School name: Florida State University
Type of school: Public, R1 University
School locale: Tallahassee, Florida
Classes you teach: General Psychology, Social Psychology, Psychology of Personality, Child Psychology, Research Methods, and Industrial-Organizational Psychology
Average class size: About 100, but I’ve taught classes from as small as 19 to as large as 250.
What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? To be as honest and transparent with my students as possible. I can think of two different ways this has been helpful.
As a graduate student, I was particularly nervous about what to do when students asked questions that I didn’t immediately know the answer to, but it was such a relief to know that I could simply say, “I don’t know, but I’ll find out.” Since then, with most of my students having their smart phones with them in class, this has morphed into, “I don’t know, but let’s find out!”
Furthermore, I think that students appreciate when a teacher will take risks in the classroom, but this occasionally means that sometimes things won’t work out as planned. When this happens, rather than pretend that the activity went great, I admit that I was trying something new and that it could be improved, so I ask my students what they did/did not like about the activity and how it could be adjusted for future classes.
What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher?
This book isn’t about teaching, specifically, but the first book that comes to mind is Quiet by Susan Caine. As a lifelong extrovert, it was easy for me to forget that a large proportion of my students looked at the world in a very different way than I do, and that these students probably have much different preferences in the classroom, as well. Since reading Quiet, I’ve tried to be much more mindful about whether incorporating groupwork truly enhances my class activity/assignment or not. I’ve also been giving my students extra time to brainstorm on their own before asking students to share their thoughts on a given topic. Some students will always be eager hand-raisers (me, for example), but it’s been great to see how other students are clearly more comfortable and willing to sharing their thoughts once they’ve had time to reflect.
Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
My favorite course to teach is Social Psychology. This was one of the courses that first drew me into the field of psychology as a student, because I enjoyed how applicable its theories and lessons are to real life. Although I like teaching most lessons in this course, one of the lectures I find most interesting is about social identity. It’s fun to open students’ eyes to the ways in which we enhance our self-image and relate to others, as well as the multitude of ways that culture shapes the ways that we view ourselves. In this class, I’m able to use examples that most students relate to (such as “basking in reflected glory" when our football team is doing well vs “cutting off reflected failure” when the team is struggling). After introducing the topic with these initial examples, I can also integrate in discussions of more serious topics that some students might shy away from initially like race, religion, and politics.
Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.
When I teach personality, I have my students think about and list some of their more dominant traits, and then I ask them to think about how these traits can be both strengths and weaknesses in their lives. To get the discussion going, I’ll highlight how students who are more introverted possess strengths that I do not, and that sometimes my high level of extroversion can present problems (again, you can see the impact from when I read Quiet in this example). I especially like this activity because I’ve had many students tell me afterwards that they’ve never considered how some of their “less desirable” traits can indeed be strengths.
What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?
If you ask my students, I think they would say that I will provide them with examples, then more examples, then more examples after that. I know that not every student is going to pursue a career in psychology, so I really try to make the material as accessible as I can by describing the concepts from class in ways that students can relate to. Then, when students ask how they can study for my exams, I encourage them to practice coming up with their own examples as well!
What’s your workspace like? Let’s just say that my typical office layout might bother people who are especially high in neuroticism or conscientiousness. (But I’m working on it).
Three words that best describe your teaching style. Enthusiastic, challenging, and encouraging
What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?
High expectations don’t mean you can’t have fun.
Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.
When I was younger, I would occasionally pull the “sit in a desk on the first day and pretend to be a student” trick. It would typically work well enough, letting my students know that this class might challenge their notion of what common sense is, but one semester…it backfired. Specifically, this innocent deception led one of my students to constantly question whether was I telling the truth. This problem culminated one day when the student raised his hand and asked whether I’d “told the girl sitting in front of him to spend the entire class playing on her cell phone because it was very distracting.” Needless to say, I had not, and the other student who’d been on her phone was mortified. I had to announce that I would unequivocally no longer be using any deception in that class, and I haven’t pulled the prank since.
What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?
I’m pretty open in the classroom, but I do think that students are often surprised to learn that I didn’t always know I was going to be a psychology professor. Sometimes, I think students feel tremendous pressure to know exactly what they should do or what their future should look like as soon as they get to college. It can also seem like everyone else is much more confident in their futures than you are, but that certainly wasn’t the case for me. When I share my experience about changing majors as a junior, I also ask other students in the class to raise their hands if they’ve changed majors during their time at school, and it never fails that a large proportion of the class raises their hand as well. I think students appreciate when I share this about myself, as it reassures them that they still have time to figure things out.
What are you currently reading for pleasure?
I just finished reading Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan. If you’re familiar with this comedian, you likely already know that he is a parent of FIVE young children. I’ve always enjoyed his comedy, but as a new dad, myself, this was the perfect book to help me see the humor in topics like sleep deprivation and self-doubt that most parents deal with from time to time.
What tech tool could you not live without?
Youtube! This isn’t the only way to share video content into my classroom, of course (e.g. Databrary, TED Talks, etc.), but it’s hard to imagine not using videos in my classes. Videos are a great way to illustrate concepts, to show both classic and contemporary experimental designs, and to include a greater range of diverse perspectives in my courses. Sometimes I have to be careful not to overdo it (it would be easy to show too many cute baby videos in Child Psychology, for example), but if I’m ever developing a lesson where it’s apparent that I’ll be talking for too long, finding a good video resource is always my first step to liven things up.
What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)?
I’ll chat about just about anything, honestly, but most recently, the topic of conversation almost always turns to my son who was born in March. It’s been an exciting and challenging transition, and he’ll definitely be included in lots of new examples when I teach Child Psychology in the fall!