Submitted by: Adam Green & Maaly Younis
Teaching a course is a great responsibility. You have the privilege of introducing your students to a part of psychology for the first time. They depend on you as a source of accurate, complete, and clearly presented knowledge. Designing a course is no small task and can even seem overwhelming at times. We recommend starting with broad goals, which you can use to build your course around. The way you design your course and its syllabus should help you accomplish your goals. For example, the way you assign points to tests versus activities reflects on the goals you prioritize (i.e.assessment of knowledge gained versus student engagement).
What should you include in a course?
● Take the viewpoint of a student: what type of activities are useful and stimulating to you? Which simply seems to be busy work? (e.g., applying social psychological concepts to commercials versus comprehension quizzes on book chapters.)
● From a teacher’s perspective, can you use these stimulating activities to evaluate their learning? If yes, fit as many into your course as possible! If no, still include them, just also include enough other ways to measure their learning.
● The goal of education is to induce learning. Learning is best accomplished through engagement with relevant material, preferably presented in an interesting way.
● Completeness versus thoroughness: we have a limited number of weeks (usually about 10 or 15) to teach an entire field within psychology. We can neither teach every topic within our field, nor can we be perfectly exhaustive when discussing any given concept. What we can do instead is to provide sufficient information and motivation for students to begin their own exploration of the field, both during and after your course.
● To aid you, select a textbook (should you use one) which presents a full breadth of information in ways which engage students by providing applicable examples of concepts in the real world. Keep the cost of the book in mind as well!
What does a good syllabus contain?
● Within your syllabus, clearly state your expectations for the course. Your syllabus is your vision for the class, and should be treated as your promise to the students (barring unexpected occurrences, which seem to be so common these days!).
● Your syllabus is a resource for your students. A large majority of questions which may come up during the course of a class should be clearly answered in the syllabus, which you can kindly direct your students to when they inevitably ask them, anyway.
● Include information on your contact information, the textbook, office location/hours, grading policy, student learning outcomes, behavioral expectations (including academic honesty), a timeline of the course, along with mandated important material such as disability policy.
Beyond the Syllabus:
● You, as the instructor, are the leader of a class. This means you have a great deal of power in determining the tone of the class. Be positive, supportive, and engaging. Your students are likely to follow suit!
● As is intuitive for anyone who has been a student (i.e., all of us!), the enthusiasm the instructor shows for the subject matter is key in engaging students.
● If you can add to this by encouraging students to get involved with the material through experiencing engaging activities in class, participating in research through a research lab, or just exploring on their own for curiosity’s sake, you have succeeded as an educator by enabling both present and future intellectual development.