Reflecting on the first Seminar in Applied Psychology of Teaching and Learning

In May-June 2019 (Summer Term 1) I taught a pilot course: Seminar in Applied Psychology of Teaching and Learning. Please see the first syllabus for details on this pilot offering: Syllabus.PSYC417.S2019.Rawn.SeminarApplPsychTeachLearn.V2

Course Overview

This course is designed as an intensive, active seminar to help you apply your understanding of psychological science to help other people learn, while developing professional skills relevant to teaching. You may begin to shift your identity from a student to a member of a teaching team.

If you enjoy this course, you might consider applying to become an Undergraduate Teaching Assistant in the Psychology Department or elsewhere. This course will help you strengthen that application. Yet this course is designed as a springboard for many future work or study endeavours (e.g., course/curriculum design, instructional design, management, teaching at any level, human resources/training, graduate school, group facilitation, academic

What did Students say?

All 10 students from the Pilot course in Summer 2019 provided rich feedback throughout the course as well as in the Student Evaluations of Teaching at the end of the term. Thank you!

Quantitative results are reported here. The qualitative comments, as usual, help to contextualize the numbers. Students reported feeling challenged, in a positive way. The highlights:

Dr. Rawn’s high expectations of us and bid to push us out of our comfort zones made certain parts challenging but it was welcome, given the standing of the course and the objectives it sets out towards. Really well designed for students who might be considering become TAs or instructors themselves in the future.”

I really loved the sand–box elements of the course in which we were given the opportunity to help build elements of the class and muddle through behind–the–scenes challenges.”

The discussions, peer reviews, hands-on activities and presentations (even though I dislike those) are the most effective parts of the course at promoting learning.”

Great course! One of my takeaways that was not an explicit part of the curriculum was actually the structure and planning of a graduate–type seminar (which i will need for my later teaching).”

Overall, this course was interesting and there isn’t anything like it at UBC right now so I think many students would like it and benefit from taking it.

In planning the next offering (coming Summer 2020 Term 2), I made two key changes in response to problems fairly identified by students (plus one more key change). First, I will not be counting marks for the first Reading Reflection (#0). A couple of students reasonably pointed out that it was difficult to know how to write that first Reading Reflection, especially without a rubric (which I hadn’t created yet). So although I’ll still expect a best effort and will “grade it” accordingly, I won’t count those points. This year, I’ll also be able to give more concrete tips in advance because the rubric exists already. These concrete tips will help address a request by a couple of other students for more clarity on assignments.

Second, I have moved the course material on peer review and using rubrics earlier in the term. A couple of students noted that their peer reviews were not as reliable or helpful as they’d hoped, especially early on in the term. Hopefully this earlier discussion will help improve the usefulness and reliability peer reviews. (Note that peer review scores ultimately contribute very little % to each grade, and they are all checked and adjusted if needed by our TA or by me.)

A third change came from my own reflections on the assignments and grading them, along with feedback from my TA Kyle Gooderham (thanks Kyle!). In hindsight, the major project was over-complicated. Asking students to invent a study strategy or learning resource, pilot it, and anchor it in the literature was just too much (especially in a 6 week course). Thus, I have revised the major project to clarify its purpose. In a nutshell, the task is to take an existing strategy or resource, ground it in research evidence, and use that evidence to convince others to use it (or not to use it, if the evidence is weak/contradictory).

In an unprecedented move for me, I actually have next summer’s syllabus prepared. Of course, it’s subject to change at this point. But I wanted to do it now while the course was reasonably fresh, and so I can bring it to the Psychology Department to propose its own course code. If you’re interested, here is next year’s draft: Syllabus.SeminarApplPsychTeachLearn.2020.V1.TOPOST.August.2019. Feedback is welcome!

Presenting on Two-Stage Exams at the IUT Conference

I’m delighted to have presented today at the Improving University Teaching Conference in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany (  The title of my talk was “Time for a Test! Two-Stage Tests enhance learning and bring laughter in classes of any size” Here’s a copy of my slides: Rawn Two-Stage Exams IUT July 2019 to post. Here is the handout: Rawn Two-Stage Exams IUT July 2019 demo handout. Thanks to everyone who came and played along!

Also, here is the blog post I wrote 5 years ago (including resources, video, and rationale) when I took the plunge into this testing technique.

Presenting on Two-Stage Tests at the STLHE Conference

I’m delighted to be presenting on Friday morning at the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’s Annual Conference in Winnipeg, Manitoba ( The title of my talk is “Time for a Test! Two-Stage Tests enhance learning and bring laughter in classes of any size… and at STLHE?” Here’s a copy of my slides: Rawn Two-Stage Exams STLHE June 2019 to post v1. Here is the handout: Rawn Two-Stage Exams STLHE June 2019 demo handout

And here is the blog post I wrote 5 years ago (including resources and rationale) when I took the plunge into this testing technique.

Are you here at STLHE? The talk is 10:05-11:20am, Friday June 14, Room MR3. Are you *not* here at STLHE? Check out the action on Twitter!  #STLHE2019SAPES

What My Promotion Means to Me

I have been promoted to Professor of Teaching! Woohoo! Since sharing the news about a week ago, I have received a wide variety of reactions from friends, family, and colleagues, on Twitter, Facebook, in person, and over email: congratulations ranging from ecstatic to calm; variations on “well, of course we all knew that was coming” and “aren’t you too young for that?”; as well as confusion (“weren’t you already a professor?” “didn’t you already have tenure?”) and inquiry (“does this mean your work will change?”)… and so on. Reflecting on this life transition, as well as such plurality of responses from others, has led me to this post. What does my promotion mean to me?

The Technical

  • The body of Teaching, Educational Leadership, and Service I have completed, as summarized in a dossier and CV I submitted one year ago (~200+ pages including appendices) has been reviewed and deemed worthy of promotion according to these criteria by individual reviewers outside UBC, teams of reviewers at the Departmental then Faculty of Arts then UBC-wide levels,  and the UBC President himself.
  • Here’s what I sent to my family: “Because my job is focused more on teaching than on research, my titles (starting with Instructor and then Senior Instructor with tenure, which I received in 2014) haven’t matched the usual “professor” titles (which start at Assistant Professor, then Associate Professor with tenure, then simply Professor). So although my job has been “equivalent” to a professor for a long time, my title has not reflected that. Until now. My new title, as of July 1, is Professor of Teaching!!! There are only about 35 or 40 of us with this title across the whole institution (about 1000 or more profs of various ranks)….”

The Little Things that Add Up to Feeling Valued and Respected and Authentic

  • When a student calls me “professor” — as has been happening throughout 12 years of teaching — for the first time it’s actually true. My title is Professor of Teaching. That voice inside my head that says “well, not really” can just shut up now.
  • For the first time, when someone at a conference asked today what I my role was at UBC, I had the option to quickly say “professor” or “professor of teaching” and they instantly knew what I meant. I didn’t have to choose between the generic “faculty” or fully explain my former title thusly: “Senior Instructor — which is UBC’s title for a tenured faculty member who specializes in teaching.” This new option gave me an exhilarating sense of authenticity.
  • For the first time, the institution at which I work formally recognizes that the work I do is Professorial. I feel a greater sense of respect for the work I do.
  • It means I don’t have to keep adding “(tenured faculty)” beside my title when I sign reference letters, so that the people I’m endorsing aren’t potentially harmed by my ambiguous title.
  • It means I’m done synthesizing my body of work in a package for my work colleagues to evaluate (unless I choose to do so for some particular purpose).

The Relieving + Scary + Overwhelming + Exciting

I have jumped through the last hoop that Academia has laid out before me.  Any title changes from now forward are because I’m actively choosing to shift my career focus. This is it. Since graduating from kindergarten, I have been in a seemingly (until now!) endless pursuit of the next diploma, the next degree (x3), the next title (x3)… but this is it. This is just starting to settle in. I am a person who still owns and can locate within about 10 minutes the achievement/outstanding student/excellence award plaques received in Grade 2 and Grade 8 and Grade 12. I am a clear example of how the education system can be considered a giant operant conditioning machine. But this is the last hoop. (If I want it to be, I suppose, but that’s different.)

This realization started out relieving, is currently sitting as rather terrifying, and I’m sure will shift more to exciting and empowering. Earlier today (at STLHE) I was at a session about mid-career faculty and a table-mate offered me this metaphor: I’ve been climbing a mountain and suddenly I’m staring at a plateau. This is helpful and overwhelming. I have 20+ years ahead — which is as long as it took me to get here since starting undergrad — to navigate without a finish line, a benchmark, a guidepost or a pathway provided by the educational institution. What do I do now? Of course I have courses and projects and priorities on the go, and perhaps more vision for the coming years than what I’m implying here. But for now, I’m allowing myself the discomfort of sitting at the top of the mountain, looking out onto a vast plateau.

SPSP 2019

In no particular order, some things I’ve learned this week at SPSP 2019 in Portland (See also #spsp2019)

* state mindfulness (ie as a result of a mindfulness task) can decrease motivation for goal pursuit (Hafenbrack & Vohs, 2018)

* a superordinate Aboriginal identity can incorporate and protect subgroup Aboriginal identities — and this work is happening right nearby me from SFU researchers (Neufeld & Schmitt, 2018)

* p values on a topic should skew toward the lower end if the effect is real (to the extent it’s large) rather than hovering close to .05. I knew this already, but I have a stronger understanding of why this is true (thanks to a talk by the amazing Simine Vazire at the Teaching Preconference)

* people around the world who encounter chairs inconveniently in their path differently move the chairs versus move themselves in predictable ways depending on within-culture and between-culture variables (Talhelm, Zhang, & Oishi, 2018)

* Goals that are set to include a range of successful end-states can be more motivating once people achieve the lower threshold. (The goal isn’t “done” then, but instead there’s a motivation boost to strive for the upper threshold.) (Wallace & Etkin)

* ongoing research is identifying differences in the way parents talk to older children about racism and racist incidents, ranging from awkwardness, shutting down, offering alternatives, to inviting conversation and helping the child form their own thoughts (Sylvia Perry’s work)

* The CREP (Collaborative Replications and Education Projects) exists and may provide an opportunity for our PSYC 217 Research Methods student projects to consider contributing to a systematic replication study (Jon Grahe)

* There is a science of collaborative science (start with Feist’s work) that we should be using to inform our upcoming(!) evaluation of/adjustments to UBC PSYC 217 Research Methods group projects

* women ask fewer questions than men at scientific conferences (Carter, Croft, Lukas, & Sandstrom, 2018), BUT “correlational data shows that when women ask the first q, the entire question-asking period is more gender-balanced” (check out Sandstrom for suggestions)

* there are problems with sexual harassment and low diversity at SPSP… and SPSP is working to improve both.

From social interactions… things I knew but had reminders this week

* people who are professionally successful are still people — they (we) feel vulnerability, uncertainty, insecurity, shyness, fear, sadness, rejection, etc… as acutely as anyone else

* living with kids is kinda exhausting… but they’re also fascinating and heart-filling

* I enjoy participating in poster sessions (when I have a poster) more than I think I will.

* career paths are not straightforward and linear — a person can be pushed and/or pulled in a direction and it takes work to make shifts successfully

* knowing people at a conference helps me feel like I belong here, more willing to engage, ask questions, follow up, approach speakers. This also makes me think about how hard it might be for some folks to break in to the community… and what the diversity-related predictors are of those challenges.

* my friends, colleagues, and friend-colleagues are AMAZING scientists and teachers and humans and I’m grateful to get to hang out among them.