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

"This is How I Teach" Blog

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Teaching shouldn't be a private activity, but often it turns out that way. We don't get to see inside each others' classrooms, even though we'd probably benefit if only we could! In order to help Make Teaching Visible, we've introduced this blog, called "This is How I Teach." We will be featuring the voices of STP members twice a month. Psychology teachers will tell us about how they teach and what kinds of people they are -- both inside and outside the classroom. 

Are you interested in sharing your secret teaching life with STP?

We’d love to hear from you!  To get started, send your name, institution, and answers to the questions below to the following email:  

  1. Tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.
  2. What are three words that best describe your teaching style?
  3. What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?

"This is How I Teach" edited by: Mindy J. Erchull, Editor (University of Mary Washington); Jill M. Swirsky, Associate Editor (Holy Family University); Victoria Symons Cross, Associate Editor (University of California, Davis); and Lora L. Erickson, Associate Editor (The Chicago School)

  • Emeritus Editors: Rob McEntarffer
  • Emeritus Associate Editors: Virginia Wickline
  • 03 Mar 2021 9:16 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Springfield College

    Type of school: Small Private College 

    School locale (including state and country):  Springfield, Massachusetts

    How many years have you taught psychology? 29

    Classes you teach: Introductory Psychology, History of Psychology, Cognition, Psychology of Language, Statistics, Research Methods

    Specialization (if applicable): Cognitive psychology (teaching of psychology)

    Average class size: 25

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? No matter what you do, don’t mess up the students!

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Teaching Tips, Wilbert McKeachie

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  I love teaching history of psychology. It helps students really contextualize the discipline and provides a glimpse into how thinking about human behavior has evolved over time.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  I do an activity on dichotic listening to show students how challenging it is to multitask. I have two students read different messages to the class (both drawn from the amazing book by Cialdini on Influence). I divide the class into thirds. 1/3 listens to one person, 1/3 listens to the other and 1/3 listens to both. I then ask for recall. We find that highly salient things are heard by all, but details are lost for things you are ignoring. Very powerful demonstration.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I use a great deal of active learning techniques to help engage students, and then I use topic-based discussion. And, in that, I engage in both meta teaching (talking to students about why we are doing whatever it is we are doing in class) and I help students consider meta cognition. We constantly situate what we are learning in a larger context so students can see relevance either for their discipline, their own lives, or whatever the situation lends itself to.

    What’s your workspace like?  I have a standing desk in my office. And, when at home and on zoom, I stand on my skateboard so I can keep moving while teaching. I like to move around a lot, and so when I’m in the classroom, I like being able to circulate around and work with small groups, etc.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  Energetic, enthusiastic, conversational

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Provide students with the optimal learning environment.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Oh, there are so many! I guess one of the worst was when I was being observed by a colleague and I was moving around the room, and I fell over the projector cord, backwards. I never missed a beat, and kept talking, but the students had a hard time not laughing!

    What about teaching do you find most enjoyable? The students. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I enjoy my students so very much, and have learned so much about the world from them. If you take the time to get to know a bit about them, you find out amazing things about their experiences and it helps one grow as an educator.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? There’s not much I don’t talk about in class! They might be surprised to know that I didn’t talk in class at all when I was a first or second year student. They would be surprised because I don’t let them get away with that!

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Company Man by Joseph Finder. It’s a murder/mystery book. Really easy, fun reading. I’m also listening to a Bill Bryson non fiction book about language, Made in America.

    What tech tool could you not live without? My smartphone. I do SO MUCH with it.

    Has your teaching changed because of the Covid19 pandemic? If so, how? (positive and/or negative changes)  Hallway chatter is about pedagogy. I currently run a teaching center, so we often talk about teaching and learning. We also talk about issues with COVID and how we can navigate it. I think that one of the changes is going to be, at least in higher ed, a bigger reliance on technology for faculty who were perhaps a bit shy about it before. I know for me, and I’ve never been shy about technology, I will rely more heavily on my Learning Management System to communicate with students.

  • 03 Feb 2021 10:35 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name:

    University of California, Riverside

    Type of school:

    4-year public university, Hispanic Serving Institution

    School locale:

    Riverside, California

    Classes you teach:

    Before coming to UC Riverside, my teaching focused on Statistics, Research Methods, and Cognitive Psychology. Currently, I’m teaching a class on Social Identities in Development and R programming. I’m excited to teach Cognitive Development, Statistics, and Social Psychology in the near future!

    Average class size:

    I started out teaching smaller classes (~30). Currently, my average class size is 60, but will be teaching larger classes (100-150 students!) later this year.  

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

    I think my favorite piece of advice is “the first time you teach a class, you should aim to get through it. You will improve and perfect it the second and third time.” This particular piece of advice helped me recognize that classes don’t have to be perfect, and they can change. It has encouraged me to try new activities in my classes, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, and ask for feedback from students on their experiences in the class.     

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

    I really like Naked Statistics by Charles Wheelan. Dr. Frank Golom at Loyola University let me borrow his copy when I started teaching Research Methods. The book contains statistical explanations with a conversational tone. What really resonated with me was how the examples related to everyday topics (dating, LeBron James, and baseball). It reminds me that, while statistics tends to be anxiety provoking for students and can be regarded as “the class to avoid at all costs,” there are SO many ways to make it more approachable. For instance, I ask students to tell me their favorite TV shows and movies and structure examples around video clips. “The Office,” “New Girl,” and “Black-ish” have currently been class favorites and I have used them to demonstrate everything from research designs to ethical considerations and statistical concepts.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. Believe it or not, my favorite classes to teach are research methods and statistics. I like that students learn a little bit about different subdisciplines of psychology and can see how statistics are important for understanding how we think, behave, and feel. I also think they’re really important topics for students to understand because they hear about research all of the time. The news, Buzzfeed, Twitter, and even Instagram, have posts that contain statistics, and may even mislead with statistics. My goal is for students in my classes to critically consume this information and be able to talk about it.

    It’s a lot of fun to see students apply what they learn in research methods to these topics. For instance, I like using the example of cell phone horns in class. I ask students to read a Buzzfeed article about research investigating how “horns” develop on people’s skulls from looking at their phones too much. Then, I start off class by claiming that we all should never use our phones again and ask students to change my mind. They come up with answers pretty quickly- like investigating who funded the study, differences between correlation and causation, and questioning methods. My hope is students then take the same energy (and questions) to thinking through psychological research and other findings from the news. 

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    One assignment I really like is asking groups of students to “teach” a statistical concept to someone who hasn’t taken our class. Some of the students are really creative! Some use TV and Movie examples we haven’t used in class, a there have been a few interactive videos, and one group even wrote a song! The “lessons” have been used to study for finals and students seem to really enjoy it.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    When I taught in person, I found that group quizzes worked really well for my research methods class. It allowed me to check student understanding both by examining the quiz grades, but also listening to the conversations students had in class. Students really worked well together, and I think their discussions helped students understand the material. For instance, most quizzes had a question about choosing the correct analysis. Because students worked in groups, they needed to justify to each other what they thought was the best approach before answering the questions. It often led to class discussions about how multiple analyses could be used, and the conditions that made one choice better than another.   

    What’s your workspace like?  It’s a little more organized this quarter because I’m working from home and students are completing assignments virtually! My desk is usually pretty cluttered, and there’s a big window that let’s in some sun (which I love – except when I’m teaching!).

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Approachable, inclusive, active 

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Real world applications, approachable material, and student involvement

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    Woof. I tried to use a class example to teach sampling distribution of the mean. I had them all write down a number from one to ten (to represent our population). Then, I gave students 30 seconds to get into groups of five (to represent sampling) and write the mean of their numbers on the board. We did a few rounds to represent that the distributions were made from every possible mean for a group of 5. Everything seemed to be going well, but then we got to the point where we needed to graph the means. I pulled up a list of means that would be graphed to highlight the complete list, and I found almost all of my students had a “deer in the headlights” look. I thought it would make more sense as we started to make a graph, but students stopped answering my questions. At this point, I was afraid that students would be terrified of any statistics that came later in the quarter.

    Rather than continue the activity, I stopped and asked students to put their heads down and tell me how they were feeling (thumbs up: doing great- thumbs down: feeling lost beyond repair). After viewing a sea of thumbs down, we all discussed why students felt lost. We ended up having a good discussion about sampling strategies and how we can estimate all possible means (e.g. we can’t actually take every possible sample to find the means when we’re talking about people).

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

    I think my students would be surprised to hear that, while I am very excited about statistics now, I dreaded taking my first statistics course and didn't really come to embrace stats until graduate school.   

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    Lately, I have been on a female comedian autobiography kick. Currently, I am reading Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    My computer and internet have been really important for teaching and for staying connected to others during quarantine. I have found myself using google docs a lot in my teaching because it lets students work together in small groups and share notes easily.

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

    I think my hallway chatter covers a broad range. In person, I think I was equally likely to end up talking about statistics as I was to talk about family, friends, and what we did over the weekend.

  • 04 Jan 2021 10:05 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Name: Bill Altman

    School name: SUNY Broome Community College

    Type of school: Community College

    School locale: Binghamton, NY

    Classes you teach: General Psychology, Human Development, Adolescent Development, Educational Psychology, Social Psychology

    Average class size: 20-32 (depending on whether the class has a writing emphasis)

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? The best advice I’ve ever gotten about teaching (or anything else), was actually more general advice, geared to life as a thinking person. Professor Alexander Riasanovsky, my undergraduate advisor and the professor of my Russian History and Byzantine History classes impressed on me, and on all of his students, the need to learn about everything. He pretty much meant that as it sounded. Everything. And that our task as people, and especially as scholars (and I take it as a teacher) is to somehow figure out how all of that information fits together into a single, intelligible whole. All of the arts, sciences, humanities, and all of the other human and non-human endeavors in the world are connected, and all of them are meaningful. The joy, and the challenge, is to make sense of it. As a teacher, I try to bring some of the enthusiasm for this approach to the world that I got from Dr. Riasanovsky to my own students.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Actually, there are too many to name. But a few of the most important to me as a teacher would include works that are generally not thought of as part of the “teaching” canon:

    • His Master’s Voice by Stanislaw Lem
      This novel chronicles the failure of scientists to decode what seems to be a message from outer space. It illustrates how our preconceptions as researchers give us blinders, preventing us from asking meaningful questions and from truly understanding not only what we research, but even one another across even closely-allied fields of study. Like much of Lem’s work, it delves into the psychology of people in different, often problematic situations, and how difficult it is to communicate and understand one another.
    • The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn
      This is a well-structured, philosophical look at how science advances through the changing of paradigms, based on the ongoing failures of our existing ways of thinking about our realities.
    • The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff
      Hoff’s book is a pretty good explanation of Taoist thought for the lay reader, which provides some excellent perspectives that aren’t often taken in our sometimes high-stress “scientific” approach to discovery and understanding.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I love teaching general psychology. I think it’s the most fun course in our entire curriculum. It allows us to explore nearly every part of the science of psychology, and learn through experiments, demonstrations, and other hands-on exercises. As an educational psychologist, I like to stress the practical applications of the things we learn, as well as how my students can learn better while having more fun and doing less of what they think of as work. So, we don’t only talk about the theories, history, or methods of psychology, we look at how psychology can help in many different aspects of life beyond the classroom.

    One of the most important topics in the course (in all of my courses, actually) is the need to embrace failure as the route to learning, so the course is designed to allow students to fail a certain amount, recover, and do well. It’s sometimes a shock for them at first. But when they realize that each failure is actually helping them to learn, and that their grades not only don’t suffer, but actually are better than they expected, they really start to accept and value the idea.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. The culminating activity in my introductory psychology class is one of my favorites. It actually runs through the entire semester. We design our own cult. It helps students to use the information they’ve learned about brain development, nutrition, perception, attention, sleep, cognition, memory, identity, social pressure, and many other topics as they decide whom to target, how to convince them to join, and how to take control. It also serves as an organizing strategy throughout the course, piquing students’ interest about each topic and how it will be used in the final analysis. 

    On the last day of lecture, we begin the exercise by saying that we’re obviously not going to call ourselves a cult.  We’ll be an educational foundation (registering with the IRS as a 501(c)(3)-type organization, so we can take donations and remain totally legal and open), founded on Maslow’s principles of helping people to achieve self-actualization, and addressing each individual’s full range of needs.  Next, we discuss ways and places in which to recruit adherents, the design (including security aspects) of our compound, the activities and amenities we’ll provide (including free gaming laptops and smartphones with unlimited Wi-Fi, data, and talk/text–not to worry, our members won’t be spending a lot of time talking with the outside world in ways that could cause problems for us–we talk about that, as well), how we’ll gain control over our members’ thoughts and attitudes, and train them to go out into the world and send us their money and their children (when they have them). And when they’re out in the world, our members will also help with recruiting, as well as hiring other members into their organizations.

    At the end of the process, most students are surprised to find that we’ve actually designed a university (in fact, a particular one, that shall remain nameless here). Students who’ve served in the military also begin to see parallels to their training and years in service. This kicks off a very spirited discussion of how schools and other social institutions work, and helps students to exercise a great deal more critical thinking about their surroundings. Some former students have come up to me years later to talk about this exercise and how it helped them in particular situations.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? A combination of activities and banter.  Learning needs to be fun.  Demonstrations that involve the class, rather than lecturing, are more fun and seem to be more productive.  The other stuff lives on the LMS. 

    One example is a texting-while-driving activity. I set up a simple driving simulator, and a student volunteer (who claims to be a good driver) is then hooked up to our EEG unit by other students. Some monitor the EEG during the demonstration. Others watch for errors in driving, accidents, and other problems. The driver is then allowed to drive for a while with no distractions (other than the wires on their head, and the other people watching them, of course). After a few minutes, another student begins texting to the driver during while they’re driving. EEG and driving behavior monitoring continue. We may also test talking on the cell phone while driving, or driving while singing along with the radio. Students love the exercise, and are amazed at the differences in brain activity and driving errors. And sometimes there are some interesting outcomes. I’ve now had one student back up a telephone pole (twice on her run), and two other students hit parked fire engines at high speed (so at least the first-responders who weren’t killed were on scene to help everyone else). There was also one student who actually managed to get arrested in the simulation.

    What’s your workspace like? Arthur C. Clarke once described working with Stanley Kubrick by saying that, “Stanley uses a tame Black Hole as a filing system.” My workspace looks like the inside of that Black Hole. But I do clean and organize it at least once a year, whether I think it requires it or not (generally I think it’s fine). I’ve long been convinced that any horizontal surface above the floor must be subdued by an appropriate amount of papers, books, technical equipment, coffee, snacks, and other paraphernalia. And I’m beginning to look at those floors with some suspicion, as well.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. I hate limits. Let’s go with 4:  

    • Eclectic
    • Improvisational
    • Transparent
    • Fun

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Educators should inspire, challenge, and support students.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. There have been too many to count.  Let’s just skip this one.  I’m sure my students will be too happy to relate any number of these.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? I’m pretty transparent, so I don’t think there’s much that would surprise them. They hear about various past jobs, being a houseparent (house mother, actually) for an engineering fraternity, doing standup, acting, doing theater tech and directing, spending a decade on talk radio, and too many run-ins with various forms of authority. There’s not much that doesn’t make it into our discussions when it might be useful in making a particular point.

    The only thing that seems to surprise them is if they see me away from school, perhaps at the grocery store or the farmers market. Sometimes the shocked expressions have been priceless.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I just finished Lawrence M. Krauss’s A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing.  It’s a fascinating book, and it made me begin to think that there may be some small hope of my getting a tiny glimmer of understanding quantum physics. 

    I’m currently reading a collection of essays by Bertrand Russell, and wandering through several science-fiction novels and collections of short stories.

    What tech tool could you not live without? I don’t think there’s anything that dramatic about my tools. The ones I find most useful are WordPerfect, Quattro, Firefox, Thunderbird, Dropbox, and my phone. But I’m often most happy going back to a pencil and pad to do most of my work. Though many of my students are convinced (because they’ve seen me doing it at times) that I use a slide-rule to work up their grades (just for fun–I actually keep everything in Quattro) for their reactions.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? It’s pretty eclectic. Most of the colleagues to whom I’m closest are in my college’s History, Philosophy, and Social Sciences Department. So, with a group made up of historians, a sociologist, an anthropologist, a specialist in the humanities (concentrating in comparative literature), a couple of economists and philosophers, and various people from our technical support areas, our conversations can cover a really broad range of topics. And that’s not even taking our various hobbies and outside interests into account!


  • 02 Dec 2020 10:50 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)

    Type of school: 4 year university with master’s and doctoral programs

    School locale: (Fabulous) Las Vegas, NV

    Classes you teach: My main focus in recent years has been Introduction to the Psychology Major, but I also teach some graduate courses such as Cognitive Methods.

    Average class size:  Some semesters I teach 150-300 students in the Intro to the Psychology Major course; the grad course tends to be closer to 6-10 students.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? To remember what it was like to be a student! I like to think about what they are actually going to take away from the course and try to avoid making my classes feel like busywork where all that they care about is their grade. 

    A second piece of advice is to focus on what students will retain and take away from the course a year later. So, instead of focusing so much on the short-term memorization of details, I try to emphasize skill development, knowledge that they can apply to their lives, and the reinforcement of key ideas.  

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? This is probably a common one, but Bain’s “What the Best College Teachers Do” has been important to me. I utilized so many ideas such as creating courses where students are challenged to think and apply ideas to their lives. I also like the idea of letting students feel comfortable with the idea that failure can be okay -- trying, failing, and learning from it is much better than not trying at all. 

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teachI love teaching the Intro to the Psychology Major course because of the impact that it has on my students. For someone not familiar with this course, it is different from general psychology in that it focuses on what students can get out of and do with a psychology major.

    Every semester students tell me how important this course was for helping them think through their future path and what experiences can help them prepare for that future. I love hearing from students who tell me about landing an internship, getting involved with research, developing leadership skills as a Psi Chi officer, or being accepted into graduate school after they applied what they learned from the course. 

    I cover topics such as skill development, building relationships with professors and students, getting relevant experience (e.g., research, volunteer work, internships), career paths, preparing for careers, and graduate school possibilities. I think this class can be so impactful for students that I try to help other faculty develop courses like this for their institution.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. In the Superstar CV assignment, I teach students how to create a CV -- but because many of the students are early in their college careers, they do not have many accomplishments to list. Because of that, I designed this activity to be a learning and goal-setting exercise. Students set goals for achievements and experiences that they learn about in my course and to focus on those that can help them to follow their desired path.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? Students consistently tell me that my enthusiasm for the topics seems authentic and that it helps to pull them in and get more engaged with the course. I also try to use techniques that cognitive psychology research has shown to improve memory such as distributed practice and practice testing.  

    What’s your workspace like? I try to mix it up -- I typically work on campus in my office or my lab, but sometimes I will work at home or take my computer to a coffee shop when I want to get away to write.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Enthusiastic, interactive, and encouraging! 

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Make a positive impact on their future! 

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. When I first started teaching the Intro to the Psych Major course, I did not think through an assignment where I asked them to create their own CV. Most of my students were just starting college and had not yet built up a list of accomplishments.

    I realized my lack of foresight when I was inundated with emails from flustered students who were anxious about not having much to list on their CV. I reassured students that this was okay and I encouraged them to include accomplishments that they wanted to achieve before graduation. This turned out great in the end because it helped me to convert this assignment into the Superstar CV activity that I use today!

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? When I started college, I floated around a few different paths before I landed in psychology. Part of the problem was that I did not have a clear plan for the future because I did not know that I should be spending a lot of time thinking about it. 

    I stumbled into a good career path, but I want to help students to be better prepared than I was back in college. I want them to think about future possibilities and to know about resources and experiences that can help them. Because I wish that I had that type of help when I started college, I built and teach the Introduction to the Psychology Major course that helps students prepare for their future. 

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I am enjoying the “Compound Effect” as it focuses on the benefits of taking action and making continual progress toward your goals. The ideas can be applied to different aspects of life and it is also a good idea that I can share with my students. For example, taking consistent action throughout one’s college career can help students to build up a strong resume or CV.

    What tech tool could you not live without? This is probably a tie between my phone and Chromebook. My phone goes everywhere, but it is not always practical for activities like work. The Chromebook is light, effective, and starts up much more quickly than my old windows-based laptops.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? Conversations can cover a variety of topics, such as chatting about weekend activities, dreading an upcoming meeting, or congratulating each other for a recent accomplishment.

  • 05 Nov 2020 10:36 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Albion College

    Type of school: 4-year Baccalaureate

    School locale: Albion, MI (about 50 miles west of Ann Arbor and 175 miles east of Chicago)

    Classes you teach: Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, Statistics, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Senior Seminar, Public Policy in Film (which is a first-year seminar), Black Swans (a College-wide honor’s seminar that discusses the effects of seemingly rare historical events)

    Average class size: 35 for Intro Psychology; 16-24 in Methods and Stats; 24 in I/O Psychology; 15 in Senior Sem, First-year sem, and Black Swans 

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  I am not sure where I heard it or who told it to me, probably it was over breakfast at NIToP, someone told me that if you think you’re going too slowly through the material, you probably need to slow down. No, that didn’t make sense to me either, but students never quite “get it” the way you think they do or the way they appear to get it. Keep close tabs on what and *how* they are understanding….it is amazing the feedback you get on the one-minute end-of-class “tell me what you learned in class” index card routine. Grading tests provides numerous insights into how students don’t understand something, allowing me to adjust (hopefully by improving) my teaching of that information with future students. Heck, a quick two-or three-question end-of-class formative quiz can be quite enlightening, too. It’s not what students don’t know that’s the problem; it’s what they think they know that just ain’t so (to paraphrase Mark Twain, I think it was but am not sure). 

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Is Bill McKeachie’s Teaching Tips too obvious? I’ll offer something different…it’s a journal that shaped my work as a teacher – Teaching of Psychology. Yeah, really surprising, I know. I discovered this outlet when I was a graduate student at the University of Florida, working with Rich Griggs. He knew I was interested in teaching, and he said that if I was interesting in teaching well, this is a source I needed to read, cover-to-cover (indeed, Rich always emphasized that doing something and doing something well were far from synonymous, something I try to keep in mind to this day). I loved the ideas that journal offered me as a relatively new teacher, and I learned at an early age that it was critical to see if what I did in class actually had an effect, ideally a positive effect, on students. There were a few articles back in the day that really made an impression on me and helped me form what I think was a strong foundation for me career. First, Dana Dunn and Stacey Zaremba’s (1997) paper, Thriving at Liberal Arts College: The More Compleat Academic is a classic in my mind. It gave me the script, while I was in graduate school, of what to expect and, as is obvious from the title, succeed in such a role. I was a student in such an environment, so it was tempting for me to think I knew more about being a faculty member at such a school than was really the case. Even now, whenever I talk with graduate students or relatively new faculty at these sorts of schools, I am quick to refer them to this paper. In addition, Thomas Plante’s (1998) paper, A Laboratory Group Model for Engaging Undergraduates in Faculty Research was another one that helped me realize not only that faculty at schools focused on undergraduate education could still be active in research, but provided me with ideas for how to do so. Its value to me lied in its simplicity; it was a great piece to read right before starting as a faculty member at similar type of school as Plante described in that paper. I followed his lead early in my career, made adjustments as needed, and I am still here, so something must have went right.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    I love teaching Intro and the methods and statistics courses in psychology, and my first-year and honors seminars. Not that I don’t enjoy teaching content-area courses, but the reality is, it’s really less challenging teaching content area material than it is to teach broader classes (assuming, of course, you are trained in that content area, which is certainly not always the case). Especially in methods and statistics, students are expecting the worst, so in a sense, teaching those classes is like taking over as manager for a baseball team that finished in last place the previous year -- there is nowhere to go but up. These two classes in particular have challenged me to make information accessible and relatable to students. Some students appreciate the theory and number-crunching, but even those students need to understand how to use this information. Even the most mundane of circumstances can be used to teach complicated material. For instance, one day when I was doing yard work, I scrapped up my elbow. It was a fairly noticeable scrape, one that I could not really hide from others, but it did not impair my movement or hurt. Now, much like statistical effect sizes can be classified as trivial, weak, moderate, or strong, so too can elbow scrapes. Indeed, my injury was a great prelude to discussing Cohen’s d. Who knew my elbow could be a tool to teach a statistical concept? Likewise, the concept of a statistical interaction is one that takes a while for students to really “get” the first time they encounter it. However, it is a concept I find students do understand, albeit not statistically, before they ever encounter it in these classes. Specifically, for students who have ever baked or cooked a dish, they have experienced an interaction. Combining things to make a dish or baked treat requires using different ingredients (factors) in different amounts (levels) to make the outcome delicious. My general point…look for instances of what you teach in circumstances to which almost any person could relate. If it can be done in statistics, it can be done for any other course we teach!

    By the way, the class was torn whether my elbow scrape was a weak or moderate scrape, which gave me the chance to talk about the somewhat arbitrary nature of how “cutoffs” are established in statistics for use in the “real world.”

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    There are two ways to answer this question, so I’ll give two responses. First, with respect to enjoyment, I like introducing interactions to my statistics class by making chocolate chip cookies in class. Admittedly, the data are mixed on how well students learn from this activity, I think because they are so bewildered to see their teacher making cookies in class. Regardless, it gets their attention and gives me a chance to dive into the topic from a statistical perspective with them relatively engaged at that point. I must admit, I cannot bake the cookies in class (really, our classrooms don’t have ovens), so it is wasteful in that regard. Also, students expect to receive real homemade cookies, which I inevitably bring them in the next class period, which is not hard to do with my relatively small class sizes, admittedly.

    Second, with respect to teaching what students find difficult, I love my end-of-class cumulative assignment in research methods and statistics. I love it because it is relatively straightforward, and it also puts students in a semi-real-world situation. Specifically, I give them situations in which statistics can be used to answer a “real-world” problem. For example, a local restaurant is test-marketing four new dipping sauces for their breadsticks. Students are asked to describe a research design the restaurant can use to learn what sauce(s) their customers prefer, then describe the appropriate statistical analysis to use, given the design they described. There are no calculations or analyses to conduct and interpret; students have handouts upon handouts from throughout the course for those details. Rather, this assignment requires purely conceptual understanding of design and analyses. If they don’t understand these considerations, the details of conducting analyses are worthless.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    Whatever works best for my students works best for me. In general, that means, as I’ve mentioned previously, the more I can get their attention with something they can relate to, before delving into theory or other relatively complex material, the better. I don’t like to introduce classical conditioning with definitions of UCS, CS, UCR, and CR or the work of Pavlov or Twitmyer. Rather, I’d prefer to bring up LeBron James or Shaquille O’Neal (yes, my students know who Shaq is) and the products they endorse. We can talk about why those companies have these celebrities endorsing their products, which can open the door to UCS, CS, UCR, and CR and other nitty-gritty classical conditioning concepts. In essence, I am going fishing when I teach; I bait the hook with something that students can talk about in a nonacademic sense (I hope), then reel them in with the actual content when they are hooked (hence my making cookies in class, too). I suppose I am making use of foot-in-the-door, too…get them to start talking and discussing with relatable information, then they will continue to do so with the technical information.

    What’s your workspace like?  Have you ever seen the late 1980s movie “Wall Street” or seen the floor of the New York Stock Exchange during that time? That’s pretty much my office at school and my office at home. Organized chaos is a good way to describe it. I think it motivates me to literally see the work I need to do; I worry as we all rely on technology more and more, I’ll forget to do things because they are stored electronically, where I cannot readily see them. It’s already starting to happen, I fear.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Flexibly-organized, skill-focused, proactive (these are only three words because the first two are both hyphenated, just sayin’). 

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Assume nothing

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation.

    This was the hardest question to answer because there were so many to choose from. Then again, a certain amount of teacher embarrassment can endear a teacher to their students, so when it happens, I really don’t take close note of it. We all have demonstrations and activities that don’t work as we hoped, so that really isn’t something I fret about. When that happens, I just try to figure out how to make it work better next time, and oftentimes asking some of my better students help in this regard. However, one day in particular does come to mind. My very first class, ever, as a grad assistant at the University of Florida, I was of course scheduled in a room about as far across campus from my office as one can get. As I am walking across campus, I feel a tap on my left shoulder, so I turn look over that shoulder. I saw no one, just figured I was imagining things. I was extremely nervous, being the first class session I ever taught of my “own” class, so I just figured it was those nerves. But a couple of seconds later, I realized there was something on my left shoulder…when I looked again, I saw that a bird had made a deposit that landed on my shirt’s left shoulder. What a great way to start a new semester. Because I had such a long walk, I left my office super early, so I was in the building in which I was teaching well ahead of time. I was able to get to the bathroom and clean off the bird’s deposit (and dry off, as walking across campus in central Florida in late August, coupled with the nerves of Day 1, I was sweating something fierce). Alas, my first day of teaching was not over! Wanting to come off as “tough”, I started that first lecture after doing introductions and overviewing the syllabus. This was the pPP era (pre PowerPoint), so we had an overhead projector and “slides” that we could write on. I had my trusty pen, and got a little over-enthused, as I took it to the screen. Just as I started to write on the screen, I caught myself, quickly tried to make it look to the class like I was gesturing. I don’t think they noticed; they were likely just as nervous as I was.

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

    They assume I majored in psychology, but in fact, I majored in finance and economics (with a minor in psychology). I always use this story with my first-years around registration time each fall, that your major matters less than the skills you build, the experiences you have to talk about in future interviews, and just doing well and showing the capacity to learn, which everyone (graduate schools and employers) is particularly concerned about. So, I guess my students would not be surprised to learn this about me because most already know it. Regardless, it allows them to realize that not getting into a particular class or not being able to decide on a specific major is not the end of the world….I did not choose my major til after I had my undergraduate degree, in some ways!

    What would surprise them, something I do not often reveal? Read on to the next question and my response!

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I am reading two books, one titled “Sun, Sin, and Suburbia: The History of Modern Las Vegas” and the other “The Strip: Las Vegas and the Architecture of the American Dream.” I went to Vegas for the first time a year after graduating from college for a bachelor’s party and fell in love with area. I mean, Vegas itself is a psychologist’s playground in so many ways….the gambling of course, but the shows are something special, and the area is so rich in history, something that I love to learn about, so that’s why I am reading these books. It is such a geographically beautiful area, too….I love the hiking out there; hiking through Death Valley was something I’ll never forget (just don’t do it the summertime). The thrill rides at the Stratosphere are not only fun (Insanity is my favorite), but offer a wonderful view of the city. I am contemplating teaching an honor’s seminar on Vegas and the surrounding area, though students will likely expect a trip in such a class, and I am not sure this is the destination I want to promote for student travel. Regardless, next summer (assuming it is safe to do so) I plan to go out there and eat myself into oblivion, so many unique places to eat both on the Strip and Downtown. I’ve already been looking at the menu for China Poblano and would love suggestions for other restaurants from those who’ve found a special place to eat out there!

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Email….that’s it (and frankly, some days my life would be better if I didn’t have that either). Maybe PowerPoint for some things, though as Charles Brewer once said, PowerPoint has lots of Power but minimal Point. Right now, I am making due with Zoom and Google Meet, and those certainly have their place, pandemic or not. However, I am saddened in this time where we all need technology for pretty much every facet of our teaching that we may think teaching is inherently enhanced the more technology is integrated into the class. Where’s the evidence we should be doing this? I am learning about a ton of tools I could use in my classes, but just because they are available doesn’t mean I should use them, even in these strange times. I do like discussion boards on my course web and plan to use those more post-pandemic, but it’s not because it’s cool or something I can add to my list of things I can say I use to impress my administration….it’s because in the spring, I noticed that some of my quieter students in-person would contribute more when they had this option. No idea if there is evidence that introverted and shy students participate more in discussion boards than in in-person classes, but so long as it doesn’t hurt anyone, it’s worth doing to help a segment of my students. At least at Albion, students want interpersonal connections, and I suspect that is the case with most undergraduate students. I worry technology is eroding these connections. I don’t see technology as a tool bringing people closer together; in fact, if I had to wager on it, I’d bet technology is being used more to drive people apart…and to a dangerous extent.

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

    Wow, all sorts of random things….sure, we talk about department issues, brainstorming ways to help specific students who are encountering specific issues (like needing to find transportation or and from an internship site), bouncing ideas off each other for class activities or other pedagogical considerations. My colleagues around campus like to make fun of me for being an SEC football fan. Given recent history, I am not sure they have much to talk about, especially my Big Ten-obsessed colleagues, to whom I’ve often said that if Vanderbilt played football in the Big Ten, they’d be in the national semi-finals every year. So, yes, we talk trash around here. Usually it provides a nice break from talking about details of committee work

    And finally... presenting Sybil and Hans!

  • 02 Oct 2020 9:27 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Miami Dade College (MDC has eight campuses throughout Miami-Dade County and my home campus is North.)

    Type of school: Teaching Institution (THE community college of Miami-Dade county since 1960 educating diverse local and international student populations ranging from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and African American.)

    School locale: Miami, Florida

    Classes you teach: Psychology and Student Life Skills courses fully online, hybrid, and face-to-face (mainly teach 16-17 weeks/semester of Introduction to Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Abnormal Psychology, Psychology of Personal Effectiveness, and First Year Experience courses)

    Average class size: 30-40; Fully online courses are cap at 30. The smallest class size I’ve taught has been 10-15.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  My doctoral mentor in graduate school mentioned to consider the student holistically. It’s about quality not quantity of work.

    I also heard this question as a full time faculty member from another colleague, how does a faculty member learn? From and With each other. This rings true in so many aspects, I’ve learned most when I share with my colleagues and ask for their perspective.

    Recently, the power of the pause and being a transparent convert are guiding principles.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? I was trained in a research track and had no real training on the science and art of teaching psychology, except for what I recall my undergrad and graduate school professors do.

    In my earlier years, I relied heavily on my research background of developmental science and mental health counseling, especially the theoretical framework of Freire and positive youth development. Later, I found Angelo & Cross’ CATs Handbook and Saundra McGuire’s work invaluable.

    Within the last five years, I credit a lot to the Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) courses for enhancing and in some cases transforming my teaching. In the last year, I have met amazing STP members that I have now proclaimed as my own teaching mentors, because of their vast years of experience and they are just really kind J

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  I really enjoy teaching Psychology of Personal Effectiveness because it is an applied psychology course. It’s a positive psychology course at its core and it blends the best of both worlds, the counseling realm with empirical research. It’s an interdisciplinary course so it’s a requirement of those students on the A.S. track and so I get a mix of majors that have never taken a psychology course before. It’s a gateway course that really tries to capitalize on teaching emotional intelligence for the workplace. We know from research that most employees are not looking for the “hard” skills, they are looking for candidates that demonstrate how to utilize “soft” skills, and how do you teach teamwork, conflict resolution, active listening skills, emotional intelligence? You have to demonstrate/apply it and this is why I love teaching this class, it makes you “walk the talk”.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. One of the first hands-on assignment I use that also serves as an icebreaker is a paradigm shift activity with an ambiguous figure.

    Concepts/topics targeted: neurogenesis, neuroplasticity, delay gratification, ambiguity, anxiety, team work, vulnerability, self-efficacy, self-esteem plus so many others.

    We first define what is a paradigm, brain malleability, what novel stimuli does to our brain, how does knowing all of that relates to everyday student life, (i.e., help students in their fear/anxiety of math class or chemistry or physics, etc.) and how can we practice it, how do we do it? To apply it, I give them an ambiguous figure and I ask them to first individually figure it out. I ask to pay attention to how their body reacts too. How does anxiety feel for them? When someone answers correctly, I ask that person to help others see it. They all get that “aha” moment look and engage with each other. It’s a great experience of deep learning.

    Then we process all these concepts and how just because we can’t see something at first glance, it doesn’t mean it’s not there (and connect that to their struggles in other courses like math). Also, how and what ambiguity makes us feel (usually uncomfortable) can be the answer for growth and change. That’s a huge positive message that we reference back throughout the semester. It’s a game changer for motivation and building rapport.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? I’m very hands on. There is usually a microlecture with team work or handouts or as a class we engage on focus questions. I also like documentaries and clips to demonstrate how the concepts we covered exist in real life and how students can find alternatives/coping skills to thrive.

    What’s your workspace like?  I do have my own little office vs. sharing an office. Most of my students say it feels very cozy and calm, but also very packed with books and knickknacks.  Since early March, I’ve been working from my home office/guest bedroom. See pictures pre and post COVID-19 J

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Passionate, Intentional, Personal.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Co-participatory, transparent teaching and passion for life-long learning.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Most of the ones I can think about happened when I was a graduate student teaching large lecture halls up to 200 students. I think mainly because I was so young, the same age of the students or younger, I got questioned about the research I cited and probably read too much from my slides. I think I would definitely show it when I blushed because I felt like I had to prove that I knew what I was talking about.

    As a 23 year-old, I would double and triple check my information and would come up with questions students may have to make sure I could answer. I had students come up to me after class reassuring me of what a great job I did and how much they learned, especially when a particular student would persist and keep questioning or interrupting for minute details in front of the whole class.

    I learned how compassionate students can be. I realize there was nothing to be embarrass about and I was there because I knew my topic, but it definitely made me doubt at times my confidence in teaching the material and classroom management.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you?  My students and some colleagues might be surprised to find out I have an immigrant story very similar to the Dreamers. I was brought here by my parents when I was eight years old in the late 80s from Nicaragua and crossed the border. In the 90s, immigration laws were different for those seeking political asylum, and my family found a path to naturalization, however, the first decade was extremely hard financially and psychosocially.

    Additionally, my students might be surprised that I was an English minor (almost double major). I played the flute and was in band in middle school. For most of my adolescence and undergrad years I played and taught piano. I also love calligraphy, drawing, painting, and crafting.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I always have a goal of reading at least 4 books during the summer, but this never happens. I end up reading only 2-3 books. Lately I tend to start them, but then another catches my attention…so on my bedroom bookshelf right now I have these half-read: “ Becoming” by Michelle Obama, “City of Girls” and “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert, “On Being a Master Therapist” by Kottler and Carlson, “The Untethered Soul” by Singer, “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown, “A First-Rate Madness” by Nassir Ghaemi, M.D., “The Five People You Meet in Heaven” and “The Next Person You Meet in Heaven” by Mitch Albom, “What I Know for Sure” by Oprah Winfrey and more poetry books by Sin, Kaur and Faudet…

    What tech tool could you not live without? LMS Attendance and Gradebook tool.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? It depends…we are thirty five psychology faculty college-wide spread across seven campuses and often, we only see each other in person 2-3 times throughout the academic year (it can take over an hour to get to some campuses!). My home campus is North, the farthest up from the city, and I’m in the Social Sciences Department, so it is interdisciplinary. We are thirteen faculty ranging from History to Anthropology. We tend to talk about students and the usual “…could you believe a student….?” And when we have departmental meetings, it’s about family and travels, world news, chocolate, food...

  • 04 Sep 2020 2:08 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Ithaca College

    Type of school: Regional comprehensive university (but mostly undergraduate)

    School locale: Ithaca, NY (Finger Lakes region of upstate NY)

    Classes you teach: Research Methods, Research Team, History of Psychology

    Average class size: 25 students

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

    Students want you to succeed as a teacher as much as you want to succeed, so be prepared and do your best to work with the students. And don’t be afraid to say you don’t know, although as Charles Brewer said, try to reduce the frequency with which you have to say it.

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

    Bill McKeachie’s Teaching Tips never goes out of style. That being said, my decades of interacting with people in STP have consistently shaped the way I think about teaching; I’ve benefitted the most simply from the many conversations I’ve had with my good teaching friends and colleagues. As successful teachers know, the interactive, human element is critical for effective teaching and learning. I’ve recognized that again and again in my collaborations with stellar teachers.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  

    I am fortunate to be in a situation where I love all the courses I teach. So all of my courses are my favorite course.

    In Research Methods, I stress that what they are learning is relevant if they never do a minute of research after they graduate because they are learning a new way of thinking about complex issues in life. As the maxim states, for every complex question, there is always a simple answer. And it is always wrong. Nothing about human behavior is as simple as we would like it to be, just as most issues in life are more complex than we would want.

    So we have to learn that, as scientific and critical thinkers, we have to be willing to change our minds when new, better information appears. Research Methods is an ideal course for students to learn to ask themselves why they believe as they do and what evidence it would take to change their minds.

    What the students learn in Research Methods can help them evaluate claims about many complex personal and society issues, even if they don’t involve psychology directly.

    In the History of Psychology class, I try to impress to students that history isn’t something that used to be. Because psychology is a human science based in a societal context, many of the same human elements that led to psychology’s development are relevant now. The History of Psychology course is an exercise in identifying how psychologists (and others in our society) have evaluated and categorized people. As the students learn, the thinking has often not changed in the past century.

    Students learn about how psychology has dealt with “the other” from within different theoretical frameworks and how our discipline has invariably found ways to incorporate already-existing societal attitudes into a new theoretical framework.

    So the History of Psychology course reveals to students how our scientific approaches have differed in the last century and a half but also how psychologists, like others, place their thoughts in a social context that is far from objective.

    Material for my classes are accessible through my website:

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  

    It is not unusual for people to claim that psychology is the science of the obvious. They hear about research and wonder why anybody bothered to ask the question because the outcome is so obvious. E. C. Sanford reported on this as long ago as 1906. One of my favorite activities involves showing that research results are only obvious after you know what they are. That is, given any research outcome, we can weave a good story (i.e., an interpretation) that makes sense. But how well can we predict that story?

    I provide students with potential results of 15 published research studies, but without the results. They try to predict the actual outcome (e.g., A > B, A = B, A < B) and generate the rationale for their predictions.

    For example, which of the following outcomes actually occurred?

    A.    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score lower than women not wearing lipstick.
    B.    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score about the same as women not wearing lipstick.
    C.    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score higher than women not wearing lipstick

    Palumbo, R., Fairfield, B., Mammarella, N., & Di Domenico, A. (2017). Does make-up make you feel smarter? The “lipstick effect” extended to academic achievement. Cogent Psychology, 4.

    The actual outcome is C, which 16% of my students guessed correctly. I have tried to avoid “Gotcha” studies where the results are opposite what a person would normally suspect. Across the 15 studies, my students are consistently at chance levels, right around 33% correct.

    The question I pose to them has to do with why the “obvious” result wasn’t all that obvious before they knew the actual outcome.

     (The entire activity is available on my website:

    In my other favorite course, History of Psychology, in one unit, I ask students to read reports published a century ago about African Americans. Some of the reports are quite disturbing, but I tell the students that, although psychology today presents a better depiction of “the other,” many of the issues that appear in the research literature are the same as they are today.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you?

    I undoubtedly talk too much in my classes, but for a critical thinking course like Research Methods, breaking the class into discussion pairs gives students the chance to talk about the complexities of the ideas we pursue. In addition, when different pairs report to the class, it become apparent that when issues get complicated, there isn’t just one potential answer. Different explanations can each form part of the answer to a question.

    I also create reaction papers for students based on popular media research reports. These assignments require students to assess some methodological concept (e.g., correlation versus causation) but also to draw a conclusion from their perspective as a consumer of the news. By bringing students’ personal reactions into the discussion, they begin to see the relevance of research to their lives.

    And just as I create assignments for students, I have a standing assignment for myself that for each class meeting, I need to bring in a new research application or current topic that I can relate to the aspect of research that they are learning about. I often introduce it with a statement of “I just came across this in the news. . . .” Students recognize that research is an ongoing endeavor, which I hope they keep in mind even after the semester ends. In addition, as I spend an hour before every class meeting preparing for it, it doesn’t become stale; I can introduce it in class with enthusiasm.

    In addition, over the decades, I have discovered that reading a diversity of nonfiction books informs my teaching, even when the books are not directly tied to the courses I teach. Books about exceptional people provide insights into psychology as a whole. For example, The Witch of Lime Street deals with Harry Houdini’s attempt to spot the trickery that a medium used in supposedly contacting the dead. It turns out that Harvard psychologist William McDougall monitored Houdini’s attempts to debunk the medium called “Margery.”

    What’s your workspace like? 

    I suspect that my workspace is like that of many people whose teaching I respect. I can describe it as books, books, and more books. And being of a certain age, I am surrounded by a lot of paper. Much of the paper involves ideas for my teaching—resources on paper are more user friendly, so I keep the printouts handy for quick reference. (For reasons that should be relatively apparent, there are virtually no printouts of memos from the dean.)

    I also have pictures of my grandchildren running as a slideshow on my computer. Sometimes, it is refreshing to step back from my work just to enjoy their images.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  

    Humorous, interactive, thoughtful

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer?

    Try not to be boring

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

    They might be surprised at some of the summer and other jobs that I’ve had in my life prior to becoming a professor. Some of these include selling cleaning products door to door, mowing lawns in a cemetery, helping dig graves (very briefly), working in the press room of a newspaper as a paper handler (and proud member of the international union of paper handlers and sheet straighteners), and science reporter for the NPR affiliate in Columbus, Ohio.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure?

    I am in the middle of two books right now and just finished one.

    Bacteria: The Benign, the Bad, and the Beautiful by Trudy Wassenaar

    This book is about the hidden world of bacteria around us. Life as we know it would not exist if not for bacteria, although sometimes bacteria destroy life as we know it. They are fascinating, marvelously evolved organisms.

    The Old Ball Game: How John McGraw, Christy Mathewson, and the New York Giants Created Modern Baseball by Frank Deford

    The history of baseball is populated by quirky and interesting characters. Although we would recognize baseball in 1903 (when the first modern World Series took place) as the game we know now, it has undergone changes that, in the 1910s and 1920s turned it into our modern game.

    Three Shot Burst by Phillip DePoy

    This is a fun, trashy detective novel for summer reading.

    What tech tool could you not live without?

    Like everybody else, I’m completely dependent on my cell phone, which I use as a book, telegraphy, encyclopedia, weather forecaster, and other, but seldom as a phone. For teaching, I’m pretty old fashioned: I use a desktop computer, although I gave up on my Apple II computer a long time ago.

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

    Aside from asking colleagues whether there is a department meeting in the afternoon, I regularly talk about the results of the Ohio State football games (and other sports scores), ancient Roman holidays, and which of our elected officials win the award for having the least grip on sanity. In addition, my colleagues are remarkably helpful about how to navigate through the school’s increasingly frequent changes in software applications.

    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Barney's keynote address from the 2018 New England Psychological Association conference  "Psychology From Beginning To End: What Do We Want Our Students To Learn?"

  • 03 Aug 2020 12:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: When I received the invitation to contribute to this series, my initial reaction was to say that I’m a has-been who may have little to say to my younger colleagues—colleagues who are much more conversant than I with current technology, who represent the future of the discipline, and who are exploring unknown terrain as they adapt to teaching in the face of a worldwide pandemic. However, my friend Rob McEntarffer did some gentle arm-twisting, suggested the title you see above, and posed some questions. So here we go.

    School name:University of San Diego

    Type of school:USD is a private university, with a Carnegie classification of “Doctoral University: High Research Activity.” However, the heart and soul of the university is the College of Arts and Sciences—a primarily undergraduate college that places a premium on quality teaching. My home was in the Department of Psychological Sciences in the College.

    School locale: San Diego, CA. USD is located in the diverse, multicultural neighborhood of Linda Vista.

    Classes you taught: Introductory Psychology, Research Methods, Cross-Cultural Psychology, Cross-Cultural Psychology Lab, History of Psychology

    Average class size: Class sizes varied over many years, but were rarely smaller than 10 students and rarely larger than about 40.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? Like anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in the profession, I’ve read, heard, and sought advice of many types from many quarters. But perhaps the best advice I received over the years did not relate directly to the “how to” aspects of teaching; it was, rather, advice about the attitude, the general approach one might take to all dealings with students: Respect the audience and the occasion. This advice came from my long-time friend and colleague, the late Clifford Fawl of Nebraska Wesleyan University. Every class, Cliff believed, was an important occasion, an occasion and an audience that should be approached with respect.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? It would be really tough to identify a single title. An early influence was B. F. Skinner’s 1956 American Psychologist article, “A Case History in Scientific Method.” In it, Skinner discussed his approach to science, and I was powerfully influenced, but it was his opening line that really caught my eye: “It has been said that college teaching is the only profession for which there is no professional training . . . (p.221).” I have also tried over many years to integrate psychological science with the sciences more broadly, and with the liberal arts and sciences in the widest sense. Some key books along these lines have included Jacob Bronowski’s (1973) The Ascent of Man, Carl Sagan’s (1996) The Demon-Haunted World, and James Watson’s (1968) The Double Helix. I guess I have always been attracted to the stories of science and the lessons of stories, as evidenced by Robert Coles (1989) in his The Call of Stories. Finally, I have been able to pretty well follow Skinner’s (1970, p. 17) sentiment, one I quoted in the introduction to my dissertation: “I have built apparatuses as I have painted pictures or modeled figures in clay. I have conducted experiments as I have played the piano. I have written scientific papers and books as I have written stories and poems.”

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. This is another question that doesn’t have a single simple answer. In recent years, cross-cultural psychology has been my passion, but I have loved introductory psychology since the first time I taught it in the 1967-68 academic year. In fact, I’ve never taught a course that didn’t feel like my favorite at the time. If I must choose one, I’d say introductory psychology, for two key reasons: first, intro. requires the instructor to know at least a little about nearly every facet of the field, and I’ve always found that both rewarding and challenging; second, intro. is the first (and sometimes the only) exposure that students have to our field, making it a critical course—if we do it well, the student will be hooked for life.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. Although I’ve used many, perhaps hundreds, of teaching activities and assignments, one stands out as a favorite. For many years I asked my introductory psychology students to write letters home (e.g., Keith, 1999). I generally required four letters, spaced across the semester, explaining or discussing, in ordinary English, some aspect of the course. Students wrote the letters to anyone of their choosing, with the intent to share their experience in psychology with a parent, sibling, high school teacher, or friend. I provided some general guidelines, and students submitted two copies of each letter—I mailed one to the recipient, and retained one for grading and feedback purposes. This was a popular activity that helped students to clarify their own understanding, in order to explain it to someone else. As we moved further into the electronic age, some students thought the assignment was a bit quaint, but they received a lot of reinforcement from family and friends who were delighted to receive real letters from the students.

    What teaching and learning techniques worked best for you? Early on, my training as a behaviorist convinced me that the most effective learning comes from doing. As a result, I became a firm believer in the importance of active engagement of students. I tried, then, to get students out of their seats whenever possible, and to engage them in demonstrations, a variety of activities, or in data collection and analysis. I wouldn’t say I was ever powerfully enamored with any particular technique, except to the extent that it could accommodate meaningful student activity. I also agree with my old friend Ludy Benjamin (2002), who argued that there are key aspects of teaching techniques, including lecturing, that determine their effectiveness. Among these are passion, clarity of goals, spontaneity, being oneself, and avoiding doing the same thing all the time.

    What’s your work space like? I can imagine that a first-time visitor to my office would immediately bring to mind a predictable word: cluttered. But I have close at hand my books, my computers, and music when I want it. My space is quiet, although not as well organized as it probably should be. But it works for me, and I like it.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Flexible, interactive, respectful.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Respect the audience: Students are colleagues in learning.

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Many years ago I received an invitation to give a talk to a large audience on another campus. This was in the pre-PowerPoint era, so I had brought my trusty slide carousel. After the introductions, I began. Soon the carousel stuck and would not advance. It was far out in the center of a large room, and I saw no graceful way to try to fix it under the circumstances, so I simply mentioned that the slides seemed to be stuck, and I’d just go on without them. Then I was interrupted by a voice from the back, a woman saying loudly, “No, you won’t.” She got out of her seat, removing a pin from her hair, and proceeding to the projector. After a minute or so of poking and prying at the offending slide, she looked up at me and said “Now try it.” I did, and of course it worked. She had fixed the problem, and the only casualty was my pride; she exposed my technologic ineptitude, which was already pretty well known among my colleagues.

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? Although many of my students over the years have known that I appreciate a variety of kinds of literature, I don’t think many knew that I write poetry.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? I like to read both fiction and nonfiction. I recently finished Michael Lewis’s (2017) The Undoing Project, about the relationship and collaboration of Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky. I also recently read Alan Furst’s (2019) Under Occupation, a novel set in occupied Paris in World War II. And I keep going back intermittently to the medieval Brother Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters; I think I’m on the eighth one now, The Devil’s Novice (Peters, 1983). And of course, I read a little poetry, with Billy Collins being a favorite.

    What tech tool could you not live without?  I am heavily reliant on computer technology. I can use the university library from my desk at home, and that is critical for my writing. I access this technology via the laptops on my desk, a smartphone, and a tablet.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? I communicate regularly with a half dozen colleagues who are longstanding friends. We talk about current events, books we have enjoyed, politics, and a variety of common interests. One frequent topic during the Covid pandemic has been the ways that various organizations, agencies, and government officials use and misuse data.

    PSYCHSESSIONS UPDATE: Listen to Ken Keith talk about his academic journey and how he combines his love of travel, poetry, and psychology.


    Benjamin, L. T., Jr. (2002). Lecturing. In S. F. Davis & W. Buskist (Eds.), The teaching of psychology: Essays in honor of Wilbert J. McKeachie and Charles L. Brewer (pp. 57-67). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Bronowski, J. (1973). The ascent of man. Boston, MA: Little, Brown and Co.

    Coles, R. (1989). The call of stories: Teaching and the moral imagination. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Furst, A. (2019). Under occupation. New York, NY: Random House.

    Keith, K. D. (1999). Letters home: Writing for understanding in introductory psychology. In L. T. Benjamin, Jr., B. F. Nodine, R. M. Ernst, & C. Blair-Broeker (Eds.), Activities handbook for the teaching of psychology, Volume 4. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. [reprinted in Psychology Teacher Network, Jan.-Feb., 2001]

    Lewis, M. (2017). The undoing project: A friendship that changed our minds. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company.

    Peters, E. (1983). The devil’s novice. New York, NY: Warner Books.

    Sagan, C. (1996). The demon-haunted world: Science as a candle in the dark. New York, NY: Ballantine.

    Skinner, B. F. (1956). A case history in scientific method. American Psychologist, 11, 221-223.

    Skinner, B. F. (1970). An autobiography. In P. B. Dews (Ed.), Festschrift for B. F. Skinner. New York, NY: Appleton-Century-Crofts.

    Watson, J. (1968). The double helix. New York, NY: Atheneum.

  • 03 Jul 2020 11:42 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)
    School name: Spelman College

    Type of school: Historically Black liberal arts college for women

    School locale: Atlanta, GA

    Classes you teach: I’ve taught many courses over the years.  In recent years I’ve taught Developmental Psychology, Psychometrics, Learning & Behavior, Statistics II, Research Seminar, and Honors Seminar.

    Average class size:  It depends on the class; I’ve taught as few as 3 or as many as 55 in a section. Most classes are between 15-25 students, I’d guess.

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received? I’ve learned a lot over the years from my STP colleagues and others, but I can only pinpoint a few pieces of advice per se.  My big brother, who is a math professor, advised me when I started teaching to never prepare more than one class session in advance.  I’ve modified that somewhat, but I have found that preparing a bit each day as the semester unfolds lets me respond to the needs of each class in a relatively agile way. Plus it indulges my penchant for procrastination. I think I’m going to have to change my ways if we move fully online in the fall, though.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? So many; I can’t even pick one SoTL article or book. I’m a developmental scientist by training and always go back to the classic developmental theorists to inform my teaching. Bruner, Vygotsky, Thelen, and others all get thrown in. Right now I’m venturing into developmental aspects of narrative identity theory and working out how I can incorporate that more fully and intentionally into some of my courses. 

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach. I generally enjoy all of my courses, ‘tho I like to switch them up every few years so I don’t get in a rut.  Although I haven’t taught it in a while, I really enjoyed teaching introductory statistics classes.  I had fun helping students get past any mental barriers that they set up before taking the class, and seeing their eyes light up when they ‘got it’.  If they didn’t absolutely hate the class, they gave me credit for being a good teacher – it gave me a pretty low bar to leap to be thought of as ‘good’!

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity. One that the students and I have a lot of fun with comes from Learning and Behavior. They complete a major behavior-modification project for which they use learning principles to change one of their own behaviors in a way that supports sustainability.  They write up a report on their results, but my favorite part is asking them to tell the story of their subjective experience along the way. Each student develops a 12-panel cartoon that provides an overview of how she responded to the project at different points in time.  Because it is a cartoon, I think students lower their guard and tell more authentic stories than they would in a more traditional write-up.  We share the cartoons on the last day of class and during the last part of the final exam period, which ends the semester on a fun note. 

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? Again, it depends on the class. Mixing up interactive lectures with small-group activities in larger classes usually works pretty well for me.  And I like incorporating storytelling when I can.  But I think I am most effective working one-on-one with students as they develop and conduct research projects for research seminar courses and thesis projects.  I’m a better mentor than I am a teacher, I think.

    What’s your workspace like? Right now my workspace is my sewing room, and my desk is an ironing board.  Surprisingly, it makes a good sitting/standing desk.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style. Reflective, transparent, old-school

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? Build trust and share the journey. (“Don’t say anything stupid” is a close second)

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. Many years ago I had students create short PSA videos about something in psychology.  I thought it would be a good idea to have each team film their videos in class while other teams continued to work on their projects.  It was not.  I focused so much on the filming schedule that I stopped interacting with the rest of the class, and they just started loudly chatting among themselves.  When I tried to ask them to quiet down and re-focus in the auditorium-sized classroom, my voice came out as a frustrated shriek, which didn’t help. I apologized and talked things through with the class, but I think my rapport with that group of students was damaged that day. I learned a lot from that episode. 

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? It seems students are often surprised that I have a life outside of my office at all, and that I have had a lot of adventures over the years.  (Happy to chat about those over a meal or drink at a teaching meeting when we get to the After Times and can do that again, by the way!)

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Usually I read historical mysteries for fun, but right now I’m reading When in Rome, a travel memoir that I found in a Little Free Library.  It’s along the lines of A Year in Provence, about a young woman who moves from Australia to Italy as an adventure.  I love to travel and spent time in Rome as a grad student, so I can relate to a lot of her experiences adapting to a new language and culture.

    What tech tool could you not live without? Yikes. I’m using more and more tech tools each year, it seems. I guess the ones I rely on most are email, the course LMS, and Dropbox/Google Docs.  And my laptop, of course. I used to get things done before I had any of these, but I don’t remember how.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? In Normal Times we often talk about campus goings-on, families, or what’s going on in society.  As I write this in early June 2020, our Zoom Happy Hours tend to drift to the same things that occupy the whole nation: Covid 19, the fight for social justice, and how the two intersect. But we still talk about families too.

  • 21 Jun 2020 12:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    School name: Avila University

    Type of school: Small, private liberal-arts university

    School locale: Kansas City, MO

    Classes you teach: Research Methods & Statistics, Cognitive Psychology, Introduction to Psychology, and Senior Seminar, along with my research lab. I’ve also taught special topics courses on scientific thinking and metascience in psychology.

    Average class size: 15

    What’s the best advice about teaching you’ve ever received?  Probably the best advice I’ve received in my entire life: “Don’t let the perfect get in the way of the possible.” My PhD advisor taught me this and it’s so true – especially right now -- having to adapt to a new format and trying to fight the urge for everything to go perfectly. First, perfect is not a thing that exists in education, and second, the desire to approach perfection can keep you from taking risks and trying new things.

    What book or article has shaped your work as a psychology teacher? Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paolo Freire. I am re-reading it right now with our current situation; even though it was first published in the 1970s, the concepts have never been more timely.

    Briefly tell us about your favorite lecture topic or course to teach.  My favorite lecture topic *right now* is experimental methodology. With all the questions around possible treatments for COVID-19 (including “remedies” being promoted by folks like Jim Bakker), understanding the benefits of randomized controlled trials – as well as why we have to wait for them to be completed and potential dangers if we don’t -- is so important. The story of Thalidomide’s failure to be approved by the FDA to treat morning sickness is a very good cautionary tale here.

    Briefly describe a favorite assignment or in-class activity.  Right now, my favorite thing to do is include a question on EVERY assignment for a couple of points of extra credit that just asks students to tell me how they’re doing. If they don’t want to answer, they can say “pass” and still get the credit. It’s allowed me to connect folks to resources and also extend some grace on assignments without them having to ask.

    What teaching and learning techniques work best for you? Now that I’m at home, working my cats into my lectures has been essential… Especially since the cats leave me little choice.

    What’s your workspace like? Normally, my office is small, and clearly defined with things like doors and windows. Right now, my workspace is a hypothetical construct that is impossible to measure even indirectly.

    Three words that best describe your teaching style.  My “Pandemic response”: Flexible, encouraging, and understanding.

    What is your teaching philosophy in 8 words or fewer? My COVID-19 teaching philosophy is “Make it work”. Thanks Tim Gunn!

    Tell us about a teaching disaster (or embarrassment) you’ve had and how you dealt with the situation. I embrace embarrassment and bounce back pretty easily. See:

    What is something your students would be surprised to learn about you? That I pretended to be hypnotized by The Amazing Kreskin on New Year’s Eve in Times Square in 2007 and it aired on Fox News. There are multiple pieces here that are orthogonal to so many of my values.

    What are you currently reading for pleasure? Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez and about five other books that I’ve started and haven’t decided if I’m going to finish. I’m also reading this super cheesy YA sci fi novel but honestly I can’t remember the title OR the author and it’s all the way on the other side of my house so you’ll just have to live in suspense.

    What tech tool could you not live without? Instacart. But you probably meant about teaching, so let’s say … nope, still Instacart.

    What is your hallway chatter like? What do you talk to colleagues about most (whether or not it is related to teaching/school)? The hallways are pretty empty right now, but we’ve pretty good about texting each other general encouragement and funny memes. When school’s in-person, we talk about pretty much everything. The area between my office and my two colleagues across the hall has been affectionately nicknamed “the vortex” because if the three of us are in, you WILL be sucked into a conversation about… something.

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