Tag Archives: Psyc 208

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.

Creative Advertisement Showcase 2014

A couple of weeks ago in my section of Psyc 208 we held the Creative Advertisement Showcase, which was a fantastic celebration of what my students had discovered throughout the term! Previously, each team of students identified a learning challenge they face, investigated primary sources for insight into understanding and addressing the challenge, and summarized those sources in annotated bibliographies and team abstracts. (See the Team Project Guide for a full description of this multi-part assignment.) The purpose of the Creative Advertisement was to get the word out to fellow students about research-based techniques and strategies for addressing the learning challenges they face. They truly were creative! Projects ranged from video and live games to posters to live skits and demonstrations to videos and pamphlets… an impressive variety! Check out some of their videos and websites (ordered by team #)…

Team 4’s Sleep Fairy:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PGOWxnPizOk 

Team 5’s Culture Shock: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GyZcynf2jk4&feature=youtu.be

Team 22’s Motivation Makeover: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6syynl18XA

Team 11’s Loneliness: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B_qDfS_x4VtvLWhIZXRNS2pxVHc&usp=sharing

Team 18’s Sleep: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B0xsEQGqsy3IVGczVVpZTGZkcGM/edit

Here’s a shot of Team 19’s Effects of Internet Use on Learning station…

… and one of Team 3’s Social Loafing game based on Apples to Apples

Thanks to everyone for a solid effort on these projects and throughout the term! Study smartly for your finals… and remember that no matter how you do on them, that’s not a reflection of your worth as a person.

Term 2 Exam Period Drop-In Office Hours

Please note that my regular office hours as stated on my syllabi are on hold for the summer. During the exam period, my drop-in office ours are as follows.

Psyc 218: Friday 11 April 2-3 and Tuesday 15 April 11:30-12:30

Psyc 102 and 208: Tuesday 22 April 11-12

Or, please email me for an appointment.

I wish you thoughtful and thorough preparations for your final exams, while remembering that those finals — any grades — do not define who you are or what you can contribute to this world.

Have a fabulous summer!

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

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!