanding of human behavior, often heavily influenced by popular science and armed with misconceptions (Lilienfeld, Lohr, & Morier, 2016). Teaching general psychology, I learned, compels active myth busting to help students understand human cognition and behavior through a scientific lens. Best practices in teaching and learning include providing meaningful examples (e.g., Ausubel, 1968), encouraging student cooperation and teamwork (e.g., Johnson, Johnson, & Smith, 1998), and active learning (e.g., Kellum Carr & Dozier, 2001), to name a few.

    Over my handful of semesters as an assistant professor, I’ve leaned on these best practices, attempting to incorporate more examples and active learning into all of my courses. I occasionally collected data, dipping my toes into Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL); the data always letting me know that students felt like the activities helped them learn.

    I specifically developed an interest in teaching with technology. This interest grew from another revelation I had: students are not, so to speak, the digital natives we think they are (Prensky, 2001). Students use technology frequently, but the Education Center for Analysis and Research (ECAR) suggests student tech use is broad, not deep. Moreover, ECAR’s report (2018) indicates students still need support to use technology in meaningful ways. Similarly, Beetham and Sharpe (2007) indicate that students do not necessarily have the “habits of practice” for navigating new technology. So, I began to incorporate assignments and activities that forced students to use technology in educational ways. For example, I incorporated social media assignments into several of my courses.

    Then, last year, I had the chance to apply for an in-house grant titled “Innovations in Teaching with Technology.” I decided to apply with the goal to purchase Neulog plug-and-play psychophysiology modules. These modules are relatively inexpensive, easy to use, transportable technology that would allow me to incorporate psychophysiology into my courses. Previous research suggested using technology, such as portable EEG, correlated with enhanced attention, interest, and exam scores (Stewart, 2015). Labs such as these would allow students to “do” psychology and bring course content to life (Dunn, McCarthy, Baker, Halonen, & Hill, 2007) rather than having a lecturer “tell” students about experiments.

    In particular, I thought, psychology students tend to struggle to understand concepts associated with the biological basis of behavior; therefore, employing active learning methods to bring these concepts to life in lab sessions could be especially impactful (Thibodeau, 2011). I ended up receiving the grant. I also decided it was time for me to more seriously assess my teaching using SoTL.

    Initially, I developed one activity, designed to dispel the lie detector myth (i.e., the myth that “the polygraph is an accurate means of detecting dishonesty,” Lilienfeld, Lynn, Ruscio, & Beyerstein, 2010). Students observed me give a demonstration with a student volunteer, showing how to use the equipment. They also saw, through the demonstration, how several stimuli could elicit an electrodermal response. For example, I would have the volunteer take a deep breath, smell a scented candle, and, if they let me, I’d touch their ear with the eraser of a pencil. Each of these stimuli caused an electrodermal response. In other words, the demonstration showed students how the supposed lie detector test was really just measuring autonomic nervous system activity, and many stimuli, not just lying, could lead to changes in sympathetic nervous system arousal. Students then gathered in groups of 5 or 6 and engaged with the technology themselves for about 25 minutes.

    The first semester I used this activity, students reported that the activity improved the quality of the course, helped them understand concepts, helped them connect to others, promoted professional growth, enhanced their experience of participation and should be used more often. Each rating was significantly higher than a neutral baseline, with relatively large effect sizes. The following semester, I decided to take this research a step further: did the students actually understand the content better?

    In order to pursue this question, I needed another activity that was similar but covered unique content compared to the first. I decided to develop a biofeedback activity using the electrocardiogram module. Students, again, watched a demonstration on how to use the technology and then engaged with the technology, testing how various stimuli affect heart rate and answering questions related to biofeedback.

    I was teaching three sections of general psychology last semester when I assessed student understanding before and after engaging in these activities. Early-ish in the semester, when we were covering stress and emotion, I implemented these two activities (i.e., the lie detector activity and the biofeedback activity) over the course of two class periods, using a nonequivalent group pre-test/post-test design. On the first day, all of my students across three sections of general psychology took a pre-quiz related to the autonomic nervous system and why the polygraph is not considered an accurate index of lying. Two sections participated in the activity using the Neulog technology (lie detector active group). The third section participated in a lecture/discussion on the same topic (biofeedback active group). All sections took a post-quiz.

    The following class period, I flipped the groups. The section that had previously participated in a lecture/discussion did the biofeedback activity (i.e., the biofeedback active group) and the other two sections engaged in lecture/discussion on the same topic (i.e., the lie detector active group). Everyone took a pre-quiz and post-quiz again. I also included four questions (two per content type) on the following exam and two questions on the final exam (one per content type) to assess learning.

    What did I learn? Did the activities work? To be honest, the main thing I learned were the many challenges associated with conducting SoTL research. I did not find an effect of activity on understanding. Neither activity seemed to help or hurt student understanding of the content. But I did see an effect of activity group: one of my groups was outperforming the other overall: the biofeedback active group performed better, on average, across all assessments. I also found an effect of question content: the biofeedback-associated questions were easier, hitting a ceiling for the biofeedback active group on the exam. I also found an effect of time, where students improved from the pre-quiz to post-quiz (for the lie detector active group) and from post-quiz to exam (for the biofeedback active group). But none of these effects interacted with the activity group that students were in. Based on these assessments, participating in an active learning lesson did not boost performance relative to a more lecture-based lesson.

    But back to some of the lessons I learned about SoTL: Determining an appropriate method of assessment was challenging. I clearly used questions that were not well-matched in difficulty across content. I also tried to use variations of similar questions over the course of the semester for the different assessment time points; however, some of the questions were clearly more challenging than others. So, my first major lesson was

    1. Pretest assessment questions so they are matched on difficulty across content type and time of assessment.

    Another challenge related to my assessment was selecting an appropriate number of questions. I didn’t want this one topic related to my activities to take over my exams, and I ended up using fewer questions than I should have used to gauge student understanding. I also solely relied on multiple choice questions. My second main lesson was

    1. Use several questions and question types to assess understanding over the course of the semester.

    Neither of these lessons are particularly surprising (e.g., see http://regangurung.com/scholarship-of-teaching-and-learning-sotl/ for resources on SoTL), but they do take time and forethought to exercise well. Having assessed students several times now, I can better construct my assessments to reflect student understanding and not simply difficulty or other artifacts.

    I also attempted to assess students’ understanding at the end of the semester and included two key questions on the cumulative final exam. However, I decided to drop students’ lowest exam of five this semester, and so for many of the students, the cumulative final exam was optional, and only 37 students out of 100 took the final exam. This was the first time I used five exams, including a cumulative final, and it was the first semester I decided to drop the lowest exam. I did not anticipate such a low proportion of students would take the final exam. Although not directly related to my SoTL project, I would not use this set up again. Not only did many students miss out on an important learning opportunity (i.e., taking the final exam), it reduced my analytic power for this research.

    Another challenge I ran into were nonequivalent groups. There are two solutions to this problem that come to mind. First, I could collect more data with a new sample. Second, I could use random assignment to split my classes into two groups and invite only half of my students to participate in each activity (giving the other half a day off or a recorded lecture). Hopefully, this semester, I’ll collect more data in different courses and reach out to students from last semester to see if I can capture one more assessment from them to measure longer-term retention of material. Ideally, I will collect the new data using the random assignment technique to split my classes.

    I clearly ran into several limitations that prevented me from drawing confident conclusions at the end of the semester. I don’t know if I will ever be fully satisfied with my teaching or if it is possible to design a perfect SoTL project. Each semester, it seems my students challenge me in new ways, reigniting my mission to find a better way to teach a concept or dispel a misconception. And in following semesters, I respond by tweaking my courses, and sometimes by completely overhauling a course. I’ll continue to lean on other’s research as I slowly accumulate my own SoTL. I hope this research encourages others to put their own teaching to the test. You may discover something works better or worse than you thought. Or, like me, you might just be at the starting point for figuring out how to best assess student learning to determine what works.


    American Psychological Association. (2014). Strengthening the common core of the Introductory Psychology Course. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association, Board of Educational Affairs. Retrieved from https://www.apa.org/ed/governance/bea/intro-psych-report.pdf

    Ausubel, D. P. (1968). Educational Psychology: A Cognitive View. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston.

    Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (2007). An introduction to rethinking pedagogy for a digital age. In Beetham, H., & Sharpe, R. (eds), Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age: Designing and Delivering e-Learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

    Dunn, D. S., McCarthy, M. A., Baker, S., Halonen, J. S., & Hill, G. W. (2007). Quality benchmarks in undergraduate psychology programs. American Psychologist, 7, 650-670. DOI: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.7.650

    EDUCAUSE Center for Analysis and Research. (2018). The ECAR study of undergraduate students and information technology. Louisville, CO: ECAR. Retrieved from https://library.educause.edu/~/media/files/library/2018/10/studentitstudy2018.pdf?la=en

    Johnson, D. W., Johnson, R. T., & Smith, K. A. (1998). Cooperative learning returns to college: What evidence is there that it works? Change: The Magazine of Higher Learning, 30, 27-38. https://doi.org/10.1080/00091389809602629

    Kellum, K. K., Carr, J. E., & Dozier, C. L. (2001). Response-card instruction and student learning in a college classroom. Teaching of Psychology, 28(2), 101-104.

    Lilienfeld, S. O., Lohr, J. M., & Morier, D. (2001). The Teaching of Courses in the Science and Pseudoscience of Psychology: Useful Resources. Teaching of Psychology, 28(3), 182–191. https://doi.org/10.1207/S15328023TOP2803_03

    Lilienfeld, S.O., Lynn, S.J., Ruscio, J., & Beyerstein, B.J. (2010). 50 great myths of popular psychology: Shattering widespread misconceptions about human behavior. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

    Prensky, M. (2001). Digital natives, digital immigrants. On the Horizon, 9, 1-6.

    Stewart, P. C. (2015). This is your brain on psychology: Wireless electroencephalography technology in a university classroom. Teaching of Psychology, 42, 234-241. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628315587621

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  • 02 Apr 2019 9:48 AM | Anonymous

    Sharon Claffey (Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts)

    Active learning is a popular classroom technique that shows up in several forms. Classrooms are “flipped” and class time is devoted to activities rather than requiring students to simply listen to lecture. Team Based Learning (TBL) is a form of small group learning that is centered on student experience and interaction (Michaelsen & Sweet, 2008) and is very structured in its design. In my past TBL courses, students would read the material independently and then come to class ready to take a Readiness Assessment Measure (RAM) independently, and then immediately take a RAM as a team effort. The rest of the course time would be divided into team activities and, less frequently, independent assignments. 

    When I taught courses using the TBL approach, I was not entirely happy with the rigidity of the design. As with any course design, I found students who loved the TBL approach and students who hated it. Particularly, I found that students quickly learned which teammate was the strongest academically and often defaulted to that student (e.g., having that particular student complete the team RAM without input from the rest of the team). This reduction in activity for some students contradicted the point of TBL and frustrated the students who felt they were carrying their team. 

    Consequently, I opted to take the parts of the TBL classroom that I loved (i.e., the active learning) and create a modified approach that was less reliant on strict formatting.  The core goal of the TBL design is to shift the focus of class time from lecture to more active participation and application exercises that facilitate learning and promote critical thinking about the material. Group activities have been shown to increase retention of material along with student satisfaction (Drouin, 2010), and to increase performance on objective knowledge assessments followed by students’ ratings of their ability to apply knowledge (Kreiner, 2009).

    While most research on TBL focuses on learning and classroom performance (e.g. Jakobsen, McIlreavy, & Marrs, 2014; Liu & Beaujean, 2017), I decided to examine the impact TBL has on empathy and social support among the students. This took the essence of TBL, but not the assessment (i.e., the active learning remained intact, but not the traditional TBL grading structure). Would active learning and increased interaction among small groups affect the students’ classroom experience?  Specifically, I wanted to examine if students in an active learning environment had more empathy and felt like they received more social support (both social and instrumental) from their classmates.

    I compared students from my two sections of Social Psychology (taught in consecutive class periods in the same room). Students in both sections of the course received traditional lecture during the first half of the semester. This was intended to ensure that students had time to get used to the material and exam formats and because I wanted to avoid potential regression to the mean. After the second exam, the students in both sections were randomly assigned into teams which they sat with during that portion of the course. In my experience, students tend to start a semester sitting near people they know and also tend to stay in those seats throughout the semester. I didn’t want their friendships to impact potential empathy and social support rather than course design. After the change in seating arrangement, one randomly assigned section of the course used a modified TBL approach. The modified TBL section and the lecture based section received the same lectures (available online) and exams, but the lecture based students did not complete the classroom activities and received the lecture during class time in addition to having the lecture available online.

    Students were given two surveys: 1) after the second exam and immediately after being placed in teams and 2) after the third exam. After the end of the semester, I found that the classes weren’t different in measurements of Empathy or Emotional Social Support. I also found that the two sections did not differ in the reports of information or advice received from classmates on the first measurement of informational social support (which was after placement in new tables but before the active learning component began). At the second measurement, the modified TBL students had higher reports of receiving information or advice from classmates than the lecture group.  While this is encouraging, it could simply be an artifact of students needing to work together to complete the team assignments. Thus, it is possible that the informational support was specific to course material and not information relevant to other topics. 

    I then examined some other factors to explore potential differences. While the modified TBL students missed more classes on the first measurement than the lecture students, there was no difference between the sections on classes missed on the second measurement. Perhaps the active learning environment increased students’ attendance in addition to impacting students’ perceptions of importance of lecture (since it was rated less important by modified TBL students on the second measurement).

    Peterson (2016) found that students in an active learning environment outperformed students in a lecture section of the same class. I found that students in the modified TBL section improved on exam scores, but not the lecture students. I also found on the second measurement a difference between the reports of how important lecture was to understanding the course material, with the modified TBL students reporting it of less importance than the lecture students. While this could be explained by hindsight bias, it is interesting to note that the modified TBL students had better exam grades on the second measurement. 

    In addition, I found that the TBL class also had a lower expected course grade on second measurement than first measurement. This is similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect (Kruger & Dunning, 1999), although not tied to cognitive ability, but exposure to material in additional ways. I will also mention that there was no difference between sections on actual course grade. Similar to other researchers (e.g., Travis, Hudson, Henricks-Lepp, Street, & Weidenbenner, 2016), course satisfaction was not impacted.

    Comparing the two classrooms was informative, but I also wanted to examine any differences that happened between the measurements within each class structure. There were no differences on course rating, importance of lecture, classes missed, or student effort put into the class. This is interesting because it indicates that the shift from lecture to active learning did not impact the students in those areas. I have had students tell me that they either love or hate a flipped classroom, so I suppose it is possible that students who like the course began to dislike it (and vice versa) which washed out any differences.

    In conclusion, I found there were only some benefits to the modified TBL. While some may find this disappointing, I actually take comfort that there was no difference between course grade or course satisfaction. This gives me freedom in the future to shift the style of the course (between passive and active) without fear that I will be negatively impacting students. Such a shift would prevent stagnation in my teaching style and keep me active and engaged (which I would argue is also important for successful student experiences). 


    Drouin, M. A. (2010). Group-based formative summative assessment relates to improved student performance and satisfaction. Teaching of Psychology, 37, 114-118.

    Kreiner, D.S. (2009). Problem-based group activities for teaching sensation and perception. Teaching of Psychology, 36, 253-256.

    Jakobsen, K.V., McIlreavy, M., & Marrs, S. (2014). Team-based Learning: the importance of attendance. Psychology Learning and Teaching, 13, 25-31.

    Kruger, J., & Dunning, D. (1999). Unskilled and unaware of it: How difficulties in recognizing one’s own incompetence lead to inflated self-assessments. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 77(6), 1121-1134.

    Liu, S.N.C., & Beaujean, A.A. (2017). The effectiveness of Team-Based Learning on academic outcomes: A meta-analysis. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 3, 1–14.

    Michaelsen, L.K., & Sweet, M. (2008). The essential elements of Team-Based Learning. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 116, 7-27.

    Peterson, D. J. (2016). The flipped classroom improves student achievement and course satisfaction in a statistics course: A quasi-experimental study. Teaching of Psychology, 43(1), 10-15.

    Travis, L. L., Hudson, N. W., Henricks-Lepp, G. M., Street, W. S., & Weidenbenner, J. (2016). Team-Based Learning improves course outcomes in Introductory Psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 43(2), 99-107.

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