April McGrath: I'm a member of STP, and This is How I Teach

05 Feb 2015 2:47 PM | Anonymous

School name:  Mount Royal University

Type of college/university: Undergraduate university in Calgary, AB, Canada

Classes you teach: Stats I and II, Research Methods I, Social Psychology, Environmental Psychology 

What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?

I don’t think I can narrow it down to one thing. I was fortunate to take a graduate seminar in teaching while completing my PhD and everything I learned in that class helped prepare me for teaching.

What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?

During that seminar I read What the Best College Teachers Do, which provided a great introduction to teaching. More recently I’ve enjoyed reading How College Works (Chambliss & Takacs, 2014). It is a great reminder that students value relationships with instructors and that conversations with students about their writing are extremely important.

Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. 

I love teaching statistics because it is a challenge every time. It requires convincing students about the importance of statistics and that stats can be enjoyable (or at least bearable). Some students fear the calculations but they soon realize talking and writing about the statistical concepts clearly is a much greater challenge and I like helping them work through that.


What’s your workspace like?

I have a large desk, which you might think would be helpful, but mostly it allows me to organize things in piles. There is also a large window in my office that I appreciate. There was a view of six trees from it until this past September. We had a snowstorm in Calgary that month that damaged trees throughout the city, including a large number of trees on our campus. Now there is only one tree standing outside the window. (There is a copy of Teaching of Psychology on my desk and I swear that it was not planted for the photo.)

Three words that best describe your teaching style.

Enthusiastic, approachable, challenging

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

To learn, students must engage.

Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had.

At some point I got into the habit of labeling assignment files ass#.doc. This wasn’t a problem until one day in class when we were discussing random assignment. After asking some questions a student answered with “random assignment”, which is the term I was hoping for. I wanted to emphasize the answer by writing it on the board, but instead of writing random assignment I wrote random ass! (exclamation mark included). Laughter ensued and I quickly realized what I had done. Lesson learned – be more careful with my abbreviations.

What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

I bike to campus and continue to do so during the winter here in Calgary.

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

Mosquito Coast, which is the upcoming book for my book club.

What tech tool could you not live without?

A word processor. (I don’t even have a cell phone.)

What’s your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? 

We will often talk about how classes are going (the answers depend in part on what point of the term it is) and also larger issues at our institution and about post-secondary education. We also find time to chat about our lives outside of work.  

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