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

Matthew Callahan: I'm a member of STP, and This is How I Teach

21 Aug 2014 5:23 PM | Anonymous

School name: Sonoma State University


Type of college/university: Public, teaching focused


School locale: Sonoma County CA.


Classes I teach:

Social Psychology, Research Methods, Advanced Research Methods, Social Psychology of Gender, LGBT Psychology


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

Just because you “cover” it, doesn’t mean they have learned it.


This came from one of my mentors - Cindy Decker Raynak- at the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence. I know it sounds obvious, but I and many other instructors have a default worry that there isn’t enough time to “cover” everything. This approach leads to class sessions where instructors plow through concept after concept, show graph after graph, and summarize study after study. Students leave with their eyes glazed, wondering what will be on the test.


My approach now is to think “what can I present that will invigorate the material? What will promote long-term retention of the concepts?” Sometimes I use examples from my life. Other times I ask students to generate examples from their lives. And sometimes I do present studies and graphs, but only if it helps them learn the material. This approach takes time, and I do indeed end up covering less material. But that isn’t what I am after anymore. My goal is for the concepts to be remembered and referenced years after graduation.


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

Actually, it is not a book or article but a series of youtube clips. Andy Field’s Statistics Hell website is a treasure of resources to use in class. But more importantly, there are videos of him teaching his undergraduate statistics course. His ability to teach advanced concepts such as bootstrapping and fitting models is masterful. I use many of his metaphors and examples in my research methods class and the students get it right away.

Also, my graduate assistantship and post-doc at the Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence at Penn State gave me invaluable training that continues to blossom to this day. If you have a teaching center at your institution, check it out. They are an incredible resource.


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

Benevolent sexism. It changes lives.


Describe a favorite in-class activity or assignment.

Self-presentation styles on social media. Students take out their phones/laptops and go on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter - whichever they like. They look for examples of self-presentation styles (i.e., self-promotion, ingratiation, supplication, intimidation, exemplification). They then look to see the response – were there a lot of “likes” or re-tweets? Did it backfire and receive snarky comments? Which styles are most prevalent and why? (Self-promotion is always the most common.) The students are fascinated by this activity. 


What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

Frequent, lower stakes tests instead of exams. Every two weeks is a test on two weeks of material. They are just as challenging as an exam, only on less material. The research evidence overwhelmingly shows that this practice leads to better performance and deeper retention. You would think that the students would groan at more tests, but they don’t. They tell me that it is one of their favorite aspects of my classes.


What’s your workspace like?

To off-set the chaos in my head, my space is clean and soothing. There is a little fountain, pictures of various nature scenes and soft lighting. By the end of the semester all civility and order is gone. Empty Diet Coke bottles, Altoids tins, and piles of papers. Each November there are reports that several forks and spoons go missing from the department kitchen. I can neither confirm nor deny this, but please do not open my desk drawer. 


Three words that best describe your teaching style.

Learning while laughing.


What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

Respect the students. Strive for connection. Don’t be boring. (*nine words)


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

An alarmingly large lizard ran over my foot while teaching. After I returned to the ground, I was told that the lizard was a “service animal for depression” and that “he liked me”. Since then, I set firm policies that prohibit lizards in class.


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

Few can match my skill and fervor for step aerobics. Its heyday may have come and gone, but I still rock the bench, waiting for the triumphant return of step to mainstream fitness.


What are you currently reading for pleasure?

Spark by John Ratey, which is focused on the neuroscience research about exercise. 


What tech tool could you not live without?

Course management software. Gone are the days of those tiresome green gradebooks, bringing extra copies of handouts to class, and students wondering what their grade will be. 


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

We share our grading woes. Grading papers can be tedious. To break up the doldrums we share some of our favorite writing mishaps. Below is the current winner.

“Freud came up with the edible complex.”

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