Category Archives: on course design

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: 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, or if you’re at UBC, here’s the Connect integration instructions

SMTs: Student Management Teams

This post is the latest in my annual series where I publically commit to share the evidence-based change I’m making to my teaching practice this year. (See last year’s post, where I shared rationale and resources on two-stage exams, which were awesome.)

What’s the idea?

A Student Management Team (SMT) is a small group of students (usually 3-5) that meets regularly throughout a course, and whose primary objective is to facilitate communication between the course instructor and the class. I first learned about SMTs at the Teaching Preconference at SPSP this past February, from a talk given by Jordan Troisi. He uses them to gather feedback on what’s working well and what isn’t, to gather ideas about potential changes, and sometimes to explain in detail why something can’t be changed. The SMT also creates, administers, and analyzes mid-course feedback, which springboards dialogue with the instructor. Overall, the SMT acts as a communication bridge between the rest of the class and the instructor.

Why am I interested?

Every major change I’ve made to my courses in the past 3-4 years has (a) increased the amount of peer-to-peer learning/interaction, and (b) implemented an evidence-based practice (see the impact of these on my teaching philosophy revision, here and here). Of all my courses, I think my introductory psychology courses (101 and 102) need the most attention. I see SMTs as an opportunity to work with motivated students to help me identify what changes are most needed and how we can implement them on a large scale.

Although most students rate these courses positively overall, I know that some of my 370 students (each term) feel overwhelmed, lost, stressed, and alone. To help somewhat, I have held a weekly Invitational Office Hour outside the classroom on Friday afternoons, and I have happily met many of my students face-to-face during that period. Some longstanding friendships among student attendees have even developed at those office hours! But I continue to struggle with the sheer size of my classes. How can I connect more students with each other more intentionally? How do I integrate more meaningful peer-to-peer interaction to help students learn while building community? I’m interested in hearing feedback from the SMT on these and other issues. I am also looking forward to building ongoing working relationships with a small cohort of students. My position is such that I don’t get many opportunities to mentor students (unlike, say, if I was running a research lab), so I’m excited by the idea of working closely with a few students to help me communicate with the many.

What evidence is there to support it?

Not as much as I’d ideally like to see, but as Jordan notes in his papers, it’s relatively new. I see no downsides to trying it at this point, and Jordan’s data suggest benefits not just to SMT members (Troisi, 2014), but also to the whole class (Troisi, 2015). I’m interested in adding a measure of relatedness, and seeing if his findings for autonomy hold with a class almost 15x larger (with, perhaps, 15x the need?).

Troisi, J. D. (2015). Student Management Teams increase college students’ feelings of autonomy in the classroom. College Teaching, 63, 83-89.

  • Shows that students enrolled in a course that had an SMT increased their sense of autonomy by the end of the course, but students in the same course (same instructor, same semester) without an SMT showed no change in their autonomy. In other words, students feel more in control of their outcomes if they have an SMT as a conduit (not just if they’re actually in the SMT). This paper uses the lens of Self Determination Theory (a major theory of motivation), and provides a nice introduction for non-psychologists who might be interested in using it to inform their teaching practice. (In a nutshell: highest motivation for tasks that meet competence, autonomy, and relatedness needs.)

Troisi, J. D. (2014). Making the grade and staying engaged: The influence of Student Management Teams on student classroom outcomes. Teaching of Psychology, 41, 99-103.

  • Shows benefits for the SMT members themselves. They perform better in the course than non-members (after controlling for incoming GPA), which seems partly due to increased engagement over the duration of the course.

Handelsman, M. M. (2012). Course evaluation for fun and profit: Student management teams. In J. Holmes, S. C. Baker, & J. R. Stowell (Eds.), Essays from e-xcellence in teaching, 11, 8–11. Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology website:

  • Anecdotal discussion of benefits, with description of how he has implemented it.
  • Free e-book!

Are you thinking of trying out SMTs? Let’s talk! Email me at

2014/2015 Student Evaluations Response Part 1: Psyc 217

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. As I explained here, I’m writing reflections on the qualitative and quantitative feedback I received from each of my courses.


Research Methods is the course I have taught more than any other: since 2008 I have taught 1022 students across 14 sections. I am also the course coordinator, which means I help new research methods instructors prepare for their sections including ordering textbooks, I organize the labs including TFs and room bookings, and I facilitate the poster session. And I write the Canadian edition of the text we use (2nd edition forthcoming February 2016). I spend a lot of time thinking about this course!

Over the years I have incorporated many suggestions initiated by students in student evaluations, and have made changes to the course design based on student evaluation feedback. In 2014/2015, I implemented one major change to the course: I converted my three tests and the final exam to a two-stage format. Students write the test first on their own, then break into groups to write it again (see my blog post about this method, with resources). The largest challenge I knew I faced going in was timing, particularly for the tests: Our class periods are just 50 minutes long, and my tests were already notoriously lengthy. It was with this lens that I approached reading my student evaluations for this past year. Do I keep the two-stage tests?

I examined the quantitative data first. As is clear from the graph, there were no major differences relative to previous years. Notably, The fairness of the instructors’ assessments of learning item was rated higher than usual, though that difference was small. No indication of a disaster. Yay!


Next, I evaluated the qualitative data. As I sorted into positive and negative columns, two topic themes seemed to be emerging: tests and enthusiasm. As in past years, students appreciated the energy and enthusiasm I bring to the classroom (especially at 9am and especially with this topic). Out of 128 comments, 29 of them (23%) specifically mentioned energy or enthusiasm (with just a couple of those recommending I tone it down a bit).

Coincidentally, the same proportion of comments (29, 23%) mentioned the tests in some way. Six comments endorsed the three (rather than two) test format, indicating it helped them keep on top of studying, although three comments mentioned that tests 2 and 3 were too close together, and another three indicated they would have preferred two tests. Seven comments mentioned enjoying the two-stage format were positive, indicating that it provides opportunities to work together, make friends, and receive immediate feedback. The two negative comments that specifically mentioned the two-stage format did not disagree with it per se, but felt that this format exacerbated a different problem: feeling rushed. Seven comments specifically mentioned feeling rushed during exams. Two others indicated that the fix implemented for test #2 worked well to address the timing issue. Still, it seems that timing during tests was the clearest challenge in my course. Despite my best efforts to shrink the tests, there is a small group of students reporting they remain too long for the required tasks. I’ll consider strategies for preparing students for this pace.

Overall, the two-stage tests seemed to work well for most students, and grades were still within the acceptable range for our department. I enjoyed giving exams much more than I used to, and I was able to relax and hear the conversations students were having as they debated correct answers. Anecdotally, I was able to witness deeper learning and (mostly) positive group dynamics during the second stage (luckily I have other peoples’ data to offer as evidence that it works to promote learning!). Two-stage exams: you’re staying!

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: