E-xcellence in Teaching
Editors: Manisha Sawhney & Natalie Ciarocco

  • 15 Dec 2016 7:11 PM | Anonymous
    Evaluating Alternative Reality Games

    for Introductory Psychology

    J. Mark Cleaveland and Rachel Abril

    Vassar College


                    Game-based learning refers to the use of games in pedagogy.  We typically use game-based learning to increase a learner’s “engagement,” however operationalized, with a problem or content area.  The game in question might explicitly model a particular set of contingencies or do so implicitly.  For example, in the board game, “Freedom: The underground railroad,” players take on the roles of abolitionists who are attempting to aid slaves on their passage to freedom. In doing so, players interact with cards that detail historical events and personages (see Cleaveland, 2014).  Conversely, a game such as “Mastermind” is not explicitly about scientific reasoning, but we can use it to teach aspects of the scientific method implicitly, and then, with discussion or targeted responding, bring out these points explicitly (see Strom and Barolo, 2011).  Another form of game-based learning is given by the “Reacting to the Past” consortium begun by Mark Carnes (see Carnes, 2014).  In these sometimes semester-length games, students role-play the personages and debates of particular historical periods.  Regardless of the specifics however, a fundamental goal of all instances of game-based learning is to re-contextualize traditional pedagogy in creative ways.  Games or texts are no longer passive objects, but repositories of opportunities.  “Mastermind” is no longer a collection of pegs and a board, but also a physical metaphor for the scientific method.  A speech of Demosthenes is no longer only something to learn for a test, but also potential leverage for a team in an upcoming roleplaying debate.  In other words, the best examples of game-based learning can create a pedagogical narrative that naturally blurs the distinction between what happens in the classroom and the student’s day-to-day life.

                In April of 2015, we experimented with game-based learning in an Introductory Psychology class at Vassar College.  Specifically, we designed and ran an “alternate reality game,” or ARG, that we called “Backtrack.” The story, thematically centered on memory and used material covered in earlier lectures. Participation in its narrative was offered as an extra credit opportunity. Students who signed up for the game received an email with a request for help from one of the characters, and by replying to this email began a narrative journey in which their knowledge of memory-related concepts would be highlighted.  Before going into the details of the game, itself, we’d like to explain why we attempted this experiment, and what we mean by “alternate reality game.”

                Introductory Psychology is taught as a single semester survey course at Vassar College. Typical classes are limited to 30 students and meet for approximately 2.5 hours per week across the semester.  We are fortunate in that small classroom sizes allow for more in-class flexibility than is typical of many academic institutions. Nonetheless, the overwhelming amount of content in an Introductory Psychology course, especially if taught in a single semester, places severe constraints on pedagogy.  By necessity, class-time must focus primarily on the systematization of “facts” that will tend, of course, to appear on tests.  As a skill, systematization has its place, however what psychologists actually do is use this systematization in the service of open-ended exploration, constrained by methodology.  It is this latter activity–open-ended exploration with the intent of uncovering heretofore unnoticed contingencies–that is missing from many Introductory Psychology survey courses.  Our goal therefore, was to see if we could come up with an activity that explicitly targeted and reinforced the creative detective work that undergirds our field.  For this reason we turned to ARGs.

                Alternate Reality Games (or ARGs) are games that are based around a single, cohesive narrative. The narrative is constructed by an individual or a group of so-called “puppet masters,” and then then broken into interactive elements that make use of a variety of media. For example, a story might unfold through texts, images, audio, video, or even real-life interaction. Players uncover the narrative through interaction and investigation, and can even have an impact on the outcome of various in-game events.  Given that the narrative of an ARG is “found” more than it is encountered, the lines between reality and fiction tend to blur in this narrative medium.  Some ARGs go so far as never overtly to acknowledge the events as being part of a game. Both players and the game makers are expected to behave as though everything that happens in the game is true.

                The blurring of reality that lies at the center of an ARG narrative creates a uniquely immersive experience. Players are led to believe that every action that they make in the game is significant, that they have a direct impact on the events that transpire and, perhaps most importantly, that they are forming real relationships with the characters that they interact with in the narrative. This illusion creates a level of engagement that may be unmatched by any other kind of game, and can offer a special benefit to education. Using an ARG as a teaching tool can provide students with “real world” applications of psychological concepts. Interaction with concepts from class outside of a classroom setting requires students to draw on their knowledge of course material to puzzle out the story without feeling like they are being formally tested. The hope is that this will provide a stronger connection to the source material, and reinforce the concepts in the minds of the players.

                We ran “Backtrack,” our own ARG, in April 2015.  Because our game was only meant to cover one section of material (i.e., lectures specifically centered on memory), we decided that the game would last five days.  Ultimately we extended this time frame to a week because the players had difficulty determining what they were supposed to do.  The general plot was as follows.  It began with a message to the players from a fellow student identifying herself as “K.” This person claimed that her friend, “J,” was having memory problems, but that he refused to believe her.  “K” asked the students to validate her concerns by directing them to a recording of a memory test that “J” had taken (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR4EmyrU-Us).  Players were required to characterize “J’s” memory deficiencies before “J” contacted them via Skype.  This interaction led the students to an online journal of J’s that was filled with puzzles, coded sections, and general information that provided background on “J.”  For example, a linked paged entitled “CBT” led to a description of a simple cognitive behavioral technique.  By figuring out how to work through the journal, the players ultimately came to a confession that “J” had fatally struck a dog with his car and disposed of the body.  The players then learned that the owner of the dog, a daughter of a family friend, had disappeared in the search for her dog, and that “J” blamed himself for her disappearance.  The game concluded with the players determining that “K” was actually encouraging some of J’s memory problems (e.g., via attempts to plant false memories) in a misguided attempt to help her friend through a difficult time.  The game concluded with an in-person meetup with “K,” and a scavenger hunt to locate an object that would hopefully aid in the retrieval of some of J’s lost memories. 

                The participating students were asked to fill out a questionnaire at the conclusion of the narrative, so that we could obtain a qualitative sense of their experience.  From this questionnaire we learned that students overwhelmingly enjoyed the collaboration with their fellow students that the ARG afforded.  Students also appreciated the central mystery of the narrative and interactions with the story characters. All reported at least some explicit awareness of course concepts embedded in the narrative.  After the game had concluded, one student even sent a follow up email to “comfort” one of the characters.  For these reasons, we feel that an ARG provides an interesting pedagogical tool that deserves further exploration.  That said, our recommendation of this tool comes with certain caveats. 

                First, workload.  An ARG is not an undertaking that can be put together at the last minute.  Creating as much of the material in advance as possible is vital. Whether this entails outlining character interactions to avoid being sidetracked in a chatroom, drafting content to appear in an email or blog post, or creating web pages will vary depending on what media are being used to present the ARG. In most cases, ARGs contain at least one central website and one point of interaction with characters and players. For “Backtrack,” we opted to use a single static website, and contacted the players through email, Skype, text messages, and one in-person character meeting. All of the content for the website was finished and uploaded before the game began. This proved to be immensely helpful once the game itself was underway, because it allowed the puppet master to focus on guiding the players through the narrative itself rather than having to worry about producing new content. For longer games, producing all content may not be as feasible, but at the very least an outline of the planned events and core concepts to which they’re tied should be created before the game is launched.

                Furthermore, the preparatory workload in our case was matched by the work required of the students.  “Backtrack” only lasted for a week but still had to tell a complete narrative and incorporate an assortment of pre-determined course concepts. For this reason, the workload required of students was high, and multiple participants noted this in their feedback. One potential remedy would be to have the game last for a longer period of time to allow students to play once they have dealt with their other commitments. Players also noted that they felt that course material should have been more vital to the advancement through the story rather than utilizing classic ARG ciphers. Several of them mentioned the puzzle that required the players to teach the characters psychological concepts as a memorable instance of the course material being used, indicating that puzzles of this nature would be a wise choice for anyone considering making an educational ARG in the future. Such specificity of puzzles, of course, only serves to increase the potential workload and creative requirements on the part of the game makers. 

                Finally, it should be pointed out that some students found the engagement that is central to ARGs to be difficult.  As mentioned above, our players had difficulty at the beginning of the story in determining how to play the game.  We eventually used both character prompting and feedback from the instructor to teach the students how to engage with the story.  This need to teach the students how to engage via self-generated exploration was interesting and perhaps unsurprising given how little it is emphasized in most Intro Psychology courses.  Our hope, moving forward, is to further amplify this element of the ARG experience, while working to further embody psychological skills and concepts in the narrative, itself.




    Cleaveland (2014).http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1219031/ professors-playing-games-freedom-underground-railr

    Carnes, M. (2014). Minds on Fire, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

    Strom & Barolo (2011). Using the game of Mastermind to teach, practice, and discuss scientific reasoning skills. PLOS Biology. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000578.

    J. Mark Cleaveland is an associate professor in Vassar College's Psychological Science department and Neuroscience and Behavior program.  At Vassar he teaches courses in the areas of comparative psychology, learning, and introductory psychology. An inveterate gamer, he has long possessed an interest in how games have been used in behavioral modeling and how they might inspire pedagogical frameworks.

    Rachel Abril graduated from Vassar College in 2015 with a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Psychology. She has long been interested in immersive fiction, and has been an active ARG player and designer since early 2010. Backtrack was part of an independent study at Vassar, and creating the website for this project inspired her to continue her studies. She is currently pursuing an accelerated Bachelors/Masters degree in Graphic Information Technology at Arizona State University.

  • 06 Dec 2016 3:07 PM | Anonymous

    Undergraduate Psychology Students Participating in Professional Conferences

    Ronald G. Shapiro, Ph. D.

    Barbara Fritts, Ph. D.


    Attending a regional professional conference such as the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) or the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) Annual Meeting can be one of the highlights of a psychology student’s undergraduate experience.  Similarly, organizing a conference for students from multiple colleges and universities, as well as for professionals outside of academia, can provide students with valuable experiences as event organizers, presenters and attendees.  Thus, every effort should be made to afford each student the opportunity to participate on at least two occasions.  Ideally, capstone projects should be aligned with conference proposal dates so that students completing high quality capstone projects will have an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience.  Why should each student have the opportunity to participate?


    For students likely to pursue an advanced degree, the convention experience provides:

    • An introduction to what will be a highlight of their entire career—doing and sharing research. 
    • Insights on what they might want to study in graduate school. 
    • Learning how to navigate conferences prior to attending graduate school.
    • An opportunity to present their work and possibly obtain feedback.
    • Great networking opportunities to meet faculty and graduate students at schools they may wish to attend.
    • Opportunities to explore career opportunities outside of academia.
    • Opportunities to have conversations with professionals in the student's desired field—these professionals may be willing to provide guidance and mentoring. 
    • Resume/CV building.
    • An opportunity to determine that they do not want to pursue graduate studies in psychology, thereby saving themselves (and graduate faculty) a costly, non-productive experience.


    For students not likely to pursue an advanced degree, the convention experience provides:

    • A culminating and great summary of their undergraduate years.
    • An opportunity to practice the professional skills, which we tell students they will learn as a psychology major regardless of their career choice, but often do not have the opportunity to practice within their own university psychology department.
    • Exposure to conferences, conventions and trade shows, which will be very valuable to them if they chose a professional career.
    • An opportunity to network and possibly develop friendships, which may help to land great professional jobs.
    • An opportunity to determine that they want to make a career change and pursue an advanced degree, but possibly in a specialization that they did not become familiar with at their home college.


    There are also numerous advantages for the university.  Encouraging student participation in professional conferences ought to provide the university with a competitive advantage in recruiting potential students.   Conference photos may be featured in recruiting materials.

    Not all undergraduate students will have an opportunity to participate in professional conferences as undergraduate students.  Neither of the authors did.  Barbara chose to participate after completing her undergraduate degree before applying to graduate school.  She later wrote:

    The value of that first convention could best be summarized for me as "initiative paying off". My undergraduate institution did not have a big research lab and so I had no opportunities to attend APA as a student prior to graduate school. Unlike most of my counterparts, my presence at my first convention was completely self-motivated. I was not third presenter on a poster that my undergraduate research group had put together, for example. I wasn't with an advisor or program. It was just me. Twenty-two year old, Bachelors in Psychology, naive, me. I saved my money, planned a trip to Washington DC because my aunt and uncle lived there and I could stay with them, navigated the public transportation system in a city I did not know, and made the most out of that convention because I had a dream of getting my PhD in psychology I and wanted to make it come true. Akin to the initiative that brought me to the convention in the first place, I took risks and talked to as many people as I could and gathered as many email addresses as I could. I did not let the fact that I was alone stop me. I am convinced that it was this practice in self-motivation which propelled me into becoming a desirable doctoral student and it was what helped me to get into graduate school. 

    While Barbara’s story is motivating, her undergraduate program could have made life easier for her. If her program had included attending a professional conference in their curriculum, she would have been guided in this endeavor by her undergraduate faculty and may have had the experience and contacts she needed for acceptance into graduate school sooner.


    Tips for Optimizing Conference Participation

    The remainder of this article is focused around optimizing the conference experience for the undergraduate student.   It is written to the student, so that faculty may simply forward it on to their students without the need to rewrite.


    One of the primary purposes of attending a professional conference (whether presenting or not) is networking with other students and professionals.   Prepare for these networking opportunities at least three months before the conference by considering the following:

    • Order business cards.  The cards should look professional and contain name, professional title (could be Psychology Club President, Undergraduate Student, or whatever is most appropriate), University, email, phone, and mailing address.  Use contact information which will remain current for many years. 
    • If you plan to visit book or other exhibitors at your conference consider bringing some  pre-addressed labels or an address stamp to the conference so that you can sign up for their mailing lists without needing to take the time to write your name and address.    
    • Listen to your voicemail message.  Does it sound professional?  If not, update it.  If you do not have one set one up.  Voice rather than texting is the professional way to communicate.
    • Establish a LinkedIn profile and connect with a number of professionals.
    • Check your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. accounts. Is there anything visible you would not want a future employer or graduate school to see?  If so, adjust accordingly. Be aware of what the pages of your online friends may indicate about you. Consider trimming friends or adjusting your privacy settings, but do not become invisible.  Future employers may be suspicious of a candidate who does not have social media presence.  Encourage friends whose pages are not professional looking to upgrade their pages. As a last resort, consider the possible consequence of being connected to people with unprofessional pages and consider disconnecting from them.
    • Assume that your prospective employers or graduate school advisors (or their graduate student assistants) will Google you. Do your own internet searches of your name and look for postings which you may have made as a high school student. Do they look professional? If not, adjust accordingly.
    • Prepare an “elevator” speech, a one to two minute summary which tells the listener about your background and why you would like to connect with them.  Whenever possible, be sure your speech indicates why it will be of benefit the listener to connect with you. Practice this speech.
    • Practice having professional conversations with students and faculty at your school. 
    • Register early for early registration discounts and shop for great hotel rates near your conference. 
    • Investigate scholarship or other funding opportunities for students attending conferences from your college or university.
    • Prepare a resume (or Curriculum Vita)  that ROARs (is Results Oriented And Relevant)
      • Results Oriented:  For every job, major volunteer experience, and academic experience, be sure to explain your contributions in a way that really excites the reader.
      • Relevant: Prepare a statement which goes right under your name at the top of the resume that links the needs of a potential employer (or graduate school advisor) with your Results Oriented accomplishments.  This should hook the reader.
    • Be certain that your resume (or CV) stands apart from any you will find in a resume book. If you are applying for graduate school immediately after graduation ask an advisor or faculty member give you feedback.   If you will be applying for jobs outside of academia please be sure to have a recruiter, manager who hires professionals or equivalent business professional review your resume.
    • If you are considering many different career options, it is fine to have multiple versions of your resume/CV rather than a one size fits none version.
    • Volunteer to help out.  Volunteering to help out may provide you with a great opportunity to network.  If you have the opportunity, consider the following:
      • Distribute name badges to the dignitaries attending a conference. You will be positioned to meet many, and hopefully speak with some.  This may be a highlight of your undergraduate years.
      • Volunteer to run the projection equipment at a workshop that you are interested in. You will have the opportunity to attend the workshop for free and speak with the presenters. You never know where this opportunity may lead.
      • Do not do behind the scenes volunteer work such as preparing registration packets while at the conference unless it is in your home town.  While volunteers normally receive reduced or free conference registration, when one considers the total cost of attending a conference (travel, hotel, registration fee, food, etc.), even with the registration fee waiver you are probably paying to volunteer, so be sure that you are benefiting, not just providing a service. 
    • Discuss appropriate dress with people who have been to the conference before.  Generally business dress is appropriate, but business casual may be appropriate, too. 
    • Be sure to bring writing utensils and paper, your resume and business cards as well as electronic devices you may chose to use to make notes. 
    • Review the conference program online and research the work and background of professionals you're interested in before the conference.  This will help with conversations and give you the opportunity to formulate your questions to them ahead of time.


    At the professional conference:

    • If you are presenting or planning to attend a really important session, be sure you know where the session will be and how to get there on time, even if the elevators are over packed. 
    • Try to meet people everywhere you go.  Talk to people while waiting for an elevator, if you arrive early at a session, or if you are sharing transportation.
    • Have dinner (or go on a side tour) with people you do not know.  You will have plenty of opportunity to network with your friends at school.  Try to meet and get to know people you do not already know at conferences.
    • Trade business cards with people you meet.  Make notes on the back of each card to help you remember the people.   If your new acquaintances are not as prepared as you are and do not have business cards, record their information (perhaps in your phone, along with a note indicating why they are relevant to you) so you can still keep in touch.
    • Take photos
    • If you are particularly interested in a presentation, tell the presenter.  Ask questions.  Trade contact information.   You never know where these contacts may lead. 
    • If you are comfortable being on stage, participate as an on-stage volunteer at a demonstration during a program.  You will learn more than just sitting in the audience, hopefully have fun, and possibly even obtain a job offer.   No kidding, some of Ron’s on-stage participants in his activity based programs have gotten job offers from members of the audience who liked their performance.  Others have established long lasting professional relationships.  For example, Barbara and Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto (our external reviewer) met Ron when they participated in his programs at a psychology convention.
    • Always be thinking about how you might work with new colleagues in the future.   Not all of these ideas will work out, but hopefully many will.


    After the conference:

    • Connect with your new friends on social media, particularly LinkedIn.  Send your new friends an email. 
    • Follow up with an email to the presenters whose work interested you the most.  Share your ideas with them.
    • Write (and photo illustrate) an article on your conference participation for your university
    • If you’ve done your job right, you may still be in touch with some of your new conference friends 10, 20, 30 or more years after the conference.


    Authors’ Note: We would like to thank Industrial Consultant Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.

    Ronald G. Shapiro is a Speaker and Consultant in Career Development, Leadership Development, Learning, and Human Factors/Ergonomics.  His recent presentations at professional conferences and academic institutions focus on 1) careers and 2) game show style programs to help participants and organizations become safer, more productive and better communicators.  Ron received his PhD and MA from Ohio State University and his BA from the University of Rochester.  He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association (APA), the Eastern Psychological Association, and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and has served as President of APA Division 21 and Secretary-Treasurer of HFES. .  He spent most of his career as a technical employee, corporate staff member, and manager in IBM in both Human Factors/Ergonomics and Human Resources/Learning.  He has also taught psychology at community colleges, colleges and universities.


    Dr. Barbara Fritts is a licensed clinical psychologist who works in private practice at Walpole Behavioral Healthcare in Walpole, Massachusetts. She received her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology in 2012 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, following a B.A. in Psychology, emphasis in Women's Studies, from Elmira College in 2003. Her areas of clinical specialty include perinatal and postpartum mental health, LGBTQ issues, and trauma and abuse. Dr. Fritts contributes to OnTrend magazine and values writing as her voice for teaching and mentoring, helping people understand and have compassion for one another, and advocating for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.

  • 15 Nov 2016 4:49 PM | Anonymous

    Clara Michelle Cheng
    Carlow University

          Before the popular Ice Bucket Challenge, there was #FeedTheDeed.

         The premise is simple: Perform a random act of kindness, share a video of it to social media, then nominate friends to continue the chain of good deeds. Since it began in 2014, #FeedTheDeed has spread to thousands of individuals across more than 25 countries (What is #FeedTheDeed, n.d.).


    Action Teaching with #FeedTheDeed

         I have been implementing a variation of #FeedTheDeed in my undergraduate Social Psychology course as an action teaching project. Coined by Plous in 2000, “action teaching” is analogous to Lewin’s (1948) “action research,” which promotes scientific endeavors that both contributes to knowledge and tackles societal issues. Action teaching thus refers to a project or class activity that fosters student learning while simultaneously benefitting the community at large (Plous, 2000, 2012).

         Pedagogically, my goal of the #FeedTheDeed project is for students to personally experience the effect of prosocial behavior on happiness and to learn more about research methodology, while engaging in behaviors that promote and spread kindness to others.


    Class Project Design

         Students taking Social Psychology at Carlow University are nominated to #FeedTheDeed, which entails recording themselves performing a good deed, with the twist that they are randomly assigned to perform the good deed for 1) a stranger or 2) a friend or family member. I do this purposely, to create an experimental design aimed at conceptually replicating past research that shows that prosocial behavior increases happiness (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008), particularly if said generosity is directed at those with whom we share close social ties (Aknin, Sandstrom, Dunn, & Norton, 2011). Students have the freedom to choose their good deed as long as it is not already a part of their regular routine, and that it must have a direct impact on the recipient.

         Students rate their happiness levels on a 5-point scale prior to and again following the good deed (1 = not at all, 5 = extremely). In addition, they report the amount of time it took to plan their good deed, how connected they felt towards the recipient of the good deed, and how anxious they felt while performing the good deed.

         I use the act of kindness and the questionnaire measures to give students the experience of how a generous behavior affects them emotionally. Incorporating an experimental design into the project served the goal of deepening students’ understanding of research methods.


    Class Discussion

          Thus far, two cohorts of students have participated in the #FeedTheDeed class project. Examples of good deeds include paying for a stranger’s frozen yogurt, giving food to a homeless person, giving away cookies to college students, surprising mother and grandmother with thank you cards, and buying a dress for a friend who indicated that she wanted it on a recent shopping trip.

         After students have completed their good deeds, we have a class discussion during the course unit on prosocial behavior, to examine the results of the project in the context of research on the benefits of doing good. For example, combining two years’ data thus far (N = 39), students rated their happiness significantly higher after performing the good deed (M = 4.49, SD = .64) compared to before (M = 3.36, SD = .67), F(1, 37) = 71.89, p < .001. This result replicates existing research on the positive effect of prosocial behavior on mood (e.g., Dunn et al., 2008). However, contrary to past research (Aknin et al., 2011), this effect was not moderated by whether the recipient of the good deed was a stranger or a friend/family member, F(1, 37) = .97, p = .33. These results provided the basis for discussion on why the effect previously demonstrated in the literature was not fully replicated.

         Since I designed the project as an experiment, the class discussion also serves as a forum for critically evaluating the methodology of the project as a scientific study. Students came up with such critiques as that the sample was small and biased, consisting of mostly female students with similar backgrounds; demand characteristics; and a reliance on self-report data. The points made during the discussion also serve to inform the project in subsequent years. For example, a student from the first year of the project’s implementation suggested that people assigned to perform a good deed for a stranger may have experienced more anxiety than those who were in the friend/family member condition. As a result, we added anxiety as a factor in the following year to examine its influence on the results.

         The class discussion further provided an opportunity for students to reflect on prosocial behaviors in general. For example, our data yielded no significant correlation between the amount of time spent planning the good deed and increase in happiness, r(37)= -.10, p = .55. One implication of this finding is that even a simple act of kindness that doesn’t take much effort to prepare can offer benefits to a person’s mood.

         In addition, we discussed research demonstrating that people who benefitted from generosity are themselves more likely to be generous towards others and pay the good deed forward (Stanca, 2009). Thus, although we have no way of tracking this, it is possible that not only did the recipients of the students’ good deeds experience direct benefits, but this project may have indirectly inspired further good deeds and benefits beyond the class project itself.


    Students’ Reactions to the Project

         Anonymous surveys conducted at the end of the semester indicated that students generally enjoyed the project (M = 5.64, SD = 1.56, N = 33, on a 7-point scale where 1 = not at all and 7 = extremely) and felt that the project helped them learn about the effects of prosocial behavior (M = 5.91, SD = 1.49, N = 33). Here is a sample of students’ comments:

    • “I liked how we got to experience first hand the feeling of giving out and spreading kindness and how it affects us as much as who we do the deed for.”
    • “I like the idea of doing a good deed for a random person because it was not something I would normally do.”
    • “I liked doing the good deed. It actually made me feel better to brighten someone’s day. I also like that I now think about, and do more prosocial behavior.”
    • “It was nerve-wrecking thinking of a good deed to perform on a stranger.”
    • “It was hard to video someone that we didn’t know and to get them to accept the deed.”
    • “It was different than any project I have ever done. Also, I liked that we got to go out in the community and do something nice for someone.”
    • “I did not have to write a long paper, but I still feel like I learned a lot.”

     The last two comments above, in particular, illustrate that there are creative ways to promote learning, and that students can reap great educational rewards from a relatively simple assignment such as this.


    Incorporating #FeedTheDeed in Your Class

         Although I personally use the #FeedTheDeed project in my Social Psychology course, I believe this project is appropriate for any course that deals with the topic of prosocial behavior, such as Introduction to Psychology or Positive Psychology.

         You can adapt #FeedTheDeed to work in both small and large classes. For example, while the class discussion format I currently adopt works well in my small class of around 20, you can achieve the same purpose in large classes by having discussions in breakout groups or online, or through reflection papers.

         In addition, you can add or modify elements of the project to suit the learning objectives you have for your students. For example, part of my assignment involves students giving a presentation on this project at Carlow University’s annual Scholarship Day. Through working on this presentation, students have the opportunity to learn more about the research literature on prosocial behavior, to reflect deeply on and share their experience, to hone their presentation skills, and to showcase how their course work integrates Carlow’s core values of mercy, service, hospitality, discovery, and sacredness of creation.

         One specific suggestion for implementing this project in your class is to limit student videos to no more than 3 or so minutes, which is plenty of time to demonstrate the student’s good deed and helps limit the amount of time spent grading the videos. Students also find it helpful, prior to doing their own good deeds, to view a sample #FeedTheDeed video—easily found online—to better understand what is required of them. In addition, some students have expressed discomfort in taking videos of strangers. In one case, a student delivered flowers and food to a women’s shelter but was not permitted to take a video despite having called the facility and obtained permission to do so ahead of time. In such cases, it may be a good idea to provide an alternative option, such as a photo or a video of the student describing the good deed, rather than a video that shows them committing the good deed.

         One issue that warrants special attention is that of privacy. In the United States, it is generally legal to make video recordings in public spaces where privacy cannot reasonably be expected. However, individual states do vary on their wiretap laws with respect to audio recordings of private conversations. It is thus important to research the laws in your country or state, have safeguards in place, and ensure that students understand what they can and cannot do prior to implementing this project. In the case of private spaces (such as someone’s home), I provide my students with a consent form that those who appear in their video can sign.

         Despite a few minor concerns, there are many benefits of using #FeedTheDeed as a class project. It’s fun, it spreads kindness, and it’s also highly rewarding for the instructor. I can think of no better kind of grading than watching videos of your students brightening someone’s day, all because of you nominated them to #FeedTheDeed.

    Clara Michelle Cheng is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received her Hon. BSc. (2000) in Psychology from the University of Toronto and her M.A. (2002) and Ph.D. (2006) in Social Psychology from The Ohio State University, where she was the recipient of two teaching awards. She currently teaches undergraduate classes in introductory psychology, social psychology, and statistics. Her research interests are in the area of automaticity, social cognition, and mindfulness. More recently, she has delved into the scholarship of teaching and learning in a project examining the efficacy of the flipped learning format in statistics. She met her husband at the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology conference (NITOP) 10 years ago and they have been happily married for 4 years.



     Aknin, L. B., Sandstrom, G. M., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2011). It’s the recipient that counts: Spending money on strong social ties leads to greater happiness than spending on weak social ties. PLOS ONE, 6, e17018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017019

     Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness, Science, 319, 1687-1688. doi: 10.1126/science.1150952.

     Lewin, K. (1948). Resolving social conflicts: Selected papers on group dynamics. New York, NY: Harper.

     Plous, S. (2000). Responding to overt displays of prejudice: A role-playing exercise. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 198-200.

     Plous, S. (2012). Action Teaching. In D. J. Christie (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 1-5). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

     Stanca, L. (2009). Measuring indirect reciprocity: Whose back do we scratch? Journal of Economic Psychology, 30, 190-202. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2008.07.010

     What is #FeedtheDeed. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://kindnesscountsfoundation.com/feedthedeed/what-isfeedthedeed/

  • 03 Nov 2016 12:15 PM | Anonymous
    There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.  Maya Angelou

    Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.  Jean Houston

    Lynda L. Crane and Tracy A. McDonough
    Mount St. Joseph University


    People with schizophrenia are commonly stigmatized, ignored, and discounted, and they have little or no opportunity to have their voices heard (Link, 1987).  It is only recently that clients with schizophrenia have been consulted even about the effects of their own medication or their perceptions of treatment outcomes (Schulze & Angermeyer, 2003).  That they are asked about their lives beyond their condition is even more rare, and we know of no oral histories of those affected. 


    We initiated the Schizophrenia Oral History Project in the spring of 2011 in the hope of providing a forum for individuals with schizophrenia who would not be comfortable speaking or writing publicly about their lives.   To date, we have recorded the life stories of forty-seven narrators, and we have given more than 40 presentations of our narrators’ stories (through audio excerpts and photographs) to mental health providers, mental health advocacy groups, and undergraduate and graduate college classes. Additionally, our website offers information about The Schizophrenia Oral History project, provides individual pages for each of our narrators (featuring audio excerpts), and offers contact information for anyone with schizophrenia who might want to tell their story,  www.schizophreniaoralhistories.com 


    Oral history offers an opportunity to promote empathy and understanding for those with schizophrenia among students (and others) that other methodologies do not, because it allows students to come into “direct” and personal contact with those with have the disorder.   For example, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 60 percent of the population believes that those with schizophrenia are likely to be dangerously violent, despite statistics that show the majority of violence committed by those with schizophrenia is mediated by substance abuse and is likely to be directed toward themselves (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2013). As students hear the words of individuals (in their own voices) who demonstrate awareness and concern for others, it is difficult for them to continue to believe that all individuals with schizophrenia are dangerous and violent. 


    After more than 35 students heard the presentation, they filled out response forms that solicited their understanding and reactions through open-ended questions.  The following are characteristic examples of student responses that indicate their increased understanding and empathy to those who have schizophrenia and their appreciation for the oral history method.


    Greater Understanding

         I believed that schizophrenia patients had very negative and destructive lives, but after this presentation I now know that there is a possibility for people to be positive even with schizophrenia and to have a life.

         I was under the impression people with schizophrenia were out of touch with reality, but Amber showed me that she can be aware of her surroundings, her situation, and what it means to her.

         People who struggle with this are not violent.  They are more often victims.

         I know that they are not all violent.  They are able to cope.

         They just want to be normal.  They still have dreams and goals for themselves.  They see that there are people who are worse off than they are, and they want to help people.

         [What stood out] Their ability to have compassion for others despite their own problems.

          Pretty amazing.  I’m glad to have my perceptions of schizophrenia informed by this presentation, specifically that these people are ill, not crazy or evil and that they have obstacles to overcome.  Also they want to be ‘’normal.”

         People with schizophrenia are thought to be violent, and they are not usually.

         Schizophrenia isn’t at all what I originally thought.  They are not violent, dark people.  They are caring, bright, gifted individuals who just have a hard life.

         My general reaction is being surprised.  I’ve had stereotypes of people with schizophrenia.  To hear these narrators it changes my view in a good way.

         I thought schizophrenic people were violent, but many can differentiate between the voices (such as Amber) which surprises me.

         The public stereotypes are very wrong, and the media does not help people with these illnesses at all.  Violence and schizophrenia is not common and that stereotype is wrong. People really do struggle and they are strongly affected by the stereotypes.

         It was interesting to hear these stories.  I have never heard anything like this, and how aware they are of everything everyone else says and thinks about them and how they can work past it is amazing

         I find it shocking b/c it breaks down every preconception.  Hearing the speakers in a way is sad but others it is relieving because they are typical people.

         I found it revealing that these narrators were so aware of others reactions to them.

         I was encouraged to hear how positive and independent each of the narrators seemed through the course of the interview.  I was surprised how open each narrator was in discussing their disease and symptoms.

         I was in a way surprised.  My initial thought of people with this disorder were not able to control their movements/actions and they were all the same, but these stories opened my eyes to who these people truly are.  They all have their own identities for themselves and making positive contributions.

         People who struggle with this are not always violent.  I feel that they are blamed for crimes, but often they are really victims.


    Increased Empathy

         [What stood out most] I think is the realization that they are hurt by societal judgment + live with it daily.

         It was sad to hear how hard it is for them to do the little things.   I loved hearing the talk.

         I have a greater appreciation for the individuals who have to put up with this mental illness.  To hear the narrators speak about themselves gave me a different perspective. 

         It made me feel sad.  I felt sad because these people deal with things that I have taken for granted each day.  They have to constantly struggle with simple things.

         It’s not that I ever looked down on people with schizophrenia, but after hearing this, I have a lot more respect for them.  It’s sad that the narrators realize how the world perceives them.

         Their stories are inspiring.  It is definitely an eye opener.  It makes me think twice about judging others.

         I gained the upmost [sic] respect for the narrators and for everyone with this disease.  It’s a struggle, like anxiety, and I admire how they’ve learned to cope with it. 

         I have the most respect for these narrators.  For them to open up about their problems is rough, and their [sic] strong individuals.  I wish them the best, and I hope they get to accomplish everything they want to in life.

         The comment about how people with schizophrenia are cut off from the reality of the world stood out to me because as our presenters were talking about it I put myself in that situation and its truly unbearable to think about being cut off from the world.

         Alice:  “Just because I have this illness doesn’t mean I’m not a good person.  I’m just a human being with a problem.”  The fact that she felt that she had to say that made me hurt for her.

         When Amber says she wants to be able to do things that most people take for granted and it really bothers her, it made me realize not everyone is able to do the simple things I do every day.

         Very touching.  It is painful to hear them talk about their struggles, especially with society.  I am happy to see that some have found ways to cope.

         It’s heartbreaking but amazing how strong each of them are.  Heartbreaking, again, b/c they believe the things society says about them when they are not true at all.

         It really opens my eyes to what it’s like living with schizophrenia.  These people are fighting against schizophrenia every day every hour.

         Made me feel so much more compassion for others and their personal struggles.

         Alice:  “I’m just a human being with a problem.”  Who isn’t?  I may not have any illness like Alice but I still get/have my own problems sometimes.


    Appreciation for Oral History

         It is better to hear from an individual with the disorder than a second-hand story.

         Hearing stories from the narrators it made me realize to treat everyone with the utmost amount of respect.  Although people may not look “normal” or be different, on the inside people all have hearts and emotions.

         I loved hearing the actual voice of the narrator.  It’s more meaningful and really connects us, the listeners, to her story.  I loved Amber’s story, because I want to be an RN as well.

         It was much more helpful than reading about the disease in a book; you can see that schizophrenia seems to be on a continuum.

         Hearing the stories and seeing the pictures impacted me more because its more personal, more relatable than textbooks.

         It’s pretty amazing that I have learned so much from these people that I would never meet or listen to otherwise.  Thank you.

         It was an awesome experience that helped to break down stereotypes.

         Hearing the individuals talk this way about themselves was a lot more informative and hearing the pitch/tone the way they talked helped me think how they were feeling.

        I was shocked after hearing the stories.  The stories were at some points heartwarming then others breaking my heart.  Hearing the narrators speak brought the point across better.


    It is clear that many of our students changed their minds about persons with schizophrenia from the presentation.  For more information, or for questions about using material on our website with students, please contact:   lynda@schizophreniaoralhistories.com




    Link, B. (1987).  The social rejection of former mental patients:  Understanding why labels matter, American Journal of Sociology, 92, 1461-1500.

    National Alliance on Mental Illness (2013).  Schizophrenia Survey Analysis:  Public Attitudes. 

    Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/content/NavigationMenu/SchizophreniaSurvey/Analysis_Main.htm

    Schulze, B & Angermeyer, M. (2003) Subjective experiences of Stigma, Social Science and Medicine, 56, 299-312.       

    Lynda Crane is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Mount St. Joseph University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and was a post-doctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She has held research positions at the Wright State University School of Medicine (Fels Institute) and at the National Institute of Mental Health. She has a background in mental disabilities, having worked with inpatients at the Springfield Hospital Center, a state-operated psychiatric facility in Maryland, and having published a textbook entitled: "Mental Retardation: A Community Integration Approach." She is co-founder of The Schizophrenia Oral History Project.

    Tracy McDonough, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at Mount St. Joseph University as well as co-founder of The Schizophrenia Oral History Project (TSOHP). In 2006, Dr. McDonough won the Clifford Award for Excellence in Teaching as well as Ohio Magazine's Excellence in Education Award. Dr. McDonough is active in several professional organizations, including being a Past-President of the Cincinnati Academy of Professional Psychology. TSOHP is an archive of life stories of persons with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder and in 2014, articles about the project were featured in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1ipyZA1) as well as The Oral History Review (http://ohr.oxfordjournals.org/content/41/1/27.abstract).

  • 17 Oct 2016 7:41 PM | Anonymous

    Using the Show Lucky Dog to Teach
    Elements of Operant Conditioning


    Debra K. Stein, Ph.D.
    Widener University

    Classical and operant conditioning techniques and their associated principles are often hard for undergraduate introductory psychology students to understand. Visions of salivating dogs and bar-pressing rats can often repel students and prevent them from gaining basic knowledge of how such procedures operate on all of us across varied situations throughout the day. The Emmy Award winning television show Lucky Dog, hosted by Brandon McMillan, (CBS Dream Team, 2016) offers excellent examples of the elements of operant conditioning within a humanistic framework. In 22 minutes, McMillan takes the viewer on a sensitive, but somewhat precarious journey, as he trains abandoned canines (that would otherwise be scheduled to be euthanized) for adoption into loving homes. Although the stories are very engaging and sometimes bring a tear to the eye, the focus on simple animal training techniques used in applied settings is the hallmark of the program, and underscores the program’s usefulness for the identification and analysis of operant conditioning components.

                As psychology instructors, we know it is important that our students understand the nature and execution of operant conditioning methods, because these methods are primary in facilitating behavior change (McLeod, 2015).  However, students often report the technical language and related principles are hard to comprehend. Although they understand how behavior can increase and decrease in frequency as the result of simple reinforcers and punishers, when you add concepts of shaping, extinction, discriminative cues and reinforcement schedules,  students become overwhelmed and tune out.  After all, once the basic components have been defined, and the rat has gone through his paces, what else is there to learn? Actually, as we know from Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (Huitt, 2011), knowledge comprehension is just the start of the learning process. Knowledge application in the service of problem solving, followed by analysis and evaluation of problem situations, form the pinnacle of critical thinking. Thus, having students analyze applications of operant conditioning within an appropriate situation, complete with contextual cues, shaping procedures, and varied consequences is essential for students’ complete understanding of the paradigm and its application within personal settings. My evaluation of 120 Lucky Dog assignments (Stein, 2016)  has shown that critical  thinking scores for undergraduate students as measured by the Widener University Critical Thinking Rubric are improved by these assignments becoming quite good, averaging a 3.4 on a 4 point scale across television episodes (3 is competent; 4 is expert). As per the rubric, students clearly identify goals of each training situation, precisely analyze and evaluate training examples, and accurately interpret evidence to support their evaluations. Thus, analyzing episodes of Lucky Dog does enhance higher order thinking skills.

                So what specific components of operant conditioning do students identify and evaluate? In my introductory psychology courses, I have students view 2 specific episodes of Lucky Dog. Their job, for this assignment, is to identify and analyze at least 5 examples of operant conditioning per episode.  For each example, students are asked to note 5 conditioning components:

    1. the target behavior;
    2. the consequence (noting whether it is a reinforcer or punisher, as well as the type of reinforcer/punisher); 
    3. the direction of change in behavior (increase or decrease);
    4. any/all discriminative cues used to signal the target behavior; and
    5. any procedure that is used to gradually shape the behavior into the desired form.

    Many of the examples are simple, and students quickly establish a rhythm and breeze right through. But some situations require additional thought as the students attempt to isolate cues and consequences. In one episode, for example, students had to identify the elements of operant conditioning including the discriminative cues for “shadow walking.”  In this example, the cue was neither a verbal one (e.g., a command) nor a physical hand gesture, but the actual spontaneous/unpredictable pause of the trainer’s body while walking along a path. The students also had to identify the shaping procedure used (tug on leash) and the consequence/reinforcer (“Good dog!”) when the dog appropriately paused. Students are often apprehensive starting the assignment, but even when they go from the first episode to the second (usually a more difficult episode), they do well. The episodes that I have used most recently include the training of “Kobe” and “Lily” both of which can be accessed on Youtube (http://www.tv.com/shows/lucky-dog/). However, each new season of Lucky Dog provides highly inviting stories to analyze.

                It’s important to note that McMillan (Canine Minded, 2016) not only trains the dogs on his seven basic commands: Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Off, Heel and No, but investigates the environment that each dog will inhabit so that the transition into their new home is a success. Thus he highlights the importance of not just behavior learning, but behavior adaptation within a particular environmental context.  According to Bouton, Todd, & Leon (2014) the learning context can have strong control over operant responding. Their research findings suggest context change can disrupt the performance of free operant responses, even after the best of training paradigms. The fact that McMillan carefully examines the environment of the future dog owner and interviews the family members about their needs adds another dimension to the undergraduate students’ understanding of operant behaviors and what influences the success or failure of transfer of training. This careful scrutiny of the future home environment generates a discussion of what additional factors prompt the effectiveness of operant conditioning, in addition to what factors enable the successful match between dog and owner. 

                Finally, not all dogs have the same temperament, so a canine that would be a good match for an elderly couple would not necessarily be appropriate for a young boy or an adolescent with a physical handicap. We know differing temperaments exist, and Brian Hare (2016) in his research on dog cognition has made it very clear that these temperament differences—part of the natural nature of the organismare important considerations in  dictating how a learning situation will progress. Thus, the notation of differences in temperament offers a valuable avenue for discussion of how learning situations in humans can be different as well. Entering into a discussion of temperament can further evolve into a discussion of individual differences in reinforcement preferences or instinctive drift. This discussion, again, facilitates an important addition to the students’ understanding of the operant conditioning paradigm.  In fact, Hare (2016) believes that “The study of the animal mind is central to any scientific endeavor seeking to identify human uniqueness” (p. 1). Thus, although essential elements of operant conditioning generalize across many venues, one must always consider what the animal or human organism brings to the mix.

                Although Lucky Dog is a family show aimed at entertaining viewers, it is also part of the CBS Dream Team Saturday morning line up of programs which have an educational focus (CBS Dream Team, 2016). The mix of information and storytelling within the format of these shows engages the audience thus, increasing the viewer’s attention to the material under review.  Since attention is the first step in all learning (Matlin, 2013), students watching Lucky Dog notice details and form hypotheses about conditioning elements that they might not have gleaned from a simple classroom lecture. In fact, Lewis (2015) speculates in her comparison of the effectiveness of operant conditioning training when using Sniffy the Virtual Rat vs. humans learning target words, “if students have  a sense of empathy and familiarity with the subjects under study, then they are more likely to find the process interesting and  as a result, less difficult to complete” (p. 187). She goes on to suggest that instructors further explore the availability of easy and cost-effective animal alternatives for use in teaching operant conditioning. I submit that the Lucky Dog assignment, as described above, does just that. Furthermore, in completing this Lucky Dog assignment, students gain a new, broader, more practical appreciation for the complex psychological laws that govern behavioral acquisition through operant conditioning. By simply viewing a 22 minute program, psychology students can gain a long-term understanding of one of the most important learning methods identified by psychologists thus far.


    Bouton, M. E., Todd, T. E., & Leon, S. P.  (2014). Contextual control of discriminated operant behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 40, 92-105.

    CBS DreamTeam. (2016). CBS Dream Team…It’s epic:  Six shows. Retrieved  April 22, 2016 from  http://cbsdreamteam.com.  

    Hare, B.  (2016, January). The Trojan dog: How the animal mind turns psychological broccoli into ice cream for everyone. Session presented at the 38th National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology, St. Petersburg, Florida.

    Huitt, W. (2011). Bloom et al.'s taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/bloom.html [pdf].

    Lewis, J. L. (2015, June). A comparison between two different activities for teaching learning principles: Virtual animal labs versus human demonstrations. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(2), 182-188.

    Matlin, M.W. (2013). Cognition. (8th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner - Operant conditioning. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

    McMillan, B. (2016). Dog Training: The Seven Common Commands System, Canine Minded. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from http://www.canineminded.com.

    Stein, D.K.  (2016, January).  A critical evaluation of the use of operant conditioning in the show Lucky Dog. Paper presented at the 38th National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology. St. Petersburg, Florida.

    Debra K. Stein is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and an Adjunct Professor of Education at Widener University in Chester Pennsylvania. Debra also acts as a consultant for New Jersey’s Educational Information and Resource Center.  Debra has taught a wide range of Psychology courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels although her concentration is in courses within Life-Span Developmental Psychology and Memory & Cognition. Her research interests focus on the use of rubrics in the evaluation of critical and reflective thought, as well as public understanding of moral injury, developmental aspects of guilt, and the value of self-forgiveness. Debra can be reached at dkstein@widener.edu.


  • 03 Oct 2016 5:21 PM | Anonymous

    Connecting the Introductory Course to the Lives of Peers with Disabilities

    Hunter W. Greer and Ashton D. Trice

    James Madison University

      The chapter on abnormal psychology in introductory textbooks is most often a quick tour through DSM-V by way of diagnostic criteria, lifetime instances, and general symptomology. Myers (2014), for example, lists diagnostic criteria for both major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder; mentions a number famous people who have had depression, and contrasts the biological and social-cognitive perspective. There is a short paragraph about the stressors of college and mood disorders in general. Schizophrenia and personality disorders are given similar coverage. ADHD and autism spectrum disorders are discussed only in boxes (autism in the developmental chapter); traumatic brain injury is not covered in the text.  

    Normally, there is scant attention, if any, to the ways in which various conditions affect everyday life, particularly how mental health issues and/or disability may affect college students. This is unfortunate for three reasons. First, by not exploring how mental health issues affect coping with the environment students best understand, because they are coping with it themselves, we may be missing an opportunity to provide meaningful learning. Second, for non-majors, the introductory course may be their only examination of the etiology, expression, and treatment of psychological disorders. Students may be less able to recognize or support those with mental health issues as friends, parents, and voters if their learning is confined to psychiatric diagnostic criteria. Finally, by not discussing how mental health issues and disability impact college performance, we fail to help students behave more tolerantly and helpfully toward affected peers.

                All of this matters at least in part because students with disabilities or mental health issues have low success rates in college. They often feel marginalized on campus and are likely to earn low grades and be twice as likely as their nondisabled peers to drop out (Sparks & Lovell, 2009). The most consistent finding in the research on why this is so, is that few disclose their disability to friends and teachers or seek classroom accommodations (Kurth & Mellard, 2006; Quinlan, Bates, & Angell, 2012) or they wait to seek assistance only after several distressing semesters (Lightner, Kipps-Vaughan, Schulte, & Trice, 2012). Among the prominent reasons that students give for not seeking assistance are that they worry that their professors will think them intellectually inferior and their peers will view accommodations as “cheating” (Hartman- Hall & Haaga, 2002; May & Stone, 2010).

    Research has found that faculty do hold somewhat negative views and have limited knowledge of how to help (Lombardi, Murray, & Gerdes, 2011), but it has also been found that modest interventions can make substantial impacts on both the willingness of faculty to assist students with disabilities and the quality of that assistance (e.g., Milligan, 2010; Murray, Lombardi, & Wren, 2011). Surprisingly, we know very little about peer attitudes. There are no published studies on the views of accommodation by American college students.

                We have conducted three studies at our university to 1) describe how nondisabled peers view students with disabilities and the appropriateness of accommodations for them; 2) elucidate the underlying (mis)understandings students have about mental health issues and disability, and 3) suggest a way of supplementing introductory course material that will help explain the challenges of mental health issues in the context of college. By changing the understanding of disability and mental health challenges, we hope to change the attitudes toward students with mental health issues and thereby enhance the climate for them.

    A Survey of Attitudes

    In our first study we surveyed the opinions of 245 students about individuals with the “psychological” disabilities of depression, learning disabilities, ADHD, TBI, and autism spectrum disorders. The questionnaire focused on obtaining ratings of the acceptability of granting individuals with each of these disabilities 10 specific accommodations.  These ratings were on a 7-point scale, so scores of 4.00 or better were generally positive, while those below 4.00 were negative. The administration of the survey was done on-line using Qualtrics, and students enrolled in 100-level psychology courses participated for course credit.      

    We found little support for accommodations to persons with ADHD or depression. The mean ratings for the 10 accommodations were 3.44 (SD = 0.86) for depression and 3.62 (SD = 0.91) for ADHD. Traumatic brain injury (M = 4.87, SD = 1.10) and autism spectrum disorder (M = 4.91, SD = 1.03), however, received positive endorsements. The ratings for granting accommodations for learning disabilities were close to neutral (M = 4.32, SD = 1.02).  

                Across the five disabilities, there was little support for preferential registration (M = 3.37, SD = 1.27), waiving penalties for late papers (M = 3.25, SD = 1.07), or waiving graduation requirements (M = 2.74, SD = 1.31). Ratings for substitute activities for papers (M= 3.88, SD = 1.22), unlimited time on tests (M = 3.92, SD = 1.06), and waivers from dormitory residence requirements (M = 4.12, SD = 0.93) were rated neutrally, while note-takers (M = 4.62, SD = 1.00), oral tests (M = 4.63, SD = 1.26), quiet testing (M = 5.90, SD = 1.07), and 25% extra time on tests (M = 5.29, SD = 1.28) received positive views.

    Understanding the Results: Focus Groups

      In the second study, we conducted four focus groups, also drawn from the same introductory classes, to ask about the findings of the first study. All of the focus groups were conducted during the exam period, so all students had completed the course. We structured the focus groups around the following questions:
    1. Why were the ratings of giving accommodations low for students with depression, ADHD, and LD?
    2. Why were the ratings relatively high for TBI and Autism Spectrum Disorder?
    3. Why were the accommodations of waiving graduation requirements and penalties for late papers, and early registration rated so low?
    4. Why were quiet testing, oral tests, and note-takers rated so positively?
    5. Why were the accommodations of substitute activities for papers, unlimited time on tests, and waivers of the dormitory policy rated neutrally by other students?

    The reservations about granting accommodations to peers experiencing major depression were attributed to the idea that depression is “easy to fake” and that “everybody gets depressed.” The first of these beliefs is part of the widely researched phenomenon in both the educational and organizational literatures that people are more likely to assist when someone has a noticeable disability, such as an orthopedic or sensory disability, than one that cannot immediately be seen (Neely & Hunter, 2014). Both of these issues indicate how little students know about how disabilities or mental health issues are diagnosed, even after completing an introductory psychology course. Likewise, the belief that “everyone gets a little ADHD from time to time” and that ADHD was not only easy to fake, but was frequently faked, was expressed in all focus groups. Other students indicated that they believed that stimulant medication cured ADHD and therefore no further accommodations were necessary: “It’s just like having glasses for a vision problem: once you have them, you don’t need anything else.” The participants in the focus groups had little to illuminate why accommodations for learning disabilities received only neutral endorsements.

      When asked about the relatively high endorsement of accommodations for students with autism spectrum disorder and traumatic brain injury, two themes emerged. The first was references to media representations of the disorder (“It would be like asking Sheldon to survive having a roommate without the roommate agreement” or “Everyone’s seen things about concussions in the NFL”); the second was the expectation that these disorders would be visible (“If you’re around someone on the spectrum, you get it really quickly.” There appeared to be confusion in several students between traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

                As for accommodations themselves, there was nearly unanimous belief that all testing should be in quiet rooms for all students, with or without disabilities, and two of the focus groups turned into lengthy discussions of why faculty members tolerated distracting activities during tests. There was also nearly universal acceptance of oral tests, 25% extra time, and note takers. “If I miss a class, I get someone’s notes. That’s not a problem. If I have a broken arm, I take my tests orally. It doesn’t alter the playing field. If right before I turn an exam in, I change my mind about what I want to say in an essay, most professors would give you a little extra time. Some people need these things nearly all the time. Some of us only once in a great while.”

            Many of the less favored accommodations were seen through the lens of the social contract: different universities, programs, and majors had different graduation requirements. “Students know what they are getting into, therefore it isn’t fair for them to try to get out of (graduation) requirements.” The same went for course requirements, such as penalties for late papers, unlimited time on tests, and substituting activities for papers. “A paper is a paper,” one student said. “Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but if it’s an English course it sure does. As they say, you can’t dance about architecture.” Dormitory modifications were seen as impairments to developing “school spirit” and “not making them (students with disabilities) live in a dorm would be to deprive them of an important aspect of U life. Wouldn’t that be discrimination?”  Preferential registration received the least support in the focus groups. Here the most common theme was students’ worry that they would not be able to complete degree requirements because a person with a disability had gotten a seat in the class they needed, a highly unlikely event, given that most seniors need advanced courses in their majors to complete degrees.


              We were surprised at the negative tenor of the survey results. Indeed, with such negative attitudes, students’ worries about peers’ reactions to getting accommodations are well founded. And while the focus groups disclosed that many of the negative attitudes were due to misunderstanding of the process (“You shouldn’t get an advantage in a class just because you broke up with your boyfriend”) or of the nature of disabilities (“Why don’t they just take their meds?”), these attitudes are there unless the misunderstandings are addressed.

                But whose job is it to address them? Certainly, some of the responsibility falls to K-12 school systems. They have been giving accommodations to peers for 13 years prior to coming to college, largely without explaining any aspect of the process to classmates. Perhaps some of the responsibility at the university-level belongs to Orientation or the Office of Disability Services. While we would not suggest that psychology departments should take this on alone, a small amount of attention may produce substantial benefits. Psychologists have expertise in many facets of the accommodation process: We grasp the nature of disabilities; we understand effective instruction; we know about developing competence and expertise. We also understand the effects that marginalization and stigmatization and how disabilities and mental health issues affect learners well beyond the classroom: how they manage time, stress, and conflict. Even if we are not responsible for explaining the process, adding our perspective should help student developed deep and nuanced responses to the needs of their peers,

                In the third study we looked at whether a brief (1200 word), on-line, reading about the impact depression can have on college students can change attitudes. In this study we asked participants for both ratings of “how fair do you think it would be” to grant each of the same 10 accommodations as in the previous study, and we also asked for ratings of whether the student thought the intervention would be “helpful.”

            The reading addressed many of the issues that had arisen in the focus groups. For example, we emphasized that in order to receive accommodations for depression, there has to be a formal diagnosis by a psychiatrist, which includes a statement of the probable educational impact on the specific student in specific contexts, and that the condition has to exist over an extended period of time. We developed examples that included the classroom impact; out-of-class academic impact; as well as the effects on social interactions and relationships. We included visual illustrations and reinforced the material from the textbook (diagnostic criteria and incidence).  

                Those who read the materials about depression rated the accommodations for depression as significantly fairer (M = 4.58, SD = 0.88) than those who read an unrelated reading (M = 3.54, SD = 1.00). And while the composite of the 10 accommodations rated for helpfulness did not achieve significance, the ratings of waivers of penalties for late papers and unlimited time on tests, both frequent accommodations for depression, were rated significantly higher among those who completed the depression-related reading.

                We also looked at a similar reading about TBI, but that did not bring about significant changes, largely because endorsements were very high in both the control and readings conditions.

    These findings suggest, as usual, that additional investigations in the area are warranted as well as that on-line ancillary readings might be a profitable avenue of pursuit to develop students’ understanding of mental illness/disability and to increase social justice on campuses. As research, these studies are highly limited in that they look at only one institution, and many of the attitudes toward individuals with disabilities and accommodations are local: for example, large state institutions often do have problems with class availability which may affect views on  preferential registration that would not exist at small, private colleges. There are other accommodations that may be of more pressing concern in other places; for example, some institutions have begun to experiment with allowing students with TBI to receive financial aid while not being full-time enrolled. The processes we followed to develop the intervention (a survey to determine areas of concern; focus groups to get perspective on the problems; and a brief intervention targeting what was learned from the survey and focus groups) might have more generalizability.
    • Hartman-Hall, H. M., & Haaga, D. A. (2002). College students’ willingness to seek help   for their learning disability. Learning Disability Quarterly, 25, 263-274.         
    • Kurth, N., & Mellard, D. (2006). Students’ perceptions of the accommodation process in post secondary education. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19, 71-84.
    • Lightner, K. L., Kipps-Vaughan, D., Schulte, T., & Trice, A. D. (2012). Reasons university students with a learning disability wait to seek disability services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25, 145-159.
    • Lombardi, A. R., Murray, C., & Gerdes, H. (2011). College faculty and inclusive   instruction: Self-reported attitudes and actions pertaining to universal design. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 4, 250-261.
    • May, A. L., & Stone, C. A. (2010) Stereotypes of individuals with learning disabilities: Views of college students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43, 483-499.
    • Milligan, N. V. (2010). Effects of training about academic accommodations on perceptions and intentions of health science faculty. Journal of Allied Health, 39, 54-62
    • Murray, C., Lombardi, A., & Wren, C. T. (2011). The effects of disability focused training on the attitudes and perceptions of university staff. Remedial and Special Education, 32, 290-300.
    • Myers, D. G. (2014). Exploring psychology (9th ed.). New York: Worth.
    • Neely, B. H., & Hunter, S. T. (2014). In a discussion on invisible disabilities, let us not lose sight of employees on the autism spectrum. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7, 274-277.
    • Quinlan, M. M., Bates, B. R., & Angell, M. E. (2012). ‘What can I do to help?’: Postsecondary students with learning disabilities’ perceptions of instructors’ classroom accommodations. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12, 224-233.
    • Sparks, R. L., & Lovell, B. J. (2009). College students with learning disabilities diagnoses: Who are they and how do they perform? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 494-510.

    Authors’ note: Address correspondence to Dr. Ashton Trice at tricead@jmu.edu 

    Hunter Greer is a third year graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at James Madison University, completing an internship at the counseling center at Bridgewater College.
    Ashton Trice is a Professor in the Graduate Psychology Department at James Madison University where he teaches developmental and educational psychology courses in the school psychology program. He received his doctorate in Educational Psychology from West Virginia University. His primary interests are career development among adolescents with disabilities and media influences on mood and cognition.

  • 18 Sep 2016 2:37 PM | Anonymous
    “Helping You Helps Me”–

    Targeting APA’s Diversity and Communication Goals through Undergraduate Teaching Assistantships


    Kristel M. Gallagher, Ph.D.

    Thiel College I

    Quick – give me the first three things that come to mind when you hear someone say "teaching assistant". By and large, the first response is almost always something related to "grad school", conjuring up images of sleepless nights and frightening thesis committees for some. The next two responses aren't as easy to predict. Depending on one’s personal experience, the next two responses seem to bounce between "scary"/"painful" and "eye-opening"/"life-changing". I suspect, and am hopeful, that many of us reading this essay fall closer to the latter than former (at least, that's how we like to remember the experience).

    As graduate teaching assistants (TA's), our primary duty was to help our department by either teaching entire sections of courses or providing clerical and in-class support to faculty teaching large sections of courses. In my case, I was the primary instructor of my courses during my time as a graduate TA. Either way, the end result was that we lessened the teaching load of full-time faculty members and allowed our departments to offer a breadth of courses to undergraduate students. The beneficiary of our services was sometimes us, as is the case with those of us who discovered our ‘callings’ to teach as graduate TA's, but mostly an outside entity.

    In considering whether undergraduate students can (or should) be given the opportunity to be TA's, we need to reevaluate (I think) who the primary beneficiary of the services they perform will be. Undergraduate TA’s will not lessen the teaching load of full-time faculty members, nor will they allow our departments to offer a greater breadth of courses. So, why allow undergraduate students to be TA’s? Can any good possibly come from allowing undergraduate students to work alongside faculty in the classroom? In my experience, the answer is without a doubt yes. When undergraduate students are given the opportunity to TA a course in which they have appropriate expertise and experience, they can benefit in unexpected ways.

    In fact, some preliminary research of mine suggests that the undergraduate TA position can be used to help students effectively master two important goals for the undergraduate psychology major recently redefined by the American Psychological Association (APA, 2013). Specifically, I examined whether a single semester experience as an undergraduate TA could have an effect on skills related to diversity awareness (APA goal 3) and communication (APA goal 4). As I will describe, the results of this preliminary research is both promising and exciting.   


    The Known Benefits

    Peer-to-peer instruction, or cooperative learning, is not a new phenomenon. There are obvious benefits to both the peer ‘providers’ and peer ‘receivers’ of this type of teaching. Indeed, across the United States most higher education institutions offer some sort of standardized peer tutoring program to their students. The benefits of these programs are well-documented in the educational literature (some recent evidence includes Colver & Fry, 2016 and Rees, Quinn, Davies, & Fotheringham, 2015), further characterizing the popularity and effectiveness of this approach. In contrast, programs and opportunities that allow undergraduate students to be TA’s are somewhat more rare and thus, less studied.

    Though the roles may overlap in some contexts, the major difference between a peer tutor and an undergraduate TA is the location of services and magnitude of responsibilities. While peer tutors typically work one-on-one or in small groups with students outside the classroom, undergraduate TA’s work alongside faculty in the classroom. The type of course, wants or needs of the particular faculty member, and regulations of the institution all dictate the specific roles and responsibilities assigned to undergraduate TA’s. While some may only provide basic clerical support to the faculty member and be available in the classroom to answer questions from students, others may have the opportunity to lead discussion groups, monitor lab activities, hold office hours, provide initial feedback on student assignments, tutor, and contribute to the development and presentation of course materials. 

    A handful of studies have explored how undergraduate TA’s benefit from their experiences with promising findings. Among others, undergraduate TA’s report gains in self-confidence (Weidert, Wendorf, Gurung, & Fliz, 2012), public speaking (Herman & Waterhouse, 2009), the development of leadership skills (Mendenhall & Burr, 1983), and an appreciation of faculty roles and responsibilities (Hogan, Norcross, Cannon, & Karpriak, 2007). Undergraduate TA’s also demonstrate a marked level of personal growth through the experience (Komarraju, 2008), including a personal understanding of learning strategies (Fingerson & Culley, 2001). Other research has suggested that the learning outcomes achieved by an undergraduate TA are analogous to those achieved by undergraduate research assistants (Schalk, McGinnis, Harring, Hendrickson, & Smith, 2009), providing them with the chance to experience authentic active learning of the course material (McKeegan, 1998).

    Changes in Diversity Awareness and Communication

    Many institutions are searching for ways to effectively address the APA goals for the undergraduate psychology major (APA, 2013). In working with undergraduate TA’s, my hunch was always that some of the gains I observed could easily translate to the goal paradigm outlined by the APA. With that in mind, I decided to focus my preliminary research on APA goal 3 (Ethical and Social Responsibility in a Diverse World) and APA goal 4 (Communication). I operationalized the goals of interest using the diversity (8-item) and communication (26-item) subscales of the Academic Skills Inventory – Revised (Perry, Foust, & Elicker, 2013). Students rated their level of agreement using a 7-point Likert scale on items such as “I understand that individuals’ experiences may lead them to perspectives different than my own” (diversity) and “I feel confident giving speeches/presentations” (communication).

    I collected data over the course of a full academic year, utilizing 4 data collection periods. Undergraduate TA’s in the Fall semester completed an assessment during the first and last weeks of the 15 week semester, while Spring semester TA’s did the same during the first and last weeks of the Spring semester. The data was collected from 13 female undergraduate psychology majors at a small, private liberal arts institution. Eight students were TA’s from a variety of psychology courses (mean GPA 3.5; range 3.0 – 3.8), while 5 non-TA/non-tutor students completed the assessments as a comparison group (mean GPA 3.3; range 3.0 – 3.7).

    I analyzed changes in the diversity and communication subscales from the beginning to the end of the semester both within groups (looking at the TA and comparison group individually), as well as between groups (pinning the TA group against the comparison group). When looking at changes from the beginning to the end of the semester, I found that diversity and communication skills significantly increased for the TA group (p’s < .01), but not the comparison group (p’s > .11). I then looked to see if the change from the beginning to end of the semester was significantly different between the TA and comparison group. In regards to diversity, the TA group did increase significantly more than the comparison group (p < .05). I was surprised to see that the diversity score for the comparison group actually decreased during this time period. When I did the same comparison for the communication subscale, I didn’t find an overall difference between the two groups. I did, however, find that when looking specifically at the items related to ‘oral communication’, the TA group students gained significantly more than the comparison group students (p < .05), who did not report any changes.  

     What’s Next?

     So, why allow undergraduate students to be TA’s? And can any good possibly come from allowing undergraduate students to work alongside faculty in the classroom as TA’s? My research presented here, albeit preliminary and small in scope, together with the handful of research already available, suggests that there are many benefits to be had by affording undergraduate students the opportunity to work as TA’s. I believe our next steps should be continuing to investigate how to most effectively utilize the TA at the undergraduate level to provide the most benefit to the TA’s, as Hogan and colleagues (2007), Komarraju (2008), and McKeegan (1998) have started to do for us. My goal here was not to argue whether undergraduates CAN perform TA duties, but rather provide support for the idea that undergraduate students may benefit in unexpected ways from the experience of being a TA.

    Targeting APA’s diversity and communication goals through undergraduate teaching assistantships may certainly be an unexpected benefit, but not an undesirable one. If taken seriously, the TA role at the undergraduate level has the potential to garner improvements in several key domains of the psychology major curriculum. Anecdotally, I see the undergraduate TA role acting as an invaluable preparation experience for students interested in graduate school.  The experience gives them a competitive edge in the graduate school application process, and perhaps even allows them to find their ‘calling’ long before many of us ever did. And this is exactly the point. The undergraduate TA’s, should be major beneficiary of their own services. We as faculty mentors need to understand this principle before taking on an undergraduate TA. Otherwise, we end up dangerously close to passing on the “scary” and “painful” reaction to the TA experience, rather than harnessing the benefits that we know exist.



    Author note: Special thanks to the members of the Psychology Department at Keystone College for their assistance in the collection of this data during the 2014-2015 academic year.



     American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/undergrad/index.aspx

    Colver, M. & Fry, T. (2016). Evidence to support peer tutoring programs at the undergraduate level. Journal of College Reading and Learning, 46(1), 16-41. 

    Fingerson L. & Culley, A.B. (2001). Collaborators in teaching and learning: Undergraduate teaching assistants in the classroom. Teaching Sociology, 29(3), 299-315.

    Herman, J., & Waterhouse, J. (2009). Benefits of using undergraduate teaching assistants  throughout a baccalaureate nursing curriculum. Journal of Nursing Education, 49, 72-77.

    Hogan, T., Norcross, J., Cannon, T., & Karpiak, C. (2007). Working with and training undergraduates as teaching assistants. Teaching of Psychology, 34, 187–190.

    Komarraju, M. 2008. A social-cognitive approach to training teaching assistants. Teaching of Psychology, 35, 327–334.

    McKeegan, P. (1998). Using undergraduate teaching assistants in a research methodology course. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 11–14.

    Mendenhall, M. & Burr, W.R. (1983). Enlarging the role of the undergraduate teaching assistant. Teaching of Psychology, 10(3), 184-185.

    Perry, J. L, Foust, M., & Elicker, J. D. (2013). Measuring the varied skills of psychology majors: A revision and update of the Academic Skills Inventory. Retrieved from Society for the Teaching of Psychology website: http://teachpsych.org/otrp/resources/perry13.pdf  

    Rees, E.L., Quinn, P.J., Davies, D., & Fotheringham, V. (2015). How does peer teaching compare to faculty teaching? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Medical Teacher. doi:10.3109/0142159X.2015.1112888.

    Schalk, K.A., McGinnis, R., Harring, J.R., Hendrickson, A., & Smith, A.C. (2009). The undergraduate teaching assistant experience offers opportunities similar to the undergraduate research experience. Journal of Microbiology & Biology Education, 10, 32-42.

    Weidert, J., Wendorf, A., Gurung, R. A. R., & Filz, T. (2012). A survey of graduate and undergraduate teaching assistants. College Teaching, 60, 95–103.


  • 01 Sep 2016 11:03 AM | Anonymous
    Teaching Cultural Diversify Beyond the Classroom:
    Intercultural Immersion Project

    Fanli Jia Seton Hall University
    Qiong Wang State University of New York, Oneonta


    In recent years, the psychology community has emphasized the need for multiculturalism within psychology classrooms. This shift is reflected in the American Psychological Association’s Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major, in which the need for diversity was changed from a nonessential, elective educational goal to an underlying requisite theme to be found throughout all psychological curriculums (APA, 2013). Currently, patterns of diversity within classrooms seem to be following a particular trend. For decades now, the population of instructors has continued to grow more and more racially uniform, while the growing population of students has diversified (Cabrera, 2012). Multiculturalism is necessary to effectively communicate with students whose cultural backgrounds differ from those of their educators. As educators, we must update our pedagogical practices in a diversity-centered way to help prospective teachers gain a competitive edge in terms of employment and real world skills. This will contribute to the strides that the field of psychology has been making towards creating a more holistic discipline for the future, benefiting students and teachers alike. It will also improve the psychological community as a whole, by decreasing the pervasiveness of racial stereotypes and widening the level of ubiquity with which psychology professionals will be able to operate by providing them with a global range of cultural competency.

     Methods of Emphasizing Multiculturalism

    Currently, several factors contribute to the lack of culturally competent students and professors in the psychology educational community. Because preservice teachers hail from mostly white, middle class backgrounds with little to no experience dealing with individuals from different cultures (Cabrera, 2012), they lack understanding and knowledge about communicating effectively with individuals from different cultures. However, the discipline of multicultural psychology and counseling is predicated on the notion that multicultural awareness, knowledge, and skills can be taught and learned (Smith & Silva, 2011). To reduce ignorance surrounding other cultures, exposure to individuals from a diverse range of cultures and socio-economic statuses is required. Often this intermingling of groups is limited because of the lack of diversity in many institutions. To combat this limitation, we should design educational programs to take students out of their classrooms, and place them in direct contact with out-group members. Often times these interactions yield the best results when the instructors in these programs take the role of guiding mediators, instead of rigid disciplinarians (Dinh, Weinstein, Nemon, & Rondeau, 2008). This contact can reduce previously held notions of racism by students. This interaction is a core component of contact theory (Pettigrew & Tropp, 2011), which holds that association with groups toward whom students have negative attitudes, and with whom they are unfamiliar, will reduce stereotypes and prejudices towards that group. The theory stipulates that the participants in the interaction must have equal status, work cooperatively, and share common goals (Nordstrom, 2015).

    Educators who find themselves having classrooms with students from diverse cultures can emphasize a multicultural approach by employing more integrative didactic strategies and by making efforts to understand different social structures found within their students’ cultures. From the perspective of teaching, educators should make sure that their students understand that what they are learning is information created by victors throughout history, and some aspects of what they are learning do not necessarily reflect the interests of all ethnic groups. To this end, multiple culturally significant and relevant techniques should be used to ensure that all students are instructed in ways that are beneficial to them. Instructors should administer multiple types of assessments to ensure fairness, so that students who learn differently are able to show their comprehension of subject matter. Students should also be taught directly about different ethnic groups and the negative effects of racism to reduce stereotypes and prejudices. They should have several chances to interact under supervised, carefully considered conditions that facilitate understanding and acceptance. Interactions should occur during school hours as well as outside of school in extracurricular activities within the community. Discussions that occur during these interactions should promote a two-way cultural exchange in which students are aware of their own culture as well as cultures different from their own. Without awareness of one’s own role within culture, it becomes difficult to develop intercultural competencies (Nordstrom, 2015).

    Intercultural Immersion Project in New York City

    Service learning is a powerful pedagogical method that offers students immediate opportunities to apply classroom learning to real life situations, particularly through their engagement with, and service for local agencies or communities. However, cultural diversity in psychology has rarely been implemented in service learning. The Intercultural Immersion Project facilitated this process with a focus on culturally diverse groups using an intergroup contact approach to enhance cultural sensitivity in teaching psychology.

    From May 17th to May 25th, 2015, we led an 8-day Chinese Intercultural Immersion Project, structured as a 1-credit summer course in Manhattan and Flushing, NY. The Intercultural Immersion Project aims to cultivate and foster a passion in students for service, learning, and self-development in a multicultural environment. The goals of the project align with the vision of cultural diversity in several ways. First of all, this project allows students to explore socio-cultural and psychological components of human behaviors (e.g., interpersonal relationships, cultural evolution, stereotypes, ethnic identity) not only in a classroom setting, but also in a real world context via direct interactions with community members, groups, and organizations. Second, the project fosters a deeper understanding of another culture by comparing it with one’s own culture, examining its strengths and weaknesses, and reflecting upon the educational and practical implications of cultural diversity and globalization issues. Last, but not least, students have the opportunity to develop cross-cultural competence that helps them succeed in their future careers and social lives, which are likely to be conducted in a multicultural world. Therefore, this project provides students with a platform to learn about cultural diversity and global connectedness via active engagement in community partnerships.

    The students were exposed to significant and meaningful service learning opportunities, in which they were able to explore the multicultural world they live in by actively engaging with the Chinese community. Students were challenged to leave their comfort zones and work with people in a community with which they may not normally have contact in the college context. Before the trip, we gave several workshops to train students’ cultural conflict-solving and intercultural communication skills, in addition to safety training. During the Immersion Project, the students were able to gain an understanding and appreciation of the fact that every culture is different yet equal, and that we can learn from one another when we engage in effective intercultural communication. The students also demonstrated what they learned through the Immersion Project through group discussions during the trip as well as presentations of their observations and reflections at the end of the trip. 

    The Project offered students great opportunities to experience cultural diversity through various community activities and services. For example, our students:  

    • Were paired cultural partners with Chinese high school students volunteering at the Chinese Community Center;
    • Taught English to elderly Chinese;
    • Interviewed Chinese-American high school and college students about how they adapt to the American culture while maintaining their ethnic identities;
    • Played traditional Chinese sports, such as Tai-chi and table tennis;
    • Visited a Chinese language school and assisted teachers in language classes; and
    • Learned Chinese traditional painting, calligraphy, and Chinese chess.

    Narrative reflections were collected at the end of each day during the trip, as well as at the end of the project.

    At the beginning of the project, students experienced some levels of cultural shock:   

    • “I found it so hard to believe we were still in NY. It felt like another world; all of the ads were Chinese and even the people that were in them were all Asian. Until then I had never realized how advertising all around me was geared toward a white demographic.”
    • “The amount of restaurants and food was overwhelming. It took me a second to realize that how I was feeling at that exact moment must be how a person from another culture must feel when they go to a food court in the mall that I typically go to.”

    A few examples demonstrated students’ cultural competence through actively engaging in cultural practices such as religion, art, and sports.   

    • “The trip to Mahayana Temple was refreshing to walk into a place of worship that was different from the Catholic church I have at home. They story of Buddha made it easy to appreciate the culture even if you did not fully understand all that it had to offer.”
    • “I liked reading about the various steps that the Buddha had to take to become enlightened. It reminded me of my hometown church where the stages of the cross are shown. These include the steps Jesus took to become God such as carrying his cross, being crucified and rising from the dead. I really appreciated the walls where people's loved ones were remembered and the offerings were placed there for the people that they want to remember.”
    • “As a realistic painter, I found myself becoming frustrated trying to paint a lotus plant, when I had no reference to paint from. I had never seen a lotus plant, and in the absence of fact, my brain was making up fiction. I was timid to step out of my comfort zone with my artwork. But I soon realized that I am already out of my comfort zone in this whole experience, and I might as well introduce Chinese culture to the most intimate aspect of my life: my artwork.”
    • “Tai Chi class proved to be much harder than I had anticipated. Contrary to my belief, it was about strength, grace, balance and power all at once. I never saw myself as the type to enjoy tai chi but after taking this class.”
    • “I also enjoyed the painting and calligraphy sessions. It was interesting to see the different techniques used and it was certainly a lot harder than I expected. I often found the ink to be too dark or that I had put too much water on the brush, there seemed to be no perfect in between. While it was difficult, I really enjoyed the experience. It was fun to try a new way of painting, and to have some insight to the process of how these types of pieces are made.”

    Direct contact with community members appeared to have strong influences on the students during their cultural immersion experiences. Here are some other examples that illustrate how communication with individuals from a different culture improved the students’ cultural competence.

    • “Its much easier to talk to the generation of East Asians who live here that are close in age to me. Many of them speak English and attended school in America, making their behavior much more Western but those in generations older than myself have a more Eastern style behavior and are harder to interact with because of my status as a stranger.”
    • “Working with the little kids was much different than working with the older kids. The younger children were more open to talking to us, and they seemed more excited for us to be here. I talked with two little boys in particular, Oscar and Andrew. Andrew is an ABC (American born Chinese) and Oscar is a CBC (Chinese born Chinese), and it was interesting to see the differences in the two boys.”
    • “All seniors enrolled in the ESL class at the community center had all been living in the United States since the mid-1980s. They had all also been involved in the class for an average of 2 years. None of them could answer a basic question posed to them in English without considerable effort. I wondered why… The instructor explained how once the elders leave the class they go right back to speaking Chinese and forget about their class until the next week. He asked us what advice we can give to help them learn English better, and I said it would help to practice outside of the class as much as they can.”


    Our intercultural immersion project not only greatly enhanced students’ understanding of cultural diversity in general, and Chinese culture in particular. It also brought excitement, inspirations, and new opportunities of institutional collaboration to the local communities.

    As diversity in the classroom grows, emphasizing multicultural practices and studies has become less of a suggestion and more of a requirement. Students who are exposed to other cultures and backgrounds different from their own develop their intercultural communication skills. Educators who adjust their assessment strategies to accommodate students of all cultures ensure clarity and fairness for all students. In general, awareness of our own place within culture and how we can relate to other cultures will improve the quality of education and learning within psychology classrooms. The psychology community itself will diversify and thus improve in terms of real world skills and employability. As the pool of knowledge grows, a focus on diversity will only facilitate globalization for the future of the discipline.



    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Washington, DC: Author.

    Cabrera, N. L. (2012). Working through Whiteness: White, male college students challenging racism. Review of Higher Education, 35, 375–401. doi:10.1353/rhe.2012.0020.

    Dinh, K. T., Weinstein, T. L., Nemon, M., & Rondeau, S. (2008). The effects of contact with Asians and Asian Americans on White American college students: Attitudes, awareness of racial discrimination, and psychological adjustment. American Journal of Community Psychology, 42, 298–308.

    Nordstrom, A. H. (2015). The Voices project reducing White students’ racism in introduction to psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 42, 43-50.

    Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2011). When groups meet: The dynamics of intergroup contact. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

    Smith, T. B., & Silva, L. (2011). Ethnic identity and well-being of people of color: A meta-analysis. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 58, 42-60.


    Authors’ note:  Support for this project was provided by Domestic Intercultural Immersion grant awarded to both authors.


    Authors’ Biographical Sketch

    Fanli Jia is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Seton Hall University. He was a Visiting Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at State University of New York, College at Oneonta. His research interests include the interface between cultural variations in moral identity, environmental identity, and acculturation in relation to reading in English as a second language learner.


    Qiong Wang is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy at State University of New York, College at Oneonta. Her research interests include Asian Philosophy and Comparative Studies, Culture Studies, Social Philosophy, and Ethics.  

  • 17 Aug 2016 2:03 PM | Anonymous

    A Modular Approach to Teaching Professional Development


    Natalie J. Ciarocco
    Monmouth University

         As professors of psychology, we want our students to understand the science of human behavior, cognition, and emotion so they can use that knowledge to help others or simply to lead better lives. We hope they learn to communicate, think critically, and become productive citizens of the world. Yet on a more practical level, we know that life after graduation includes gainful employment. As the psychology major is not job training for a particular position, mentoring students about professional matters can be challenging. Whether we think career preparedness is our responsibility or not, the public expects college to prepare students for a career (Chronicle of Higher Education, 2003) and college students themselves believe college is the pathway for better jobs and career training (Hurtado & Pryor, 2006). Given the rising costs of college attendance and student debt, you cannot blame students, or their parents, for wanting such preparation.

         My department noticed this concern in our annual senior survey. Students were happy with most aspects of our department, but our lack of professional development opportunities was a recurring weakness. To be honest, we had placed most of the burden of professional development on our internship requirement. This was a one-and-done experience for our students. Occasionally the student group associated with the department would have a program on some aspect of professional development. We also assumed that students would come to us individually for advice as their academic advisors, but we did not specifically offer this advice and only a few came on their own. In my experience, students seem to succumb to the ostrich effect when preparing for life after graduation and then are often surprised when the future comes and they are not prepared. Professional development was certainly not scaffolded across the curriculum nor was it an intended focus of our program. Our students were learning a variety of skills in the major, but we had left it up to them to connect the dots as far as how those skills could apply to the workforce. The empirical evidence said it wasn’t working. Clearly our students had a need that we weren’t meeting. As a department, we decided we had an obligation to help students make the transition from student to young professional in a more formalized way.

         Even when professional development is a main emphasis of an undergraduate psychology program, it’s hard to know how to approach it. Undergraduate psychology programs have the dual task of preparing a minority of students for graduate school, while preparing the remaining majority for the job market (Kohout & Wicherski, 2010). Even more challenging is preparing our students for the variety of potential career paths they may follow (Landrum, Davis, & Landrum, 2010). One beneficial strategy is implementing a course on career development (Thomas & McDaniel, 2004). However, when last studied, only about 34% of psychology programs offered an introduction to the major or a career course (Landrum, Shoemaker, & Davis, 2003). The creation and sustainability of a full course on career development may be too taxing for many departments, limiting its offering. A course is also hard to synchronize with student needs, given that students are ready for different types of professional development at different points of their academic career. Another strategy is to organize programming about professional development topics that students can attend. Outreach is hard to monitor with this strategy and it doesn’t help students that don’t attend out of anxious denial about their futures.

         A different strategy is to implement professional development modules. These freestanding units can be embedded strategically within an established curriculum ensuring that you reach all majors. You can expose students to multiple modules across the curriculum, which allows you to scaffold the information. Additionally, you can customize each module to address professional development topics that are developmentally appropriate, meeting students at their professional levels. The module format is also highly flexible to accommodate various course schedules and teaching styles. This method allows departments to approach career-related issues without having to develop and staff a full course on the topic. Collectively, the modules may include information on being a psychology major, potential career options, graduate school preparation, and career preparation.

         To best use the module approach, I recommend implementing at least three distinct modules throughout the curriculum, ideally at the 200, 300, and 400 levels. Departments should include the modules in classes required for psychology majors. If you have a large number of transfer students, then you should attempt to place the modules in classes that are less likely to transfer into your major. If there are specific courses only majors can take, then these are particularly good courses for the modules, although non-majors might also find much of the professional development information useful.

         The modules themselves can be customized to the particulars of your program, as well as to professional development topics that your department finds important. Each module should cover between four and five professional development topics. For each, the module should provide detailed information on the topic, as well as an activity to help students engage in, and personalize the material. There are a variety of ways that faculty can use the modules within their classes. They can simply assign students to read the module on their own. They can spend a class period lecturing on the topics in the module and assign the module itself as supplementary reading, or they can decide to break up the module—discussing the different topics in the modules at various times throughout the semester. No matter the amount of class time devoted to the modules, I urge faculty to assign the module activities as a graded assignment. The students need the time to process and apply the information from the modules. As they are often a little anxious and avoidant about their future, they need some incentive to complete the activities associated with the module and really think about and apply this information.

         The 200 level module should focus on what it means to be a psychology major, and may need the most customization for your particular program. I encourage you to introduce the major and, in particular, the curriculum to students at this level. Help justify the curriculum for students, so they understand the skills and knowledge the major will help them to learn. For example, if you have a writing intensive course, this is a good place to stress to student the marketable skill of written communication. The first module should also touch on the major career paths that students with undergraduate degrees may pursue (e.g., human resources, social services, mental health, etc.). It is important to emphasize how to make curricular choices that will best prepare them for their future career goals. To do this, discuss elective options both inside and outside the major that might help students with particular careers. For example, for mental health counseling, you might recommend classes on personality, assessment, therapy, crisis intervention, drug use and abuse, and others. Misconceptions about psychology is another great topic for the first module. You might also want to address how to find and best use applied experiences throughout the major, and ways students can get involved in the department (e.g., research assistantships, student organizations, honor societies). It’s important to link these experiences back to how they will help build skills and give experiences that will benefit the students after graduation. I also think the first module should introduce students to the GRE (both the general and the psychology subject tests), as this may shape the courses they take throughout their undergraduate career.

         At the 300 level, the module should focus more on life after graduation. You can again discuss misconceptions in this module, but this time related to careers in psychology and graduate school in general. In this module, the career information can be more specific providing a comprehensive list of potential careers for undergraduates in psychology. At minimum, the module should provide the average income, education, and daily duties for each position. A helpful place to find this information is O*NET, a website hosted by the United States Department of Labor (www.onetonline.org). You can also ask students to explore their own career aspirations by having them discern between jobs, careers, and callings; and self-reflect on their preferred path. As students are getting closer to potential internships at this level, I also advise including information about creating resumes in this module. As students’ experience is limited at this point, encourage them to create a heavily skill-based resume. Students are poor at recognizing their own skills (Martini, Judges, & Belicki, 2015), so it’s important to facilitate this process. They need to think about specific class assignments and experiences both on and off campus that helped cultivate their skills. At the very least, have students identify specific times they have practiced communication (written, verbal, and interpersonal), collaboration, and critical thinking. This module is also a great one to introduce information about graduate school. This discussion should begin with why anyone should attend graduate school, and then move on to baseline acceptance criteria and specifics of graduate school applications. Students should learn more about the best people to ask for letters of recommendation, and how to go about asking for them appropriately. Personal statements should be included in this module as well as more about how to practice and register for the GRE.

         The general idea behind the 400-level module is to set students up for success in the professional world. The goal is for students to be able to reflect on and articulate their skills and experiences, as well as become a professional. At this level, most students have had an experiential learning experience. However, they are not always sure what that experience can bring to their professional careers. This module is a great place to remind them about the value of these experiences and help them reflect on the benefits of this experience and how it can apply to their professional futures. If your students complete a capstone or thesis experience, have them practice talking about that experience. I like to have my students prepare both a 5-minute and 3-minute version of the experience (i.e., an elevator pitch) that includes both a description of the experience and the skills it facilitated. An essential aspect to include in this module is information about interviewing. You can help students learn appropriate interview etiquette, as well as help them prepare for both graduate school and job interviews by providing a list of potential questions. Another important topic to discuss in this module is how students should determine and manage their online reputations. Have students list any social media sites for which they have ever registered, and then go through each profile systematically to determine their digital footprint in the world. They may find they still have an active Flickr account from 7th grade. I also have students Google image search themselves to see what pops up. They are often very surprised at what they find and learn quickly what a future advisor or employer might see.

         What I am encouraging can be a lot of work to put together for your department, initially. With all that effort you may be wondering if self-contained units of professional development weaved into your current curriculum can work. After all, I am not suggesting a major overhaul of your current curriculum or the development of an entire course. You may wonder if the impact of this minimal change might also be minimal. I wondered too. My colleagues and I studied the implementation of this approach empirically in our own department. Our study revealed that students’ exposure to the modules was beneficial (Ciarocco, Dinella, Hatchard, & Valosin, in press). They self-reported more knowledge about professional development topics and objectively did learn from the modules. The results suggest that a modular approach to professional development can be an effective alternative strategy for undergraduate psychology programs interested in helping student prepare for life after graduation.

         Earning a college degree is about developing a foundation for students’ personal and professional lives. As professors in undergraduate psychology, we provide students with knowledge in our discipline. We help them learn how better to communicate and think critically, however we also need to help them transition into the professional world. By implementing professional development modules strategically across your curriculum, you can help students without a major overhaul to your current program.



    Chronicle of Higher Education (2003, May 2). The Chronicle survey of public opinion on higher education. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A11.

    Ciarocco, N. J., Dinella, L. M., Hatchard, C. Y., Valosin, J. (in press). Integrating professional development across the curriculum: An effectiveness study. Teaching of Psychology.

    Hurtado, S., & Pryor, J. H. (2006, January). The American freshman: National norms for Fall 2005. Presented at the Higher Education Research Institute, Los Angeles, CA.

    Kohout, J., & Wicherski, M. (2010). 2009-10: Applications, acceptances, enrollments, and degrees awarded to master's- and doctoral-level students in U.S. and Canadian graduate departments of psychology. Retrieved from http:// http://www.apa.org/workforce/publications/11-grad-study/applications.aspx?tab=2

    Landrum, R. E., & Davis, S. F. & Landrum, T. (2010). The psychology major: Career strategies for success (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

    Landrum, R., Shoemaker, C. S., & Davis, S. F. (2003). Important topics in an introduction to the psychology major course. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 48-51.

    Martini, T. S., Judges, R. & Belicki, K. (2015). Psychology majors’ understanding of skills-based learning outcomes. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1, 113-124. doi: 10.1037/stl0000019

    Thomas, J. H., & McDaniel, C. R. (2004). Effectiveness of a required course in career planning for psychology majors. Teaching of Psychology, 31, 22-27. doi:10.1207/s15328023top3101_6




    Natalie J. Ciarocco is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Monmouth University. She earned her B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from Case Western Reserve University. Her main research focus is on the limited capacity of self-control in interpersonal relationships. She is also a scholar of teaching and learning. Natalie recently co-authored a textbook, Discovering the Scientist Within: Research Methods in Psychology and is the recipient of grants from both the Association for Psychological Science (APS) and the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) for pedagogical development. Her work is published in Teaching of Psychology and she has a book chapter on how to make psychology more self-relevant to students. Natalie is the co-creator and editor of an online collection of peer-reviewed resources for the teaching of research and statistics (teachpsychscience.org), as well as the co-founder and organizer of the Atlantic Coast Teaching of Psychology conference.




  • 02 Aug 2016 10:41 AM | Anonymous
    The Implementation of Interdisciplinary Courses with Psychology


    Dorothy C. Doolittle, Shelia P. Greenlee, Harry Greenlee, & Lisa S. Webb

    Christopher Newport University


    Educators have often insisted that student learning is enhanced by integrating the curriculum. We see this in many educational trends like “Writing Across the Curriculum,” “Integrating Integers Across the Disciplines,” and “Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)” programs. The essence of these curricular approaches is to blend the learning environments so that our youth are exposed to a more cohesive learning paradigm based on everyday life. The National Council for Teachers of English contends that “…educational experiences are more authentic and of greater value to students when the curricula reflect real life. . .” (Consortium for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning, 1995, para. 2). Being able to integrate various disciplines is extremely important and yet many disciplines still remain disconnected and fragmented. Psychology however, is one discipline that could very easily be incorporated or integrated into many others, particularly biology, government, communication, mathematics, and business.


    Our approach to developing two interdisciplinary courses began with urgings from our university to develop and implement interdisciplinary, team-taught courses. This seemed to be an easy accommodation for psychology given that many of our introductory courses begin by showing students the interdisciplinary nature of psychology, starting with the areas of specialization in psychology. Immediately, faculty teaching introductory psychology courses tell students that psychology derives from two disciplines, philosophy and physiology. They continue by connecting psychology to business (Industrial/Organizational psychology), mathematics (quantitative psychology), biology (behavioral neuroscience), government and law (forensic psychology), etc. As such, most psychology faculty members will concede that psychology has never been a self-contained or isolated discipline, and, as such may lend itself to an interdisciplinary approach more than many other disciplines.

     Planning and Preparation

    While urgings from our administration were important in helping us to think through the design and development of interdisciplinary courses, they were not enough to help us fully understand the essence of such courses. Nissani (1997) defines interdisciplinary as bringing together distinctive components of two or more disciplines. In academia, we can do this through research and teaching. Because psychology is a highly diverse field with connections to many disciplines, it is a rich partner that can easily be adapted to various disciplines. Still, before moving forward with designing courses, we felt compelled to examine the literature on interdisciplinary courses. This provided valuable information that made planning and preparation easier because it identified the benefits, as well as the pitfalls, issues, and concerns to address or at least think about before implementing interdisciplinary courses.

    Benefits of Interdisciplinary Courses

    Our review of the literature illustrated several benefits of interdisciplinary courses. In general, the research suggests that interdisciplinary courses help students develop a broader vision of the fields, while helping students develop skills of integration and synthesis (Fink, 2003; Newell & Green, 1982). Students engaging in interdisciplinary courses are encouraged to examine concepts from many different perspectives. This type of examination enables students’ ability to analyze complex issues by liberating their thinking, moving them from the limiting assumptions of their own professional group (or major), while at the same time stimulating fresh research ideas, visions, and methodologies (Nissani, 1997). Students in these courses will learn to assemble, develop, design and combine knowledge using techniques from different disciplines.

    Second, interdisciplinary courses help students understand and deal with ambiguity. They give students ways to look at problems, situations, or subject matter from various perspectives and world views. When there is uncertainty or several interpretations are plausible, students can pull from different disciplines. Alden, Laxton, Patzer, and Howard (1991) contend that students enrolled in interdisciplinary courses are also better able to tolerate ambiguity, which helps students to think more abstractly about various problems or issues encountered in our society.

    Third, students become more engaged in the learning process in these types of courses. According to Gardner (1983), interdisciplinary courses support a diverse background of interests, experiences and values that will help students become more engaged. As already noted, the design of such courses encourages students to examine things from more than one perspective. They will gain insight into the process of generating knowledge by working with professors from different backgrounds. Having a course that requires students to see things from different perspectives helps them become more vested in learning, understanding and mastering the materials.

    Not only do students from different disciplines benefit from interdisciplinary courses, Hailstorks (2009) contends that faculty also benefit from them. She believes that faculty learn new information that can be incorporated into their other courses and at the same time may learn new pedagogical strategies to use in teaching. Letterman and Dugan (2004) contend that interdisciplinary courses help decrease feelings of isolation that many faculty experience, while providing faculty opportunities for collaboration in other areas, particularly with regard to research.

    Disadvantages of Interdisciplinary Courses

    The cost of two faculty members for one course may seem prohibitive to administrators. For faculty buy-in, each must be fairly compensated. Time must be spent developing the course and grading student work. Whether both faculty members will be in class at the same times or take turns coming to the class is also an important consideration. Taking turns may seem efficient, but alternating instructors miss the information and discussions of the other’s classes, making the course seem somewhat disjointed.

    Stress, conflict resolution, issues about grading standards, what material to cover from each discipline, and co-leadership versus a single faculty member making decisions about the class are just a few of the areas that have to be addressed before the class even begins (Davis, 1995). Differences in personality and teaching styles will also affect the course and must be addressed during the course planning phase.

    Some faculty have indicated that co-teaching an interdisciplinary course interferes with their ability to put time into their research. The additional time involved in planning and implementation must come from somewhere. This is another reason why having the university’s support is important (Cohen & DeLois, 2001).

    The feeling of a loss of autonomy may deter some faculty. They may feel as though they cannot control matters, citing a loss of flexibility (Davis, 1995). Personal experience in co-teaching an English literature course bore this out. The psychology faculty member was told not to worry about the exams or coming to the lectures. She would be called when it was time to give a psychological interpretation of the novels’ characters. This was obviously not a satisfying arrangement for the psychology faculty member!

    Course Planning and Preparation

    We all need resources when we start a new endeavor. A great one is the group of colleagues who have undertaken this before. They will share what went well and some pitfalls to avoid. Read articles about teaching interdisciplinary courses so that you go into it prepared.

    Not all courses may lend themselves to being good candidates for interdisciplinary courses. Consider what areas may make great partners with psychology. As stated earlier, government, behavioral neuroscience, business, and math seem to be naturals.

    The faculty involved must determine how the course will be taught. For example, will both faculty members be present at all classes or just some of the classes? If you co-teach, faculty should visit each other’s classrooms during the planning phase to look at each other’s teaching styles, interactions with students, etc.

    It is inevitable that differences in styles, experience, age, gender, and perceptions can all bring conflict into the teaching relationship. The two faculty members involved need good communication before and during the course. They need to look at the course from as many angles as possible during the planning stages. Joint goals, plans for grading and class participation, and deciding how assignments will be handled should help keep conflict to a minimum. Planning helps alleviate some of the surprises when the semester begins.


    Psychology is a prime candidate for interdisciplinary courses. Student engagement and enhanced learning are major benefits. The design and implementation of an interdisciplinary course requires time and careful planning. At the end of the course, faculty should have an evaluation component that will allow them to find out, from the students’ perspectives, what went well and what could be improved. This might also be a source for research on teaching.

    Two example syllabi with government and behavioral genetics are available from the first author upon request (dolittle@cnu.edu).



    Alden, S. D., Laxton, R., Patzer, G., & Howard, L. (1991). Establishing cross-disciplinary marketing education. Journal of Marketing Education, 13(2), 25-30. doi:10.1177/027347539101300205.

    Cohen, M. B., & DeLois, K. (2001). Training in tandem: Co-facilitation and role modeling in a group work course. Social Work with Groups, 24(1), 21-36. doi:10.1300/J009v24n01_03.

    Consortium for Interdisciplinary Teaching and Learning. (1995, August 14). Position statement on interdisciplinary learning, Pre-K to Grade 4 [Web page]. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/positions/statements/interdisclearnprek4.

    Davis, J. R. (1995). Interdisciplinary courses and team teaching: New arrangements for learning (American Council on Education). Phoenix: Oryx Press.

    Fink, L. D. (2003). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrative approach to designing college courses. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. doi:http://blogs.ubc.ca/ubcmix/resource-guides/designing-an-interdisciplinary-course/.

    Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books.

    Hailstorks, R. (2009). Teaching psychology from an interdisciplinary perspective. Psychology Teacher Network, Office of Precollege and Undergraduate Education (APA), 18(4), 24-25.

    Letterman, M. R., & Dugan, K. B. (2004). Team teaching a cross-disciplinary honors course: Preparation & Development. College Teaching, 52(2), 76-79. Retrieved from http://ctl.yale.edu/sites/default/files/basic-page-supplementary-materials-files/team_teaching.pdf

    Newell, W. H., & Green, W. J. (1882). Defining and teaching interdisciplinary studies. Improving College and University Teaching, 30(1), 23-34.

    Nissani, M. (1997). Ten cheers for interdisciplinary: The case for interdisciplinary knowledge & research. Social Science Journal, 34(2) 201-216. doi:http://drnissani.net/mnissani/pagepub/10CHEERS.HTM .

    About the Authors:

    Dorothy Doolittle is a Professor of Psychology at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA.  She earned her B.A. from the University of Georgia and her M.S. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and Ph.D. in Applied Experimental Psychology from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.  Her primary teaching interests are history of psychology and tests and measures.  She, with Shelia Greenlee, conducts a research laboratory for undergraduate students, focusing on women, minority, and especially first-generation college students.  Her research interests include classroom distractions (e.g, texting) and other topics related to students and learning.

    Shelia Greenlee is currently a Professor of Psychology at Christopher Newport University (Newport News, VA).  She earned her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology at The Ohio State University. She primarily teaches Introductory Psychology, Child Development, Adolescence, and Educational Psychology courses. She, in conjunction with Dorothy Doolittle, conducts a research-mentoring lab.  In this lab, she supervises and directs undergraduate student research on classroom distractions, non-academic stressors and coping strategies, and the impact of tokenism/solo status on college students’ feelings of distinctiveness and satisfaction.

    Harry Greenlee is an Associate Professor in the Department of Government at Christopher Newport University.  He received his B.A. and M.A. from Hampton Institute (University) and his J.D. degree from The Ohio State University College of Law.  His research interests are in the fields of Employment and Criminal Law.

    Lisa S. Webb is an Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Chemistry at Christopher Newport University.  She earned a B.A. in Chemistry from Maryville College, an M.Ed. in Science Education from the University of Georgia, and a Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Tennessee.  Her research interests are in the molecular genetics of neurodegenerative diseases.  She teaches undergraduate courses in the biochemistry, molecular biology, and neuroscience curricula and graduate courses in the M.A.T. and M.S. programs.

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