Tag Archives: my wonderful students

We teach more than content

Last week I received a beautiful email from a former student. It gives a specific example of how the way in which a teacher responds can impact a student’s well-being into the future. In case it would be helpful to others, I asked the student if I could post their memory, anonymously, and they agreed. (Thanks!)

Although I do not have you as a professor this year, I have been blessed to have you in my first and second year. You taught me 101 as well as 217. As a [peer mentor] this year, I have tried to relay your “this test does not define you” mentality to the first year students I see every day. Now, I always recall your encouraging and reassuring mantra before I bubble in my first multiple choice, or read the first question of an exam.

One particular memory that may have been minuscule to you, but was so impactful for me, was before the 217 final last year. About ten minutes into the final, I heard a very soft ringtone in my vicinity, and was so irritated–so I asked you to address everyone in my area to take out their phones. Little did I know, it was my own phone I had “snoozed” the alarm for. I was so incredibly embarrassed and on the verge of tears– you had every right to firmly humble me, but rather, you calmly said,

“it’s okay, take a deep breath…You are okay.”

And that is what I did. What could have been a terrible final turned into a lesson to always  turn off my phone, but also to reframe my worry. So often the worry I feel is so imperative one moment, will turn into tomorrow’s laughter.

So, thank you. I know you have done work regarding effectively teaching large classes, so as a student from two of your large classes, please know your impact goes beyond your curriculum.  You have taught me how to reframe my worry, take deep breaths, and view learning as something to be excited about, rather than a module I have to master.

I replied,

Wow! I have tears in my eyes! Thank you so very much for reaching out and taking the time to share this story. You’re right — I don’t remember that moment! I am so very relieved that what I said that split second made a positive difference for you. And what a gift for me to hear about it a year later. This story helps me remember to keep deliberately adding these comments because they can really help people!

I’m reminded of a recent commentary I read about A Pedagogy of Kindness (https://hybridpedagogy.org/pedagogy-of-kindness/), as well as the beautiful wisdom of Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

We teach more than content, folks. So much more.

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!

Student Evaluations of Teaching 2012/2013: Part 3 Special Topics 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.

Psych 208: Special Topics

Overall, I thought this course was pretty smooth. Over the past four years I’ve developed a clearer vision for what this course is (see the syllabus), and I think that’s reflected in greater coherence, greater integration across in-class teaching methods, content, and learning objectives. Learning appraisals are in decent shape (although could probably use some refreshment in the coming year). As I have matured, I have matured this course.

After such self-assessment, I was pleased to note that students rated this course more positively than any previous iteration, right on par with my other more traditional courses (check out the quantitative data here). Reading the qualitative evaluations was almost overwhelming. Student after student noted how useful this course was, how much they applied these concepts to their everyday life, how they built skills they’d take with them into future courses and their careers. I am absolutely blown away by what people said about this course. When I first envisioned this course, I wanted it to be useful. So much of psychology (particularly social psychology) can improve our lives, and that’s exactly what I dreamed this course would help people do: apply our amazing research to improve their lives. To that end, numerous students wrote things like,

I found myself always referencing the course subject matter to my friends and applying it within my own life”, “this has been one of the most beneficial classes of my university career,” and “this will be one of those courses that I look back on knowing that it was a good use of my time” – even if they noted they were about to graduate.

All of this positivity was despite (or because of?) the extent to which this course challenged students in various ways (e.g., “not an easy A”) yet was perceived as valuable (e.g., “the course project on group work is such a valuable skill that students need”).  The usefulness of our course material got through to these students, and I’m absolutely thrilled!

Given these positive comments, I think it’s worthwhile to note that as I’ve matured (with) this course, there’s one key tweak I made in 2012 that I emphasized even more in 2013. During the first week, I am very explicit about the collaborative, applied, interactive nature of this course. I invite people to explore with me some ways of learning that are, for some people, uncomfortable and new. I also invite people who aren’t up for such exploration at this time to choose a different section or course, with no hard feelings. Along with better development of the curriculum and assessments, I think this tweak goes a long way toward student-course-instructor fit.

One area for growth that was noted a few times in the qualitative data was lack of clarity about learning assessment requirements. In my view, the handouts and LOs I give to students pretty clearly map on to my rubrics and exams. But there’s obviously a disconnect: a small yet larger proportion of students than in any of my other courses report lack of clarity for what to expect from grading. Moreover, my “fairness of evaluations” rating was the only UMI across all my 2012/2013 courses to fall below 4 out of 5. To remedy this disconnect, I have a couple of ideas: First, I will consider giving—up front—my rubrics for all components to the assignment. A couple of students suggested this, and I think it will help. Second, I will consider ways to give more advice for the exams, especially the midterm. One option would be to give a list of the short answer questions, a subset of which will appear on the exam (will this increase learning? If so, great! Will this increase the mean and/or reduce variance? If so, stress!).

[One of the challenges that I face (that’s not exactly popular with students, in my experience) is that attempts to change anything to do with grading run this risk of inflating the mean and/or changing the distribution of grades. Like all faculty in my department, I am bound by departmental requirements to have a mean around 65% and a standard deviation around 14% in all 100 and 200 level courses. Therefore, interventions that increase the mean or shrink the SD present real concerns that force me to confront this reality: any improvement in clarity might simultaneously require an increase in difficulty.]

Quite a few students mentioned enjoying the readings from one book, but finding the book that drew from a sport psychology perspective a bit less helpful and/or easily applied to academic life. Many of the readings will change in 2013/2014, largely because many of the chapters I currently rely on are out-of-date and must be changed anyway. Therefore, it’s a great opportunity to re-think the whole set of readings. I will be making every effort to get the custom course-pack down to one publisher, ideally with less of an emphasis on sport. Given the current offerings I’ve seen, I think that’s possible. I’ll also be thoughtfully considering the length of readings, as a (small) group of students mentioned feeling like there was too much to read.

Overall, in my view and the students’, this offering was the most successful iteration of Psyc 208 to date!

Welcome back!

September 2012 is here, and the first week is already over! I forgot how tired I feel by Friday afternoons — wow! It’s like I can feel my body powering down. But my fatigue is warranted. This has been such a fun week! My husband and I kicked off the school year with a whirlwind trip to Ontario to witness my friend’s wedding last weekend. She and I lived together all through undergrad, and were basically inseparable during that time. A few of our other lovely friends from undergrad were there too, so it was wonderful to catch up and reminisce about good old Waterloo. The experience also served to remind me of what a profound impact my undergraduate experience had on my life, both intellectually and socially… which got me pumped to be a part of other people’s undergraduate experience!

On Tuesday I arrived in class at 5pm… and sat down in the student chairs. Yes, I’m taking a course! Why, you ask? Well, I want to. I value the classroom as a rich opportunity to learn, and I felt it was time to sit down and feel what it’s like to learn in that way again. I chose the course Psyc 312A: History of Psychology for many reasons. First, Dr. Andrea Perrino is amazing. I was a TA for her a long time ago and was inspired then by her enthusiasm. I wanted the chance to learn from her, as one teacher to another, to consider her pedagogical choices and prompt me to reflect on my own. Faculty rarely ever watch each other teach; I was grateful she agreed I could take her class for this rich opportunity. Second, I am (finally!) interested in the content! I’ve been teaching intro psych (3 years and counting), research methods (5 years and counting), and statistics (recently renewed after a few years’ hiatus). These are broad, generalist courses: my training in my home area of social psychology is useful but not always directly. Over these years these courses have prompted me to cultivate an interest in the discipline as a whole, and I felt it was time for me to really consider the origins and development of my discipline to enrich how and what I teach in these generalist courses. Psychology is only about 150 years old, so it shouldn’t be too hard, right? Ha!

One of the things Andrea (I mean… Dr. Perrino) did on her first day was started foremost with an introduction the the history of psychology. The topic. Not the syllabus. Sure, that came later, but she kicked off with a passionate rationale for why this course is important. It was inspiring, and influenced the way I began my courses on Wednesday. Instead of starting with the syllabus, I started with the topic, the reasons why it’s important to take this course. Based on feedback after that first class, I seem to have succeeded in inspiring at least some students to be excited about our course (even research methods!). In fact, I barely covered the syllabus at all in Intro, but did so using an i>clicker quiz today. I did that last year too, but this year I was more deliberate in my choice of what to reveal on the first day versus the second. The subject is most important… how we get there is important too, but secondary.

My students have been fantastic this week! Research methods felt like a class reunion from last year’s intro — fantastic to see so many of my fabulous students returning for more psychology, and I can’t wait to meet everyone else! And intro… well… I’ve never had two completely-filled hours of student meetings on the first day of class! I have had such fun meeting so many students this week. Their energy is palpable: it’s a new year, a new beginning, and we’re going to have a great time!

Here’s (sort of) what I see when I look out from the front of my intro psych classroom: 270ish energized students! Click on the image to enlarge it. See you next week!


My students are awesome :)

Last week one of my wonderful students from Intro Psych sent me this photo that was taken on the last day of classes. I thought I’d share (with her permission).

What a fun bunch! I really enjoyed your group’s presence in our class. Thanks for good times!

I hope all of you — and all my students — are having a great summer. I’m looking forward to meeting our incoming class!