Tag Archives: Psyc 208


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.

Syllabi for January 2013

My syllabi are finally ready!

Psyc 508 Teaching of Psychology (Graduate Seminar)

Psyc 208 Section 002  Psychology in your life: How social psychology can help you succeed (aka: special topics)

See you next week!

Responding to Student Evals 2011/2012 Part 3: Psyc 208 Special Topics

Welcome to part three of my reflections on student evaluations of teaching from 2011/2012. Please see my earlier posts for a general introduction and reflection on feedback from my Psyc 217 research methods and Psyc 100 intro course. I have also posted graphs that facilitate comparison across all my courses and years I have taught them.

First, as always, I would like to thank 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. Please note that with respect to the open-ended responses, I appreciate and consider every thoughtful comment. The ones I write about are typically those that reflect common themes echoed by numerous students.

Psyc 208 Section 2 Special Topics: How social psychology can help you succeed

This special topics course is one that’s near and dear to my heart. I developed it with the goal to help students learn to learn. It’s an applied social/sport/positive psychology course, where I have hand-picked the topics and consistently encourage their application to each student’s personal learning journey. This course includes a group project for which the ultimate goal is to learn to identify a problem in your life, then find and evaluate research-based ideas to address it, then share your findings with others. See the syllabus for more information.

Last year in 2010/2011, I almost completely revamped the course based on students’ feedback and my own experiences the year before. You’ll see a major improvement in students’ perspectives on this course when you look at the graph comparing the quantitative data from the first offering in 2009 to last year. This year, I didn’t change much after that total revamp the year before. The evaluations from 2011/2012 are very close to those from 2010/2011, which supports my hypothesis that the revamp was a very positive change. Both “fair evaluations” and “clarity of expectations” are lower than where I’d like to see them, and they’re actually the lowest of all my courses last year. This warrants action.

Two main themes came out of the comments. First, the midterm was perceived to be too long. This surprised me, given that I shortened it from last year based on similar feedback, and do not recall that sentiment being shared with me during the semester. It seems that again I need to reduce the length of that midterm. Related to the midterm topic, a number of students reported being unsure about how the textbook material would be represented on the midterm. One student made the helpful suggestion that I note which parts of the readings are “need to know” parts. I’m not sure how I can do that and not compromise the test, but it’s definitely worth some strategizing about how I can better prepare students to integrate that material.

The second consistent theme was the groupwork. A few people seemed frustrated by it, some appreciated its place in the course and still others enjoyed it. I’ve often received such mixed feedback about groupwork. One comment about groupwork that I found particularly interesting was this:

Overall, your class and you were very engaging and I learnt a lot in the class, I enjoy the material quite a lot and find myself spreading the knowledge outside of class. I always enjoyed going to class and I liked seeing the team projects. I however do not particularly like team projects but it was useful for this course and in our future lives. I feel  team projects just take so much longer than doing it yourself and that when you get some classmates that do not care about their marks, it really puts more weight on the rest of us.

This comment stood out for me because it takes a common sentiment–that people often dislike groupwork because of relying on others–but recognizes its appropriateness in this course. Not too many people took this perspective, but it’s one that I hope to cultivate more. Its practical value is exactly why I designed this team project in the first place. Based on this and other feedback, I need to work on communicating that intention and the expectations of it more clearly. I think after using this assignment twice now (including tweaking it for 2011/2012), I have an even clearer idea of what I expect from these projects. I will do my best to communicate those expectations more clearly. One of the changes I made based on last year’s feedback was to adjust the proportion of the grade devoted to the group versus individual components. Interestingly, no one mentioned this individual/group grade proportions, suggesting this weighting is no longer an issue.

Last, quite a few people made comments suggesting that my overall intentions in creating this course are being realized (well, getting there at least!). Here a couple of examples:

Awesome course! I enjoyed the emphasis on active learning. It was a nice change from the classes I usually take.

Clearer guidelines for assignments and groupwork would be helpful. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this course- it was helpful both academically and personally.

I have enjoyed the setting of “team environment” throughout this course. Engaging students in the subject encouraged me to learn more effectively and study more efficiently.

Thank you for your thoughtful feedback. I will definitely work on clarifying those expectations, and will shorten the midterm for next year. I’m glad that many of you found the active learning emphasis helpful for your learning!

Stay tuned for one more…!

Review Session Success!

Today’s Psyc 208 class was, by far, the most successful review session I’ve ever held. For the past two years I’ve tried to hold review sessions in this course. Each year, most people get up and leave. I have to admit that one way I’ve interpreted this behavioural feedback is students’ lack of willingness to participate and engage. This year, inspired by an Observer article by Gurung & Bond (2011), I decided to give the review session one more shot. And it was fantastic!

Here’s what I did differently: I forced myself to re-evaluate what I was asking the students to do, in terms of real usefulness, specificity of directions, and pacing to maintain engagement. Instead of something like “choose to make a concept map or elaborate on a learning objective” for an indeterminate amount of time, I planned a series of four specific “learning opportunities” which I timed and moved students through quickly. I made sure they were able to be completed by people who hadn’t studied yet as well as those who had, and I emailed everyone yesterday to ask them to bring their texts and notes if possible.

Now for a brief overview of the “learning opportunities.” Students  (N=105; 77 present today) are already divided into teams in this course, which at this point in the term made natural  groupings. #1 “Mapping the Territory” involved picking one broad topic/unit from a list I’d prepared and working with 2-4 others to develop a map of definitions, related concepts and studies, ways to apply the concepts, and so on. #2 “Pass your questions” invited everyone to write a question – or even just a key term – at the top of a blank page, and then pass it to the left. The next 2-3 minutes involved writing down whatever they could recall/find to address their neighbour’s question. We did this “passing” three times before returning the sheet back to its original owner. #3 “Application Challenge!” divided the teams into 2 subteams. Pick a topic/concept/theory to challenge the other subteam. Switch papers, and write a thorough scenario that accurately applies the topic/concept/theory. Then switch back and evaluate how well the other team did at generating an application. #4 “Study Plan” involved setting out the specifics of their studying between now and the test on Thursday, including what/when/where/how/with whom.

During this 80 minute period, students got about 15 minutes for each of the four learning opportunities, although the earlier ones spilled over that and the last one was reduced to about 6 minutes (which was all it really needed). I milled about, answering specific questions about the content as they arose, handing out paper, timekeeping and generally being impressed by the strong efforts my students were putting forth.

What I think worked really well about this process was that it moved everyone along, keeping the energy up. Students knew there were four learning opportunities coming, and I stated up front that they were going to be different, so if one wasn’t working for them I asked them to play along and hope the next one spoke to them. All but two people stayed the whole period (a new record!), and the vast majority of spirited conversations I overheard were spot on task.

I asked for feedback at the end. Although I haven’t formally entered it yet, I have quickly read it all. On a 1-5 scale (1 being “not useful for helping me learn” and 5 being “very useful for helping me learn”), the vast majority of responses were 4s and 5s, with only a few 3s and nothing below that. People reported enjoying the activities, feeling more motivated to study now, being able to better tell what they know and what they don’t (yay for metacognition!), and feeling like they covered a lot of ground (although not much in depth). Some spontaneously reported that they’d use some of these techniques when studying, and all activities were nominated by some students as their favourite. The one consistent recommendation for next year that came through was adding more of a warning. Some students reported wishing they’d prepared more ahead of time so they could get more out of this session.

Thanks to all my students who participated today! You have inspired me to keep on taking risks to build increasingly meaningful learning opportunities!

New Syllabi for Next Week

Term 2 is now right around the corner! If you’re interested in checking out syllabi for my sections early, by all means take a look! My Psyc 218 (Analysis of Behavioural Data) syllabus is available here, and my Psyc 208 (Special Topics: How Social Psychology Can Help You Succeed) syllabus is available here. I suspect that both of these courses will challenge learners–and me–to grow in new directions. They won’t be a walk in the park, but they can be valuable learning experiences if we all put in the thought and effort… and isn’t that what university is for?

I hope your 2011 wraps up safely and your 2012 brings you joy and adventures!