Tag Archives: learning objectives

To post or not to post?

A colleague recently asked me what my thoughts were on posting slides before class, after class, or at all. Here was my response, in case it’s helpful. Colleagues, Students: What do you think?

I don’t post them until after class for 3 main reasons

  1. I can’t guarantee they’ll be ready early enough in advance so all students can have a chance to print/review them
  2. Giving them in advance prohibits me from (a) surprising students with reveals, (b) including the clicker answers in the slides (so students can review later), (c) being spontaneous and responsive to that class (e.g., cutting/adding content/examples in response to what that group needs — if students have the slides, then I have to communicate what we *didn’t* get to and what won’t be tested, adding in what slides we build together during class…)
  3. There isn’t any scholarly evidence to suggest they help (on average — I recognize that special needs groups may be different).

I do post the class period’s learning objectives before class though, to help (keen) students prioritize while note-taking. Here’s what I put in the syllabus:

PowerPoint slides and handouts will be available after class on our course Connect site. Learning Objectives will be available there before class. Slides cannot be posted before class because they will undermine clicker questions. Moreover, data shows that having notes in advance rather than after class does not influence performance (Babb & Ross, 2009).

Babb, K. A., & Ross, C. (2009). The timing of online lecture slide availability and its effect on attendance, participation, and exam performance. Computers & Education, 52, 868-881. doi: 10.1016/j.compedu.2008.12.009

2014/2015 Student Evaluations Response Part 3: Psyc 102

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. Each year, I write reflections on the qualitative and quantitative feedback I received from each of my courses, and post them here.

After teaching students intro psych as a 6-credit full-year course for three years, in 2013/2014 I was required to transform it into 101 and 102. Broadly speaking, the Term1/Term2 division from the 6-credit course stays the same, but there are some key changes because students can take these courses in either order from any professor (who uses any textbook). These two courses really still form one unit in my mind so I structure the courses extremely similarly. I have summarized the quantitative student evaluations in tandem. As can be seen in the graph, quantitative ratings of this course haven’t changed too much over the past few years, and students rate my teaching in these courses very similarly. However, I will discuss them separately this year because of some process-based changes I made in 102 relative to 101.


My response to Psyc 101 included a formal coding of comments into various categories. Oh to have the open time of summer! I’m a bit more pressed for time now as I work on my Psyc 102 preparations, so as I was reading the comments I picked out themes a bit less formally. Two major themes emerged (which map on roughly to those identified using more a formal strategy for Psyc 101): class management, and tests. Interestingly, I changed the weighting of the Writing to Learn assignments from Psyc 101 (Term 1 in 2014/15) to Psyc 102 (Term 2 in 2014/15), to avoid relying on peer reviews and just do them for completion points only. The number of comments about that aspect of the course dropped close to zero, despite the actual tasks of the assignment staying the same (see my response to Psyc 101, linked above, for discussion of why I was compelled to make changes in 102 last year).

Again, a major theme in the comments was that tests are challenging. I don’t think they’re any more challenging than in my 101 course, but maybe there’s a perception that they will be easier because the content seems more relatable, and so people are more surprised by the difficulty in 102. Not sure. Just like in my 101, they draw from class content, overlapping content, and some textbook-only content, and they prioritize material that follows from the learning objectives (which I post in advance to help you know what material will be explored in class the next day). MyPsychLab is a source of practice questions, as are your peers and the learning objectives.

In addition to content, time is tight on the tests. Before implementing the Stage 2 group part, my students didn’t have 25 questions in 50 minutes… they had 50 questions in 50 minutes. Now, we have 25 questions in about 28-30 minutes, which is actually more relaxed than before. Although many people report finding value in the group part of the test, it’s not universally loved. A few people mentioned that it’s not worth it because it doesn’t improve grades by very much. My goal here is to promote learning. I’m stuck with the grading requirements: we have to have a class average between 63 and 67%. That’s out of my control. The group tests add an average of about 2% to your test grade, which you may or may not value. But importantly for me, they improve learning (Gilley & Clarkston).

The second most frequent comment topic related to various aspects of classroom dynamics. I thought I’d take this opportunity to elaborate on some choices I make in class.

I do my best to bring high energy to every class. Many people report being fueled by that enthusiasm—that’s been my most frequent comment for many years across many courses. However, a few people don’t love it and feel it’s a bit juvenile or just too much. I bring this up here as a heads up: Although I’d love to have you join us, if you’re not keen on the way I use my voice to help engage people, you might enjoy a different section of 102 better.

In class, occasionally I comment when a student is doing non-course related things on a device, and invite them to join us. A couple of people mentioned this in evaluations from last year. My intention here is to promote learning (i.e., to do my job). Research shows that when people switch among screens on their laptops, they’re not just decreasing their own comprehension, but the comprehension of all the people within view of the screen (Sana, Weston, & Cepeda). I occasionally monitor and comment on this activity (e.g., during films) so that I can create a class climate where anyone who wants to succeed can do so.

Sometimes I wait for the class to settle, and sometimes I start talking to the people in the front (which might be perceived as incomprehensible to the people at the back of the room). I get impatient sometimes too, particularly toward the end of the year (I’m only human after all!). I don’t like to start class until the noise level is settled, out of fairness of people who are sitting at the back but still want to be involved, and, to be honest, talking while others are talking and not listening makes me feel disrespected. One change I made in my 101 class this past term might help us with starting class in 102. I decided to move the announcements from verbal ones at the start of class to a weekly email I send out on Friday afternoons. This change seems to have improved people’s recognition that when I’m ready to start class, we’re starting with content right away, so settling happens more quickly. Hopefully this will help us out in 102.

As always, many thanks for your feedback. It challenges me to think about ways I can improve in my teaching, and to reconsider decisions I have made in the past. Sometimes I make changes, and sometimes I reaffirm the decisions I made before. This space gives me a chance to explain changes or re-articulate why I continue to endorse my past decisions. Student feedback is an essential ingredient to my decision-making process. Thank you!

My Fall 2013 Syllabi

Check out my Fall 2013 syllabi! After spending a lot of time thinking about these courses this summer, I’m excited to share my new syllabi. Psyc 217 features heavily revised Course Goals, new supplemental readings, and a References section listing research that I used to make decisions about this course (e.g., design, policies). Psyc 101 features revised Course Goals and new regular small writing assignments to replace a paper I assigned in years past. I also developed a graphic to help explain the new short writing assignment process.

Psyc 101 Section 005

  • MWF 12-1pm in CIRS 1250
  • 360 students
  • Teaching Assistants: Sara Knauft and Stef Bourrier

Psyc 217 Research Methods Sections 001 and 002

  • MWF 9-10am (Section 1) and 10-11am (Section 2)
  • 92 students per section
  • Teaching Fellows: Allison Brennan, Julia Kam, Jennifer Lay, and Eleni Nasiopolous

See you at Orientations and Imagine on Tuesday, and in class on Wednesday!

Student Evaluations of Teaching 2012/2013: Part 2 Research Methods

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.

Psyc 217: Research Methods

I went into this year especially excited about research methods, as I got to use a textbook with my own name on it! Wow, what a thrill! Perhaps reflecting this extra-potent boost of enthusiasm, my quantitative results were overwhelmingly positive this year. Interestingly, I seem to have connected especially effectively with my 10am section. Ratings from my 9am section were positive too (see the mint green bars on the graph linked above)… and on par with years past. But scores from my 10am section were the highest I’ve ever received (see the light purple bars on the graph)! Because I taught the two sections pretty much the same way, I’m not sure what can account for the difference. Suffice it to say, in my mind it was an especially awesome year… and many of my students seem to have felt that way too.

When I teach research methods, it’s often at 9 and 10 in the morning, and I do my very best every day to bring the energy. For many people, this material isn’t exactly inherently exciting. As one student wrote, “Based on what I’ve heard from friends and acquaintances at UBC, research methods is one of the most disliked courses offered at the university due to its sheer boringness.” Thankfully, this student continued, “that said, this instructor did a phenomenal job of teaching the course in a way that students found the material relevant and exciting (to the extent that this material can be exciting).” Such an assessment is the most common comment coming from my student evaluations in this course: Students expect this material to be dull, but I bring it alive. That’s exactly what I strive to do every single day. I’m satisfied that my well-caffeinated efforts are effective for my students.

A few other topics were noted by small subsets of students. Two topics drew ambivalent assessments: groupwork and in-class activities. People seem to have a love-hate relationship with groupwork. First, only a handful of people mentioned it at all, leading me to suspect that mostly people feel neutrally about it (perhaps recognizing its inherent challenges and strengths). The people who noted liking the team project still found it a lot of work, but recognized the value in it. The people who didn’t seem to work as well with teammates report viewing it as a frustrating waste of time. Each year I hear this dichotomous assessment. One thing I tried out last year in response to one particularly struggling group was a mediation meeting, during which I acted as mediator. It seemed to work well to get that group through effectively to the end of the course. To broaden this service and reach the struggling groups I don’t hear about, I am creating a form-based mediation request process for this year. That may sound like a cold approach, but I’ve given it much thought. After years of imploring people to come to me face-to-face to help solve their group challenges, I note that very few groups—or individuals struggling within groups—ever come to me. By formalizing this process, I hope to remove some of the emotion around “tattling,” and treat it as just another issue that needs to be dealt with, just like a grade change request. Hopefully this new process will help reach those extra few groups who are struggling on their own so they can move forward and perform well in group tasks.

In-class activities make material memorable, illustrate difficult concepts, up the energy and attention levels, and make learning fun. Every year, dozens of students report appreciating them. However, there is a small minority of students who don’t appreciate the time spent on these active learning adventures (yes, that’s the subtitle of my blog… see where I’m headed). I’m committed to student learning, and one of the hallmarks of my teaching philosophy is to get out of the way. And data supports my commitment to using active learning techniques (Armbruster, Patel, Johnson, & Weiss, 2009; Deslauriers, Schelew, & Wieman, 2011; Hake, 1998; Prince, 2004; Ruhl, Hughes, & Schloss, 1987; Yoder & Hochevar, 2005). I encourage people who are considering taking research methods or statistics with me (or any of my courses, really), to be ready to engage actively during class. If you’re not up for having fun while learning, my section might not be for you.

The last topic I’ll touch on is the textbooks. A few students noted how much they found my textbook worthwhile (yay!), with one student going so far as to say “I loved her book she wrote, very clear, informative, concise, probably the best textbook I ever used and read due to how clear it is to understand, with all the learning objectives.” I can’t take full credit for that readability (thanks to Cozby for laying such a strong foundation in his 10 prior editions!), yet I’m glad this text is being perceived as helpful. Unfortunately, the Stanovich text once again was voted unhelpful. The messages are useful, but even I find many examples dated and the chapters too lengthy for the points they make. Two years ago I wrote learning objectives and emphasized “get in, find what you need to know, and get out approach” in an attempt to make Stanovich’s text more accessible. Since then, there have been fewer complaints about Stanovich’s text, but a small, consistent group remain. I’ve been back-and-forth on this text for quite a while now, and I’m strongly considering replacing it with a few key peer reviewed articles/commentaries. I have some deep thinking to do in the coming weeks!

Many thanks to all my Psyc 217 students in 2012/2013 students who completed this evaluation. The response rate this year was 67% across both sections, which is my highest rate ever. And thanks to everyone for a really fun year of learning about research methods!


Armbruster, P., Patel, M. Johnson, E., & Weiss, M. (2009). Active learning and student-centred pedagogy improve student attitudes and performance in introductory biology. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 8, 203-213.

Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332, 862-864.

Hake, R. (1998). Interactive-engagement vs. traditional methods: A six-thousand-student survey of mechanics test data for introductory physics courses. American Journal of Physics, 66, 64-74.

Prince, M. (2004). Does active learning work? A review of the research. Journal of Engineering Education, 93, 223-231.

Ruhl, K., Hughes, C., & Schloss, P. (1987). Using the pause procedure to enhance lecture recall. Teacher Education and Special Education, 10, 14-18.

Yoder, J. D., & Hochevar, C. M. (2005). Encouraging active learning can improve students’ performance on examinations. Teaching of Psychology, 32, 91-95.

Midterm time already?

I can’t believe it’s almost October! This month has flown by! Yesterday I gave my first midterm tests in both my Research Methods (Psyc 217 Sections 001 and 002) and Intro (Psyc 100 Section 002) courses. That’s always a stressful day trying to ensure the most consistent and quality conditions for all 600 students. Overall I think they went smoothly.

In this post I described my plan to concentrate this semester on revamping the exams in my research methods courses. I’m pleased to report that I considered and re-considered each question, and ensured that each question was related to a learning objective either from the texts or class. To make this possible I created learning objectives for each chapter in the Stanovich text that I shared with my students and used as a starting point when creating/reconsidering exam questions. This strategy was in response to feedback from students who reported that the most important points in the Stanovich book were sometimes difficult to discern (he tends to go on a bit). If you’re in this course I’d love to hear feedback from you about how the exam went. Drop by my office hour or send me an email (or leave a comment here).

What I re-experience every September is how much I enjoy getting to know my students. When I know who you are and a bit about you it makes preparing for class and our time during class more fun. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations so far, and I look forward to getting to know as many of my 600 students this term as possible!