Tag Archives: course design

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!

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/.

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: http://ow.ly/J9gLk)

2013/2014 Student Evaluations Response Part 2: Psyc 208

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.


This was another year of relatively major changes in this course. I have revised and revised this course over the years. This year, I needed to replace the readings anyway, so I used it as an opportunity to do a thorough course evaluation. Last summer I carefully considered this course with respect to Dee Fink’s model of course design. In brief, Fink’s model prompts an analysis of the degree to which the learning objectives/course goals, learning assessments, and teaching techniques are integrated with each other. I presented the results of this analysis at a conference (follow this link for the conference presentation support materials). In brief, I learned from this analysis is that my class-by-class learning objectives (and therefore my exams) were really only addressing two of my broader course goals.

Major changes in 2013/2014

  • Revised most readings. Created a new custom set of readings from only one publisher, omitting most of the sport psychology chapters that many students had had trouble connecting with in previous iterations.
  • Revised topic sequence, in-class topics, and exams to align with new content. This meant re-arranging some topics, reframing others, cutting a few entirely, and creating a few new lessons on new topics.
  • Instead of using the Team Based Learning style team tests for two units (one of which was now gone entirely), I created a “Learning Blitz” to serve the same sort of readiness assurance process. In brief, students came with readings prepared, then worked on questions that guided what they were to take from the readings (e.g., keywords, key studies, take-home message). My intent was to help students learn to extract the most important information from readings, while working together.
  • As I said I would in response to last year’s feedback, I created an exam study guide that I distributed to students the week before each exam. It collected all learning objectives, keywords, key studies, etc., together in one place as a sort of “here’s what to know” from class and the readings.
  • The TA who had helped me develop the course over four years graduated. Two new TAs were assigned to my course. They were keen to help support the course, but we did hit some snags.

As you can see, this was a big year in the life of this 208 section. Personally, I felt challenged by the sheer amount of revision needed. When I consider my course design intentions, I think I inched toward integrated assessment and teaching techniques (still lots of room to grow there), and better aligned my course goals and learning objectives with assessments. I also realized just how much work my former TA did to ensure feedback and support was given in a timely way to each group, and to ensure consistency of grading with her fellow TA (which changed most years). I need to be better prepared with a process for communicating more effectively and regularly with TAs, and helping them work together to ensure coordination throughout the grading process.


Quantitative student feedback was on par with previous years (see the graph above, click to enlarge), but qualitative comments tended to hit a different tone. Many students commented positively about how motivated they were to come to class, how much they enjoyed my teaching style and the activities that we did to encourage them to apply the material to their lives. Some students mentioned that I created a “positive learning environment” and was “engaging” and “inspiring.” These comments were consistent with previous years, and I’m glad that many students are finding value in this course and my approach to it.

The suggestions for improvement seemed related to the changes I made, and fell largely into two categories: grading and content. Commonly, students commented that the midterm exam and assignment grading was difficult. There was frustration with the required means – I was frustrated by that too. These means were more salient perhaps than in previous years because of how I handled a couple of things: instead of asking my TAs to revise their grades on an assignment to better align with each other, I scaled them quite explicitly (i.e., one half the class had a +3 boost, the other had a -5 reduction; on the midterm, I scaled +7 for everyone). The midterm difficulty was an overshoot because of the revisions with the new material (not an unusual occurrence). What I wish I had done with the assignment was ask the TAs to take a couple of extra days and revise their grades to come to a common acceptable mean. It would have had the same effect on the grades, but the process would have reduced the salience of the scaling problem. As it stood, half the class seemed to feel like they were punished – when in fact they were simply over-graded initially. Process is crucial. Lesson: Carefully ensure TAs are communicating regularly and are aligned throughout the grading process for the assignment.

The handful of comments on the content surprised me a little. One student mentioned high overlap in the content between this course and some others (although also noted that the applied take on it was new). A few students mentioned that they desired more depth of theory/research and less application. One person phrased it like this, “I know that Dr. Rawn really enjoys research, so I am confident that she teaches us things that has research to support it…. I wish the course focused more on helping [us] understand definitions, and different approaches so I could make connections between material and life myself.” This feedback surprised me. I feel like I am constantly describing studies, but the fact that a few students made similar comments means that maybe this course is starting to come across as preachy (this is how to live a good life and how I apply it and you should too), and, perhaps consequently, less rigorous. I’m not sure what to do with this feedback, but it’s certainly something to think about further.

Other useful suggestions for next year:

  • Clarify and simplify the group project handout. It has been updated each year for a few years, so it reads a bit patchy. Give the rubrics ahead of time. Like last year, I’m nervous about grading – but perhaps use the rubrics as a base to structure the handout.
  • Offer half a lab day about a week before the presentation (maybe cut Lab 3 into two half days?)
  • Have some sort of control over the chaos that is the presentation. Maybe have a bell every 15 minutes – could I bring someone in to do that? I’m busy grading.
  • Shorten the learning blitz requirements: they’re too long for meaningful discussions and some groups are reporting splitting the workload rather than discussing each item together.
  • Consider having pairs of groups – or encouraging even number teams to match with an odd number team — something that helps people meet new people other than their teammates every once in a while.

Thank you to everyone who provided feedback. This course, more than any other I teach, goes through growing pains regularly, and this year felt like a big growing pains year. I have a lot to think about revising as I move forward, and also a lot of success to celebrate. This deliberately unconventional course – although not everyone’s cup of tea – does seem to be reaching a subset of students in a very positive way.