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

Jill Swirsky: I am a member of STP and this is how I teach

01 Aug 2019 12:49 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

School name: Temple University


Type of school: Large 4-year school in the heart of Philadelphia


School locale: Philadelphia, PA


Classes you teach: Conducting Psychological Research, Learning and Behavior Analysis, TA for Honors Psychology


Average class size: 10-20


What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Right before I began teaching my first course, I told my advisor that I was nervous I wouldn’t be able to answer their questions or explain the material adequately. He told me that when in doubt, act like you know it all. Don’t make up an answer, but always answer with confidence – even if it’s just to say that you’re not sure and you need to look it up and get back to them.


What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I can’t say there was a specific book or article that really influenced me. However, as a graduate student I worked as a TA with the same professor for three years and she greatly influenced my teaching style. This professor was so engaging, dynamic, and passionate about what she did that it was a true privilege to learn from her. Additionally, she went to bat for her students in a way that was deeply inspiring and showed me the type of teacher I want to be.


Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I really enjoy letting students design their own research projects. When I teach Conducting Psychological Research, we move through the sections of a research paper one at a time. I lecture on the topic, and then we spend some time discussing each students’ individual project as a group: challenges, things they’re struggling with, etc. I love seeing each student‘s project develop over the course of the semester, and the interactive nature of them helping each other brainstorm ideas and troubleshoot problems.


Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  Learning and Behavior Analysis is a tough sell in my department – most students are taking it as a gen ed course rather than from a genuine interest in Behavior Analysis. Although I am in a Developmental Psychology program now, I trained as a Behavior Analyst and am very familiar with the science and research methodology of the field. However, most of the students indicate a desire for clinical psychology, which is VERY different from the goals and ideals of Behavior Analysis. At the end of the semester I always do Behavior Analysis Jeopardy which is a great way to review the topics from the course as students prepare to submit their final papers. The students get really into it and I give a few extra credit points to the winning team as additional incentive


What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I very strongly believe in a student-centered approach to both teaching and learning. Each student comes to the classroom with individual strengths and weaknesses, so a one-size-fits-all model is really not effective. I always make an effort to humanize myself through sharing stories and experiences from my own life, while making it clear to them that I see them as humans too. For example, I do my best to get to know each student, their post-undergraduate goals, etc., which shows them that I genuinely care about them and helps them to buy into me as an educator.


What’s your workspace like?  I am an extremely organized and detail-oriented person – and my workspace reflects that. The first thing I do when I get into the office is clean off my desk of any outstanding tasks, then clear out my e-mail. I can’t work in a messy space! I also believe in fun and whimsy, so I keep lots of pictures and colorful magnets etc. in my office. My (and my students’) favorite is one of those notebooks with the sequins that you can swipe back and forth to reveal different colors. It has a rainbow unicorn on it and when students come in stressed I have them play with it for a minute to chill out. Works every time – even for me when I’m stressed!

Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Student-centered, proactive, human


What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Students are individuals, treat them as such


Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I’m not sure this is a disaster or embarrassment per se, but it was certainly a challenging situation. I had a student completely stop engaging in my 6-week online summer class after the first week, so I e-mailed her to see if she was still planning to participate in my course. No response. About 2 weeks before the end of the semester, she reached out to me with a sob story asking if she could catch up on all the missed work and still be able to pass my class. I was willing to work with her and agreed to let her rejoin the class and make up the missed work for a penalty. She tried her hardest but was not able to finish everything by the end of the semester. Given that she’d worked extremely hard, I agreed to let her take an incomplete in my course and finish the work before the beginning of the fall semester. It was my first time giving an incomplete… so I had no idea there was protocol to be followed. I got an e-mail from Academic Advising asking for her incomplete contract, so after I figured out what the heck that was, I completed and submitted it. Then I received an e-mail from another academic advisor saying that this student was on academic probation and was not allowed to receive incompletes. I had no idea! Fortunately, the advisor was willing to be flexible and the student ended up passing my course but it was a learning experience all around!


What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? For my 21st birthday, my parents and I went skydiving. That’s right – I jumped out of a plane. Fun experience, crossed something off my bucket list… but I don’t think I’d do it again!


What are you currently reading for pleasure? I love YA fantasy novels – they are a great way to disconnect and relax. I’m currently reading a book called “The Glass Spare” by Lauren DeStefano


What tech tool could you not live without? I don’t rely a whole lot on technology in the classroom…. So the best I’ve got here is youtube! I often use videos to illustrate my points, and to break up the monotony of lectures.


What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? My colleagues are the other graduate students in my program, so we are all friendly. We often chat about experiences with students, whine about grading, and discuss our personal lives (relationships, family, etc.)


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