Tag Archives: conferences

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: http://teachpsych.org/ebooks/eit2011/index.php

  • 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 cdrawn@psych.ubc.ca

I gave a talk, and here are the resources

I’m at the Vancouver International Conference on the Teaching of Psychology, and I’m giving a talk entitled, “Using integrated course design principles to promote meaningful learning in an innovative applied social psychology course.”

Here are some related resources:

My powerpoint slides

2012/2013 course syllabus and team assignment

Reflections on my student evaluations from 2012/2013

Fink’s Self-directed guide to designing courses for significant learning

Fink’s Creating significant learning experiences

Team Based Learning resources, including books, sample syllabi, videos, etc

Reflecting on APS

Last week I attended the Association for Psychological Science Convention for the first time, including the Society for the Teaching of Psychology  (STP) Teaching Preconference. I am grateful to STP for awarding me an Early Career Travel Grant to help me offset the cost of my flight all the way from Vancouver Canada to Washington DC.

One of my nerd-tastic highlights was seeing the actual apparatus Milgram used to examine obedience to authority back in the ’60s.


Beyond the obvious awesomeness depicted above, I can point to three key ways I benefited from attending this conference.

1. Networking

I have elaborated on how I went about networking in my previous post. Who I connected with was also critical. At the Teaching Preconference, I met two other research methods textbook authors, including the always-inspiring Beth Morling, and my US-Edition Cozby counterpart Scott Bates. Scott gave an insightful talk on how he is using the APA guidelines for psychology majors to steer his course (re)designs; it was fun to talk with him afterward about course design and how he came to work on the Cozby text too. Turns out both our stories share a similar right place/right time theme. Also, I was delighted to meet a fellow regional representative of the STP’s Early Career Psychologist Council, Ali O’Malley at Butler University.

For the rest of the conference, my networking opportunities were largely driven by Twitter conversations and chance encounters. For example, I happened to sit next to my UBC colleague Eric Eich during the good data practices symposium (see below). He’s the editor in chief of our field’s top journal, Psychological Science. Sitting next to him meant I met Bobbie Spellman, editor in chief of Perspectives On Psychological Science (PoPS). As speaker after speaker pointed to journal editors as the key to improving our field, it was interesting to consider their perspectives too. Tweeting regularly meant that people recognized me, I could learn what was happening in other symposia, and I had conversations in person and online that would not have been possible otherwise. Check out this Twitter feed for what was said by everyone using #aps2013dc.

2. Insight into Good Data Practices, Replicability, and Data Ethics

One of the major reasons I wanted to attend APS this year was the theme program on Building a Better Psychological Science. These speakers built on their contributions to a recent issue of PoPS focusing squarely on this topic.  It was fascinating to hear Daniel Kahneman recall his early days as a psychologist, during which he gave up on a line of research that seemed profitable but he couldn’t replicate to his high standards. Apparently, his own introspection on how he could have been so convinced his small sample studies would replicate became the basis for his later revolutionary and Nobel Prize-winning work with Amos Tversky. Seems to have been a good choice.

Collectively, this lengthy line-up of speakers helped me reconsider the big-picture costs of the way our field has under-valued exact replications in favour of conceptual replications, and how we’ve been chasing p-values below .05. The arguments weren’t really new, but packaging them together in this symposium was impactful for me. Now that I’m a textbook author preparing for my 2nd edition, I found myself constantly considering how we can help our 2nd year psych majors learn best practices. For example, why not include an ethics unit in a statistics course? There’s usually one in research methods… but why not stats too, dealing with data management and reporting and fraud? Also, I’ll be changing the way I discuss the value of exact replications in my next edition. In courses, we could require our students to submit their data and analyses along with their final papers, to be able to reward data archiving and get our students into the habit of submitting raw data to back up claims. So much to (re)consider…

Talking to colleagues about the teaching-related implications of the Good Data Practices symposium was a fascinating exercise. It seems obvious to me that we should be “raising” our majors on best practices, yet there was more variability in reactions to this idea than I had expected. Many colleagues seemed to have simply not considered implications at an undergraduate level, but agreed with me that it’s a good place to start. In a couple of cases, I was challenged about whether such efforts would have any effect. These challenges have compelled me to consider writing a why bother/how-to piece to submit for publication. (Oh summer, could you give me an extra month?)

3. Ideas for my classes

Throughout the entire conference and preconference, I had tons of ideas for my courses! I mentioned a few above regarding methods and stats. In addition, Laura King helped me re-think how I approach Personality Psychology in intro: “you wouldn’t spend a full day discussing phrenology in the biological psychology unit, so why spend a full day on Freud in the personality unit?” Wow. That hit home. I do incorporate modern science of personality in intro, but I will be making major changes to that unit next year.

In her preconference keynote address, Beth Morling offered a ton of specific ideas for intro and methods, centred on her priority of creating effective consumers of psychological research. Specifically, she promotes teaching students to identify the type of claim being made (frequency, association, or causal), and asking four questions about the validity of the study (construct, internal, external, statistical). Which of the four validities is most important depends on the type of claim. See her blog for a bevy of excellent examples. This consumer-oriented approach will inform how I teach methods in intro in particular, where I’m not training psych majors.

Talks by Scott Bates and Keith Stanovich prompted me to strongly consider changing my supplemental readings for research methods. In addition to his course design process, Bates offered a great resource on the purpose of APA style as an indicator of values in the discipline. This article dovetails with conversations a colleague and I have had about this very topic (Jaclyn Rea of our Arts Studies in Research and Writing department). I am strongly considering incorporating this discussion into methods this fall. Usually, I assign parts of Stanovich’s text How to Think about Psychology. I’ve always known it’s unpopular with many students due to its long-windedness and general lack of pedagogical features to help students learn from it. I value his ideas, which was why I’ve been assigning it for years, but the packaging just doesn’t compel my students to read it. I must say that hearing him speak convinced me that although his ideas are insightful he seems to have little sense of audience–a feature reflected in his book, too. Although I’ll still draw from and cite his book, I may be replacing those readings with the APA style article and some other big-picture perspectives on replicability/methods.

Another idea came to me at a talk by Jason Priem, who is promoting his altmetrics approach to measuring scholarly impact. I’d like to create a shareable library for each course in Zotero including all the papers I cite during class. Students can follow up on any article they want, and I can always find what I’ve cited. It’ll be a lot of work to set up, but once it’s there, it’ll be a rich resource that’s easy to update and share.


What a fun exercise this was to reflect on my notes and memories from this conference! I highly recommend this process to anyone hoping to actually follow up on rich conference experiences. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I gained from going to APS. I had feared it would be just too big and overwhelming to extract anything meaningful, but that fear was wholly unfounded.

Thanks for reading. Have an experimint.

Ten Simple Steps to Conference Networking

Networking opportunities abounded at the Association for Psychological Science (APS) convention last week. As I was reflecting on the week’s general highlights, it soon became clear that effective networking was the key to most. Let me be clear here: I’ve been going to conferences for about ten years, and I have a long history of being nervous about networking at conferences (still am!). At this point, I suspect it’s some leftover grad school/new faculty imposter syndrome, but it doesn’t really matter why it happens. What matters is I’m not letting my nervousness get in my way too much anymore.

One of the symposia I went to last week specifically addressed professional networking (sponsored by WICS). Perhaps because of this symposium, I have been reflecting on what I think led to my networking successes at APS. In case it’s helpful to someone else, here are ten things I did this week that I think helped me build my connections. Of course, this isn’t meant to be an exhaustive list.

My Ten (Relatively) Simple Steps to Networking

  1. Tweeted regularly. Hands down, best decision. Led to meeting people IRL (read: in real life), and I was recognized by others at times when I didn’t say a word out loud. Importantly, I was re-tweeted, sometimes by APS, Society for the Teaching of Psychology and some major names in the field (thanks APS, STP, Hal Pashler, and Bobbie Spellman!). That means all their followers can see what I wrote. Plus, tweeting helped me stay focused and engaged throughout the conference, and I now have a searchable record of my own (see @cdrawn) and others’ (see #aps2013dc) conference-related thoughts.
  2. Thanked a few speakers and introduced myself, briefly noting a common connection or a sound-bite about why I was interested in their talks. Each time, I met someone else too, because someone else was either standing there who knew the speaker, or because the speaker said “oh, then you should meet…” in response to my sound-bite.
  3. Went to a post-preconference reception. Followed up, elaborated on an earlier brief encounter (see #2). Had ONE glass of wine, which I sipped so slowly it wouldn’t have had a physiological effect, but it relaxed me a bit and helped me switch into a more social mode of conversation.
  4. Grabbed the chance to sit next to a colleague from my institution (who is well-known across the discipline), who sat next to someone else who was well-known across the discipline. Got to know both a bit better through in-session on-topic (and in-joke!) whispers.
  5. Went to a big-picture session everyone seems to be talking about (in this case, replicability). I knew a bit about it beforehand so I knew the key players and ideas. This meant I could tweet responsibly and thoughtfully on this hot topic, and could contribute meaningful whispers (see #4).
  6. Stumbled through asking that first question early in the conference in a small symposium so I’d be more confident and more articulate when asking the next one.
  7. Introduced myself to the speaker/crowd before asking a post-talk question (only after completing #6!). In one case, this meant I gained a couple of followers on twitter, including the speaker, who then tweet-suggested I meet his collaborator on the project who happens to live in my home city.
  8. Hung out in the lobby lounge. A friend wandered past, who then stopped and introduced me to his colleague. Made dinner plans (see #9).
  9. Went to sessions solo. Dined with friends. Years ago I would go to a session because my friend was going to it. I’ve learned to spend conference days largely on my own so I can take advantage of spontaneous conversations as needed, follow my own main interests and odd curiosities, and take quiet breaks when I need them. Dining with friends is then especially fun as we share our most interesting tidbits from the day… or not, if we need a brain break! (This is why it’s important to dine with friends IMO, so no need to worry about impressing them. I can’t spend all day and all evening being “on”.) As Lynn Liben at the WICS symposium noted, networking with peers is important: They start as “siblings” but “grow-up” to become the field.
  10. Followed-up on a twitter exchange. One of the challenges/strengths of writing on Twitter is that it’s limited to 140 characters (10 of which are used by the hashtag required so you’re part of the conversation). Misunderstanding is a real risk. During the conference, I responded to a tweet that I thought had really misrepresented a speaker’s intent, and I hoped it came across politely (after all, I am Canadian!). When I saw the person IRL (see #1), I approached him with a friendly Hi!. He knew immediately who I was, and we were able to further our discussion and finish it amicably.

We can all read other peoples’ papers. In my mind, the real advantage of conferences is the people who are there. Be bold, even just a little, and take advantage of the networking opportunities that come your way. Now, shall we continue this conversation on Twitter? I’m @cdrawn

STLHE 2012 Conference Reflections

I recently went to the annual conference for the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. This year it was held in Montreal (last year in Saskatoon Saskatchewan, next year in Cape Breton Nova Scotia). It’s my favourite conference of the year because it’s relatively small (about 400 delegates), and everyone there is committed to improving teaching and learning in higher education. Some delegates are faculty like me, but many others are educational developers who work at places like UBC’s CTLT, others are graduate students, administrators, and so on. I always leave with a ton of great ideas ranging from the big picture to day-to-day implementation. If you follow me on twitter, you may have noticed my live tweeting. Like my earlier list, with this post I’m trying to collect and remind myself of the major ideas from this conference:

  • A deliberate method for implementing successful iclicker questions is called “Peer Instruction” out of the physics literature. Includes students reading ahead, then giving a mini-lecture, providing a tough clicker Q, students explaining reasoning to someone else, class discussion going through all options, mini-lecture, tough clicker Q (younger level to converge on answer, upper level to diverge). From Rob Cassidy. Seems similar to what I do normally, but reading about it could give me ideas for implementation.
  • Look up research on peer instruction by Weiman, Eric Mazur (Harvard), Derek Bruff (Vanderbilt), and contact Rob Cassidy (Concordia).
  • Graduate courses on university teaching exist at Guelph, McMaster, Dalhousie, SFU, etc. Fantastic contacts, including Erin Aspenlieder at SFU, Suzanne Sheffield at Dalhousie (for evaluation materials), Cynthia Korpan at UVic (made updated critical incident films, new head of TAGSA), Natasha Kenny at Guelph.
  • Idea gems about grad courses on university teaching (from Natasha Kenny): every moment is a teaching moment, the goal is that students leave the course knowing teaching is about *students* first and foremost, syllabus contained “how this course was changed based on last year’s feedback”
  • Based on Erin Aspenlieder’s lit review on how to train grad students to teach, what works is mentorship, practice with feedback, and portfolio development to promote reflective practice. What doesn’t work is single-event workshops — which is what grad students & faculty say they want!! To improve single-event workshops, need to follow up with participants to find out how they implemented the information. *This gives me impetus for Psych Dept TA Training follow-up.
  • Film the teaching in my Teaching of Psych grad class to facilitate reflection.
  • Make a Western Canada TA training conference! There are loads of us doing this work, and it could be a fantastic opportunity to network and improve.
  • Ways to evaluate impact of my Teaching of Psych class: Approaches to Teaching inventory (pre/post), midterm and end of term feedback, focus groups, course outlines, teaching philosophy statements with coding scheme (see Concordia crew including Rob Cassidy for their draft rubric that considers line-by-line).
  • I’d like to co-design a session for next year’s STLHE on integrating qualitative and quantitative perspectives. A meeting point that’s relevant to many educators is interpreting student evaluations of teaching (including one’s own, guiding others, and the research literature). To do this, I need to find an expert in qualitative research to co-facilitate this!
  • When guiding others to improve their teaching, start with two questions: What is your content? (to get them excited and to define parameters of the course), and What do you want students to know about it? (to guide creation of learning objectives, switch their thinking to learner-centred). — From Cynthia Weston’s lifetime achievement award address
  • Consider “luck-free” written portions of my exams: here are 10 questions, three will be on it, prepare as you wish (teams or individuals)
  • Build regular writing time into my professional life.

That is a rather odd collection, but they’re the ideas I want to make sure I keep. Many are related to teaching graduate students to teach, which I think is going to be a big part of my upcoming year.