Tag Archives: goals

Officially on Sabbatical!

As of 1 July 2016 I’m officially on Sabbatical! Instead of heading to the classroom this Fall, I’ll be on an extended summer until September 2017. Sabbatical is an amazing opportunity to spend a year working on big picture projects and deep thinking that don’t fit well in the hectic pace of the regular teaching terms. It’s also a chance to catch up on sleep, well-being, time with family and friends, and some travel.

Some projects I’ll be working on include a few papers to submit for publication to journals (3 of which already partially exist but need deep work), the International Program for the Scholarship of Educational Leadership: UBC Certificate on Curriculum and Pedagogy in Higher Education (http://international.educ.ubc.ca/soel/), overhauling my Psyc 101 and 102 courses, continuing to work on curriculum renewal for the BA Psychology degree, and a few other things here and there. I’m working on developing habits to keep me productive enough on these projects while also spending lots of time resting and re-energizing.

If you’re trying to reach me during this time, I’m generally going to be pretty terrible on email. I really hate email. It saps my life energy, which means it cannot be a priority for me during this sabbatical time. If you really need to reach me urgently, try a Tweet (@cdrawn) to grab my attention.

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

Revising my Teaching Philosophy

Although I’ve polished/reconfigured my teaching philosophy a few times over the years, I’m feeling compelled to take it in a new direction. It’s not that my teaching has taken on an entirely new form… well, maybe in some ways it has. I’m feeling a greater sense of clarity these days, specifically around collaboration and community-building. Here is my latest draft of my single sentence nutshell version, followed by lengthier elaboration/musings.

The goal of my teaching practice is to help people develop ways of thinking and doing that are informed by the methods and evidence of quantitative psychology, and that will prepare them to engage in their social worlds throughout their lives.

I chose many of these words very carefully.

goal, my teaching practice: indicate my own process of ongoing development. For me, teaching is not a skill I can check off as “mastered” — which is actually one of the reasons I enjoy it so much. It’s a set of skills and attitudes I can get better at through reflective practice, but it’s never “done.” Also noteworthy at this point: although this statement is grounded in what (I think) I do, it is also somewhat aspirational and intended to help me make decisions about how to change my teaching in the future.

help, develop: In my most effective teaching moments, I am acting as a guide, not some sage trying to fill brains with what I know. I view myself in a supporting role, and that probably has something to do with the most impactful teachers in my life, who treated me as an individual person (see below) and pushed me to develop new skill sets, regardless of how scary or challenging that was (I’m thinking of you Clinton, Ross, Holmes, Biesanz, Vohs…). Because many of my core courses are foundational  (introductory psychology, research methods, statistics, teaching of psychology for graduate students), I sometimes get to see and support developmental change in my students across much of their degrees. When possible, I provide opportunities for students to practice and build on past work.

people: reminds me that my students are more than just students (just as I am more than their instructor). I put this into practice by saying this, right before every exam begins: “and remember, your value as a person has nothing to do with your performance on this or any other exam.” Year after year, students thank me for this tiny reminder that they are not the sum of their grades. Also, this word reminds me that some of my teaching activities reach beyond traditional classroom settings and involve people who aren’t necessarily “students” per se.

ways of thinking and doing: I am increasingly aware of the fact that when I use lecture, I am giving students ample opportunity to practice note-taking and listening… which are not entirely useless skills, but are maybe not the best use of our time together (see above). With each new course I develop and each course I revise, I strive further toward spending class periods giving students time to practice their thinking and doing (asking, answering, brainstorming, designing, summarizing, analyzing, performing, playing, creating). To support doing-driven assignments, I need to work on building space in my course for further skill development.

methods and evidence of quantitative psychology: By training, I am a quantitative social psychologist. I teach research methods and statistics, write a research methods textbook, and deliberately chose to use an introductory psychology textbook that emphasizes research methods and combating pseudoscience. I think the tools and content of psychology are useful for critically consuming information that is thrown at us, and for engaging productively in the world. In my classes, I create opportunities for students to apply concepts and methods (test questions, assignments).  Importantly, I use the methods and evidence of quantitative behavioural sciences to inform my teaching practice.

engage: Here’s a word that was core in my old teaching philosophy. The way I’m looking at it now is this: I structure my learning situations to require learners to participate and engage with the material and each other. I use various common techniques: vivid examples, videos, attention grabbing questions sprinkled throughout class (clickers), projects that mean something (e.g., identify a problem you’re having and find research to help), and some that are uncommon (2-stage exams). I engage students in the learning process by breaking down my 1st and 2nd year courses into four chunks (three midterms and a cumulative final) — and in my intro course I require students to begin studying at least 2 days before each midterm because a short low-stakes concept check paper is due. Another way I try to engage is by building community…

social: Now we get to the primary reason for this whole revision. Most of the changes I’ve made over the years to my courses have been to make them more social. Community-building and collaboration feature heavily in my courses, and I’m ready to commit to them as defining features of my teaching. The research literature supports this approach. “Active learning” techniques that involve some sort of peer-to-peer engagement seem to work best to help students learn. I also believe that in order to engage effectively in their personal lives and broader society, people need practice developing skills and attitudes needed to work with and learn from others. The social looks different in different courses (in part depending on class size and level), but includes two-stage/team tests, group projects, peer evaluation, reviewing peers’ written work and presentations, informal discussions prompted by clicker questions, team writing, occasional field trips, and invitational office hours. Also, the more students talk in class, the stronger sense of community they feel. Because my classes tend to be very large (88 is the smallest, excepting my grad class), and many students have traveled from around the world to be here at UBC, increasing the social in class may help struggling students feel more connected. Next year, my new course on the psychology of social media will explore the theme of technology-mediated connection and will require it!

throughout their lives: my greatest teaching efforts are lost if they do not contribute to some lasting change for some people some of the time. My hope is that some of the skills, tools, ways of thinking and doing and engaging will positively influence the people I teach. If ever-so-subtly.


Some other thoughts

Technology-enhanced experience. I use technological tools wherever it makes sense to facilitate my goals. Examples: clickers, Connect, self-and-peer evaluation (Connect, peerScholar), scratch cards and live test grading, turnitin, videos

Integrated Course Design model. With each new course I’m developing, I’m getting better at applying Fink’s model. Basically, strive for alignment among course goals, learning assessments, and in-class experiences.


[This post is a bit belated… I forgot I wrote it last month and just found it in my drafts!]

I understand that there are political, social, economic, etc problems with the Olympics. Like every institution, it’s flawed in many ways. And yet as a psychologist and a Canadian I am fascinated by the Olympics.

In the span of 2-3 weeks of watching the Olympics I feel like I was able to witness and sometimes feel a fraction of Olympic joy, pride, victory, defeat, humility, frustration, sadness. Olympians use self-control and internal motivation to train for years and years for that one moment to perform. Sometimes, their best happens and they win. Sometimes they do their best and still lose. Sometimes – for whatever reason – they don’t perform at their best and their hopes are dashed. But they pick themselves up and keep going. Sometimes re-appearing the next Olympics (I’m thinking Chris Del Bosco, Alex Harvey…) seeking redemption and it still doesn’t come.

The Olympic path is an uncertain one. It requires dedication, self-control, countless hours of training, and it all comes down to one moment, one performance. My job is one of patience and less measurable results. sometime even unknown results. Does that student remember a thing once they leave my class? I have no idea. I hope so. But it’s not measured. How can I be the best teacher I can be without a finish line? I train for countless hours without a coach, but with passion. There are awards, but I have to choose to put myself out there and reach for them… maybe that’s what makes the difference between an Olympian and a really good hobby athlete. Olympians put themselves out there to reach for markers of success, publicly and sometimes even when they face certain defeat. They show up anyway. Maybe that’s part of what being an Olympian really is: putting yourself out there to be tested in a very public way, and dealing with whatever success or defeat comes along.

I think one of the many important ways that my career differs from an Olympian’s is that my path is not a zero sum game. I think sometimes I forget this. If I make it to becoming a gold medal teacher, there can be — and I hope so! — many people sharing that podium with me. The world is a better place when more teachers are more effective.

Watching the Olympics also brings out my fierce Canadian identity. There’s something about the Olympic winter games that just grabs my spirit and reminds me that I wear red and white for so may good reasons. To cheer for a fellow Canadian in whatever sport I’ve never heard of means I’m part of a shared community with that person. And Canada tends to do well, particularly in the Winter Games, which probably influences my interest too. To the extent that my self expands to include their successes, I can claim a little tiny piece of their victory as mine too (called BIRGing, or Basking in Reflected Glory, in social psych circles). Waking up to find out we won a medal or two is like a little present. Does it make a difference in my life? No, not objectively. Does it add a tiny boost to my national pride? Yes.

Academically I’ve been interested in issues of goal setting, self-control, motivation, and identity for a very long time. Perhaps it’s no surprise then how addicted I get to the Olympics and Paralympics. But it’s more than that. There was something about being in Vancouver for 2010 that changed how I feel. Being there to spill out onto the Cambie bridge with hundreds of other Canadians after the men’s hockey team won gold… that was pretty magical. We were all dressed in red and white, laughing, cheering, singing the anthem, high fiving strangers. I can’t think of another time I’ve felt more like my ingroup was all Canadians. It was beautiful.

Goal striving, emotions, self-control, identity, self-expansion… these are realities of the day-to-day that get magnified for me during the Olympics. I finished watching the closing ceremonies feeling a little more connected, a little more aware of humanity and what we can accomplish alone and together. If we can do great things athletically as a nation, maybe we can do great things in other domains too. Maybe I can be bold enough to put myself to a public test, learn from the results, and fight to improve even more. Maybe I can be like an Olympian too.



This past weekend I completed the UBC Sprint Distance Triathlon! It was my first triathlon ever, and it’s something a year ago I said I’d never do (I’ve since stopped saying such foolish things!). It was also my first sustained attempt to swim and bike since I was a kid playing around at the pool and on my street. So when I came in last place in my age group at a total time of 2h4mins, I felt nothing but pride at having finished so strongly. My purely positive reaction to coming in last place surprised me a little. I’ve entered running and walking events before, and I’ve usually finished toward the middle/end of the pack. But coming in dead last is something else entirely. If I had any inkling of judging my success in terms of how I did relative to others, coming in dead last means failure. There is no way to hide behind “at least I didn’t finish last!” defense.

In my Psyc 208 class on Tuesday, I was teaching about motivation. As I explained the difference between motivation derived from a self-defined mastery approach versus a social-comparison-driven ego approach, I was quite aware of my recent performance in the triathlon. I was also quite aware that I took a mastery approach to understanding that performance. I felt like I had successfully completed the triathlon. I finished, and I had felt strong and happy the whole way through — it was fun just being out there on the course! Yet, I know deep down that as much as I take a purely mastery approach to my athleticism, it’s much harder for me to take that approach in my career. You see, my athleticism is new. It’s a new aspect of my identity that I’m playing around with. I’ve been building confidence by taking baby steps over the past three or four years (starting with “I think I could run for a minute” on a treadmill, and surprising myself that I could. Really.). No one had any expectations of me in this domain, least of all myself. Taking a mastery approach to athletics is easy.

Yet who I am as a teacher hits deeper to the core of who I am. This is my chosen field, my area of specialization I have chosen to cultivate because I enjoy doing it and derive great meaning from it. I have been hired into this fantastic and extremely demanding job because other people think I am and will continue to be successful in this domain. And I’d be lying if I said I took a completely mastery approach to judging my success. Social comparisons are so easy to do: How do my student evaluations compare with someone else’s? Are my tests and assignments as fair and challenging as they possibly can be? Am I doing enough to foster community and learning in my classes? Should I be focusing more on initiatives within the department rather than at the university level or beyond? That person is publishing more than I am… does that mean I’m not doing enough? Even letting these questions come into my consciousness at this moment is triggering insecurity… and I think a lot of that insecurity comes from comparing myself to other people. The reality is there will always be someone who seems better than me in some way. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. 

Completing my triathlon is an opportunity for me to (re)think about how I define success in my career. If my triathlon experiences can be extrapolated (and I don’t see why not),  I think I will experience more moments of joy and fewer moments of anxiety from my career when I commit to setting my own standards and define success as mastering those. (I’m lucky enough to have a career in which I have a fair amount of autonomy in this way.) I have tried to do this somewhat, but this is a chance for me to take this attitude change more seriously. Like the triathlon, those standards will be demanding, but they’ll be mine. And when I reach them, I’ll be able to experience joy and pride for myself, but also for others who are on their own paths, achieving their goals.