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

  • 01 Nov 2018 5:43 PM | Anonymous

    Bonnie Laster (Wingate University)

    What immediately comes to mind when one considers psychology? Dull? Dry and boring theory? Students commonly regard general psychology as a tedious Gen Ed obligation; another box to tick on the graduation checklist. Though instructors may occasionally glean satisfaction from the indiscriminate spark lit in a previously unmotivated student, I would venture to guess most of us are challenged to effectively disseminate largely fundamental and theoretical content to an assembly comprised of underclassman, the majority of whom are non-psychology majors.  But, here’s thing: this content, particularly its practical application, is important. Psychological inquiry is essential in examining the why and how of human behavior and cognition, regardless of a students’ intended field. Students may remember foundations of other fields examined during their undergraduate years, but they can actually use psychology in any occupation across any discipline at any time. General psychology can teach students how to understand human behavior, including their own; perceptibly, an invaluable skill. Moreover, psychology is actually pretty interesting, as well as multifaceted. So, why then, do students often view it as a wearisome necessity? Perhaps, it’s because of us.

    It is extraordinarily easy for faculty to fall into the trap of “textbook teaching”. Meaning, we instruct in a traditional lecture-dense format in a standard “start with chapter 1” approach. Although a traditional approach has its merits, it may essentially undermine the wealth of knowledge residing undeveloped and untapped within the audience itself. Students come to college with an enormous amount of personal experience in human behavior and cognition. Perhaps you have witnessed the “Aha!” or “So, that’s why I do that!” moment as students connect their experience of human behavior with psychological theory. Psychology holds the unique benefit of relating to everyone and everything. Though not necessarily intuitively, psychology examines behavior and cognition we have all experienced and will continue to experience in our distinct journeys. As instructors, we may benefit greatly from exploring this implicit knowledge and expanding upon it.

    Research has long suggested students learn best by not only acquiring knowledge, but by organizing it meaningfully (Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1988). As such, from day one in my classes, I try to integrate students’ own intimate experience with psychological concepts. Doing so supports personally meaningful interactions for students and offers them a familiar anchor as we expand the concept beyond their tangible experience. Overwhelmingly, the best resource I have found to teach foundational content is the actual student. Students come pre-equipped with a certain level of fundamental understanding of psychology. Tapping into this understanding via what I have termed, an inverted constructivist curriculum (IvC), can be an effective way to facilitate students’ awareness of their prevailing knowledge, by allowing them to explore what they know, but don’t explicitly know that they know.

    Think about personal examples students may have offered in your classes. Most students can relate to much of what we’re instructing. For example, what student hasn’t experienced operant conditioning or social loafing? Who hasn’t experienced Fight or Flight or had the occasional struggle with memory retrieval during an exam? We should capitalize on this experience. In the IvC approach, two main concepts are inverted: topics and execution. That is, while historical concepts and classic theory may seem a logical starting place for many (as evidenced by the majority of general psychology textbooks), I begin with students’ understanding of themselves through examination of personality and social psychology. I also invert execution, allowing students to discuss their experiential familiarity of concepts before connecting them to definitions.


    Although Chapter 1 may be an intuitive place to start in an introductory course, to capture the essence of one’s understanding of self (and to simultaneously capture student interest), I have found personality can serve as an effective starting point. Personality is typically viewed with interest by most students, and starting here holds the additional benefit of student self-analysis. By participating in common personality measurements such as the Big 5 Factor Inventory or Gray’s Reinforcement Sensitivity Theory, students may understand their own perspectives and nuances more clearly, while also providing insight into classroom behavior (e.g. from Gray’s theory (1970) we can predict students high in BAS (behavioral activation system)  will be more likely to participate in class discussions than students higher in BIS (behavioral inhibition system). Social psychology also tends to be popular with students. Online media provides real-world scenarios illustrating such concepts as group think or group polarization. Confirmation bias can help explain why students’ parents (or students themselves) are drawn to a particular media outlet, to the exclusion of all others. Learning is another area students can relate well to, particularly when discussing welcomed ideas (yes, you should sleep more in college to help consolidation to LTM!). I have found that rather than starting with historical underpinnings, classic theory or early pioneers in the field, capturing the students’ interest from day one with more relatable concepts can help sustain attention when the “drier” ones are considered. I do cover history and systems, methodology, etc., but introduce them after we explore the more relatable areas of psychology.


    Beyond topic, I also invert execution, asking students to first consider their existing experience within relevant parameters. I offer definitions and explanations after the concept has been explored within students’ experiential understanding. For example, a typical introduction of topic may start off with something as nonchalant as, “how did you learn to ride a bike?” to segue into scaffolding or, “have you ever studied diligently, then blanked while taking a test?” to acquaint students with memory. Although some topics within psychology don’t necessarily lend themselves to the IvC approach (let’s hope not many students can relate to phrenology), the majority of concepts can. After posing the guiding question(s), my role is to then observe while students talk amongst themselves, sharing their various experiences. With smaller classes, I encourage small groups of students, while students in larger lectures can pair and share with immediate neighbors. After an appropriate amount of time (less than 5 minutes, typically around 2-3) I reassemble the students to share with the larger group and examine the concept more didactically through traditional Powerpoint or outline lecture. This technique allows students to first explore their own knowledge and experience, while simultaneously constructing meaning with peers (a nod to both Piagetian and Vygostskian theories). I have found that with personal and shared experience in mind, students can then assimilate empirical definitions and explanations more readily and with greater meaning. I have also found that, surprisingly, this technique really doesn’t take any extra time throughout the semester; we still cover all of the topics necessary to cover throughout the semester. In fact, we sometimes run ahead of schedule, since students are able to internalize the concepts more quickly. The strongest advantage of the IvC is its covert nature. By the time the more refined aspects of the topic at hand are explored, students have already created a deeper meaning with it, through consideration of their existing experience, as well as the experience of their peers. And, truthfully, students also enjoy the opportunity to talk about themselves.  


    Though I view the IvC as a logical and pragmatic approach, to be clear, I am by no means intending to imply that psychology is solely “common sense” and by considering their own experience students may gain a thorough and sophisticated understanding of psychological theory. Just because students can relate personal experience to concepts does not negate the scientific nature of the discipline. It is also not a “blow off” approach, which over-simplifies concepts or lacks proper assessment. I include rigorous student evaluation via examinations, research papers and group projects. Although it can be a fun and personal way to explore psychology, with the IvC, traditional accountability it still maintained. What about the reluctant student; the one who doesn’t wish to share their experience or participate in group activity? I always allow students to work independently if desired, by jotting down their own experiences without pairing up, considering theories and concepts independently, or to brainstorm real-world examples from media or fiction. What do students think about the IvC? When incorporating it, I tend to see greater class attendance and engagement, as well as higher academic achievement. Student feedback, via end of semester surveys and assessments, reflects positive experience for most students. Students generally like the curriculum, citing personal and peer real-world examples as its particular strength. Previous students occasionally even get back in touch with me to share how this approach has helped them retain psychological concepts in their various pursuits.

    Worth considering, however, are limitations within the IvC. It is not necessarily a one size fits all; not every class may benefit from its unique structure. Large lecture classes which have the propensity for unruliness may not be suitable for the approach, as students may take advantage of too much freedom and talk time. Some departments require a standardized instruction with specific topics examined at explicit points during the semester, leaving little wiggle room to potentially incorporate student participation. Ultimately, successful IvC incorporation depends upon the students themselves. Students must be willing to share with one another to make the approach work. Although I try to incorporate the approach in most of my classes, I’ve found some groups simply aren’t as cohesive as others, or may be unenthusiastic to share. I typically try to start off with the curriculum, tweaking for more or less reflection, and more or less lecture as necessitated by the group.

    To summarize, the IvC incorporates the following points: By tapping into their inherent and experiential familiarity of concepts, students themselves are utilized at the creators of fundamental knowledge. Students learn to associate their experience with psychological foundations. As a result, students are able to organize concepts in a personally meaningful way, which in turn promotes interest and retention. Although the IvC incorporates didactic instruction, its active learning is paramount to the curriculum as students personally and socially construct meaning. I’ve found great success with this approach. I hope you will too.


    Chi, M.T.H., Glaser, R., & Farr, M. (1988). The nature of expertise. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum.

    Gray, J. (1970). The psychophysiological basis of introversion-extraversion. Behaviour Research and Therapy, 8, 249-266.

  • 01 Oct 2018 2:34 PM | Anonymous

    Robert R. Bubb, Jamie Sailors, Sharon Wilbanks, Margaret Vollenweider, Emily Cumbie, & Hannah Ferry  (Auburn University)

    Indicators of student success at colleges and universities take many forms (Suskie, 2009). One indicator is the ability to produce employable graduates (Hoachlander, Sikora, & Horn, 2003). Students’ successful marketing of their skills, experiences, and knowledge can influence employment opportunities following graduation (Floyd & Gordon, 1998). A national survey found that 80% of employers valued an electronic portfolio that summarizes and demonstrates applicants’ key skills and knowledge (e.g., teamwork, oral and written communication, critical thinking) when determining whom to hire (AACU, 2015). The ePortfolio Project at Auburn University is a campus-wide initiative that encourages students to develop a personal website that highlights students’ skills, experiences, and knowledge through reflective contextualization of artifacts. ePortfolios provide a modern, 21st century context for students to communicate with a professional audience; ePortfolios are more professional than Facebook and more personal than LinkedIn. The ePortfolio initiative at Auburn University is implemented at the department level. The following essay highlights the Human Development and Family Studies Department (HDFS) promotional efforts to implement an ePortfolio within its major that will be useful for the implementation of ePortfolios at other universities, departments, and courses.

    Learning Objectives

    HDFS majors complete a basic ePortfolio as an assignment in a required professional development and ethics course. This initial ePortfolio draft includes an About Me page, a resume, at least one professional image of the student, a contact page, and one artifact. The artifact reflects a skill, experience, or knowledge gained as part of the course. As students traverse the major curriculum, faculty in other courses assign specific assignments such as written papers, course reflections, presentations, and field experiences that can be used as artifacts. Prior to graduation, the ePortfolio is reviewed in the capstone internship course during the students’ last semester.

    From implementation to finalization of the ePortfolio, students meet the following learning objectives:

    • ·       Articulate a professional philosophy that identifies and supports professional goals;
    • ·       Engage in self-reflection to identify personal strengths and areas for improvement;
    • ·       Think critically about how accomplishments relate to career goals;
    • ·       Write effectively to convey a clear message to a professional audience;
    • ·       Apply classroom knowledge to professional practice; and
    • ·       Demonstrate technical competency in basic web design, visual literacy, and presentation.


    Auburn University supports four free website platforms that students use to create ePortfolios (i.e., Wix, Weebly, Wordpress, Googlesites). Each website has different strengths and weaknesses; however, Wix, Weebly, and Wordpress rate similarly on ease of use, customization, storage, user support, and administrative settings. Anecdotally, students prefer Wix or Weebly. These two platforms provide clear descriptions and intuitive customization tools. A comparison among the platforms is located at the following link:

    About Me Page

    A basic ePorfolio commences with the About Me page. The About Me page introduces the student, explains her or his professional goals, and articulates the purpose of the ePortfolio. The page clearly identifies the students’ post-graduation goals and centers on an overall theme that connects the student’s skills, experiences, and knowledge to her or his professional goals such as major, interests, and future plans. Essentially, the page is similar to the job interview question, “Tell me about yourself,” and emphasizes the professional, rather than the personal, aspects of the student. Any personal information or stories should directly support professional goals. The About Me page also includes navigational links to content pages that contain evidence of the student’s skills, experience, and knowledge.

    Content Pages

    An ePortfolio includes several content pages that can focus creatively on several themes; however, the most common pages center on professional, volunteer, study abroad, and service experiences. Content pages about professional experiences highlight academic coursework, internships, employment, study abroad, and research and teaching experiences related to career goals. Pages on volunteer experiences and service focus on work with charities and memberships to professional organizations that relate to the student’s career goals. Pages on interests and honors discuss awards and hobbies that demonstrate professionally relevant skills, abilities, and knowledge.

    Each content page contains artifacts. Artifacts serve as evidence and communicate to a professional audience the skills and knowledge students learn from their college experience. Artifacts may include text, images, videos, PowerPoint presentations, course assignments, class presentations and papers, and conference presentations. Each artifact is contextualized through reflective writing. Reflection provides a brief explanation of how each artifact relates to the student’s goals, to other experiences, and to the skills needed for successful employment or graduate studies. The written text informs both what the artifact is (what?), why it matters (so what?), and how the experience informs the future (now what?).

    Quality Assurance

    A successful ePortfolio requires a high standard of quality. Once published online, the ePortfolio is available to anyone with Internet access. A poorly created product may reduce rather than improve a student’s chances to gain meaningful employment or acceptance to a graduate program. Students are encouraged to release their ePortfolio to a professional audience only once it meets a professional standard. The university and the HDFS department provide several resources to assist students in producing a quality product.

    The Miller Writing Center at Auburn University provides online and in-person resources. Online resources include tips on identifying artifacts, choosing a theme, learning how to write reflectively, understanding ethical literacy, and ensuring that essential criteria have been met before publishing. Examples of ePortfolios are also available. In-person resources include appointments with writing tutors and ePortfolio workshops. In addition to student resources, the Writing Center also provides resources for faculty who wish to incorporate an ePortfolio as part of their course. Faculty resources include introductory materials, peer support from faculty across campus, internal grants to promote ePortfolios, and rubrics for assessment. The following link contains resources for implementing an ePortfolio:

    The HDFS department also developed a rubric and support materials to encourage ePortfolio quality at the professional level. The Roadmap helps students identify and develop potential artifacts that are presented as required assignments in HDFS courses. The Roadmap is introduced to all incoming freshman interested in the HDFS major and encourages critical thinking through reflection as a means to provide context for how a particular artifact applies to a student’s career goals. The following link contains the HDFS roadmap:

                In addition to the roadmap, both the introductory professional development and ethics course and the final internship capstone course implement a rubric that informs students about the expected outcomes. To promote clear communication about these outcomes to both students and faculty, a rubric support document defines the evaluated facets included in the rubric. The following link contains the rubric support document:

                  The HDFS rubric went through multiple revisions and the department tested it prior to implementation. The final rubric resulted in a good inter-rater reliability coefficient when tested on student ePortfolios available online, ICC (3, 6) = 0.88. The rubric consists of 18 items across four domains: effective communication, critical thinking through reflection, technical competency, and visual literacy. Each item is rated on a six-point scale where two points represent each of three levels of quality: novice, developing, and professional. Student ePortfolios are expected to be rated at the developing level by the end of the professional development and ethics course. By the internship course and prior to public release, student ePortfolios are expected to be rated at the professional level. The following link contains the rubric:

                Finally, the HDFS department offers two workshops per semester and an ePortfolio departmental award to encourage and promote ePortfolio excellence. The two workshops are held in the department computer lab and are open to all HDFS students. One workshop is targeted toward a novice audience who are in the beginning stages of an ePortfolio. The other workshop is focused on more advanced work for students who have already started an ePortfolio.

                Each spring semester, the HDFS department recognizes two excellent undergraduate ePortfolios. The department awards an HDFS Undergraduate Award for ePortfolio Excellence to a sophomore-junior level student and another to a senior level student. The winning students receive recognition by the department, a ceremonial plaque, and a small monetary award for producing a quality ePortfolio.


                A high-quality, professional ePortfolio has the potential to highlight the experiences, skills and knowledge necessary for students to be successful applicants in today’s job market or graduate programs. In addition to highlighting student qualifications, the process of creating an ePortfolio develops skills and abilities that are desirable in today’s emerging fields. Critical thinking and self-reflection are valued, adaptive qualities necessary in an ever-changing employment landscape. While effective communication, writing, and technical skills are highly sought in most professions, ePortfolios demonstrate student qualifications through the artifacts presented, reflective contextualization, and the creative process. Through this process, students are better prepared to answer questions such as, “Tell me about yourself?” in face-to-face interviews. Additionally, the personal nature of the ePortfolio provides employers and graduate program selection committees a window into the less tangible characteristics required for a good person-organizational fit. Finally, university and departmental encouragement and support can facilitate the resources necessary for students to publically release professional ePortfolios of high quality. In turn, successfully turning college graduates into employable professions—an indicator of a successful collegiate education.         


    American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU). (2015). Falling short? College learning and career success. Washington, DC: Hart Research Associates.

    Floyd, C. J., & Gordon, M. E. (1998). What skills are most important? A comparison of employer, student, and staff perceptions. Journal of Marketing Education, 20, 1303-109.

    Hoachlander, G., Sikora, A. C., & Horn, L. (2003). Community college students: Goals, academic preparation, and outcomes. Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, U.S. Department of Education.

    Suskie, L. (2009). Assessing student learning: A common sense guide. Josey-Bass: San Francisco, CA.

  • 03 Sep 2018 8:06 PM | Anonymous

    Alice Szczepaniak (Boston University)

    Robyn Johnson (Boston University)

    Naamah Azoulay Jarnot (University of Southern Maine)

    Changiz Mohiyeddini (Northeastern University)

    Sohila Mohiyeddini (California University of Management & Sciences)

    Haley Carson  (Northeastern University)

    Despite over 75 years of research on student persistence (Jones & Braxton, 2010), there have been few substantial gains in student persistence in recent years (Tinto, 2007). Persistence measures those students who continue to be enrolled in the university (McGrath & Burd, 2012). Low persistence rates can have a widespread impact:

    • ·       On a national level, college degree attainment has been linked to economic growth. Graduates from four-year colleges pay an average of 91% more in taxes each year than those with just high school degrees (Ma, Pender, & Welch, 2016).
    • ·       At an institutional level, student retention is used as a key performance indicator for the institution (Crosling, Heagney, & Thomas, 2009). Freshman persistence and graduation rates are among the metrics that define the quality of an academic institution (Culver, 2008).
    • ·       On an individual level, persistence is necessary for a college student to realize the social and economic benefits associated with higher education (Wolniak, Mayhew, & Engberg, 2012).

    According to higher education theorist Vince Tinto’s model of college student departure, dropout from college is the result of the students’s experiences in the academic and social systems of the college. The higher the degree of integration of the student into the college’s social and academic system, the greater the student’s commitment to the specific institution and to the goal of college completion (Tinto, 1975). Terenzini and Wright (1987) found that students’ levels of academic and social integration in one year had a positive influence on their level of academic and social integration in the next year. More recently, Strauss and Volkwein (2004) established that social activities, classroom experiences, and friendships are key predictors of institutional commitment.

    Based on this background information, we reasoned that student experiences that allow for both academic and social integration would increase student persistence. Thus, the objective of our study was to investigate whether positive group work experiences (Mohiyeddini, Johnson, Azoulay Jarnot, & Mohiyeddini, in preparation; Mohiyeddini, Azoulay, & Bauer, 2015) will increase students’ intention to persist.

    The Study

    Students were recruited at three different college campuses in London. To be included in the study, the students had to have current membership in a small mixed-gender group work of three to four students for at least one semester. While the classes were on different subjects, for each class the aim of group work was to produce a collaborative report and/or a presentation as a graded course requirement. Students participating in the study completed an initial questionnaire that included demographic and socioeconomic information, as well as a baseline measure of their intention to persist. Approximately five months after the first measurement, these students were asked to complete a follow-up questionnaire on their current intention to persist and their experiences with their group work. 232 students completed the study.

    To measure group work experiences we used the Positive Group Work Inventory (PGWI) (Mohiyeddini et al., in preparation). The PGWI is made up of 24 items that measure six central factors of group work experiences:

    • 1.     Perceived respect
          “We comment on each other’s performance with an appropriate tone”
    • 2.     Perceived fairness
          “The workload and responsibilities were fairly distributed among us”
    • 3.     Effective commitment
          “My group members were committed to our group work”
    • 4.     Perceived transparency
          “The rules for our collaboration were clear”
    • 5.     Perceived support
          “Other group members gave me the support that I needed to complete my part”
    • 6.     Perceived inclusion
          “I had the feeling that I belonged to my group”

    We measured the students’ intention to persist twice, once at the beginning of the study and again at the end of study (approximately 5 months later) with two items following Ajzen’s recommendations (1991):

    • 1.     “I intend to complete my degree at my current university”
    • 2.     “I intend to continue with my education at my current university”

    Our Findings

    After controlling for variables such as age, gender, and the student’s baseline intention to persist, we found that perceived respect (β = .125, p = .010) and perceived inclusion (β = .147, p = .002) were predictive of students’ intention to persist. The more students perceived respect and inclusion in their group work experience, the higher their intention to persist and complete their degree at their current academic institution. The predictive value of perceived inclusion suggests that if groups could foster a better sense of inclusion among members, that intention to persist could have an even larger impact on individual’s intention to persist, though the groups in this particular study did not do a particularly good job of fostering that kind of inclusive environment.

    Our findings are in line with recent theories and research on the impact of perceived respect on teams. Perceived respect reflects that the individual feels valued by the team (Branscombe, Spears, Ellemers, & Doosje, 2002; Huo & Binning, 2008; Smith, Tyler, & Huo, 2003; Tyler & Blader, 2003). Individuals who feel respected by other team members experience higher levels of identification with the team (Sleebos, Ellemers, & de Gilder, 2007) and put more effort into achieving team goals (Tyler & Blader, 2003).

    In a related vein, social identity theory (Tajfel, 1978; Tajfel & Turner, 1979) highlights that social identification processes, during which individuals tend to think of themselves in terms of their belonging to and inclusion in a social group or collective, have a crucial impact on individuals’ collaborative behaviors. Following social identity theory, our results extend these findings and may suggest that perceived inclusion in a team supports the sense of being a part of an academic institution as a larger community and therefore strengthens a student’s intention to complete their education at that institution.


    Although the current investigation advanced research on student persistence and positive group work experiences of students in several ways, there were also a number of limitations to our study. First, the study was based on self-reported data, which are affected by reappraisal of past events due to present (critical) circumstances, by impairment of memory over time, and by non-disclosure and reporting biases. Second, the questionnaire used in this study was presented in a consistent order and was not counterbalanced, which might have influenced the results and prompted order effects. Furthermore, considering the sample size, a non-random sampling method, lack of control group, and the recruitment of very few colleges, the generalizability of the findings is limited.

    What to Do with this Information

    Despite these limitations, our study expands our understanding of student persistence and highlights the potential impact of positive group work experiences on students. Fostering positive group work experiences could be an effective tool to improve the persistence intention of students. This can be done through:

           Workshops for faculty and staff that explain key conditions of a positive group work experience and provide tools and a framework for facilitating respect and inclusion in their class.

           Courses for students, such as first year seminars, that focus on teaching positive group work skills, particularly respect and inclusion.


    Ajzen, I. (1991) The theory of planned behavior. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 50, 179–211.

    Branscombe, N. R., Spears, R., Ellemers N., & Doosje, B. (2002). Intragroup and intergroup evaluation effects on group behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 28(6), 744–753. doi:10.1177/0146 167202289004.

    Crosling, G., Heagney, M., & Thomas, L. (2009). Improving student retention in higher education. Australian Universities’ Review, 51(2), 9-18.

    Culver, T. (2008). A new way to measure student success: Introducing the student success "Funnel"--A valuable tool for retention planning and goal-setting. Retrieved from

    Huo, Y. J., & Binning, K. R. (2008). Why the psychological experience of respect matters in group life: An integrative account. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(4), 1570-1585.

    Jones, W. A., & Braxton, J. M. (2010). Cataloging and comparing institutional efforts to increase student retention rates. Journal of College Student Retention, 11(1), 123-139.

    Ma, J., Pender, M., & Welch, M. (2016). Education pays 2016: The benefits of higher education for individuals and society. The College Board, Trends in Higher Education Series. Retrieved from

    McGrath, S. M., & Burd, G. D. (2012). A success course for freshmen on academic probation: Persistence and graduation outcomes. NACADA Journal, 32(1), 43-52.

    Mohiyeddini, C., Azoulay, N., & Bauer, S (2015, May). Maximizing collaborative small group work experiences: An assessment approach. Paper presented at the Conference for Advancing Evidence-Based Teaching, Boston, MA.

    Mohiyeddini, C., Johnson, R., Azoulay Jarnot, N., & Mohiyeddini, S. (in preparation). Individual differences in positive group work experiences in collaborative student learning.

    Sleebos, E., Ellemers, N., & De Gilder, D. (2007). Explaining the motivational forces of (dis)respect: How self-focused and group-focused concerns can result in the display of group-serving efforts. Gruppendynamik und Organisationsberatung, 38(3), 327-342.

    Smith, H. J., Tyler, T. R., & Huo, Y. J. (2003). Interpersonal treatment, social identity and organizational behavior. In S. A. Haslam, D. van Knippenberg, M. J. Platow, & N. Ellemers (Eds.), Social identity at work: Developing theory for organizational practice (pp. 155-171). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.

    Strauss, L. C. & Volkwein, J. F. (2004). Predictors of student commitment at two-year and four-year institutions. The Journal of Higher Education, 75(2), 203-227.

    Tajfel, H. (Ed.) (1978). Differentiation between social groups: Studies in the social psychology of intergroup relations. European Monographs in Social Psychology No. 14, London: Academic Press.

    Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. In W. Austin, and S. Worchel. (Eds) The social psychology of intergroup relations. Monterey, CA: Brooks/Cole.

    Terenzini, P. T., & Wright, T. M. (1987). Influences on students’ academic growth during four years of college. Research in Higher Education, 26(2), 161-179.

    Tinto, V. (1975). Dropout from higher education: A theoretical synthesis of recent research. Review of Educational Research, 45(1), 89-125. Retrieved from

    Tinto, V. (2007). Research and practice of student retention: What next? Journal of College Student Retention, 8(1), 1-19.

    Tyler, T. R., & Blader, S. L. (2003). The group engagement model: Procedural justice, social identity, and cooperative behavior. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 7(4), 349–361.

    Wolniak, G. C., Mayhew, M. J., & Engberg, M. E. (2012). Learning’s weak link to persistence. The Journal of Higher Education, 83(6), 795-819.

  • 02 Aug 2018 7:43 PM | Anonymous

    Amber M. Chenoweth and Brittany L. Jackson (Hiram College)

    Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) have a relatively recent history in terms of research attention. With the newly updated diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 (American Psychiatric Association, 2013), even more attention has been made to this spectrum of developmental disorders as individual diagnoses may have changed (e.g., individuals with former diagnoses of Asperger’s syndrome are now diagnosed with ASD). Further, typical developing students are finding themselves in a variety of situations in which students with ASD are included, often without a full understanding of the experience of their peers with ASD. This lack of understanding can lead to a range of responses toward their peers with ASD, including simple confusion and frustration when attempting to interact with their peers with ASD, to the extreme of bullying those with ASD (Swaim & Morgan, 2001). As Harnum, Duffy, and Ferguson (2007) found, this is due to the perception that individuals with ASD are not the same as typical developing individuals, leading to less openness to interaction.

          Our institution is poised with a unique opportunity for our students to interact more fully with individuals with ASD, being situated nearby to a Living and Learning Community. This organization is a fully-functioning organic farm that provides the opportunity for adults with ASD to work and be provided with occupational therapy options. Several students from our institution have participated in internship opportunities at Living and Learning Community and found these experiences rewarding, both in a service aspect as well as in future career exploration. Moreover, this interaction with individuals with ASD serves to increase student understanding of the complexity of this spectrum of disorders. Because of this stimulated interest in ASD among students on our campus, several faculty members across disciplines offer courses on ASD. Given our institution’s emphasis on interdisciplinary learning, we found this to be a great opportunity to engage students in a course to explore the many facets of ASD.

          Why an interdisciplinary course? Much value can be gained from engaging students in exploring a complex topic through multiple and integrated lenses. By allowing students the opportunity to explore these topics within the course setting, we can push them to challenge their previously held beliefs and ideas while they explore that shared space between disciplines. Further, interdisciplinary courses, particularly those that are team-taught, can foster creative, critical, and divergent thinking, all skills that are sought by our students’ future employers (Putrienė, 2015).

    Our Course

    Our course integrates the disciplines of psychology and theatre. From the psychology perspective, students are exposed to material from the scientific literature on ASD, examining with depth the topics of diagnosis, hypothesized causes, treatments, as well as the concept of neurodiversity. The theatre perspective exposes students to two key areas: playwriting and acting. Students learn techniques for telling a story drawing from multiple sources – readings, interviews, discussions – and acquire how to portray what they learn in both abstract and concrete ways, while being made aware of issues of accuracy and sensitivity to a population different from themselves. The interdisciplinary nature of the course also integrates the disciplines to model for students how the two inform one another. For example, the psychology content serves as the context for which to explore these topics in a theatrical way; awareness of body, space, and wording informs students in best approaches to interviewing individuals with ASD and those that support those individuals.

    The learning objectives of this course are for students to demonstrate understanding of the science of ASD and theatre methodology (playwriting, performing), and connect and listen to the other, testing empathy skills, and gain a truer sense of one’s own humanity. To meet these objectives, we designed the course to engage students in the following activities:

    • ·       Class discussions focused on topics about the science of ASD (neurobiological etiology, symptoms, and therapeutic interventions), as well as theatrical portrayals and storytelling. The basis for these discussions are assigned readings, including both fiction and nonfiction sources, scientific articles, case studies, guest speakers, and current event topics.
    • ·       Short writing assignments that scaffold students through the writing process by requiring students to submit specific creative writing pieces drawn from scientific literature. This begins with having students write a letter based on a scientific article, then a short story, and eventually multiple scenes of a play.
    • ·       Interviews with either individuals with ASD or those that work with individuals with ASD, including caregivers and family members, teachers, doctors, intervention specialists, case workers, etc.
    • ·       Field trips to various locations to explore aspects of ASD. Past field trips have included visiting the local Living and Learning Community that provides occupational therapy for adults with ASD and New York City to see the play The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime on Broadway.
    • ·       Media portrayals that depict various aspects of ASD. Past feature films have included Rain Main, Temple Grandin, and Ben-X, as well as the documentary Autism is a World. We also have students view clips from TV shows that highlight characters either overtly diagnosed with ASD (e.g., Parenthood) and those that are exhibiting common characteristics associated with ASD (e.g., The Big Bang Theory). These portrayals are the basis for class discussions on accuracy of portrayals, the ethics of presenting characters with ASD in often stereotypical ways, how these portrayals either promote or hinder the idea of neurodiversity, as well as to inform students on how to connect with the characters they are developing in their final performance piece and present in both an accurate and sensitive way.
    • ·       The final performance piece requires students to draw upon all the class activities to develop a brief (approximately 10 minute) play focused on a specific ASD topic. Students work in small groups (5 students per group, on average) to write and perform their piece.

    Assessing Our Course

    During the fall 2015 offering of Exploring Ability and Disability: ASD, we administered a voluntary pre- and post-test survey to students enrolled in the course to assess changes in knowledge of ASD, as well as to inform us on the students perceived effectiveness of the course activities described above. A total of 25 of our 31 enrolled students completed both the pre- and the post-test set of questionnaires.

    At pre-test, we administered a prior experience survey which revealed participants had, on average, approximately five years of experience interacting with an individual with ASD, typically a classmate, friend, co-worker, or relative.

    At both the pre- and the post-test we administered the Autism Knowledge Survey-Revised (AKS-R) developed by Stuart, Swiezy, and Ashby (2008). This questionnaire of 20 statements about ASD provided a measure of baseline and change in knowledge of ASD, as participants indicated on a 6-point Likert-type scale how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement. We found that overall students did increase in their knowledge of ASD compared to pre-course baseline. However, there were a couple items that did not show the same increase in knowledge, highlighting our need to address those topics more clearly in future offerings of the course. One example included the item “Children with autism do not show attachments, even to parents/caregivers,” to which the correct response should be “Fully Disagree.” Upon reflection, we identified areas where we could emphasize the fuller range of emotion and attachments that children with ASD do express.

    We also administered the Openness Scale, adapted from Harnum et al. (2007), at both pre- and post-test. This scale first presented a vignette depicting characteristic behaviors of an individual that may be diagnosed with ASD, and then presented a series of statements regarding reactions to and the willingness to interact with that individual, to which respondents rated on a 5-point Likert-type scale how much they agreed or disagreed with each statement. With this measure, we found that participants remained at their initial high openness to interact levels pre-to-post, indicating that there may have been potential bias. This bias may be from demand characteristics – who would want to admit that they would not want to interact with an individual who clearly displays behaviors of the disorder for which this course is based upon? – or from the self-selecting nature of taking a course on ASD, or both.

    Lastly, we surveyed participants on their class experience with a series of open-ended questions. They all took the form of “Reflect on how the [assignment/activity] affected your understanding of individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Representative responses are below.

    Final performance pieces.

    • ·       “It helped me understanding people with autism because it allowed me to imagine what it would be like to actually be involved in a family with children with autism.”
    • ·       “There were many different views of autism portrayed. It reminded me that everyone experiences the disorder differently.”
    • ·       “I think it helped show how people took their own version of what they saw autism as and turned it into a play. Each play had different aspects to it which showed all the things we've learned.”

    Short writing assignments.

    • ·       “They allowed me to express what I have learned in different ways from monologues to poems. Sometimes things are hard to express so this gave me the chance to try different ways.”
    • ·       “The SWA's were the most influential piece for my learning in this course. I learned a ton through the articles and reflecting in a creative way.”
    • ·       “I never thought I could be creative when talking about autism.”

    Class discussions.

    • ·       “It allowed me to see and compare my thoughts with my peers and fellow classmates. I got to see and hear that I wasn't the only person with confusions and thoughts about people with autism.”
    • ·       “They allowed me to see many different opinions from everyone in class. Not everyone has the same type and amount of experiences so this class gave me the chance to see what others see and think.”


    • ·       “It made me face something about my friend. And myself.”
    • ·       “I learned SO much about my interviewee and ASD in general. I had known the person for years, yet never thought to ask these questions or care to listen for the answers. This was a crucial part of the course.”

    Field trips and media portrayals.

    • ·       “It definitely drew my attention to the fact that many types of the disorder are not reflected in the media at all.”
    • ·       “I loved them all, all of them provided me with a learning experience that helped me gain an understanding of ASD. It also reminded me that this is something I want to do for the rest of my life.”
    • ·       “This was a great idea as it allowed us to gain realistic perspectives of people with ASD. Experiencing something in real life is much different than in a classroom or through a book.”

    As with any course assessment, however, not all our responses were quite so positive. A few respondents indicated they thought the short writing assignments and class discussions were repetitive, and that the final performance pieces showed more stereotypical representations of ASD. Overall, though, students generally rated each of the activities as valuable at some level, and attributed the activities and assignments to enhancing their knowledge of ASD.

    Lessons Learned

    From the open-ended responses, both indicating “success” as well as negative aspects to consider for future modifications to the course, we have identified key lessons learned when teaching a course on a complex and sensitive topic, particularly when you are expecting them to demonstrate their understanding through creative methods.

    First, it is crucial to provide your students lots of examples. Luckily, we have taught this course a handful of times now and have built up a repository of good examples (with those students’ permission, of course) to share with our students, particularly for the short writing assignments. One area we identified could use more examples is with plays and performances in different formats. By having students practice what we are expecting to have them complete by the end of the course – i.e., a full performance piece – we greatly enhance the success of achieving that learning goal.

    Second, whenever possible incorporate experiential learning opportunities. As evidenced by the responses we received about the field trips and interviews, students learn so much by doing rather than just through merely reading or being lectured to. We are fortunate to have the Living and Learning Community for adults with ASD within walking distance of our campus, but there are other ways to incorporate these experiences into any course. For example, reach out to the local community for guest speakers, such as special education instructors, the director of the local disability services office, and parents of children with ASD. In our experience, many of the individuals in these positions are wanting to share their experiences to promote greater understanding. We also found value from engaging our students in simulation exercises, such as simulating sensory overload. However, such exercises need to be placed in the correct context and introduced and discussed in a way to not promote feelings of pity in the students, but rather to promote understanding (Nario-Redmond, Gospodinov, & Cobb, 2017).

    Third, and we would argue most important, be encouraging! For some students, this is their first creative experience and they are anxious. In our course, many of our students did not come having had acting experience, or even creative writing experience. It was important for us to emphasize that the class space was a safe space to explore both the theme and content of the course, as well as how to express themselves in a creative way. This led to our favorite response provided above: “I never thought I could be creative when talking about autism.”


    American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Autism Spectrum Disorder. In Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.), 50–59.

    Harnum, M., Duffy, J., & Ferguson, D. A. (2007). Adults’ versus children’s perceptions of a child with autism or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 37, 1337-1343.

    Nario-Redmond, M. R., Gospodinov, D., & Cobb, A. (2017, March 13). Crip for a day: The unintended negative consequences of disability simulations. Rehabilitation Psychology. Advance online publication.

    Putrienė, N. (2015). The links between competences acquired through interdisciplinary studies and the needs of the labour market. Social Sciences (1392-0758), 88(2), 54-64. doi:10.5755/

    Swaim, K. F., & Morgan, S. B. (2001). Children’s attitudes and behavioral intentions toward a peer with autistic behaviors: Does a brief educational intervention have an effect? Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 31, 195-205

    Stuart, M., Swiezy, N., & Ashby, I. (February 2008). Autism Knowledge Survey:  Understanding Trends in Autism Spectrum Disorders. Poster presented at the 2nd annual ABA Autism Conference, Atlanta, GA.

  • 03 Jul 2018 10:53 AM | Anonymous

    Laura Chesniak-Phipps and Laura Terry  (Grand Canyon University)

    Faculty members at a Christian university are typically expected to integrate faith into the curriculum. Not only is this encouraged by the administration and falls in line with the mission and vision of the university, but it is also expected by many students. A previous study suggested that students who attend Christian institutions anticipated that their education would prepare them for their future career and also strengthen their spirituality (Sherr, Huff & Curran, 2007). Often, faith integration is defined at the university level and does not consider the students’ perception of this integration (Burton & Nwosu, 2003). As faculty at a Christian university, we were interested in learning from students how they perceived the Integration of Faith and Learning (IFL).  The goal was to determine where IFL was apparent and how faculty could best include this element in their courses. Results of this investigation provided us with insight into student perceptions and offered an opportunity for us to share suggestions with institutions and professors interested in IFL.

    In order to examine this issue, students who were enrolled in Introduction to Psychology courses were asked to participate in focus groups. Focus groups were selected for data collection because they allow for follow-up questions to clarify, and gain a richer understanding of, participant responses. Focus groups, consisting of 50 students, lasted approximately one hour and participants were asked five questions. Students were first asked to sign informed consent forms and then were separated into groups of 7-8. Questions were presented one at a time, and participants were asked to spend a few minutes to individually respond. They were given small pieces of paper and told to write down one response per paper and then were asked to share their responses with their group. When ideas were shared, group members with similar ideas were to indicate that a theme was identified. This allowed for organic coding within the small groups. Finally, the groups were asked to report their responses to the whole group so that themes could be identified and ideas could be grouped. After the focus group was complete, the researchers examined the categories that were created by the students and categorized responses into logical themes.

    Professor Led Integration

    One of the main findings of the focus groups was that participants viewed instructors as being primarily responsible for faith integration. Participants also reported that they experienced faith integration in some classes but not in others. This suggests that while instructors are seen as primarily responsible for integrating faith, not all are doing so. It may be that some instructors do not feel comfortable integrating faith,  or are not sure how to go about doing so. These results support findings from past research (Dykstra, Foster, Kleiner & Koch, 1995; Hall, Ripley, Garzon & Mangis, 2009) which indicated that professors play an integral role in integration of faith in the classroom and should be considered the main source of IFL. From examining previous studies, and the current focus group work, it is clear that students see their professors as not only leaders in their field, but also factors in their development of faith and as a connection between faith and their specific discipline. These results suggest that universities should consider professors as primary agents for the integration of faith and should provide training and necessary resources to support them in this endeavor.

    Integration across Disciplines

    It was not surprising that when participants were asked about in which types of classes they saw IFL, the majority responded theology. However, they also reported IFL in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), humanities, communications, business and fine arts classes. Furthermore, with the exception of theology, the participants also reported perceived difficulty integrating faith into the above disciplines. This suggests that while classes focusing on religion can easily include components of faith, it is possible to integrate faith into all classes, regardless of the discipline. One reason for this may be that individual professors who teach these classes have a strong faith-base. This also presents an opportunity to explore the curriculum and determine where faith can be integrated organically within each discipline, regardless of an instructor’s religious background. While some of these areas may be more challenging than others, participant responses indicated that there is integration which suggests it is possible and it can be successful.

    Solutions for Integration

    Due to the responsibility of IFL resting primarily on the professor, the training, resources, and materials may help to increase instructor knowledge and confidence. A standardized curriculum could also be developed to include the integration of faith into specific topics within the class. Instructors who are noted as being skilled with integrating faith can be consulted when developing curricula. Dykstra et al. (1995) identified a level of integration where courses can be designed with the inclusion of IFL activities. Incorporating elements of faith into courses through a centralized curriculum would ensure that, despite individual differences in instructors, students will receive the same types of integration. Universities that do not adopt a fully centralized curriculum but want to integrate faith seamlessly, may choose to incorporate assignments or discussion questions that can be used by all faculty members. This would make certain that, despite individual differences in instructors, students will receive the integration they desire.

    Past research suggested that discussion is one of the most common types of integration (Hall et al., 2009) and that this is a path for students to process their personal views (Dyksta et al., 1995). In the focus groups, only a small number of participants reported that class discussion was where they experienced IFL. Some focus group participants referred to the main discussion forum in the online learning management system as a place where discussion could be used. One option could be to have instructors incorporate pre-written discussion questions into the learning management system that focus on IFL. If there are instructors who are not comfortable with IFL in their classroom, pre-written discussion questions that tie into content of the course could be added to provide an avenue to incorporate and discuss faith. Professors who are less comfortable integrating faith or do not have the personal experience to do so can still provide IFL for their students.

    Students indicated several ways in which faith could be integrated into the classroom and campus experiences. Examples included prayer and personal expression that demonstrate the fruits of the spirit. Prayer in the classroom can be achieved in a variety of ways, from professor led prayer to students taking turns leading prayers, or through online discussion forums. One option professors might choose to use for incorporation is a prayer forum in their learning management system. This provides an opportunity for students to share their prayer requests and to pray for each other.

    IFL is an important part of the curriculum at Christian universities and understanding student perceptions of integration can lead to more effective strategies. As faculty members, we strive to deliver a quality education to our students and support the mission and vision of our university. Understanding our student’s perceptions allows us to examine what is being done well and what can be improved upon. While this study focuses on IFL, important lessons can be derived for other learning institutions. In higher education, it is important to understand curricular objectives that are being delivered to students.

    Individual differences in instruction can be leveled by providing a standard curriculum to ensure that all graduates, regardless of their program of study, class modality, or instructor, receive a quality education.


    Burton, L.D., & Nwosu, C.C. (2003). Student perceptions of the integration of faith, learning, and practice in an educational methods course. Journal of Research on Christian Education 12(2), 101-135.

    Chu, J. (2005) Faith and frat boys. Higher Education Research Institute, 165 (19). 48-50.

    Dykstra, M. L., Foster. J. D., Kleiner, K. A., Koch, C. J. (1995). Integrating across the psychology curriculum: A correlation review approach. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 23(4). 278-288.

    Hall, L. E. M., Ripley, J. S., Garzon, F. L., Mangis, M. W. (2009). The other side of the podium: Student perspectives on learning integration. Journal of Psychology and Theology, 37(1). 15-27.

    Sherr, M., Huff, G., & Curran, M. (2007). Student perceptions of salient indicators of integration of faith and learning (IFL): The Christian vocation model. Journal of Research on Christian Education, 16(1), 15-33.

  • 03 Jun 2018 9:57 PM | Anonymous

    Suzanne Wood (University of Toronto)

    At large research universities, undergraduates can get lost in the shuffle. Both logistically and economically, it is more feasible to hold lecture-style classes and to leave undergraduate lab experiences to those who are selected for research assistant positions.  However, this places a significant strain on already overburdened research faculty and their labs and leaves many qualified undergraduates in the lurch.  These undergraduates may be curious about research but may lack the confidence to approach faculty members for open research opportunities (see Bangera & Brownell, 2014 for discussion). Running laboratory courses can meet the needs of these students and lead to many of the same outcomes as achieved through individual research placements in labs, including improvement in scientific writing, computational, and technical skills (Shapiro et al., 2015). Undergraduate research experiences have also been found to bolster student interest in science as a career (Lopatto, 2007).

    One of the most exciting components of my position at the University of Toronto Psychology department was the directive to update the small (maximum enrollment of 20) psychobiology (behavioral neuroscience) undergraduate lab course with new, innovative methods. While I was fortunate that my department was already footing the bill for a massive renovation of the dedicated lab space, including the purchase of lightly used equipment, the accompanying course development was left entirely in my hands. To best utilize these resources, I set about designing a course that would leverage the power of high-impact learning practices which can lead to increased student engagement and retention (Kuh, 2008). These types of learning practices are highly encouraged at the University of Toronto and are documented periodically as part of the National Survey of Student Engagement (University of Toronto, 2014). The power of these practices can be harnessed for many types of courses, but are particularly amenable for a laboratory course setting.

    High-Impact Practices

    The key elements of high-impact practices were integrated into the course redesign as follows:

    Undergraduate Research

    While protocols for this course were established and approved ahead of time, students had the rare opportunity to gain hands-on experience with rodents before deciding to join a lab or apply for graduate school. In addition, while neural structures had been the focus of tissue staining techniques in previous iterations of this course, I updated the curriculum to include analysis of neural activity (c-fos staining). Experience with these types of technique are critical for those undergraduates hoping to pursue behavioral neuroscience graduate work today.

    Collaborative Projects

    Experiment days required participation from all students. Students were also encouraged to work on statistical analyses together, and time in class was allocated to help facilitate this collaboration. Only the writing assignments were completed independently. This distribution of work was an attempt to more closely mimic actual research settings (significant collaboration), while providing assignments for individual marks (written assignments).

    Writing-Intensive Course

    Students submitted multiple writing assignments throughout the semester. Time was devoted in class to faculty-student, or teaching assistant (TA)-student, one-on-one meetings to discuss each writing assignment. The manner in which students addressed their own weaknesses throughout the semester was considered when assigning grades.  This type of intensive feedback was only realistically possible with a small instructor (and TA)-student ratio.

    Career Exploration in the Community

    Preferences in enrollment were given to third year research specialists (high-achieving students who were interested in research, typically with intentions to attend graduate or medical school). With this in mind, I focused on what they would need to know after graduation, either when applying to jobs or graduate programs. I worked with the Career Centre to schedule a visit for students to a local, off-campus neuroscience laboratory during regular class time. To ensure the greatest learning outcomes, I scheduled a preparation session hosted by the Career Centre during class the week before the trip, as well as a debriefing session the week afterward. Students were encouraged to learn not just about the “traditional” research career paths, but also about paths in “non-traditional” science roles (e.g., fundraising, human resources, infrastructure, vivarium management, etc.).

    Student-Faculty Interactions

    The course offered undergraduates the rare opportunity to interact directly with a faculty member on a weekly basis in a small group setting. In my department, third and fourth year courses tend to enroll 50 students, with a small number of seminars offered with maximum enrollments of 20. This small group format allowed for many informal discussions regarding topics in related research areas, career paths, etc. The TA for the class was also tapped for information regarding graduate school applications, life as a graduate student, and other related topics.

    Student Reactions

    The university-wide, online course evaluation tool gathered opinions from students over the past two years concerning the perceived quality of their educational experience in this lab course. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. Below are sample quotes from the anonymous student feedback concerning the high-impact learning course components:

    “This lab course is extremely novel and interesting…I’ve never learned anything this stimulating and applied in any of my other courses.”

    “I learned valuable skills that are rare for an undergraduate course.”

    “[The] personal feedback on papers was excellent and I saw a massive improvement in my scientific writing.”

                  “Such a great course that is unique from most other courses at U of T.”

     “Why aren’t there more courses like this available to undergraduates?!”

    Notably, one student applied to a graduate program in Health Services Administration after completing this course. She ascribes this decision to the class field trip and hearing from one of the neuroscience institute’s employees about “non-traditional” career paths.


    While the above components of this course have been successful, I would be remiss if I did not mention some of the significant hurdles faced when developing this course. Specifically, three main obstacles continued to rear their heads whenever I seemed to finally settle on an activity or experiment: time, money, and the lengthy commute of my students.


    One of the challenges in running this lab course was carving out the time to prepare. In contrast to a lecture-based course, a lab course involves preparation of not only learning objectives, content, assignments, and the like, but also logistics such as obtaining the relevant ethics board approval, equipment set up and testing, federal approval for scheduled drug possession, piloting experiments ahead of time, etc. The departmentally assigned teaching assistant was only employed for the term, so, in preparation throughout the summer, I found myself working on tasks during the day that required business hour communication (e.g., federal drug approvals) as well as cognitively taxing jobs such as course design. I spent nights on more menial tasks such as setting up and testing equipment.

    To help offset some of the time burden during the following year, I applied for a small university grant (Advancing Teaching and Learning in Arts & Science; ATLAS) that supported a TA to assist throughout the year in the design, implementation, and piloting of new protocols. The TA was invaluable in offsetting some of the burden of the background work involved in this course, leaving me the time to handle course design logistics. The TA shined in the development of the brain histology protocol and the listing of the necessary equipment and supplies to run it. He completed this task with gusto, leaving no detail out, and saving me countless hours.

    In addition, recruiting help from the Career Centre was essential for setting up the field trip component of the class. They were a source of enthusiastic support during both terms. Again, this collaboration saved me an enormous amount of time in scheduling logistics.


    Tied in closely with time constraints are money issues. As I mentioned above, an in-house grant helped me greatly, not only for the TA assistance outside of the regular term, but also for purchasing critical pieces of small equipment to complement what was already being supplied by the department. Specifically, I added in molecular biology techniques that reflected common practices in today’s behavioral neuroscience research (it is no longer sufficient to focus exclusively on animal behavior; genetic, histological, and molecular biological techniques are also expected). Equipment such as pipettes and glassware were not part of the lab renovation but were critical to the implementation of these new protocols.

    For instructors at smaller institutions, or if no in-house financial support is available, you may consider the possibility of recruiting undergraduate volunteers who were superstars in previous iterations of the class. While you will benefit from their assistance, the students will benefit enormously from this experience: they will see the setup of the lab from the “inside” perspective and will solidify what they learned in the class. This type of leadership experience will set them apart from their fellow students when applying to graduate school or employment positions upon graduation. In general, undergraduate teaching assistants have been found to benefit greatly from their experiences with the class (e.g., Schalk, McGinnis, Harring, Hendrickson, & Smith, 2009).

    Large, Commuter Campus

    At a primarily commuter campus, the design of the class is constrained to events taking place during class hours only. This is particularly challenging in a psychobiology class where behavioral animal experiments are used. Extended learning tasks (e.g., Morris water maze, radial arm maze, etc.) are simply out of the question. I selected tasks that could be run within a three-hour class session: an abbreviated version of object recognition, comparing rats’ performance on low-dose amphetamine with saline; and open field locomotion, comparing mice injected with diazepam, amphetamine, or saline. Brain tissue histology was performed over the course of several weeks, with tissue being frozen between sessions.

    Benefits can also be found with this type of situation. While students did not have the opportunity to run paradigms that required daily interactions with the rodents, having all laboratory work performed within class hours made this unique experience accessible to students who might not have the flexibility to participate in apprentice-style lab opportunities (e.g., those with lengthy commutes, jobs, or other time commitments; see Bangera & Brownell, 2014). In addition, I was able to leverage the urban location of the campus to coordinate a field trip within walking distance (see High-Impact Practices: Career Exploration in the Community section).

    Take Away Points

    While this piece focuses on a single course at a large research institution, the embedded lessons can be applied to many different settings:

    • 1)     Seek out and find help. Learn about the resource available to you such as institutional funding and offices on campus such as the career center, teaching and learning center, etc. Also, look to TAs and undergraduates to participate in the implementation of classes that are as technically burdensome.
    • 2)     Know your students. Do your students commute, or do they live on campus? Are they 3rd and 4th year students, or are they just starting out? Considerations such as these can help guide your instructional design choices (although all could probably benefit from some instruction on scientific writing, as well as a basic stats review).
    • 3)     While new equipment is fun, it does not make a class. Take advantage of what you have access to, but know that your job is not done once those boxes of new equipment and supplies have been delivered. Implementing high-impact practices can help to ensure important learning experiences for your students, regardless of sophistication of laboratory techniques.


    Bangera, G., & Brownell, S. E. (2014). Course-based undergraduate research experiences can make scientific research more inclusive. CBE Life Sci Educ, 13(4), 602-606. doi:10.1187/cbe.14-06-0099

    Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.

    Lopatto, D. (2007). Undergraduate research experiences support science career decisions and active learning. CBE Life Sci Educ, 6(4), 297-306. doi:10.1187/cbe.07-06-0039

    Schalk, K. A., McGinnis, J. R., Harring, J. R., Hendrickson, A., & Smith, A. C. (2009). The undergraduate teaching assistant experience offers opportunities similar to the undergraduate research experience. J Microbiol Biol Educ, 10(1), 32-42.

    Shapiro, C., Moberg-Parker, J., Toma, S., Ayon, C., Zimmerman, H., Roth-Johnson, E. A., . . . Sanders, E. R. (2015). Comparing the Impact of Course-Based and Apprentice-Based Research Experiences in a Life Science Laboratory Curriculum. J Microbiol Biol Educ, 16(2), 186-197. doi:10.1128/jmbe.v16i2.1045

    University of Toronto (2014). Results of the National Survey of Student Engagement. Retrieved on May 31, 2017 from

  • 01 May 2018 6:10 PM | Anonymous

    Karen Z. Naufel  (Georgia Southern University)

    Psychology sometimes has a public relations problem. People are skeptical of its science (Lillienfeld, 2012) and usefulness (Halonen, 2011). It is important that we teach others about the practicality and ubiquity of psychology. Teaching about these values is not limited to only the classroom. Instead, if people are to learn about psychological science, we as instructors must extend our teaching beyond our academic borders. As others have said, we must teach to the community (e.g., Lilienfeld, 2012; Zimbardo, 2004).

    Over the past several years, I have had this privilege of teaching psychology in the community. The process is different from teaching students. Community members have more freedom in choosing what they want to learn. The technology available in the classroom is not always available in community settings. The chance to correct a misunderstanding of information is limited. Simply put, effective teaching in the community often requires a different subset of skills than effective classroom teaching. In this essay, I present some tips for teaching the community that I've picked up along the way. Although there are many ways to teach in the community, I focus on how to give lectures (or “programs” as they are typically called).

    Tips for Getting Started

    Compared to students, community members have different incentives for learning material: They are not learning to ace tests or get good grades. Instead, they choose to learn when topics appeal to them. Therefore, it is crucial to identify topics that will appeal to a wide, non-academic audience. Identifying topics that will draw in such an audience can be tricky. If a program topic seems relevant and interesting, people come. If a program topic is too narrow, controversial, or academic, then community members may shy away from attending. Here are some tips for generating appealing program topics:

    • Pick topics that meet community needs. If people stereotype psychology as a field that

    only helps others with personal problems, then people are not likely to know how psychology could relate to them. Likewise, if psychology instructors aren’t connected with the community, then instructors also may not know what the community really needs.

    Identifying community needs comes from submersing oneself in the community. It can come from looking at local organizations’ webpages, daily conversations with people at the coffee shop, or a chat with a worker while in the grocery store checkout line. Think about how psychology is connected to the issues that others bring up in these situations. Then, brainstorm program ideas that relate.

    • Teach only what you know. As you generate program ideas, remember the ethicality of teaching only what you know. The American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct has specific provisions regarding making public statements [see Sections 2.01(a & c); 5 & 7]. Additionally, academic freedom does provide some license to talk freely. However, this freedom also comes with the responsibility of providing accurate information (Hunt, 2010). Sometimes, you may be invited (or tempted) to give a program on a topic outside of your area of expertise. In such instances, it is best to decline and instead refer the program to a knowledgeable colleague.

    • Reframe program titles so they don’t create reactance. As we know from our long familiarity with the confirmation bias, people look for information that confirms rather than disconfirms their beliefs (Nickerson, 1998). Therefore, a talk entitled, “Spanking: Why It’s Not a Good Idea” will likely only draw in a crowd of people who already agree with the premise. Those who spank their children—arguably those who need this information more—may avoid the talk altogether. A talk title that is less direct (e.g., “Making the Terrible Twos Less Terrible: Strategies for Raising Healthy Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Children”) may elicit greater reception.

    • Rapport matters. Even with a snazzy title, it can be difficult to get an audience. In tightknit or small communities, activities from newcomers or outsiders may be viewed suspiciously. Therefore, posting fliers about your program around town, creating a public Facebook event, or announcing it in a newspaper may work, but the resulting audiences may be embarrassingly minimal. (Can you imagine giving a talk to only one person? I can. It’s awkward.)

    Personally, the best experiences I have had in getting program gigs have come from connecting with people from the community (see Tip 1). Go to Farmer’s Markets, spin classes, and community events. While waiting for your coffee at the local shop, chat with another frequent customer. Join locally-based Facebook groups or other groups, many of whom can recruit audiences for you. As you foster these friendships, it becomes easier for you to tell them what you do, and easier for them to ask for and value your expertise.

    • Consider how your institution views these activities. Most likely, your institution will herald these activities as important service work. However, consider important policy and legal ramifications. Such service opportunities may also be considered consulting work in certain circumstances—even if your work is free. In these cases, institutions may limit the number of hours a faculty member can engage in consulting behaviors. Some institutions may require permission to use university’s supplies, such as a laptop or printer, for these events. Others may fully cover you should be injured while delivering a program, but the institution may require that formal paperwork be filed beforehand.

    Tips for Developing a Program

    Creating a lecture is not the same as developing a program. Beloved teaching strategies like think-pair-share may seem odd in a community setting, and assigning readings beforehand may not be possible. Instead, an instructor will likely get one brief shot to deliver the information clearly and succinctly. To increase the likelihood that a program goes well, consider these tips:

    • Teach to the community, not to students. I remember a moment I was discussing research with a community member. I used the word “altruistic”— a word with which the community member was unfamiliar. She then said, “you professors like your big words, don’t you?” At that moment, I felt the rapport between us plummet. I had reinforced a stereotype that academics were not connected to the outside community.

    Since then, I’ve aimed to be more mindful of my audience. Americans tend to read an eighth-grade level or less, and a substantial portion of the population lacks basic reading skills (Literacy Project Foundation, 2017). Therefore, lectures for a typical college-level psychology class may be too advanced for many community members, and it is important to adjust accordingly.

    To make it more likely that a program appeals to wide audiences, it’s wise to have people with a variety of educational backgrounds offer feedback on your program’s recruitment materials, program, and activities. Although it is intended for creating health materials, the Center for Disease Control’s brochure Simply Put: A Guide for Creating Easy-to-Understand Materials has transferrable tips for delivering presentations to an audience with a wide range of literacy levels (Center for Disease Control, 2009). Additionally, reading-level calculation tools, such as the Flesch-Kincaid scale, can determine if text (or a transcription of what one plans to say) is at an acceptable level. Many word processing software systems, like MS Word, have such tools built in.

    • Fair use rules for copyrighted material may be different. Do you have a favorite cartoon that you like to show to your classes? Is there a graph in a journal article that really illustrates a concept? The same principles for fair use in academic settings are not necessarily the same ones for use in community settings. To determine what media can be included in a program, consider how these media will be used. For instance, does the organization want to post your program's handouts on their webpage? Will the organization disseminate your program's materials to others? It is pertinent to review fair use policies to determine whether materials can be used.

    Some websites have materials that are free for public use. For instance, has thousands of photographs available, and it does not require attribution or the creator’s permission to use. Other websites, such as the NOBA project (, have license agreements explaining how the material can be used and shared.

    • Plan for no PowerPoint. If planning to use technology as part of the presentation, and your program is off campus, remember that not all organizations have equipment for you to use. BYOT (Bringing Your Own Technology) may be an option. If you choose to BYOT, ask about the room setup prior to coming. Rooms can be too small for a projector, outlets may not be available, or the room setup may not be conducive for using technology. On one occasion, I was told a monitor with an HDMI cable would be available to hookup to my laptop. It was, but the monitor size was much too small for everyone to see the graphics clearly. On another occasion, I was promised a projector. When I arrived, they had a projector, but no projector screen. Unfortunately, art occupied all wall space, which meant I couldn’t project on those surfaces. Luckily, I had brought handouts so I could improvise on the spot.

    Although I love using technology in the classroom, I rarely use it anymore when giving programs to the community. Instead, I have found that giant Post-It® notes can be great for writing quick points or drawing quick visuals. Handouts, too, can provide a summary of key points without relying on the randomness of technology.

    • Be prepared to give programs of varying lengths. Instructors may be used to having nearly an hour or more to give a program. However, community programs vary drastically in time allotment. Though sometimes I have an hour or more to speak, I am usually asked to give shorter (10-20 minute) programs.

    Some programs take place during an organization’s regular meeting. Their regular meeting agenda may run long, which cuts into the program time. I have had to change the length of my program on the spot. Just as it is important to have an idea what to cut from a lecture, it is also a good to have an idea what to cut if giving a program.

    If you find yourself with a tiny time limit, remember these rules: 1) Emphasize a single main point, and 2) Provide participants with specific steps for how to obtain more information upon completion. The last step is particularly important in preventing participants from internet searching pseudoscientific and inaccurate information.

    Tips for Finishing up a Program

    • Assess your work. Techniques that work in classrooms may not work as well in the community. Alternatively, a novel approach in the community may inspire a new teaching technique for your classroom. If at all at all possible, chat with attendees after you give your program. Such chats can provide insight to if and how they will use the information they learned. For longer programs and workshops, it is also acceptable to ask participants to complete a very brief survey about your talk. (You can for shorter programs as well, but it may impinge on your time limit). The assessment aspect, whether formal or informal, is vital for improving your techniques for future programs.

    • Take experiences back to the classroom. Teaching community members can augment the quality of your own classes. Students often crave real-world application of material, and these experiences—unless proprietary—can provide examples to share with your students. Additionally, these experiences can foster the community relationships necessary to have successful and unique service learning opportunities. For instance, a program on creating customer satisfaction surveys for small business owners could transform into an indirect service learning project for students in a research methods course. To maintain a relationship with the community members following a program, the instructor could suggest having students work on the project as part of a course assignment.

    Enjoy the reward. Though teaching students and the community may require different approaches, they do yield similar feelings of reward. When teaching either in the classroom or in the community, we are often providing the first glimpse of psychological science. In both cases, it is exciting to see those wide-eyed moments when people realize the extent to which psychology is valuable to them.


    American Psychological Association. (2017). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of

    conduct (2002, Amended June 1, 2010 and January 1, 2017). Retrieved from

    Center for Disease Control (2009). Simply out: A guide for creating easy-to-understand

    materials. Retrieved on July 24, 2017


    Halonen, J. (2011). Are there too many psychology majors? White paper prepared for Staff of

    the State University System of Florida Board of Governance. Retrieved from

    Hunt, E. (2010) The rights and responsibilities implied by academic freedom. Personality and Individual Differences, 49, 264-271. doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.011

    Lilienfeld, S. O. (2012). Public skepticism of psychology: why many people perceive the study

    of human behavior as unscientific. American Psychologist, 67, 111-129. doi:


    Literacy Foundation Project (2017). Staggering Illiteracy Statistics. Retrieved on July 24, 2017


    Nickerson, R. S. (1998). Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises. Review

    of General Psychology, 2, 175-220. doi: 10.1037/1089-2680.2.2.175

    Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). Does psychology make a significant difference in our lives? American

    Psychologist, 59, 339-351. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.59.5.339

  • 01 Apr 2018 5:10 PM | Anonymous

    Kamil Hamaoui  (Westchester Community College)

    Empirical studies have established that the testing effect is an effective strategy for improving long-term memory (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014; Roediger, Smith, & Putnam, 2011). In short, we can improve our ability to remember information, concepts, and skills when we test ourselves during learning. In terms of the stage model of memory, if we repeatedly practice retrieving a memory from long-term memory into working memory, it becomes more firmly consolidated in long-term memory, preventing future forgetting.

    Most studies of the testing effect have been conducted in the lab, under carefully controlled, artificial conditions, which calls the external validity of the effect into question. However, in recent years, researchers interested in teaching and learning have examined the applicability of the testing effect to the classroom setting. The testing effect can be used in the classroom by administering quizzes on content that students have already learned, whether through reading, lecture, discussion, or some other activity. These quizzes can be multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, short-answer, etc. and may be administered at the beginning of a class meeting, at the end, or integrated throughout coverage of the content. Does the periodic use of review quizzes in the classroom lead students to better learn and remember course content?  Will students who are quizzed perform better on the comprehensive exams given after a block of material or at the end of the term?

    Findings from applied studies on the testing effect are mixed, but Nguyen and McDaniel (2015) present some general conclusions in their review of the existing literature. Quizzing does improve exam performance when the exam questions are the same or similar to the quiz questions. However, it seems that there is no improvement if the exam questions test on the same topic as the quizzes, but on different concepts.

    This suggests that if we want to make maximum use of the testing effect to improve student learning, we should quiz students on all the concepts we want them to learn. As any instructor knows, however, regardless of the level of experience, this isn’t feasible. As it is, without any class time devoted to quizzing, we struggle with the issue of what content to cover in class, since we don’t have enough time to cover everything we want students to learn. This raises several questions:

    • ·       Can quizzing serve a purpose beyond the testing effect? 
    • ·       Will having periodic review quizzes on some concepts motivate           students to study outside of the classroom?  If so, will the type of studying they do benefit their long-term memory of the material studied? 
    • ·       Does it make a difference if the quizzes are graded or ungraded?  Will graded quizzes motivate students to study more effectively, leading to better long-term learning?

    In order to address these questions and get some answers for myself, I designed and conducted an experiment on the effects of different types of review quizzes on long-term learning in three sections of my General Psychology course at Westchester Community College. I administered periodic short-essay quizzes testing students’ (n = 75) understanding of specific concepts covered during the previous class sessions. Quizzes were scheduled and designated as counting towards the course grade (graded), not counting towards the course grade (ungraded), or potentially counting towards the course grade (pop). For the latter condition, a coin toss just prior to the quiz determined whether the quiz would be graded or not. A Latin square design was used to control for differences in the difficulty of topics and order effects.  Specifically, each quiz condition was assigned to a different topic (sensation and perception, learning, or memory) in each of the three sections, and each quiz condition was assigned to a different time in the term (first, second, or third) in each of the three sections.]

                  Unannounced, practice tests consisting of short-essay questions were administered halfway through the term and at the conclusion of the term. These tests included questions on the same topics as the review quizzes, but on different concepts. I predicted that students would perform better on the topics which had preceding graded or pop review quizzes than ungraded quizzes, thinking that students would study these topics more in preparation for those quizzes.

                  What did I find? There were no significant differences in test scores between the different quiz conditions. Evidently, the type of studying that students did in preparation for graded or potentially graded quizzes was not beneficial to their long-term learning relative to the type of studying, if any, that students did in preparation for ungraded quizzes. My guess is that most students simply read over their notes for a few minutes right before the quiz as they were waiting for class to begin. This might have been effective for performing well on the quiz, but it did not benefit their long-term learning any more than whatever preparation (probably none) that they did for ungraded quizzes. As we know, reading and understanding what is being read in the moment is not the same thing as learning and remembering something in the long term. Also, “massed practice,” familiar to students as cramming, is not as effective as “distributed practice” or spacing out one’s studying in smaller learning sessions (Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel, 2014). Ironically, at the end of the term, students reported that they thought the graded or pop quizzes were best for their personal learning because they studied more. This suggests that students do not have insight into the studying strategies that are required for long-term retention of course content.

                  What else did students think about the different kinds of quizzes?  Beyond their erroneous belief that the additional studying they did for graded or potentially graded quizzes compared to ungraded quizzes was good for their learning, students reported a strong dislike for the pop quizzes. They preferred predictability, either knowing that a quiz would be worth points or not. If it was worth points, they reported being more motivated to study and felt rewarded for their studying. If it was not worth points, they felt less anxiety and could focus on other classes.

    So what did I learn from this study? How will it inform my teaching? I learned that ungraded quizzes are the way to go. Making quizzes graded or potentially graded does not lead students to study in ways that benefit their long-term learning any more than making them ungraded, and many students experience increased stress from graded quizzes. In addition, making quizzes graded means you have to grade them, which can take considerable time depending upon the type of questions and the size of the class.

    On the other hand, using ungraded, in-class review quizzes has multiple benefits. If exams have similar questions to the quizzes or test on the same concepts, the testing effect will boost students’ learning and performance on the exams. And, a few studies have found that ungraded quizzes actually produce a stronger testing effect than graded quizzes (Khanna, 2015; Wickline & Spektor, 2011).

    In addition, with appropriate feedback, review quizzes can serve as a valuable formative assessment tool. Students can learn what they know and what they don’t know, and how their thinking and test-taking can be improved. If quizzes consist of short-answer or short-essay questions, after students write their responses, the teacher can ask students to share what they wrote and then evaluate the responses for students in class. Many criteria or intellectual standards (Paul & Elder, 2000) factor into the quality of written work. These include accuracy, clarity, precision, logic, depth, breadth, relevance, significance, and fairness. Criteria other than accuracy, which is whether the response is correct or incorrect, often make the difference between a “good,” “very good,” or “excellent” response.

    For example, let’s say that a student writes that evolutionary psychology is the “study of traits and what they do for us.” This is basically correct, but the response is of low quality. The wording “what they do for us” lacks precision and clarity. The wording could be improved by stating that evolutionary psychology is the study of how traits “function to improve our adaptiveness to the environments in which we live.”  The instructor can point out that adaptation, or a variant of the term, is a keyword that should be included in the definition. It could also be pointed out that the response lacks relevance to psychology, which is about behavior and mental processes. To make the response relevant, the wording “behavioral and psychological” traits should be included. Moreover, it’s not just about humans. To make the definition broader, non-human animals, which are studied by comparative psychologists, should be included as well. Taking the time to give this type of detailed feedback in class teaches students about critical evaluation, an important part of critical thinking. It also gives students clear expectations for how their written work on exams and assignments will be graded.

    One last benefit of using in-class review quizzes is that they can be used to incentivize attendance and create a more orderly beginning and end to the class session. If attendance is required for the course, papers students use to write their quiz responses can be collected and used to take attendance. If attendance is not required, quizzes can be offered as all-or-none extra credit. We know how much students love extra credit! If the quiz is given at the very beginning of class, students will be encouraged to come on time. Some students will inevitably arrive late, but they will trickle in quietly without causing a disruption to the learning environment. If the quiz is given at the very end of class, students will be encouraged to refrain from packing up until the class is officially over. No more of that infernal shuffling as we get close to the end time of class!  

    I have been using in-class review quizzes for some time now, but in various ways and off and on in various classes. After completing this study and reviewing the relevant literature, I’m now convinced more than ever in their usefulness and in leaving them ungraded. I recommend making stress-free, ungraded in-class review quizzes part of your teaching tool kit!


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

    Khanna, M. M. (2015). Ungraded pop quizzes: Test-enhanced learning without all the anxiety. Teaching of Psychology, 42, 174-178. doi: 10.1177/0098628315573144

    Nguyen, K., & McDaniel, M. A. (2015). Using quizzing to assist student learning in the classroom: The good, the bad, and the ugly. Teaching of Psychology, 42, 87-92. doi: 10.1177/0098628314562685

    Paul, R. W., & Elder, L. (2000). Critical thinking: Basic theory and instructional structures handbook. Tomales, CA: Foundation for Critical Thinking.

    Roediger, H. L., Smith, M. A., & Putnam, A. L. (2011). Ten benefits of testing and their applications to educational practice. In B. H. Ross (ed.), Psychology of learning and motivation. San Diego: Elsevier Academic Press.

    Wickline, V. B., & Spektor, V. G. (2011). Practice (rather than graded) quizzes, with answers, may increase introductory psychology exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 38, 98-101. doi: 10.1177/0098628311401580

  • 01 Mar 2018 9:28 AM | Anonymous

    Ronald G. Shapiro

    Since most students who complete occasional psychology courses and even most undergraduate psychology majors will not enroll in graduate school in psychology or become psychology professionals, it is important to prepare these students for jobs in other fields. This article provides suggestions on how offering a non-majors psychology course in lieu of introduction to psychology for non-majors, making minor changes to other courses, providing different types of opportunities, and focusing recommendations can help to prepare students for jobs in different fields.

    Non-Majors Psychology Course. One of the “facts” I learned in graduate school was that non-majors who earned an “A” in an introduction to psychology course, when asked to retake the final exam a year later did not pass it (Sidney L. Pressey study reported by David Hothersall in History and Systems Class, Ohio State University, circa 1977). This fact has had huge impact on my thinking. If people aren’t going to remember it, why teach it? One might argue that it is easier to relearn material. True, but your non-major may not be very likely to do this. Instead, I would recommend making a list of those items you really want non-majors to remember five years after the final exam and teach those materials and only those materials to undergraduate non-majors. Be thorough in teaching those materials. Teach them in a variety of contexts. One way to do this would be to offer a non-majors psychology course. Structure the non-majors course in ways that students might use the material (rather than as we structure the field with our specialties). Topics might focus on how to use psychology:

    ·       In society (separating “fake news” and “alternative facts” from science);

    ·       In marketing and advertisement;

    ·       In working with others;

    ·       In structuring a work environment;

    ·       In understanding how a person develops from birth through death; or

    ·       As a potential consumer of psychological services.

    This structure would help students better use the materials, and see how what’s being taught might be helpful to them. In this restructured course remember to teach only what you want the students to remember 5 years after the final exam.

    In Today’s Courses. Explain and have students complete numerous projects applying whatever you teach to real world solutions. If the material you teach is basic research that is so cutting-edge that there are no applications for it yet, have the students participate in projects which help them to think about how the materials might be used to change lives a year, a decade or a generation from now. This may require teaching less material, but in more depth. Show students how to become a “citizen expert” (if not a scientist) continuing to follow up on these projects throughout life.

    Providing Advice to Students. Truly understand the student’s objectives (and the objectives of the person paying for the student’s education) before offering advice. Early in my career I would have advised a student that their primary objective in college is to learn all that they can from their academic departments. Everything else is secondary. For some students this is truly the case and I would recommend this today. For example, I have encouraged many high school students to meet faculty on their visits to college campuses and figure out how they can become involved in their research from freshman week onward. For other students, I would today argue that their best bet is to lead a very balanced life. The extracurricular activities, friendships formed, internships, and other experiences might be more valuable to them than what they learn in their academic departments. Encourage these students to take advantage of the numerous benefits provided while they are enrolled in a program (i.e. regular access to faculty, internship programs) that are harder to obtain without the student status. Recommend that students learn as much about business as possible through studying I/O psychology as well as completing courses in business. Also, recommend that students learn as much about technology as their interests allow, because more and more positions will require knowledge about technology   

    Producing a Resume. You may wish to help your students prepare their resume. Resumes for industry are vastly different than academic resumes or CVs. An industrial resume needs to ROAR (be Results Oriented and Relevant). In addition to being much shorter than academic CVs, they need to show a potential recruiter and a potential hiring manager why this applicant is better than the numerous others applying for the same job, in just seconds. A resume that shows real results, and that the applicant took the initiative to show how they would apply their knowledge and experiences to meet the specific employers’ needs are most beneficial. Keywords may be important for the recruiter. Showing real results (rather than job responsibilities) that will demonstrate to a hiring manager how those results translate into action is critical. In response to the frequently asked question “How long should a resume be?” The answer is long enough so that the person reading it becomes more enthusiastic about the candidate with every sentence, not bored with redundant or irrelevant detail. Providing the names of faculty members (e.g., worked in Professor Smith’s lab) are only important if the reader is likely to know or have heard of Professor Smith. References would not normally be included on a resume (to protect faculty from random calls), and the words “References Furnished Upon Request” should never be included on a resume because the point is obvious and also, it is somewhat insulting to the reader (saying “I do not trust you with the names of my references”).

    Writing letters of recommendation. You are writing a letter of recommendation, not a performance evaluation. Your job, should you chose to accept it, is to sell the student to prospective employers by pointing out his or her strengths and why the potential employer will be better off with this student (as opposed to someone else) on their team. Before deciding if you can do this (unless you know you cannot up front) review the student’s resume and ask the student for a listing of content you might include in their letters. If you cannot use the content, explain to the student what you can do for them in a letter and suggest that there are probably others who can do a better job for them. Don’t “kill the student with faint praise.”  Don’t discuss student’s weaknesses or areas for improvement.

    The interview. Help your students to be able to communicate with potential colleagues, managers, people familiar with their work, and people not familiar with their work. In an industrial interview, applicants may meet with many people including recruiters, potential managers, and colleagues. Be sure your students can communicate their research work as well as other topics effectively. They should be able to explain their work (emphasizing their own contributions and differentiating them from the work of others) in one minute, five minutes, ten minutes or a full length presentation and have the listener engaged, excited about the topic, and seeing how the applicant would be the best fit in their organization. Please be sure to do this in the time allocated. One way to do this is to show how their research fits into the company’s mission and requirements. I might add the purpose of the interview is to determine if there is a good fit between the candidate and the position for both the applicant and the company. Accordingly, the applicant should be prepared to ask meaningful questions that will help them to decide if the position is a good fit for them explain how they will be a real asset to the specific company and demonstrate a thorough understanding of the company and enthusiasm for being part of it.

    Decision Making. Businesses need to get products to market in a timely fashion. Thus, decision making is simply different than in academics. In academic basic research one might want to have a standard of p<.05, p<.01, p<.001, etc. In industry decision making may be made with absolutely no evidence (depending upon the industry). If an employee is 50.01% confident in a decision based upon knowledge and research they should be prepared to make a recommendation, as the recommendation is based upon some knowledge. Depending on the circumstances, they should also be prepared to qualify how confident they are in the decision. Rather than using p values for decision making, corporate executives may be more likely to use the 80/20 rule. That is, you can accomplish 80% of what you want to do with 20% of the effort. So, stop the process and go when you are 80% confident. You can help students understand this important distinction.

    Deadlines. Deadlines are critical in business… far more so than in academics. They are real. No matter how thorough a contribution is, if it is late it may be totally useless. There may be some circumstances in which a late contribution may be acceptable, usually when an even more critical process has been delayed. The odds of this are minimal. The academic practice of deducting points for late work really doesn’t apply to much in business. A recommendation a day or a week late is not, for example 80% or 90% as good as a recommendation delivered in a timely fashion. A more realistic way to make decisions about accepting late work would be to shuffle a deck of cards after the late work is completed. Draw a card off the top. If it is, for example, an ace, accept the work. If not, don’t.

    Oral Communications. Communicating in business is simply different than communicating in school. For example, I learned a very bad habit in graduate school. Ask questions to show you understand the work and to show defects in a presenter’s thinking. One of my best managers ever pointed this out to me. His recommendation was to: 1) only ask my questions if everyone else had completed theirs and my question had not been asked and 2) only ask questions for clarification. Otherwise, address the questions with the presenter off line. Be sure that your students understand this important distinction.

    Written Communications. In academics we tend to write long journal articles explaining numerous details about our work. In industry, a brief executive summary is the more important means of communication. Executives trust that we know how to do our work and we may not need to demonstrate how we derived our results to them. When sending written communication, keep the receiver in mind and anticipate their schedule, mind frame, and organizational style (i.e. details versus quick summaries). Chances are that an executive will be very busy, rushed, and stretched thin, in which case having results and next steps up front will go a long way. Keep thorough lab notes. Depending on the corporate culture expected from your executive team, write the detailed report for backup or else skip it all together. In my first report on a study I did at a major corporation, two of us were presenting. My colleague was to present part 1. I was to present parts 2 and 3. Somehow, when he finished I went right into part 3. No one cared that the details were left out. Indeed the comments I received from my client were completely complimentary… that my department had learned how to present more concisely.

    Research Involvement. Offer your students an opportunity to work with you on research. This will help them to develop great skills. Be sure that they can explain what the research was all about, their role in it, and how that research was better because of their participation (as opposed to that of another person). Be sure they can explain this very succinctly as well as in detail.

    Perception of Degree Value. I’ve heard professionals, even a vice president in a major corporation, say “I was a psychology major and it was useless to me. It did not help me get a job.”  That statement may be true. I did point out to her that while the degree may not have helped her secure her first position with the business, what she learned probably helped her to advance very quickly from an entry level position to a high level executive position. She agreed. My recommendation here is to clearly explain to your students what a psychology degree may and may not do for them in the business world, generally when they are considering the major. Explain this at the beginning of the semester for each course. Explain again, at the end of the semester, how the content should help them. In between assign work that will help the students to explain how the content might apply to the business world.

    Seminars. Invite alumni who have gone into industry 1, 5, 10, and 20 years ago to offer seminars at your school showing how their degrees have helped them, and how the students might apply their degrees.

    Internships. Completing one or two successful internships or coops can be extremely valuable for students as a learning experience. If they perform well, it may also be the key to having a great job waiting for them on graduation day.

    In summary, I would say that a psychology major can be an extremely valuable tool to help a professional throughout their career if they make the most of it by becoming extremely involved with their department, research, course work, and internships. If they, on the other hand focus on taking mostly large lecture courses to meet the minimum degree requirements they will be minimizing the value of their degree.


    Author note: I would like to thank Industrial Consultant Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.

  • 01 Feb 2018 9:27 AM | Anonymous

    Jennifer A. Oliver (Rockhurst University)

    The use of case studies is a common active learning strategy employed in psychology. Case learning is useful for developing critical-thinking skills (Krain, 2010), and for increasing students’ motivation and interest in course material (McManus, 1986a; McManus, 1986b). Researchers have described many positive outcomes of using case studies. These include helping abstract theoretical information become concrete, facilitating understanding; reinforcing course concepts as students analyze, infer, and examine relationships (Graham & Cline, 1980); and integrating students’ learning as they incorporate theory into practice and make practice integral to theory (McDade, 1995).

    But most of the work examining the use of case studies uses pre-written cases. While I wanted to use cases in my Psychology of Disability course, the only cases that I could find were focused either on abnormal psychology or on special education, and neither area was a good fit for this course. So, I decided to have students write their own cases. Few studies have examined having students write their own cases. Successful application of student-generated case studies has been used at both the undergraduate level in business and science, as well as in medical training (Yurco, 2014). In fact, Yurco reported that when students created their own cases, they developed greater confidence, ownership of the learning process, a deeper understanding of the material, and improved critical thinking skills in an introductory neurobiology course. McManus (1986b) reported that having student groups compose a problem-focused case and generate potential solutions to the problem in the case assisted students in consolidating course concepts in an adolescent psychology course.

    In this essay, I describe an applied project that I use in my undergraduate Psychology of Disabilities course, along with information on students’ performance and their views of the project. The Psychology of Disabilities is a 4000-level class (junior and senior level). All of our 4000-level courses require an assignment that involves an integrated literature review but I also wanted to incorporate some application into the course at a broader level than just using exam questions.

    The Project

    In the Psychology of Disabilities course, students chose a disability and wrote their own case study of an individual with that particular disability. The project included:

           An integrative literature review (minimum of 4 double-spaced pages) describing the disability, including psychological and behavioral characteristics, prevalence rate, developmental changes as an individual with the disability moves from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, (possible) causes of the disability, and at least three sociocultural factors chosen from: race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and differences among regions of the world. Students had to cite at least eight credible academic sources, with at least two of the sources being empirical journal articles. They were allowed to use one internet source that summarizes information on the disability; however that source had to be a credible source, written by individuals who are professionals and knowledgeable about the disability. I provided students with examples of sources that would both be acceptable and not acceptable. Students turned in rough drafts of this section at midterm for feedback before the final project was due at the end of the semester.

           A case study of a fictional individual with that disability at two contrasting ages (minimum of 1 full page, single-spaced per age). In keeping with the developmental focus of the class, students could use any ages between preschool and young adulthood (up through the early-20s). In their case study, students needed to apply the characteristics, described in the literature review, that an individual with that disability would exhibit at the chosen ages, and include either a behavioral interaction and/or a verbal interaction between the individual and at least one other person

           A complete description of two possible interventions/treatments that would be appropriate for their fictional individual, including the effectiveness of each intervention/treatment. In addition, students discussed which age from their case each intervention/treatment would be most appropriate for and why.

    An example of a case study and two additional completed projects were available for the students to use as models.

    Student Performance

    In order to determine how well students performed on the assignment, I evaluated the grades on each section of the assignment from 56 students (28 each, in Spring 2014 and in Spring 2015). The percentages of grades for each area of the assignment were as follows:

    Case Study

    Literature Review














    Below C




    Overall, students performed well on all three areas of the assignment, with at least 78% earning an A or B on each portion. Over 90% of the students did quite well on the case study portion. Common areas where students missed points were not providing an example of behavioral and/or verbal interactions between the individual and another person, not including all of the characteristics described in the literature review in the case, or not meeting the length requirement. A higher percentage of students received a C or lower on the literature review portion than on the other two sections of the project, which was surprising since they received feedback on a previous draft of this section of the project. Common difficulties on the literature review included not fully describing the disability, choosing inappropriate sources (especially an over-reliance on internet sources), and lack of integration of information from multiple sources. In addition, students were asked to describe three sociocultural factors chosen from: race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, and differences among regions of the world; students often ignored the actual sociocultural factor choices given in the assignment and came up with their own factors. This was the first psychology course that required a writing assignment this in-depth for some students, which may explain the lower scores on this section. A few students did not incorporate feedback that was provided on their draft. If students lost points on the treatment/intervention section, it was typically because they either did not fully describe the treatment/intervention or failed to discuss the effectiveness of the treatment/intervention. A few students did not discuss how the treatments/interventions related to the case study portion of the assignment.

    I also wanted to assess students’ views of the project. After students had turned in their final project, they completed a 3-item anonymous rating of the project. Each question was rated on a 5-point Likert scale (1=strongly disagree, 5= strongly agree). Students’ average ratings were quite high:

           Completing the case study project increased my understanding of disabilities, M= 4.32 (sd=.69, range 3-5)

           The case study project was a useful way to help me learn the class material, M= 4.29 (s.=.73, range 3-5)

           I rate the project as interesting, M=4.38 (sd =.62, range 3-5)

    Students’ anonymous ratings for the case study project were quite high, with the lowest rating for all three questions as neutral. Thus, this project may be one way to get students more actively engaged in learning about disabilities. In addition to the students’ high ratings of the project, there were numerous unsolicited comments on the course evaluations that they enjoyed the project and it helped them learn to apply course material.

    I was also interested in whether completing a big application project was related to student performance on application-based material on the exams. There are three exams in the course. Each exam has nine application-based multiple-choice questions. I give Exam 1 before students have completed any of the project. I give Exam 2 after students have completed a draft of the literature review but before they have written the case study portion. Students take Exam 3 after they have completed the final project. I looked at these application-based multiple-choice questions on each exam to see if there was improvement after completing the case study.

    Average % correct

    Exam 1


    Exam 2


    Exam 3


    Students, on average, performed better on the application-based multiple-choice questions after completing the case study. While there was no difference between scores on Exams 1 and 2, t(8) = -1.976, p=.084, there were significant differences between performance on Exam 1 and Exam 3, t(8) = -3.086, p=.015 and Exam 2 and Exam 3, t(8) = -3.117, p=.014.

    Performance on the application-based multiple-choice questions on the exams improved after completion of the case study project. Students may be getting better at application-based multiple-questions with repeated practice on the exams but completing the case study project may have also helped in learning to apply information.

    Suggestions for Using the Project in Other Psychology Courses

    While I designed this project for a specific course, it could easily be adapted for use in other Psychology classes, either with or without a literature review, such as:

    • ·       Abnormal Psychology–students pick (or are assigned) a psychiatric disorder and create a fictional individual with that disorder, describing the symptoms specific to the characteristics (age, race/ethnicity, etc.) of the individual. Students could also discuss a specific theoretical orientation toward treatment.
    • ·       Community Psychology–have students create a case about an individual, demonstrating how that individual is connected to his/her environments and how specific problems within the individual’s community have an impact the individual.
    • ·       Developmental Psychology–have students develop a fictional individual and describe how that individual changes while passing through the different developmental time periods. For example, in a child psychology class, what that individual looks like at early childhood compared to middle childhood. Or students could use one developmental period (e.g., adolescence) and describe how physical, cognitive, and social-emotional developmental interacts at that age for that particular individual.
    • ·       Health Psychology–students could create a case study about an individual with a specific health issue, discussing how the individual adjusts and copes with the issue, what behaviors could protect the individual’s health, what behaviors harm the individual’s health, and how those behaviors could be changed.
    • Concluding Thoughts

    I have found this project to be a fun, engaging way to help students learn about disabilities. It demonstrates that the majority of students can apply information and describe how characteristics of disabilities can change developmentally. In addition, students appear to enjoy the assignment and it actually is more fun to read and grade than traditional literature reviews.


    Graham, P.T, & Cline, P.C. (1980). The case method: A basic teaching approach. Theory into Practice, 19(2), 112–116.

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

    McDade, S.A. (1995). Case study pedagogy to advance critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 9-10.

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

    McManus, J.L. (1986b). Student composed case study in adolescent psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 13(2), 92-93.

    Yurco, P. (2014). Student-generated cases: Giving students more ownership in the learning process. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43(3), 54-58

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