Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

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

  • 07 Jul 2020 1:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Brien K. Ashdown1and Jana Hackathorn2 

    1Hobart & William Smith Colleges 

    2Murray State University 

    Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Brien K. Ashdown, PhD, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, 300 Pulteney Street, Geneva, NY 14456; 

    As the American Psychological Association includes writing as a major undergraduate learning outcome (APA, 2013), meaning that teaching psychological writing skills is of the utmost importance. However, actually teaching students how to write can be pain-staking and tedious, for a wide variety of reasons. One notable reason is that students struggle to build cohesive arguments in their introductions or research proposals. Having students draw a metaphorical map of their own or a peer’s writing can help students focus on the importance of structure and flow when writing the introduction section of an empirical article. This activity could help students get one step closer to effective writing skills in methods courses.

    Teaching How to Write Can Be Frustrating

    The American Psychological Association (APA, 2013) includes writing as a major learning outcome in the undergraduate psychology education. As a result, teachers find this skill to be important and there are a plethora of how to guides and resources full of best practices (e.g., Giuliano, 2019; Ishak & Salter, 2016). Despite the professional guidance, many instructors find teaching students how to write strong papers of significant length is challenging, vexing, or even unenjoyable (Ishak & Salter, 2016). Teachers report myriad reasons for this struggle. For example, students with minimal writing experience tend to have an unrealistic beliefs about how much time and effort they will need to create a high quality piece of writing, often underestimating the required effort (Walvoord & McCarthy, 1990). Often, students confuse introduction sections with annotated bibliographies, and thus write in a way that lacks structure or a coherent argument. As a result, the flow of many students’ introduction sections or literature reviews are choppy and hard to follow (Baumeister & Leary, 1997). Add to this the significant amount of time and effort it takes for instructors to provide quality feedback (Ishak & Salter, 2016), and it’s no wonder that many instructors find the process of teaching students how to write fatiguing and frustrating.

    In our classrooms (and we assume in most of yours,) we tend to see a lot of student writing that contains introduction sections that are really nothing more than a series of strung-together independent paragraphs, each one providing a review of a different (hopefully) relevant article. It seems students believe that providing this list of article summations is sufficient to construct a coherent argument—yet any of us who have read this kind of writing know how painful these types of papers are to read and grade. Moreover, this type of writing tends to lack critical thinking which involves the evaluation and synthesis of their chosen literature, to create the actual underlying argument (Ishak & Salter, 2016).

    One frequently used tactic to help with this problem is peer assessment (see Ramon-Casas et al., 2018, for a review). Although there are some variations in how this works in each classroom, students generally exchange papers and then give each other feedback (Falchikov & Goldfinch, 2000; Guilford, 2001; Ramon-Casas et al., 2018; Venables & Summit, 2003). These kinds of activities typically happen in the classroom or as homework, but tend to be effective, especially for lower achieving students (Ramon-Casas et al., 2018). Importantly, to be effective, instructors need to provide specific instructions, such as rubrics, on how students should work to provide good feedback (Ramon-Casas et al., 2018). More specifically, instructors should tell students what they should look for (i.e., simply telling students to “read and provide feedback” isn’t enough!). We’ve found that this often does not solve the problem of a lack of flow and structure in introductions. After all, why would writers who don’t know how to do this effectively be able to help other writers in doing it?

    We’ve learned that by providing the students with a clear metaphor for the peer editing work they do increases the quality of the feedback they give their classmates. We call this metaphor Mapping a Thesis, and we tell students to envision their peer’s writing as a map that will move them from point to point. The key the success of this activity is having each student draw a literal map of their peer’s argument—which makes very clear quite quickly where the failures of structure and flow are lurking.

    Mapping a Thesis

    Before putting students into pairs to begin the peer workshop, we tell students to think about a popular tourist activity that many of them might have participated in at some point—a city walking tour. One of us teaches at a school in the Northeastern USA, and many students who come from that area have at some point participated in The Freedom Trail that is laid out through and around Boston, Massachusetts ( This particular walking tour is approximately 2.5 miles long, and takes participants on a loop that includes visits to more than a dozen historic sites (such as Boston Common, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Paul Revere’s house). Participating on The Freedom Trail is simple—you simply have to follow the red line that has been painted on the sidewalks. As we discuss The Freedom Trail (or a similar type of walking tour that students in your area might be more familiar with), we talk with students about how the point of the red line is to take tourists from one point of interest to the next in the most logical way possible.

    This is the point at which we shift from talking about city walking tours and tell students that the main points or topics of their papers are the points of interest in their own and their peers’ writing. Sometimes these main points are formatted section headings and subheadings, and sometimes they are not. We explain that often identifying and describing these points of interest is the easiest part of the writing an introduction section. The challenge is constructing the red line that will carry their readers from one point of interest (e.g., a main point or topic) to the next point of interest in a clear, logical, and meaningful way. Creating that red line, or in other words maintaining the flow and structure of their argument from one point to the next, is the challenge we ask them to focus on specifically in the peer workshop activity.

    After putting students into pairs during class and having them swap papers, we provide them with a blank piece of paper. We tell them to read their peer’s paper, marking it anyway that makes sense to them (e.g., typos, spelling, grammar, etc.). Then, after they have finished reading the entire paper, we tell them to draw a map, of their partner’s introduction section. Many students struggle a bit with this at first, but with some encouragement and prodding, they can get to the point of thinking about their peer’s paper as a map that carries them along from one point of interest to another until they arrive at the end (which we explain is the section that describes the project’s hypotheses). We tell students to indicate the points of interest or main topics in the paper, and then draw lines that show how the writer moved or meandered from one topic to the next. We also tell students to write notes along those connecting lines to highlight the ways that the writer made (or didn’t make) that transition in a clear and logical way.

    Once students begin, they often realize how frustrating it is to map an introduction that has no structure, flow, or coherent argument. Most of them can find and identify the points of interest, but quickly realize there is very little, if any, clear path to connect the very next point. This provides a fast lesson in the importance of making sure that their own writing has a clear structure and flow (which often requires a re-write to create).

    After students have finished reading and drawing their maps, they spend time in their pairs sharing and discussing the maps they made of each other’s work. The hope, of course is that this conversation is fruitful and respectful. In the end, the feedback should help the writer to think about how to re-design the paper to provide the flow and structure that is missing on both a macro and microlevel.

    Does It Work?

    Via a quick data collection process that could have been much more scientifically rigorous, we asked students in one of our writing-based classes to respond to a few questions about the Mapping a Thesis activity. The responses were anonymous and collected at the end of the same day as the activity. All of the students in the class reported that the activity was useful and helpful for them in understanding their peer’s paper. One said, “Breaking down the details helped me understand what the heck was going on” and another stated, “It helped me focus on their argument.”

    About two-thirds (62%) of them said that mapping their peer’s paper helped them understand how to better construct the flow and argument of their own paper. For example, one student claimed that “this exercise allows you to see if your paper flows nicely when read by others…what makes sense in your head could confuse others.” Another student said, “It makes me think about whether my own intro flows well. Whether I have properly elaborated on my areas of interest.”

    Finally, the vast majority of the students (92%) said that the drawing their peer did of their own paper was useful in improving the structure of their paper as they worked on the subsequent draft. One student stated: “It helped me to see my thoughts. Sometimes things I know in my head isn’t clear to everyone else and she was useful in seeing that.” And another student succinctly said: “As they are going into this blind, so if they don’t know what I mean, [then] I need to address this.”


    We still share the frustration that many instructors experience when attempting to teach students how to write well. Like many others, we often focus our time and attention on issues of grammar, syntax, APA formatting, and other writing mechanics because, to be blunt, that’s a lot easier to teach than how to structure a cohesive, logical, and flowing argument or synthesis of the literature. Getting our students to understand the necessity of creating such an argument is still difficult and at times infuriating, not only for us but the students, as well. However, we believe that the Mapping a Thesis activity has made our task a bit easier and made us more successful teachers of writing in the process. The flexibility inherent in the assignment has allowed us to use it in ways that best fits with our current goals (evaluations vs. synthesis), the level of the class we’re teaching (intro vs. methods), and at the time of the semester that makes the most sense for that particular course. In fact, it’s an activity that we ourselves have begun using in our own writing as a tool to ensure our arguments flow clearly and logically.


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Retrieved from

    Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews. Review of general psychology, 1(3), 311-320.

    Falchikov, N., & Goldfinch, J. (2000). Student peer assessment in higher education: A meta-analysis comparing peer and teacher marks. Review of educational research, 70(3), 287-322.

    Guilford, W. H. (2001). Teaching peer review and the process of scientific writing. Advances in physiology education, 25(3), 167-175.

    Giuliano, T. (2019). The “Writing Spiral”: A Practical Tool for Teaching Undergraduates to Write Publication-Quality Manuscripts. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 915.

    Ramon-Casas, M., Nuño, N., Pons, F., & Cunillera, T. (2019). The different impact of a structured peer-assessment task in relation to university undergraduates’ initial writing skills. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(5), 653-663.

    Venables, A., & Summit, R. (2003). Enhancing scientific essay writing using peer assessment. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40(3), 281-290.

    Walvoord, B. E., & McCarthy, L. P. (1990). Thinking and Writing in College: A Naturalistic Study of Students in Four Disciplines.

  • 01 Jun 2020 1:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Joshua D. Fetterman (Chestnut Hill College) & Meredith E. Kneavel (La Salle University)

    The first thing that everyone learns about teaching is that class time is a valuable, and scarce, resource. Every teacher has run out of time during a lecture, and consequently let valuable points slip through the cracks. As a field, psychology is full of fascinating information, and there just isn’t class time for all of it. In our classes we have dealt with this issue by trying to find ways to use class time more efficiently and economically. In this essay, we will propose one way of doing this, what we term “sneaky teaching.”

    In a way, sneaky teaching is exactly what it sounds like, sneaking more information and opportunities for learning into a lecture. Some people have used similar terms to describe either methods of increasing students’ use of efficient, empirically backed study habits (McMurtrie & Barrett, 2018) or ways of connecting psychological concepts with common student experiences (Laster, 2018). We define sneaky teaching as concurrently working multiple learning objectives into singular acts of pedagogy in order to teach not just one concept, but integrate and reinforce multiple concepts throughout the curriculum. In other words, sneaky teaching is connecting peripheral concepts that might otherwise be lost to central curriculum features.

    This is a powerful concept that can be used in many different ways. It can be used to scaffold student understanding of central themes, provide rich psychological examples, and to help students see connections. In particular, it’s a great way of working information that has somehow fallen out of your curriculum back in. As a case in point, there has been a 10% decrease in baccalaureate programs that offer “history and systems in psychology” courses from 2005 to 2014, and among those that offer it, only about half require it (Norcross et al., 2016). This is unfortunate given the rich history of psychology. One way to prevent information from history and systems courses from completely falling out of a curriculum is to incorporate that information into other courses where it connects with the materials in those courses. For example, most personality textbooks mention factor analysis in order to explain the origin of the Big Five theory of personality (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 2017). This is a perfect opportunity to mention Raymond Cattell, who used factor analysis voraciously and is partly responsible for the popularity of this technique, and his controversial theories and ideas that ultimately prevented him from receiving the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement from the American Psychological Foundation (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2007). The information about factor analysis is more prominent and more closely related to course objectives, but “sneaking in” the facts about Cattell contextualizes the information and makes it more interesting to students. The information can also be reinforced again in a statistics course when discussing factor analysis. In this way, Raymond Cattell and his contributions to psychology can be verified by multiple professors in the department, especially if a history and systems course has been dropped from the curriculum.

    Sneaking in auxiliary information such as stories and anecdotes not only has the effect of packing a greater amount of content into classes, but also can help students better attend to, and later recall, information. Although there is uncertainty about the length of the typical undergraduate attention span (Wilson & Korn, 2007), research indicates that the longer students sit in lecture the more likely their minds are to wander which negatively predicts performance on later evaluations (Risko, Anderson, Sarwal, Engelhardt, & Kingstone, 2012). One solution to this problem is a “task switch,” a brief change in the orientation of the lecture that allows students to later return their attention to the primary task (Risko et al., 2012). Sneaking ancillary information into lectures that briefly changes the subject and reorients students’ attention may serve such a purpose while at the same time providing them with additional information and context.

    It is important to note that our position on this subject is that we probably do quite a bit of sneaky teaching without realizing it. Indeed, when preparing this essay, we realized that we integrate and connect seemingly divergent information in our courses commonly. However, our hope is that by being more cognizant and mindful of the way we incorporate sneaky teaching into our classes we can utilize it even more frequently in the future. In what follows, we will describe a few ways that we have mindfully ‘snuck’ extra information into our classes.


    Within-subjects ANOVA and binocular vision

    Although students often find information about design dry, most research methods and statistics courses cover within subjects ANOVAs. One way to spice up the discussion of this topic is with an activity where students count how many times they can accurately pass a ball back and forth. They do it once with their left eye shut, then with their right eye shut, and then with both eyes open. Before analyzing the results with a within subjects ANOVA, have a brief discussion of binocular vision, and then have students make predictions about what condition should have the most accurate passes. This incorporates the concepts of sensation and perception and the visual system into a statistics course and forces students to think critically about the predictions they will make about the effects of different treatment conditions on the dependent variable. 


    Correlation and the Yerkes-Dodson Law

    One of the assumptions of correlation is that the relationship between the variables must be linear (Privitera, 2012). In order to illustrate a linear relationship it is helpful to contrast it with a non-linear relationship. One famous example of a non-linear relationship is the Yerkes-Dodson Law (and it’s many formulations, see Teigen, 1994). Because many of the variables that are related to performance follow the Yerkes-Dodson law, it is helpful to relate these to common student experiences. For instance, one can discuss exam anxiety and performance: that some anxiety will improve performance, as it is helpful for concentration and dedicated studying; however, too much anxiety is impairing and leads to a drop off in performance. This phenomenon also occurs with athletic performance. Some anxiety, or what athletes call ‘being in the zone,’ leads to peak performance, but too much can significantly impair performance, while not enough will lead to poor performance. What is definitely clear is that there is a relationship between anxiety and performance and this relationship is non-linear. This would be missed with linear correlational methods. We find it particularly helpful to draw example scatterplots with performance on the y-axis and anxiety or stress on the x-axis.


    Theory and Hypothesis Generation and B. F. Skinner

    When explaining ways to generate theories and hypotheses, an anecdote about B. F. Skinner and the partial reinforcement effect can illustrate the fact that sometimes you just get lucky. Skinner reportedly discovered the partial reinforcement effect because on one particularly nice spring day he didn’t want to spend hours making food pellets for his experiments for the upcoming week, and realized that if he were to reinforce his subjects after ever other correct response, he would need half as many pellets. Ultimately he found that this made his subjects much more resistant to extinction (Pelham & Blanton, 2007).

    Factorial ANOVA and Gender and Stress Interactions

    In describing factorial ANOVAs, one example is that males and females react differently to chronic stress. Males under chronic stress tend to perform poorly on spatial memory tasks while females show little to no effect of stress in both spatial memory tasks as well as physiological correlates (Luine, 2002). It is helpful to draw a line graph illustrating the interaction effect and describing that interactions are usually seen as non-parallel lines and that when reporting factorial ANOVAs significant interactions are of primary importance followed by main effects. This allows for discussion of gender differences and physiology of behavior.  

    Memory and Effects of Chronic/Traumatic Stress

    When teaching about memory systems, health psychology or biopsychology can also be incorporated. The work of Sapolsky (2001) and others more recently (e.g., Piccolo & Noble, 2018) has found that hippocampal volume is decreased in those with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and in those reporting high levels of perceived stress. 

    Failure of Groups to Share Unique Information and Group Polarization

    Counterintuitively, group members often do not share information that only they know with other group members. This is a complex phenomenon, but it can be illustrated in an engaging way by replicating Stasser and Titus’s (1985) classic study on groups’ failure to share unique information (see Fetterman (2017) for ideas about how to do this). During this activity, where students are divided into groups and must pick a candidate for student body president, ask individual students for their opinions on the candidates both before and after group discussion. Individual opinions should become more polarized after group discussion.

    Operational Definitions Activity

    One of our favorite opportunities for sneaky teaching involves an activity where students watch a cartoon, count the number of aggressive acts that they see, decide upon an operational definition for aggression, and then counts the aggressive acts again. Typically, students’ ratings will be much more similar after they have developed a shared understanding of what constitutes an aggressive act (i.e., created an operational definition). For a more detailed explanation of this activity, see Kneavel, Fetterman, and Sharp (2019). This activity offers a multitude of opportunities to work in outside concepts and can be used in multiple course as described in Kneavel et al. (2019). Males and females tend to engage in different kinds of aggression; males are more physically aggressive and females are more relationally aggressive (Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008). Consequently, males may count a higher number of aggressive acts when watching the cartoon. Assuming that students’ counts do converge on the second observation, the standard deviation from the first count should be larger than the standard deviation on the second count. This provides an opportunity to discuss measures of dispersion and the characteristic of sets of numbers that they reflect. Because students are making observations, and learning how to make those observations consistently, it is a great opportunity to discuss the difficulties associated with observational research and with developing interrater reliability. Finally, Loftus and Palmer (1974) demonstrated that the wording of questions individuals are asked about their memories can influence the content of those memories. After watching the cartoon, ask half of the students to make ratings of how aggressively the characters in the cartoon “interacted,” and the other half how aggressively the characters “fought.” These leading questions may replicate Loftus and Palmer’s classic finding.

    As can be seen, opportunities for sneaky teaching are bound only by our imaginations. These connections not only help us to use class time more efficiently, but also break up lecture and help students to remember more information. It can also be a way to weave in dropped material. Finding ways to sneak more content into our classes has become a fundamental consideration for our curriculum development and reinforcement of core concepts, and we hope it will become one for you, as well.



    Card, N. A., Stucky, B. D., Sawalani, G. M., & Little, T. D. (2008). Direct and indirect aggression during childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review of gender differences, intercorrelations, and relations to maladjustment.  Child Development, 79, 1185-1229.

    Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2017).  Perspectives on personality, 8th edition. New York, NY: Pearson.

    Fetterman, J. D. (2017). Information sharing in small groups: A classroom activity. In S. Baker (Ed.),  Teaching tips: A compendium of conference presentations on teaching, 2017-2018 (pp. 197-199) . The Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

    Hergenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (2007).  An introduction to theories of personality, seventh edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

    Kneavel, M. E., Fetterman, J. D., & Sharp, I. R. (2019). Making operational definitions come alive with aggression.  Essays from E-xcellence in Teaching.

    Laster, B. (2018). Sneaky pedagogy: How to utilize students’ implicit knowledge and make psychology real. In W. Altman, L. Stein, & J. E. Westfall (E ds.),  Essays from e-xcellence in teaching (Vol. 18, pp. 54-57).  site:

    Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory.  Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13, 585-589.

    Luine, V. (2002). Sex differences in chronic stress effects on memory in rats.  Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 5(3), 205.

    McMurtrie, B., & Berrett, D. (2018, December 6). How one university uses ‘Sneaky Learning’ to help students develop good study habits.  The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Norcross, J. C., Hailstorks, R., Aiken, L. S., Pfund, R. A., Stamm, K. E., & Christidis, P. (2016). Undergraduate study in psychology: Curriculum and assessment.  American Psychologist, 71, 89-101.

    Pelham, B. W., & Blanton, H. (2007).  Conducting research in psychology: Measuring the weight of smoke, 3rd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.  

    Piccolo, L. R., & Noble, K. G. (2018). Perceived stress is associated with smaller hippocampal volume in adolescence: Perceived stress effects in adolescent brain.  Psychophysiology, 55(5), e13025-e13025. doi:10.1111/psyp.13025

    Privitera, G. J. (2012).  Statistics for the behavioral sciences. Washington, DC: Sage.

    Risko, E. F., Anderson, N., Sarwal, A., Engelhardt, M., & Kingstone, A. (2012). Everyday attention: Variation in mind wandering and memory in a lecture.  Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 234-242. DOI: 10.1002/acp.1814 

    Sapolsky, R. M. (2001). Atrophy of the hippocampus in posttraumatic stress disorder: How and when?  Hippocampus, 11(2), 90-91. doi:10.1002/hipo.1026

    Stasser, G, & Titus, W. (1985). Pooling of unshared information in group decision making: Biased information sampling during discussion.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1467 – 1478. 

    Teigen, K. H. (1994). Yerkes-Dodson: A law for all seasons.  Theory & Psychology, 4, 525-547. Retrieved from:

    Wilson, K., & Korn, J. H. (2007). Attention during lectures: Beyond ten minutes.  Teaching of Psychology, 34, 85-89. Retrieved from:

  • 01 May 2020 8:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jessica A. LaPaglia (Morningside College)

                You walk into a dimly lit room. The door slams behind you. A timer counts down from 60 minutes. Escape or die.

                Okay, you won’t really die, but this scenario illustrates a typical escape room. People pay to be trapped in a room with their friends and find clues that will lead to their escape. When gamifying my general psychology class, I sought to make each review session unique. We played review jeopardy, bingo, pyramid, and trivia… but I needed an idea for the last exam. Then I remembered the local escape room in town and “Escape the Evil Professor” review game was born. I learned a lot from creating my first escape room. Students want to be challenged, move around the room, and solve puzzles. In this essay, I will describe the escape room that I created in my Research Methods course as an approach to review material prior to an exam. I will also discuss alternative ways to incorporate escape rooms into the classroom.

                Research Methods in Psychology is not a favorite class among my students. Their eyes either glaze over or show sheer panic when we cover statistics. I typically use an exam review session to provide students with a practice exam and cover their muddiest points. However, with the buzz surrounding course gamification, I wanted to try something different. Jeopardy review is always fun, but is limited to testing students on key words and concepts. I needed a method that allowed students to practice skills like running statistical tests and interpreting data. An escape room, which can involve both practicing skills and retrieving key concepts, seemed like a great option for a review session.

    Sixteen students (primarily 2nd and 3rd year psychology majors) walked into the review session and took their seats. Projected on the screen was a torture room scene and several students laughed. As soon as class began, I shut the door, pretended to lock it, and gave my best evil laugh… something like “Bwahahaha!” The goal was to sing a specific song to me, the evil professor, to appease me and escape the room. Students were instructed to get into groups of three or four to solve my riddles. Each group had a slightly different set of clues (and a different song to sing) so that the escape room was not over once one group finished, but instead each group had the opportunity to escape the room. Although it is fine for all groups to have the same clues, different clues for different groups can reduce the likelihood of cheating. Below, I briefly describe each of the challenges that students completed to escape the review session.

    Challenge 1 covered scales of measurement. Students identified the scale of measurement from each example. The responses were a clue to identify your next challenge.

    Rating happiness on a scale of 1 to 7: ________

    The order that students completed an exam: _______

    Number of friends that one has: _________

    Gender: ________

    Responses to the above items corresponded to a code on one of ten envelopes scattered throughout the room. Each group had a different order for the items above. For instance, the correct code for the puzzle above was IORN (for Interval, Ordinal, Ratio, and Nominal). Within the envelope was the next challenge.

    Challenge 2 was a crossword puzzle that covered threats to internal validity. At the top of the crossword read “Once completed, an author will be revealed. This is your clue to access the next challenge.” The highlighted letters in the crossword were an anagram for one of the authors of one of several research posters hanging in the room. When they looked behind that poster, they found an envelope with instructions for the next challenge. Each group had different letters highlighted, and therefore a different poster, to look behind.

    Challenge 3 allowed students to practice their skills analyzing data in Jamovi (a free statistical program). Each group was provided with a different data set. The instructions are below.

    The Evil Psychology Professor wants to find the best way to torture her students. She sets up and experiment in which students were either given complex homework assignments or boring instructional videos to watch at home. These assignments/videos either covered research methods concepts or statistics concepts. She had them then rate their dissatisfaction with the course on a scale from 1 (this class is great) to 10 (this is the worst class I have EVER taken).

    Open the data set on Moodle called “Torture” and use the data set in the “Torture 1” tab. Analyze the data with the appropriate statistical test. When you are done, examine the data and find the cabinet with the results that most closely match your own. Your next challenge will be in that cabinet.

    Challenge 4 gave students practice with ANOVA tables. Within the correct cabinet, they were provided with an ANOVA table with several values missing. Students solved for F which was the password to an online quiz. Once again, each group was provided with a different ANOVA table.

    Challenge 5 was an online quiz that tested students on types of validity. Each group had their own unique quiz. They could take this quiz as many times as was required to get 100%. Once they received 100%, the song that they needed to sing to the evil professor was revealed.

    To ensure that students completed every challenge, there was a 2-min penalty if students found clues meant for a different group. Each group received two hint cards in case they got stuck on a particular challenge. All groups finished within 30 minutes. We spent the remainder of the class period reviewing the correct responses for each challenge. Following the review, I measured student perceptions using a subset of questions from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; Self-Determination Theory, 2018) and five days later, student learning was measured in a short-answer exam worth 70 points.

    The escape room was well perceived by students with overall enjoyment mean rating of 6.47 out of 7. More importantly, the escape room led to better performance on the exam. Exam items that had been included in the escape room (48 out of 70 points) were compared to items that had not been included in the escape room (22 points).  Students performed significantly better on concepts included in the escape room compared to those that were not. This effect persisted into the final cumulative exam. See LaPaglia (2020) for full results.

    It is well documented that testing students is a powerful way to enhance retention of course material (Roediger et al., 2011; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006; Rowland, 2014). Furthermore, testing makes it more apparent what students do and do not understand (Balch, 1998). Delivering this benefit in an exciting way can improve enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. Since creating this escape room activity, a colleague of mine tried it out in her own classroom. She brought in props (such as color-coded picture frames with clues embedded in the frames themselves) to enhance the escape room experience. Monoghan and Nicholson (2017) created an elaborate escape room within a pathophysiology course. The goal of this escape room was to diagnose and properly treat a patient in under an hour. This activity combined team-based learning with the pressure and puzzles associated with escape rooms. It may be necessary to have students adequately prepared for the activity to ensure participation by all. Borrego et al. (2017), for instance, required students to complete specific assignments prior to entrance into the escape room to ensure they were prepared.

    I have had several individuals comment on how difficult this might be for an instructor to develop such an elaborate review session. However, the escape room challenges could be substituted with simple review questions or “stations” around a room. Ragan (in press) had introductory psychology students complete a series of stations that involved engaging in an activity, completing questions about the activity that corresponded to a code on a lock box, then combining clues within in each lock box to escape the classroom. Additionally, any one of the challenges described in this paper could be used on their own; for instance, a crossword puzzle to review key concepts from that week (there are free crossword puzzle creators available online). It might also be advantageous to have students develop their own escape rooms to test their peers over the material (Nicholson, 2018). Students in a cognitive psychology class could use insight problems and logical fallacies to challenge peers in an escape room. Whatever the method, using an escape room is a fun way to incorporate testing to enhance learning of the course material.


    Balch, W. R. (1998). Practice versus review exams and final exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 181–185.

    Borrego, C., Fernandez, C., Blanes, I., & Robles, S. (2017). Room escape at class: Escape games activities to facilitate the motivation and learning in computer science. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 7, 162-171.

    LaPaglia, J. A. (2020). Escape the evil professor! Escape room review activity. Teaching of Psychology, 47(2), 141-146.

    Monaghan, S. R., & Nicholson, S. (2017). Bringing escape room concepts to pathophysiology case studies. Journal of Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, 21, 49–62.

    Nicholson, S. (2018). Creating engaging escape rooms for the classroom. Childhood Education 94(1), 44–49.

    Ragan, C. (2019, June 27-28). Escape the (class)room! [Paper presentation]. Psychology One Conference, Durham, NC, United States.

  • 06 Apr 2020 4:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Justina M. Oliveira (Southern New Hampshire University )

    Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Justina M. Oliveira, PhD, SNHU 2500 North River Rd, Manchester, NH 03016; 


    As a field, psychology is ripe for opportunities to bridge its content to the dynamic and artistic world around us. As a means of building a more engaging and challenging class experience, I have incorporated the arts into my Social Psychology course in multiple ways: through photography, poetry, and music (which is essentially lyrical poetry). The focus of this essay is to provide a window of discovery in which educators can peer in to glimpse one example of how I’ve used poetry in psychology classrooms. I also discuss a bit about  why poetry is an effective tool in the classroom to evoke deeper learning. I am however, no expert in poetry. I enjoy poetry, write a little of it, but have little experience formally studying poetry and even less training in writing it. However, my students have voiced extreme interest in the enveloping of psychology content into poetry and have often surprised me with their passion and talent and at times, even writing their own poems for an assignment in the course. This is a testament that a classroom environment energized with curiosity to learn together through perceived nontraditional assignments and activities such as those connecting with the arts, can be a surprising vehicle in which to capture psychology content. Poetry specifically “is a special, highly evocative form of speech that at once triggers new concepts, emotional responses, behaviors, and values” (Van Buskirk, London, & Plump, 2015, pp. 59). Van Buskirk and London (2012) explain how students can learn more deeply and in a holistic manner through poetry given its power in this way to evoke curiosity, energy, and engagement. 

    STEAM strategies 

    The use of poetry in psychology courses is well-aligned to the growing trend of adding arts into STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), resulting in the updated acronym STEAM. More specifically, the scientific field of psychology could utilize poetry to build students’ understanding of human motivation, attitudes, and behaviors in a meaningful way. STEAM is a teaching movement that originated from the Rhode Island School of Design through their NSF funded workshop in 2011 and is now growing in use by numerous educational institutions with instructors at various education levels (, 2017). The basis of STEAM strategies is that the uncertainty of the economic future combined with the creativity and innovation required in the current workplace, results in the need for arts tbe added to traditional education (Maeda, 2013). I argue psychology should play a role in such integrated strategies.  

    We educators with backgrounds in psychology and related fields could benefit from the concepts involved in this STEAM movement. Innovative uses of STEAM strategies have been published in recent years which provide insights to its usefulness (e.g., Gregorio et al., 2015; Guyotte et al., 2014; Keane & Keane, 2016; Patton Knochel, 2017). The goal of STEAM is to encourage the integration of disciplines which have traditionally been taught in a compartmentalized manner. 

    Poetry in Psychology 

    The  field of psychology is invested in integrating the arts into psychology-related research and practice (think art therapy but also research on what aspects of art influence our perceptions of it). The existence of APA’s Division 10: The Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts is evidence of this. This division publishes the journal of  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts which incorporates research in all artistic domains including poetry. For example, in this journal, Lüdtke et al. (2014) published interesting work regarding poetry’s ability to evoke emotional responses such as empathy. The results of their study “indicate that general surface and affective features of a piece of literature alone are not enough to understand and explain emotional involvement and aesthetic appreciation” and that “only the interaction between reader and text brings a poem to life” (pp. 373). Their research findings explaining the more holistic understanding of the power of poetry is quite useful. I think as a field however, we can do a better job at integrating the arts, including poetry, into our teaching. 

    Psychology educators have the goal of actively engaging students in the process  of learning as seekers  of knowledge compared to as passive receivers of course content. Student learning can be enhanced through unexpected assignments (such as poetry in psychology courses), which may help them pay attention to how psychology is relevant to the broader world around them. Such assignments can provide our students with opportunities to combine their creativity of expression through poetry (both traditional forms and the poetic nature of music lyrics) with psychology content learning.  

    Recent innovative uses of STEAM strategies, which provide insights to its usefulness, range from creative problem solving in a music technology program with students from traditional STEM backgrounds (Gregorio et al., 2015) to the use of poetry to understand metaphors, values, and emotions within the leadership and ethics training with West Point cadets (Van Buskirk et al., 2015). Van Buskirk et al. (2015) state that metaphors often found in poetry allow students to “transfer not only conceptual understanding but emotional tone as well from one domain to another. These emotions may be both tacit and explicit, coherent or in conflict, conscious or unconscious, but they are almost always present in some way” (pp. 58). Van Buskirk and London (2012) have found that the use of poetry in management courses can shift the classroom climate to one that is more personal, higher in energy, and evokes greater levels of critical thinking. Psychology, too can benefit from this approach. 

    The Assignment 

    I created, used, and shaped the assignment (see Appendix A for full assignment directionsover the period of four years with undergraduate students in my Social Psychology course who were both psychology and non-psychology majors. I have used this or a very similar version of the assignment across 11 sections during this timeframe with about 325 students total. After using the assignment the first few times, I elicited anonymous feedback from students right after they completed it. Overwhelmingly, students enjoyed the experience of integrating poetry with the constructs we’d covered in social psychology. They found it interesting, stated I should continue using the assignment in future courses, and that it aided in their learning of the content. They also felt the in-class activity utilizing the poetry they found was helpful to getting to know their fellow classmates better. See Appendix B for samples of the poems students found for the assignment. One of these poems is written by the student herself and the others are existing poems students found relevant to the assignment. Please email me to see examples of students’ full write-ups. 

    The Assignment as the Basis for a Classroom Activity 

    On the day students bring in this assignment to share in small groups, during the first 20 minutes of class, I share a few poems including (Rupi Kaur’s poem First be Full on Your Own) with the class and we discuss them as aligned to the assignment prompts. Then, they do Kuhn and McPartland’s (1954) Twenty Statements Test on self-concept. This involves students writing 20 statements about themselves with the only prompt that each statement must start with the phrase “I am…”. I then go over a bit more about the topics of self-concept with students, especially in regards to social psychology and we have a discussion on how these “I am” statements uncover information about their self-concept. This discussion naturally leads to a conversation around culture and dual attitudes, two other topic choices within this assignment. At this point, the full class is on the same page in regards to understanding all the assignment topic choices (we had discussed violence and prosocial behavior, the last topic choices as related to social psychology a few weeks prior)In the next phase of the class period, students share their poems in small groups. They tend to listen attentively and follow along with the extra copies when each group member reads the poem they chose out loud. They make guesses as to the topic that student likely chose given their poem and they have a conversation around what it meant to them and why. I typically end the class period with debriefing the common topics students seemed to choose that class and some students share their poem with the class as a whole for additional reflection. I end the class period by showing a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem ‘Still I Rise’ to allow students to see the visual power of poetry when seeing someone share their own written work out loud to a bigger audience. We finish by taking the time to connect this poem to Social Psychology topics of discrimination, culture, and ingroups/outgroups. This class period never fails to be a time of deep reflection, high levels of engagement, and an opportunity to build a brave and safe classroom environment that helps us to dig into the topics throughout the rest of the semester. 


    Gregorio, J., Rosen, D.S., Morton, B.G., Halula, A.M., Caro, M., Scott, J., Kim, Y., & Lindstrom, K.M. (2015). Introduction to STEAM through music technology (evaluation).  Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. 

    Guyotte, K.W., Sochacka, N.W., Costantino, T.E., Walther, J., & Kellam, N.N. (2014). Steam as social practice: Cultivating creativity in transdisciplinary spaces.  Art Education, 67(6), 12-19. 

    Keane, L., & Keane, M. (2016). STEAM by design.  Design and Technology Education, 21, 61-82. 

    Kuhn, M.H., & McPartland, T.S. (1954). An empirical investigation of self-attitudes. American Sociological Review, 19(1), 68-76. 

    Maeda, J. (2013).  Artists and scientists: More alike than differentScientific American .  

    Patton, R.M., & Knochel, A.D. (2017) Meaningful makers: Stuff, sharing, and connection in STEAM curriculum.  Art Education, 70, 36-43. 

    Rhode Island School of Design. What is STEAM? (2017).

    Van Buskirk, W., London, M., & Plump, C. (2015). Poetry and poetic metaphor in teaching leadership and ethics . Journal of Leadership Studies, 9(1), 56–62.   

    Appendix A & B can be accessed at:

  • 02 Mar 2020 8:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wind Goodfriend (Buena Vista University) & Thomas Heinzen (William Paterson University)

    In B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, the fictional Professor Burris reflects on his long teaching career (Skinner, 1948, p. 6-7) with the following regret:

    “My [former students] would gape with ignorance when I alluded to a field that we had once explored together—or so I thought—but they would gleefully remind me, word for word, of my smart reply to some question from the class or impromptu digression… I would have been glad to let them all proceed henceforth in complete ignorance of the science of psychology, if they would forget my opinion of chocolate sodas or the story of the amusing episode on a Spanish streetcar.”

    Many of us have experienced the chagrin that Skinner is describing. Our students may choose to pay attention to our personal stories or anecdotes, focusing on what happened instead of the more important (in our opinion) point of why the story came up in the first place, and how it’s tied to the psychological topic of that day’s class. Why do students care about the stories? Because the stories are real, personal, engaging, and help the students see the psychology all around them, in their everyday lives.

    Instead of dismissing such stories as regrettable distractions (as Skinner seems to be doing), why not capitalize on the power of story in the classroom? The effectiveness of case studies won’t be a surprise to those of us who have been showing pictures of “classics” in the history of psychology, such as Phineas Gage, Clive Wearing, Little Albert, and Kitty Genovese. We argue here that faculty should use case studies more. Walter Mischel noted the power of a good case study when he wrote (Mischel, 1979, p. 741):

    “We all know that our students may ignore the weighty evidence we painstakingly convey in our lectures while to our dismay they remember for years one dramatic case study example or personal anecdote.”

    And in the influential book Make It Stick, about how to master the effectiveness of lectures, Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel (2014) started almost all their chapters with a powerful case study. How can we use case studies more explicitly in our classes? Here are two examples.

    Example 1: Non-Fiction

    Almost all of us discuss the infamous Milgram studies, at least in Intro Psych. It’s a powerful procedure with even more powerful results. For years, we [the authors] emphasized to our students the “power of the situation” and that most of the participants went all the way to 450 volts—and that they (the students) would probably have done the same thing. In other words, many teachers focus on the peer pressure and power of obedience inherent in Milgram. Even Milgram knew the importance of case studies; he included in his book Obedience to Authority quotations from people who did go “all the way,” like this one (1974, p. 87):

    “I said, ‘Good God, he’s dead; well, here we go, we’ll finish him.’ And I just continued all the way through to 450 volts.”

    But here is a perfect opportunity to use case studies to inspire students to go against the self-fulfilling prophecy of giving in to obedience and peer pressure. Consider August Landmesser, shown in the link below, refusing to participate in the Nazi salute:


    Landmesser was in love with a Jewish woman, so he stood up against authority and instead let his ethics guide his choices. That choice came at a great cost: His lover died in a concentration camp, and he died in a German penal battalion. But he didn’t give in. And Milgram saw this in his own participants—one third didn’t go to 450 volts. In Chapters 4 and 6 of Obedience to Authority, he profiles participants who disobeyed, and why.

    When a participant hesitated, Milgram’s experimenter prodded them with phrases such as they “had no other choice” but to continue. One man, a Dutch immigrant who had seen Jewish people persecuted during the War, stopped at 255 volts and responded by stating (p. 51):

    “I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.”

    In perhaps the most poignant case in the entire study, another participant refused to continue after 210 volts. She was a German immigrant who had been raised in the Hitler Youth program. After disobeying and being asked why she stopped, she calmly responded, “Perhaps we have seen too much pain” (p. 84). These are the case studies we want to emphasize to our students—these are the ones we want to inspire them in the future, when they remember our classes.


    Example 2: Fiction

    Students certainly spend a lot of their free time engaging in popular culture, including videogames, streaming TV, and movies. So, appealing to these interests may help students feel connected to the material. Here we discuss two examples of popular culture and how they relate to psychology.

    First: Attachment Theory is a common subject in a wide variety of psych courses (Intro, Development, Relationships, Social, etc.). In the original model, Bowlby (1958) suggested three attachment styles. Each style results from how children interact with their primary caregiver and later causes different behavioral patterns in romantic relationships. All three styles are illustrated well in the trio of main characters in Harry Potter (see Goodfriend, 2007).

    Harry grew up as an orphan being abused by his aunt and uncle; this results in his fearful/avoidant attachment. He struggles with close relationships in adolescence, showing the tendency to isolate himself when possible. Despite attraction to girls, he avoids interacting with them and only responds when they take the initiative.

    In contrast, Ron shows an anxious-ambivalent style. His parents were inconsistent with him, sometimes showing love and support and sometimes being distracted or playing the role of harsh punisher. His attachment style comes out when he creates a co-dependent relationship with his first girlfriend (Lavender) and becomes highly jealous of Hermione’s interest in anyone except himself.

    Finally, Hermione displays secure attachment. Her parents consistently showed her loving support, resulting in her high self-esteem, confidence, and choice of boyfriends because of mutual respect and common intellectual interests (e.g., Viktor Krum).

    Second: Many courses also discuss the development of the “self” and self-concept. A common theory is Higgins’s (1987, 2012) self-discrepancy theory, which describes the actual, ought, and ideal self. The struggle between selves may be most salient when considering superheroes who have a secret identity. Which identity is their “actual” self, and which is their “ideal?” Can both really exist simultaneously? And is either of these selves reflective of social expectations and standards—thus, the “ought” self?

    Wonder Woman, or Diana Prince, reveals these questions in interesting ways (see Goodfriend & Formichella-Elsden, 2017). While her “real” name is Diana, the character of Diana Prince that she plays to the public (e.g., glasses and a nurse or secretary role) is covering up the “actual” self she has in the extraordinary abilities she shows as Wonder Woman. Her love interest often compares the two women explicitly. He tells Diana, for example, that she’s acceptable—but nothing in comparison to Wonder Woman. He thus loves only one aspect of her.

    Many panels from the original comic strips and books display her struggle between these parts of her self. Those early panels also present a public that judges her positively (e.g., when she helps the U.S. military defeat enemies) or negatively (for what are considered “scandalous” clothes for the time). These judgments again relate to the ought self. The example of Wonder Woman—or any other similar superhero with multiple sides of life—leads to interesting class discussions and memorable applications of Higgins’s ideas to students’ own lives.


    Other people have noted the utility of case studies in the classroom (e.g., Krain, 2010, McManus, 1986, Oliver, 2019). Milgram himself knew the power of case studies in making a point. In Obedience to Authority, he wrote (1974, p. 44):

    “We need to focus on the individuals who took part in the study not only because this provides a personal dimension to the experiment but also because the quality of each person’s experience gives us clues to the nature of the process.”

    Individual instructors should, of course, feel free to select both fictional and non-fictional case studies that speak to them, personally. Students can sense authentic engagement and will enjoy their professors’ expertise about particular cases. One of us (Wind) enjoys discovering psychological insights already lurking in fictional popular culture, especially from wizards and superheroes. The other (Tom) derives similar enjoyment and meaning from discovering non-fictional historical details like the story of August Landmesser.

    Choosing a range of studies from different contexts will likely be best for the variety and diversity of student interests in a given class. Regardless of the specific cases chosen, use of case studies appears to be a promising way to keep students engaged within the classroom, to help them retain material for testing purposes, and to apply those insights to the complicated lives they are already living (Bromley, 1986; Rolls, 2015).


    Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 39, 350-373.

    Bromley, D. B. (1986). The case study method in psychology and related disciplines. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. M., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

    Goodfriend, W. (2007). Attachment styles at Hogwarts: From infancy to adulthood. In N. Mulholland (Ed.), Psychology of Harry Potter (pp. 73-88). Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

    Goodfriend, W., & Formichella-Elsden, A. (2017). Multiple identities, multiple selves? Diana Prince’s actual, ideal, & ought selves. In T. Langley & M. Wood (Eds.), Wonder Woman psychology: Lassoing the truth (pp. 139-149). New York, NY: Sterling.

    Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94(3), 319-340.

    Higgins, E. T. (2012). Regulatory focus theory. In Van Lange, P., Kruglanski, A. W., & Higgins, E. T. (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 483-504). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Krain, M. (2010). The effects of different types of case learning on student engagement. International Studies Perspectives, 11, 291-308.

    McManus, J. L. (1986). “Live” case study/journal record in adolescent psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 13(2), 70-74.

    Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority. New York, NY: Harper-Perennial.

    Mischel, W. (1979). On the interface of cognition and personality: Beyond the person–situation debate. American Psychologist, 34(9), 740-754.

    Oliver, J. A. (2019). Essays from E-xcellence in teaching (Vol. 18). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site:

    Rolls, G. (2015). Classic case studies in psychology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden two. New York, NY: MacMillan.

  • 04 Feb 2020 10:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Submitted by Manisha Sawhney and Natalie Ciarocco Editors, E-xcellence in Teaching Essays 

    Stacie M. Spencer  

    MCPHS University 

    Justina M. Oliveira  

    Southern New Hampshire University 

    Mollie A. Ruben  

    University of Maine 

    Christine Blais  

    Southern New Hampshire University 

    Lori A. Nugent  

    MCPHS University 

    P erceptions of the value of psychology as a discipline have an impact on majors and non-majors that carry into students’ personal and professional lives. Despite the popularity of the major (124,497 bachelor’s degrees were awarded in 2017; APA, 2018a), the incredibly large number of students taking introduction to psychology (1.2 to 1.6 million undergraduates each year; Gurung et al., 2016), and the seemingly endless list of possible applications of psychological concepts and skills to real-world situations, many people (majors and non-majors) continue to believe psychology is the study and treatment of mental illness. With this belief, the valuation of psychology is determined by the degree to which the discipline successfully addresses mental health concerns, and the valuation of the psychology major is determined by the degree to which the job obtained after graduation falls under the umbrella of mental health professions (the highest valuation going to jobs with “psych” in the title).  

    What can psychology instructors do to change this misperception of the discipline and improve the valuation of the major? The APA Committee for Associate and Baccalaureate Education (CABE) formed two working groups that are approaching the issue from different angles. The Introduction to Psychology Initiative is developing recommendations for learning goals, outcomes, course designs, and methods of assessment that, among other things, are intended to improve the public face of psychology (APA, 2019). The Skillful Psychology Student working group established an evidence-based list of seventeen employer-valued skills that fall into five skill domains (cognitive, communication, personal, social, and technology; APA, 2018b) and are currently developing resources for students, teachers, and advisors to explicitly connect coursework and experiential learning opportunities to direct-entry jobs. 


    Interdisciplinary Education (IDE)  

    We suggest one powerful way to improve perceptions of the value of psychology knowledge and skills among students, in and outside of the major, and faculty across disciplines is through interdisciplinary education (IDE). Our definition of IDE borrows from the Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education definition of interprofessional education (IPE) established in 2002 (CAIPE, 2019) to provide a pedagogical model designed to prepare health professionals for the demands of modern healthcare. We define IDE as occurring when instructors from two or more disciplines design and facilitate learning experiences and/or students from two or more majors collaborate to solve a problem or answer a question. IDE experiences that include psychology as one of the represented disciplines provide the opportunity for majors and non-majors to learn and apply psychological concepts and to experience, first-hand, the value of psychological concepts and skills in real-world settings. Majors and non-majors can spread knowledge and skills developed through IDE and positive attitudes regarding the value of psychology when they go out into the workforce.  

    The goal of IPE is to prepare students to provide interprofessional collaborative care that results in improved quality of patient care, patient safety, and patient satisfaction. The four competencies developed through IPE include the abilities to (1) apply the values and ethics for interprofessional practice, (2) recognize and integrate the roles of one’s own profession and the roles of others’ professions to address patient and population needs, (3) communicate with others (patients, families, other health professionals) in a way that supports a team approach, and (4) apply concepts of team dynamics to perform effectively as a team (Interprofessional Education Collaborative, 2011). 

    As with  IPE, the goal of IDE is to prepare students for the reality of future collaborative teams which are comprised of individuals with different education backgrounds (majors, degrees) and experiences (coursework, field work). This preparation should result in improved quality of decisions, products, and/or client satisfaction due to the development of competencies like those established for IPE. Expanding beyond healthcare applications, the four competencies developed through IDE include the abilities to (1) apply the values and ethics for interprofessional practice, (2) recognize and integrate the knowledge of psychology and the knowledge of others’ disciplines/professions to address problems, projects, and/or client needs, (3) communicate with others (clients, colleagues) in ways that support a team approach, and (4) apply concepts of team dynamics to perform effectively in a team.  

    Research shows that IDE supports the development of the abilities to think critically, recognize bias, tolerate ambiguity, and acknowledge and appreciate ethical concerns (Goldsmith, Hamilton, Hornsby, & Wells, 2018). More generally, through IDE, students can develop skills within all five of the skill domains identified by the Skillful Psychology Student working group. These include critical cognitive skills (critical thinking, judgment and decision making), personal skills (adaptability, integrity, self-regulation), and social skills (collaboration, inclusivity). Depending on the nature of assignments, students can also develop communication skills (oral and written) and technological skills (flexibility/adaptability to new systems, familiarity with software).  


    What does IDE look like in the classroom?  

    There are many possible IDE models with varying degrees of complexity. The simplest model involves one instructor who teaches a course that includes students from a variety of majors. In this model, students work in teams with representatives from different majors to examine a problem. Individual team members are tasked with identifying knowledge and skills from their respective majors that can be used to address the problem and then teams come together to generate solutions using the collective knowledge and skills. For example, students might tap into their respective disciplines (e.g., psychology, sociology, anthropology, business) to gather information and consider skills associated with conflict between groups and then to develop recommendations for addressing inter-group conflict.  

    A second model includes instructors and students from two courses that interact at several points throughout the semester. For example, the instructors and students for a personality theories course and students from a cultural anthropology course might discuss personality in the respective courses and then come together to compare and contrast the different perspectives. Students might be matched with partners from the other course and work with those partners at each touch point. Each individual student would complete tasks in preparation for these merged-class meetings. Tasks might begin with identifying the methods used by the discipline represented (i.e., psychology or anthropology), then next prepare to discuss the definitions of personality used by the discipline represented, and then prepare to discuss the ways in which the respective disciplines apply knowledge of personality to real-world questions.  

    A third model includes students across multiple courses working on one community-based project. For example, a campus-wide first-year experience, introduction to the major, or capstone project might involve food insecurity in the community. After serving organizations that address food insecurity, students might examine food insecurity through the lens of their major and then work with individuals from other majors to develop an intervention that incorporates the knowledge and skills associated with each represented discipline.  

    A fourth model is to develop a single course with a problem-focused theme that includes guests who represent different disciplines. For example, as students learn principles of behavior change, they might hear from guests who use these principles to improve medication adherence, worker productivity, student learning, community partnerships, charitable donations, and pet behavior.  

    The fifth model is to develop a single course with faculty who represent two or more disciplines and students who represent two or more disciplines. The faculty co-teach the course and design assignments and activities that include knowledge and skills from the instructors’ disciplines. Our current IDE experiences represent this model.  


    Our IDE Examples  

    Observing and Analyzing Teams, is a cross-listed psychology and business course co-taught by a psychology professor and an organizational leadership professor that is open to students from a variety of majors. In this course students apply observational learning strategies to live interacting teams (a sport team, a professional theatre group, and a business team) to identify effective and ineffective team characteristics and connect their observations to what they learn about Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, field notes in ethnography, and research about best practices for managing teams. Thus, instead of participating in a team, students explore teamwork from the perspective of an observer and a scholar.  

    MRI Patient Experience is a course specifically designed for psychology and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) students. In this course, students learn about the prevalence of patient negative emotion in MRI and how negative emotion can impact image quality and result in cancelled or rescheduled scans. Psychology majors provide the knowledge they have about emotion and the skills they have for reading research articles. MRI students provide information about the environmental factors and procedures that contribute to patient distress. Students distinguish among types of negative emotion, identify nonverbal behaviors that reflect negative emotion, describe the roles and responsibilities of health psychologists and MRI technologists, critically evaluate MRI distress intervention studies, implement emotion regulation interventions in a simulated MRI setting, and provide and respond to constructive feedback.   


    IDE Challenges  

    IDE presents several unique challenges worth noting. The logistics surrounding high quality and cohesive IDE involving more than one faculty member requires extensive collaboration time to create content with other educators or community partners. It can become obvious to students if the content is disjointed as opposed to when there is one instructor with smoother transitions and integration of content. Joint assignment grading across instructors can be valuable in order to ensure that students perceive the course to be coherent and connected. This requires consistent coordination for timely grading. One more challenge is students’ perceptions of role ambiguity. Specifically, students may try to figure out who they think is ‘in charge’ or who they believe they should go to for assignment and grading questions. Establishing rapport across collaborators can be as important as establishing rapport with students in IDE contexts, in part for these reasons.  

    There can also be logistical and administrative challenges, such as how an IDE course counts toward teaching load. In other words, will the college or university pay two instructors full pay to teach one course together? Alternatively, are there any special grants or funding for this to occur in situations where the course is deemed extremely valuable in a co-teaching or IDE design? This varies across institutions. Lastly, when working with multiple educators or partners, it can often be a challenge to coordinate class meeting times that fit the instructors’ and students’ schedules.  


    IDE Rewards  

    Our experiences are that the rewards of IDE far exceed the challenges. Student engagement in these courses is high. Students value thinking about direct applications of psychology content, discussing different perspectives of the same issue, gaining knowledge from other disciplines, and developing self-efficacy for the application of knowledge and skills they can apply to their future careers. Students tell us these learning opportunities allow them to reflect, to develop better attention to detail, and to appreciate the value of diversity. Our IDE courses provide a unique shared learning experience for instructors and students, and we have found that offering a more holistic perspective of course content justifies working through the challenges involved.  

    Page Break 


    American Psychological Association. (2018a). Degrees in psychology [Interactive data tool]. 

    American Psychological Association. (2018b). The skillful psychology student: Prepared for success in the 21st century workplace [PDF file]  

    American Psychological Association. (2019). The APA Introductory Psychology Initiative: Envisioning the future: Charting new directions for Introductory Psychology.  

    Centre for the Advancement of Interprofessional Education. (2019). About us: What is CAIPE?  

    Goldsmith, A. H., Hamilton, D., Hornsby, K., & Wells, D. (2018). Interdisciplinary approaches to teaching. Starting Point.   

    Gurung, R. A. R., Hackathorn, J., Enns, C., Frantz, S., Cacioppo, J. T., Loop, T., & Freeman, J. E. (2016). Strengthening introductory psychology: A new model for teaching the introductory course. American Psychologist, 71(2), 112-124.  


  • 02 Jan 2020 10:52 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Donald A. Saucier (Kansas State University)

    The Promise of a New Day

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

    My Teaching Philosophy

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

    Inspiring the Choice to Learn

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

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

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

    Nurturing Student Voices

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

    Using Trickle-Down Engagement

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

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

    Sustaining Student Engagement

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


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

  • 02 Dec 2019 12:01 PM | Anonymous

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

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

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


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

    Learning Outcomes and Strategic Goals

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

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

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

    Planning and Implementation

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

    Assessment of Outreach Activity

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

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

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

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

    Perceived Benefit of Outreach Activity

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

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


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

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

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

    Example neuroscience outreach materials are available from the authors upon request (

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


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Retrieved from

    Bonwell, C. C., & Eison, J. A. (1991). Active Learning: Creating Excitement in the Classroom. 1991 ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Reports. ERIC Clearinghouse on Higher Education. Retrieved from

    BrainU. (2010). Student Science Attitude Survey. Retrieved from

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

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

    “informal science education” ad hoc committee. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 40(2), 108111.

    Edgerton, R. (2001). Education White Paper. Retrieved March 25, 2019 from essagePartId=0.3

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

    Halpern, D. F. (2010). Undergraduate education in psychology: A blueprint for the future of the discipline. Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.

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

    Learning Environments Research, 19(2), 203-219.

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

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

    Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93(3), 223-231.

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

  • 01 Nov 2019 5:17 PM | Anonymous

    Dietlinde Heilmayr (Moravian College)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

    Suggested resources

    This American Life Education Resources. Retrieved from

    This StoryCorps Education Resources. Retrieved from

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

  • 03 Oct 2019 8:45 AM | Anonymous

    Krisztina V. Jakobsen (James Madison University)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Springer, S., & Collins, L. (2008). Interacting inside and outside of the language classroom. Language Teaching Research12(1), 39-60.

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

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

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

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software