SPSP Preconference 2016

Good morning! I’m delighted to report that I am the morning keynote speaker at SPSP’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology preconference!

My talk title is “How Would You Design a Social/Personality Psychology in Social Media Course? Bringing the Self into Focus” and it’s about how I answered that question for myself.

Here are some resources that might be of interest:

New Course!

What an exciting term! I haven’t developed a new course in a while, so early last academic year I thought, hey, why not take on a new challenge? Ha! I’m very glad I did! What started as a teeny tiny grain of an idea (“something about social media”) developed into an opportunity to collaborate with colleagues and future students, which then has blossomed into a course that’s captivated my imagination… (and my to-do list, but hey, what’s worthwhile isn’t necessarily easy)! I think my students might be getting hooked too… in the 11 days since the course began we have over 900 contributions on Piazza* and our Twitter hashtag #ubcpsyc325 is on fire!

Check out my syllabus/website: blogs.ubc.ca/psychsocialmedia/. The schedule is in ongoing development. Together, we identified 8 themes we wanted to prioritize over the term, and over the weekend our class is reviewing/vetting articles that the rest of the class should read to help us all learn about the 8 themes. Impact Projects start Tuesday!


*Piazza is our discussion board, which records participation for all of us. See https://piazza.com, or if you’re at UBC, here’s the Connect integration instructions http://lthub.ubc.ca/guides/collaboration-tools/piazza/.

2014/2015 Student Evaluations Response Part 3: Psyc 102

Thank you to each of my students who took the time to complete a student evaluation of teaching this year. I value hearing from each of you, and every year your feedback helps me to become a better teacher. Each year, I write reflections on the qualitative and quantitative feedback I received from each of my courses, and post them here.

After teaching students intro psych as a 6-credit full-year course for three years, in 2013/2014 I was required to transform it into 101 and 102. Broadly speaking, the Term1/Term2 division from the 6-credit course stays the same, but there are some key changes because students can take these courses in either order from any professor (who uses any textbook). These two courses really still form one unit in my mind so I structure the courses extremely similarly. I have summarized the quantitative student evaluations in tandem. As can be seen in the graph, quantitative ratings of this course haven’t changed too much over the past few years, and students rate my teaching in these courses very similarly. However, I will discuss them separately this year because of some process-based changes I made in 102 relative to 101.


My response to Psyc 101 included a formal coding of comments into various categories. Oh to have the open time of summer! I’m a bit more pressed for time now as I work on my Psyc 102 preparations, so as I was reading the comments I picked out themes a bit less formally. Two major themes emerged (which map on roughly to those identified using more a formal strategy for Psyc 101): class management, and tests. Interestingly, I changed the weighting of the Writing to Learn assignments from Psyc 101 (Term 1 in 2014/15) to Psyc 102 (Term 2 in 2014/15), to avoid relying on peer reviews and just do them for completion points only. The number of comments about that aspect of the course dropped close to zero, despite the actual tasks of the assignment staying the same (see my response to Psyc 101, linked above, for discussion of why I was compelled to make changes in 102 last year).

Again, a major theme in the comments was that tests are challenging. I don’t think they’re any more challenging than in my 101 course, but maybe there’s a perception that they will be easier because the content seems more relatable, and so people are more surprised by the difficulty in 102. Not sure. Just like in my 101, they draw from class content, overlapping content, and some textbook-only content, and they prioritize material that follows from the learning objectives (which I post in advance to help you know what material will be explored in class the next day). MyPsychLab is a source of practice questions, as are your peers and the learning objectives.

In addition to content, time is tight on the tests. Before implementing the Stage 2 group part, my students didn’t have 25 questions in 50 minutes… they had 50 questions in 50 minutes. Now, we have 25 questions in about 28-30 minutes, which is actually more relaxed than before. Although many people report finding value in the group part of the test, it’s not universally loved. A few people mentioned that it’s not worth it because it doesn’t improve grades by very much. My goal here is to promote learning. I’m stuck with the grading requirements: we have to have a class average between 63 and 67%. That’s out of my control. The group tests add an average of about 2% to your test grade, which you may or may not value. But importantly for me, they improve learning (Gilley & Clarkston).

The second most frequent comment topic related to various aspects of classroom dynamics. I thought I’d take this opportunity to elaborate on some choices I make in class.

I do my best to bring high energy to every class. Many people report being fueled by that enthusiasm—that’s been my most frequent comment for many years across many courses. However, a few people don’t love it and feel it’s a bit juvenile or just too much. I bring this up here as a heads up: Although I’d love to have you join us, if you’re not keen on the way I use my voice to help engage people, you might enjoy a different section of 102 better.

In class, occasionally I comment when a student is doing non-course related things on a device, and invite them to join us. A couple of people mentioned this in evaluations from last year. My intention here is to promote learning (i.e., to do my job). Research shows that when people switch among screens on their laptops, they’re not just decreasing their own comprehension, but the comprehension of all the people within view of the screen (Sana, Weston, & Cepeda). I occasionally monitor and comment on this activity (e.g., during films) so that I can create a class climate where anyone who wants to succeed can do so.

Sometimes I wait for the class to settle, and sometimes I start talking to the people in the front (which might be perceived as incomprehensible to the people at the back of the room). I get impatient sometimes too, particularly toward the end of the year (I’m only human after all!). I don’t like to start class until the noise level is settled, out of fairness of people who are sitting at the back but still want to be involved, and, to be honest, talking while others are talking and not listening makes me feel disrespected. One change I made in my 101 class this past term might help us with starting class in 102. I decided to move the announcements from verbal ones at the start of class to a weekly email I send out on Friday afternoons. This change seems to have improved people’s recognition that when I’m ready to start class, we’re starting with content right away, so settling happens more quickly. Hopefully this will help us out in 102.

As always, many thanks for your feedback. It challenges me to think about ways I can improve in my teaching, and to reconsider decisions I have made in the past. Sometimes I make changes, and sometimes I reaffirm the decisions I made before. This space gives me a chance to explain changes or re-articulate why I continue to endorse my past decisions. Student feedback is an essential ingredient to my decision-making process. Thank you!

UBC needs a fall reading break

UBC desperately needs a fall reading break. I receive a greater proportion of requests for extensions/exceptions with each passing year. And students are not just trying to get out of work. These are serious mental health issues people are dealing with (I won’t elaborate for privacy, but trust me, after teaching 5000 students I can sift out the BS by now). It’s not just for students. Staff, faculty, and TAs all reach breaking points around this time of year too. Even just a couple of days (like at SFU) would help us take a breath, get a full night’s sleep, and catch up on the main thing we’re supposed to be celebrating here… learning!

Anyone know how can we make a fall reading break happen?


Letter to the Prime Minister and Cabinet

For the first time in my life, I wrote to the Prime Minister and Cabinet. Thanks to the Honourable and tremendous Elizabeth May for inspiration today. Here’s what I sent (obviously not as a rep of UBC).



Please act on climate change: A letter from a citizen you inspired to care


Over the past few weeks I have been inspired by Prime Minister Trudeau’s leadership, the whole Liberal team’s energy, and the hopeful positive messaging your team has spread throughout Our Nation. The only other swearing in ceremony I have ever watched was Barack Obama’s inauguration—until this month when I was glued to CBC.ca’s live broadcast of yours. I was deeply moved not only by the diverse social groups represented in Cabinet, but also by their exceptional resumes: a rich collection of doctors, scientists, and other specialists. I believe that you, Mr. Trudeau, and this whole Cabinet team, are capable of leading Our Canada to greatness.

When your team announced on day two to reinstate the long form census, tears of relief came to my eyes. My country is back. I can be proud of Canada once again.

You see, I am a social scientist by training—I have a PhD in Social Psychology from the University of British Columbia, where I now teach hundreds of undergraduate students each year in my tenured faculty appointment. It has enraged and saddened me through the years to teach my Research Methods students about why the Long Form Census was so important and why the National Household Survey just could not produce acceptable substitute data. Yet despite my years of rage about this and many other issues, I have never felt empowered enough or hopeful enough to speak up to the government. It is because of my faith in your team that I write this letter now.

The Climate Summit in Paris is happening December 7-8, 2015, less than three weeks from today. I am no climate expert, and I’ll admit that I have not spent much time thinking about international affairs. However, I was ashamed and horrified as a Canadian that our government pulled out of the Kyoto Agreement. The Climate Summit is an opportunity to re-establish Canada as a world leader in confronting Climate Change. In a talk today at UBC-Vancouver’s Liu Institute for Global Issues, Green Party Leader Ms. Elizabeth May eloquently linked climate change to issues of social justice and equity. Climate change is a problem of social equity. We in the developed world have created this disaster by our constantly consumptive lifestyle. And yet it is not us but the most disadvantaged people of the world who are already bearing the costs of our whims: flooding and tsunamis and droughts and ensuing famines and death. Canadians are a people of compassion. We do not harm our neighbours. We lift them up. We must restore our culture as Canadians by taking global leadership on climate change. Like having a gender balanced cabinet, it’s 2015. It’s just the right thing to do.

Climate change is also a problem of intergenerational equity—and as a social psychologist I have seen enough evidence to know that people are typically terrible at making decisions that serve the future, let alone two or four or seven generations hence. If Canada does not emerge as a proactive leader on Climate Change at the Climate Summit in Paris, Canada will be complicit in an atrocity of social justice that you and I may or may not have to bear, but other people including future generations will. As I scanned the list, all Cabinet positions seemed to me to have a climate change imperative, some more obviously than others. As Minister of Youth, Mr. Trudeau appointed himself a particular obligation to act in their best interests.

I don’t know what the answers are. Maybe it’s strict taxation for oil so people will care enough to conserve. Maybe it’s providing incentives for companies and citizens to recruit renewable sources of energy rather than rely on “the grid” (thanks to Ms. May for that idea). Maybe it’s crowd funding solar panels for people or companies in disadvantaged countries. It’s probably all of those and more. It’s not my job to figure out the answer to this tough question. But it’s yours. And you have the power to do it.

I do dream of #SunnyWays for all Canadians, and for all people of the world now and yet to be. Please act on climate change now in time for COP21.


Your Fellow Canadian,

Catherine D. Rawn, PhD

Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Next Page »

Spam prevention powered by Akismet

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