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

Karen Thompson: I'm a member of STP, and This is How I Teach

05 May 2014 9:15 AM | Anonymous

School name: Columbia College

Type of college/university: Small, single-gender liberal arts school

School locale (e.g., small town, rural area, city, country/region: Columbia, SC.  It is a mid-sized capital city.

Classes you teach:  Statistics; Research Methods; Learning, Cognition, and Memory; Biological Psychology; Introduction to Psychology; Drugs, Behavior, and Society; Psychology Lab; Psychology in the Workforce; Research Seminar; Academic Writing (an APA format prep course).

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

A seasoned faculty colleague taught me that a true “crisis” in our business is rare.  Students can be prone to crisis mentality when there is a problem, and I sometimes remind them that it’s not like we’re in an ER saving a life with precious few minutes to spare.  Whether it is an IT problem, a missed homework or test, illness, or some other issue, there is nothing that can’t be handled calmly and efficiently.  The only exception I can think of is when a student is at risk for not graduating – that might constitute some urgency!

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

Interestingly, it is Peterson’s (2009) article entitled, “Minimally Sufficient Research.”  It was in a special issue on improving psychological science in Perspectives on Psychological Science.  The article called into question the “more is better” approach to data analysis.  To summarize, Peterson found that the results of complex data analysis yielded essentially the same conclusion as a straightforward correlation – in other words, “more” was not necessarily better.  I still have the hard copy of that issue on my shelf.  I remind myself of that article when I start to put too much “stuff” into my classes, thinking more is better.

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

My favorite course is probably Research Methods.  I love teaching it because students often comment that after the course, they can never look at a statistic or research finding in the same way because they have acquired a “critical eye.”  My favorite topic is item construction – students will bring in examples of surveys with poorly-worded items (such as a suggestion card at a restaurant).  They claim that they can’t take surveys anymore because they question the validity of the items.

Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

One of my favorite activities in Research Methods is based on Rajecki’s (2002) Teaching of Psychology article on using personal ads for content analysis.  I like to do the content analysis as an in-class activity near finals week.  I’ve found some really amusing personal ads in our local free newspaper so it is a lot of fun for students to conduct and a great stress reliever.

What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

I try to use a mix of assignments (in-class small group discussions, in-class reviews, traditional homework, and exams).  I think they all have merit.  In-class reviews seem to work best – in most of my classes, I lecture on a topic and then have students complete a short application assignment with a partner as a review to make sure they’ve “got it.”  Then, I ask them, “Would you be able to do this on the next exam?” to which they usually agree.  That seems to build their confidence.  If they don’t agree, we review the trouble spots.


What’s your workspace like?

I have a small corner office in a building that was originally the college’s infirmary.  It now houses faculty offices for our division.  It is rumored that the building is haunted, but I have yet to witness anything unusual.  My office looks out over the main green area of campus – it is great to see students reading, playing Frisbee, having class, or just hanging out on the Green when the weather is nice (which is often – this is South Carolina, after all). 

Three words that best describe your teaching style.

“No surprises” (that is, no “making it up as we go along” or springing assignments on students), “comprehensive” (if I don’t know the answer to something, I’ll try to find it), and “committed.” Teaching isn’t something I squeeze in between other obligations.  I am constantly looking for ways to improve students’ learning and I solicit feedback from them often.

What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

This quote is attributed to Plato (it’s longer than 8 words – sorry): “Never discourage anyone who continually makes progress, no matter how slow.”

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

Oh, there are so many embarrassing moments to recount – most of them have involved me getting tongue-tied in front of class and as a result something amusing has popped out.  At least we all get a good laugh out of it!  Most of my disasters are IT-related (that is, something doesn’t work as it should, so I have to quickly devise a Plan B).  Perhaps this suggests that relying on technology for class is not always the best way to go.

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

They would be surprised to learn that I am a real softy.  Students typically describe me as the “hard but fair” professor, which makes it sounds as if I am “tough” or even cold-hearted.  In fact, I am completely the opposite.  I get misty-eyed during sappy commercials or movies, and my children make me laugh constantly.  I love a good time and have a great sense of humor.  When students come to me with difficulties, I am very sympathetic and quick to accommodate.  Students might also be surprised to know that my husband and I enjoy riding our Harley and that I frequently attend DragonCon in Atlanta (the southeast’s complement to ComicCon). 

What are you currently reading for pleasure?

During the semester, it’s hard to find time to read books for pleasure, but I always have magazines handy for a mental break.

What tech tool could you not live without?

YouTube.  I show a lot of video clips in class.  However, I wish there was an easy way to hide some of the more “interesting” sidebar ads.  We have had more than a few laughs in class over them.

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

We like to talk about new restaurant finds, recipes, and life in general (kids, travel, weekend plans, etc.).  We also talk about concerns regarding the college.  We share the same struggles many colleges face with respect to “selling” a liberal arts education in the current economy.

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