Using Social Media to Build a Class on Social Media

Over the next year I’ll be developing a course called the Psychology of Social Media, which I will teach as Psyc 325 in January 2016 at UBC. This course is currently listed as a developmental course, but we will emphasize themes of social and personality psychology (which relate to identity and personality development). I’m excited to be developing this new, rich course, and have already begun brainstorming.

While I’m at a conference next week (Society for Personality and Social Psychology in Long Beach, California), I’m hoping to gather some resources by attending relevant sessions as well as engage with the crowd itself using social media (I know… meta!). I have created the following GoogleDoc to help me (and anyone else who finds it useful) build a set of readings and other resources for a Psychology of Social Media course.

Have ideas? Post them here! Want ideas? Gather them here!

(Or the shortened link from Hootsuite:

On Using Clickers

I was asked this week to reflect on why I use clickers for use on the Faculty of Arts ISIT website. Here are my responses…

  1. Background information about your course
    • I use clickers in four of my courses: Introductory psychology (Psyc 101 and 102; 260-370 students), Research methods (Psyc 217; 90 students but as few as 30 years ago), Statistics (Psyc 218; 90 students).
  2. How did you use iClickers in your course and what made you decide to do this?
    • I use clickers every class period for numerous purposes. I ask multiple choice questions to test whether students understand a previous concept before moving on to something new, to spark discussion (especially when there is no one definitive right answer), to survey attitudes about the topic or course (like where to put the laptop-free zone), and as a timer for groupwork or peer-to-peer discussions so we all know how long they have been working. Plus the instructor clicker advances my slides and is easy to use.
  3. What has been the result?
    • When I’m using clickers most effectively, it means the students and I are in dialogue throughout the lesson. Students are constantly developing greater insight into whether they understand the concepts—and so am I (see also research on the testing effect, for evidence that testing rather than just reviewing contributes to longer lasting learning). It’s also engaging and motivating: Students want to know what the answer is, and will sometimes even cheer for correct responses. Questions give us a point of discussion that regularly takes us all deeper than just a surface understanding, as students may argue for one or another answer and we have to unpack why. Also, I have data showing that talking in class is related to feeling a sense of community. Clickers help me trigger and steer those conversations to build community.
    • Other benefits: I have become better at asking multiple choice questions, because I get immediate (and vocal!) feedback if an item is worded unclearly. Every student participates (not just the brave) – and if someone chooses E for a question that gives options A-D only, I get to smile and lightly invite that person (whoever it is) to make the choice to learn today.
  4. What are some of the challenges you’ve faced and is there anything about your approach you would improve or change?
    • When I started using clickers, the biggest challenge I faced was responding in the moment to whatever response pattern comes up. Over the years I’ve developed a toolkit of options to use, depending on the response pattern, but sometimes I’m still surprised by what comes up! For example, if it’s 50/50 between two options, I often invite a “turn to your neighbour, discuss, and revote” which usually clears up the problem. Other times I don’t reveal the answers immediately to the class (though I can see them on the receiver), but instead ask the whole class why someone might choose a particular response over another, and then reveal.
    • I’ve toyed with the idea of using a service with text-based responses (e.g., TopHat), rather than the i>clicker with just multiple choice options, but haven’t yet. For now, multiple choice questions meet my needs.
  5. Do you have any advice for instructors hoping to implement this in their courses?

Revising my Teaching Philosophy

Although I’ve polished/reconfigured my teaching philosophy a few times over the years, I’m feeling compelled to take it in a new direction. It’s not that my teaching has taken on an entirely new form… well, maybe in some ways it has. I’m feeling a greater sense of clarity these days, specifically around collaboration and community-building. Here is my latest draft of my single sentence nutshell version, followed by lengthier elaboration/musings.

The goal of my teaching practice is to help people develop ways of thinking and doing that are informed by the methods and evidence of quantitative psychology, and that will prepare them to engage in their social worlds throughout their lives.

I chose many of these words very carefully.

goal, my teaching practice: indicate my own process of ongoing development. For me, teaching is not a skill I can check off as “mastered” — which is actually one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. It’s a set of skills and attitudes I can get better at through reflective practice, but it’s never “done.” Also noteworthy at this point: although this statement is grounded in what (I think) I do, it is also somewhat aspirational and intended to help me make decisions about how to change my teaching in the future.

help, develop: In my most effective teaching moments, I am acting as a guide, not some sage trying to fill brains with what I know. I view myself in a supporting role, and that probably has something to do with the most impactful teachers in my life, who treated me as an individual person (see below) and pushed me to develop new skill sets, regardless of how scary or challenging that was (I’m thinking of you Clinton, Ross, Holmes, Biesanz, Vohs…). Because many of my core courses are foundational  (introductory psychology, research methods, statistics, teaching of psychology for graduate students), I sometimes get to see and support developmental change in my students across much of their degrees. When possible, I provide opportunities for students to practice and build on past work.

people: reminds me that my students are more than just students (just as I am more than their instructor). I put this into practice by saying this, right before every exam begins: “and remember, your value as a person has nothing to do with your performance on this or any other exam.” Year after year, students thank me for this tiny reminder that they are not the sum of their grades. Also, this word reminds me that some of my teaching activities reach beyond traditional classroom settings and involve people who aren’t necessarily “students” per se.

ways of thinking and doing: I am increasingly aware of the fact that when I use lecture, I am giving students ample opportunity to practice note-taking and listening… which are not entirely useless skills, but are maybe not the best use of our time together (see above). With each new course I develop and each course I revise, I strive further toward spending class periods giving students time to practice their thinking and doing (asking, answering, brainstorming, designing, summarizing, analyzing, performing, playing, creating). To support doing-driven assignments, I need to work on building space in my course for further skill development.

methods and evidence of quantitative psychology: By training, I am a quantitative social psychologist. I teach research methods and statistics, write a research methods textbook, and deliberately chose to use an introductory psychology textbook that emphasizes research methods and combating pseudoscience. I think the tools and content of psychology are useful for critically consuming information that is thrown at us, and for engaging productively in the world. In my classes, I create opportunities for students to apply concepts and methods (test questions, assignments).  Importantly, I use the methods and evidence of quantitative behavioural sciences to inform my teaching practice.

engage: Here’s a word that was core in my old teaching philosophy. The way I’m looking at it now is this: I structure my learning situations to require learners to participate and engage with the material and each other. I use various common techniques: vivid examples, videos, attention grabbing questions sprinkled throughout class (clickers), projects that mean something (e.g., identify a problem you’re having and find research to help), and some that are uncommon (2-stage exams). I engage students in the learning process by breaking down my 1st and 2nd year courses into four chunks (three midterms and a cumulative final) — and in my intro course I require students to begin studying at least 2 days before each midterm because a short low-stakes concept check paper is due. Another way I try to engage is by building community…

social: Now we get to the primary reason for this whole revision. Most of the changes I’ve made over the years to my courses have been to make them more social. Community-building and collaboration feature heavily in my courses, and I’m ready to commit to them as defining features of my teaching. The research literature supports this approach. “Active learning” techniques that involve some sort of peer-to-peer engagement seem to work best to help students learn. I also believe that in order to engage effectively in their personal lives and broader society, people need practice developing skills and attitudes needed to work with and learn from others. The social looks different in different courses (in part depending on class size and level), but includes two-stage/team tests, group projects, peer evaluation, reviewing peers’ written work and presentations, informal discussions prompted by clicker questions, team writing, occasional field trips, and invitational office hours. Also, the more students talk in class, the stronger sense of community they feel. Because my classes tend to be very large (88 is the smallest, excepting my grad class), and many students have traveled from around the world to be here at UBC, increasing the social in class may help struggling students feel more connected. Next year, my new course on the psychology of social media will explore the theme of technology-mediated connection and will require it!

throughout their lives: my greatest teaching efforts are lost if they do not contribute to some lasting change for some people some of the time. My hope is that some of the skills, tools, ways of thinking and doing and engaging will positively influence the people I teach. If ever-so-subtly.


Some other thoughts

Technology-enhanced experience. I use technological tools wherever it makes sense to facilitate my goals. Examples: clickers, Connect, self-and-peer evaluation (Connect, peerScholar), scratch cards and live test grading, turnitin, videos

Integrated Course Design model. With each new course I’m developing, I’m getting better at applying Fink’s model. Basically, strive for alignment among course goals, learning assessments, and in-class experiences.

Psyc 101 Section 005

Hello to all my new, eager students! I’m receiving emails daily from people wondering about book options. Normally these are the kinds of questions that would receive an answer along the lines of “please check your syllabus” — however, considering I haven’t quite finished it yet, I can’t exactly expect you to consult it.

If you’re in my Psyc 101 class, section 005, that meets MWF 12-1, we’re meeting in CIRS 1250 (the only giant classroom in that building).

You absolutely need three things:

  • REQUIRED TEXTBOOK   “Psychology: From inquiry to understanding” Second Canadian edition by Lilienfeld and other authors. It *must* be the second Canadian edition with a cover that looks like this or this.
    • EDITIONS: DSM5 update edition is also acceptable. The 1st Canadian edition is not recommended. No US editions or books by any other authors will work for this course.
    • *Note: If you are registered in my Psyc 102 Section 004 course to begin January 2015, you can use the same textbook! But you will not be able to use this book for any other section of 101 or 102.
    • PURCHASE OPTIONS: A new, hard copy of the text is available to buy from the UBC Bookstore or Discount Textbooks, and comes with a $10 i>clicker rebate coupon, access to MyPsychLab study guide, and the electronic version of the text. To save cash, you can buy access to the e-text and MyPsychLab (without a hard copy) from using our course code COMING SOON. Used hard copies of the 2nd Canadian edition should be available.
  • REQUIRED i>clicker   An i>clicker personal response system, available at the bookstore. Physical i>clickers can be purchased at the bookstore, used or new. You must REGISTER YOUR i>clicker on our Connect course website (on or after Sept 2) to receive the points you earn in class. Want to try using your web-enabled device instead? Sign up at (find out more
  • REQUIRED CONNECT COURSE WEBSITE   Our course website is Log in using your CWL (on or after September 2). Register your i>clicker, download PowerPoint slides after each lesson, announcements, discuss course material with your Learning Group, check your grades, submit assignments, give peer feedback, and more! You are responsible for checking this site frequently.
  • RECOMMENDED MYPSYCHLAB TEXTBOOK COMPANION WEBSITE   Includes study tools such as an electronic version of the text, practice quizzes, flashcards, chapter reviews, relevant links, videos and more. Your text (electronic or hard copy) comes with an access code you can enter on If you buy a used book and want access, visit their website for purchase options. Our course ID code is COMING SOON. You don’t have to have access to MyPsychLab It comes with the textbook bundle at the bookstore, or you can buy online access later. Note that representatives for the publishing company for your textbook have made this website, not me. I had nothing to do with it. Many students have found it helpful for studying, but it’s up to you if you want to use it.

There are a few more resources we’ll be using over the year, but I’ll explain those later. These are the resources I’ve been asked about. Note that if you are experiencing serious financial need, please come to me and I’ll work with you to find access to the resources you need. (And don’t feel embarrassed — I’ve been there myself.) For example, I have some i>clickers for loan. Please see me during my office hours in September.

I’ll post the syllabus when it’s ready, later this week. Looking forward to meeting you next week!

Two-Stage Exam: Introduction and Resources

Time to dive in! After thinking about them for a long time, this term I’m converting my exams into two-stage exams.

  • Step 1. I shorten the exam so it’s doable in about 2/3 of the testing time slot.
  • Step 2. Students write the exam individually.
  • Step 3. Students immediately — during the same class period — write the same exam again in groups of 4.
  • Step 4. Grade the exams as usual, but 90% of the score comes from individual, and 10% from team, with a guarantee that if you do better than the team score you get 100% weight for the individual (which very rarely happens, so I’m told).

Why am I making this change?

Four key reasons:

  1. Data. A growing pool of evidence is showing that team tests help students learn. See references below.
  2. Feedback. My classes are very large, so I struggle to give any personalized feedback at all, especially timely feedback. By re-doing the test immediately with peers, they get to immediately discuss the questions and come to the right answer (according to data).
  3. Exam improvement. Based on my evaluations, a small but consistent group of students find my exams very difficult and/or too long. Because I still only have 50 minute classes to work with, this change will force me to shorten my exams, culling and distilling to just the most effective questions that measure deep learning.
  4. Community. I value collaboration and building a supportive community. Research papers and instructors who have used this method report extra benefits beyond learning: students have more rapport with each other and are more willing to participate with their peers in class throughout the term. Also, Gillian Sandstrom and I have a research paper in press showing the more students talk in class, the more they feel like part of a community and interested in the class. So… back to data.

Interested? Here are some quick and effective resources for implementation:

  1. Videos by the CWSEI team depicting Two-Stage Exams in action.
  2. Jones, F., Gilley, B., Harris, S. (2013). Tips for successful two stage exams. The EOS-SEI Times, 6(9). Retrieved
  3. Jones, F., Gilley, B., Lane, E., Caulkins, J., & Harris, S. (2011). Using group exams in your classes. The EOS-SEI Times, 4(1). Retrieved
  4. PHAS-CWSEI Team. (2012). Two-stage (group) exams. CWSEI–PHYS & ASTRO Newsletter. Retrieved
  5. Brett Gilley, aka @ModernHydra


Dahlstrom, O. (2012). Learning during a collaborative final exam. Educational Research and Evaluation: An International Journal on Theory and Practice, 18, 321-332.

Eaton, T. T. (2009). Engaging students and evaluating learning progress using collaborative exams in introductory classes. Journal of Geoscience Education, 57, 113-120.

Gilley, B. H., & Clarkston, B. (2014). Collaborative testing: Evidence of learning in a controlled in-class study of undergraduate students. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43, 83-91.

  • A particularly well-designed example.

Leight, H., Saunders, C., Calkins, R., & Withers, M. (2012). Collaborative testing improves performance but not content retention in a large-enrollment introductory biology class. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 11, 392-401.

  • The title might be alarming here… they showed no effect of the 2-stage exam on final exam performance (compared with material that had been previously tested only with individual tests). I’m ok with this. Not every study is going to find the same effect (particularly ones with some execution oddities like this one), yet this is still a “no-change” effect with no evidence that student learning decreases. Moreover, students still enjoyed the process and found it less stressful than the individual-only tests. No harm done, potential benefits.

Rieger, G. W., & Heiner, C. E. (2014). Examinations that support collaborative learning: The students’ perspective. Journal of College Science Teaching, 43, 41-47.

Roediger, III, H. L., & Marsh, E. J. (2005). The positive and negative consequences of multiple-choice testing. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, & Cognition, 31, 1155-1159.

  • Two-stage tests might help to fight the negative consequences of MC tests: you remember what you answered (and thought was right), not what actually was right.

Sandstrom, G. M., & Rawn, C. D. (in press/2014). Embrace chattering students: They may be building community and interest in your class. Teaching of Psychology.

Zipp, J. F. (2007). Learning by exams: The impact of two-stage cooperative tests. Teaching Sociology, 35, 62-76. doi: 10.1177/0092055X0703500105




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This work by Catherine Rawn is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada.