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

Jill Johnson: I'm a member of STP, and this is How I Teach

20 Jan 2014 6:00 PM | Anonymous

School name: Carl Sandburg College


Type of college/university: Community College


School locale: Galesburg, IL; rural


Classes I teach: 

Intro, Developmental, Gender and Society. I have also taught Human Sexuality and Social Psychology. 


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

Some of the best and most recent advice that I received came from my vice-president. I was discussion the lack of motivation and sense of responsibility when it came to student learning. She looked at me and simply said, "They are not the students you were, but you have them, and you have to figure out how to teach them." That is when I completely changed my teaching style from traditional lectures and passive learning to peer to peer collaboration and active learning. 


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

Lately I have found inspiration in Dr. Mark Taylor's article about "Generation NeXt." I have come to the realization that complaining about lack of student preparedness and whose fault it is does nothing to educate the student. It is my job as an education to figure out a different path to meet the educational objectives of my courses. I have totally thrown out all lecture notes because of Dr. Taylor, Eric Mazur, and others like them.


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

I absolutely LOVE discussing how media influences our gender development. Students will start off very rigid in their belief that the cartoons they watched, games they played, or stories that were read had little to no influence on their gender belief system. We usually watch the documentary Mickey Mouse Monopoly, which has a variety of scholars decoding and analyzing what Disney characters teach us about gender and race. Because students grew up watching these shows, it is easy for them to identify with the characters discussed in the film. There is always a lively conversation about the impact childhood shows like this can have. The reason I love this topic is because for many, if not all, it is the first time they ever really looked at the hidden messages about gender that are given to us. Some students dig their heels in and refuse to believe that it had any influence on them (and that is ok), but most are amazed when these messages are brought to their awareness. Regardless of where they fall, students always leave the class talking about it and continue to talk about it outside of the classroom. It is very rewarding to have them come back to class and tell me how they discussed it with their friends and family. 


What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

I finally came to the realization that students do not learn the way I learned. I was having dismal completion rates and had to do something. Students weren’t reading the book and there weren’t really studying for their tests, so I decided I needed to teach them how to do both of these things. I made study guides. They had assigned questions for each class and would be given a study guide quiz (on which they could use the study guide) at the beginning of each class. The questions on the quiz were application questions, such as identifying an unconditioned stimulus in an example rather than giving the definition.  I wanted to see if they could go from factual to applicable while they had the notes right there, and folks, some of them couldn’t. So the study guide served two purposes; it taught them how to read a textbook and it was used to illustrate critical thinking.


After the quiz, we get in small groups. Students tell me which questions they need clarification on and what we need to discuss. Once all the confusing questions are listed, we begin with small group discussion to attempt to answer each question to make sure everyone understands. Then, I call on one student to explain it to the class, at which point I may add some other examples. This process makes everyone participate, because it is very difficult for someone to “check out” when you are in a group of 3-4 and everyone is talking to you. I think the greatest benefit is the connection students establish with each other; that connection has been found to be important in completion.


The last thing I want to touch on is multiple testing. I have created a test bank of 100s of questions. Students can practice taking the test over and over though our learning management system (we use Moodle). Once we finish a series, students have a week to take the test with me. We go to the computer lab on campus and they have three tries to take it. I wanted to show them that using practice tests, even though the questions may be different, is a very effective way to prepare for tests. Student grades and completion rates skyrocketed in my class. The interesting thing about all of this is that the test questions did not really change. I just added more of the same to create big test banks. Now, are the students learning the way I did…no. Are they learning? You betcha, and I would bet money that their retention for this information is much better than my previous classes where they had one test and that was it. My objective is for students to learn, not to learn the same way I did.


What’s your workspace like?

I have one of the most magnificent views on campus. I have a huge window where I look out at a lake and trees. I have seen bald eagles, deer, coyotes, grey squirrels, egrets, and a variety of other water fowl. It gives me a place to turn and take a couple of deep breaths when things start getting stressful. I have pictures of my family, autographed pictures of blues artists, and a star fish sitting on a desk, which is there to remind me that sometimes we need to fell the reward of helping one.


Three words that best describe your teaching style.

Relaxed, collaborative, student driven.


What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

Once a teacher, always a student.


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

I would say the pivotal semester (Spring 2011) when I had 69% fail or drop my class was the most embarrassing moment in my teaching career. That was the catalyst of change for me. Because of the pedagogical changes I made after listening to Eric Mazur and Mark Taylor, last spring (2013) I had a 6% drop or fail rate. Quite a change!


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

I am 53 year old blues groupie that goes to blues concerts and hangs out after the show in hopes of meeting the artists. Right now I have five 8x10 autographed pictures of me and various blues artists in my office.


What are you currently reading for pleasure?

I just finished I am Malala and am now reading The Power of Habit.


What tech tool could you not live without?

Learning Management System: Moodle. It is so efficient to provide materials to students, contact them, record grades, etc. It even allows my face to face students to have due dates on Sunday.


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

Interestingly enough, our hallway has a whiskey club. We usually are discussing the next type of whiskey we will try and who will be hosting the event. My favorite so far has been Johnny Walker Blue. 

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software