Tag Archives: ToP

On Being a Student Again

Last fall I decided, with the instructor’s permission, to enroll in Psyc 312A History of Psychology (see an earlier post on it here). It had been quite a few years since I sat facing the board rather than facing the classroom, and I wanted to re-cultivate my empathy for students in my classrooms. I chose History of Psychology because it was one of those courses I didn’t have to take when I was an undergrad, but now that I am teaching broad courses like Introduction to Psychology and Research Methods, I find myself increasingly interested in the breadth of our discipline. My educational trajectory was, I believe, rather common: as I moved through my three degrees, what I studied narrowed at each stage until I produced a 200+ page dissertation that addressed one single question from one tiny subtopic (self-control) from one subarea (the self) from one subfield (social psychology) of my discipline. When I started teaching Intro after that, the shift to thinking about the entire discipline was a rough one. Yet I believe that challenge has made me a more thorough, curious scholar. And the experience certainly made me more interested in the roots of our discipline.

I attended each lecture and took copious notes (as was my usual method as a student), I typed my class notes after each class (as usual), I read all the chapters and took copious notes (as usual). I adjusted how I studied for exams by emphasizing empirically-supported techniques self-quizzing and concept-mapping methods that integrated both text and class notes, which I did a bit of before. I dropped what research has shown doesn’t work well for long-term retention (and what I used to emphasize at one point): rote memorization and rewriting. I wrote the exams and the paper, because research shows that testing is much more effective than simply studying knowledge if I wanted to remember it… so why waste my time on auditing? Of course, I was teaching three classes and doing all the other things I do that in my work. I definitely felt the intensity and pressure of upcoming deadlines and balancing my own study time with my primary responsibility — my students!

One of the experiences that surprised me the most was how much I enjoyed writing the paper. Dr. Perrino (Andrea) offered the option for us to research an historical figure in psychology and write the paper as a compare and contrast with our own lives. What a fascinating experience! I couldn’t help but wonder how my fellow students approached this exercise; as someone whose career is devoted to psychology, I imagine I had a distinctly different experience set from which to draw. In any case, I offer my paper for you to read, if you’re interested. I cut out some of the personal details, but left in most. I compared my life to that of Mary Whiton Calkins (1863-1930), the first female American Psychological Association President.

Disclaimer: Please note that by posting this paper, I am by no means offering an example of a typical paper for that class. If you’re taking Psyc 312A this year, I highly advise against using this paper as a model for your own, for reasons expressed above.

Reflecting on APS

Last week I attended the Association for Psychological Science Convention for the first time, including the Society for the Teaching of Psychology  (STP) Teaching Preconference. I am grateful to STP for awarding me an Early Career Travel Grant to help me offset the cost of my flight all the way from Vancouver Canada to Washington DC.

One of my nerd-tastic highlights was seeing the actual apparatus Milgram used to examine obedience to authority back in the ’60s.


Beyond the obvious awesomeness depicted above, I can point to three key ways I benefited from attending this conference.

1. Networking

I have elaborated on how I went about networking in my previous post. Who I connected with was also critical. At the Teaching Preconference, I met two other research methods textbook authors, including the always-inspiring Beth Morling, and my US-Edition Cozby counterpart Scott Bates. Scott gave an insightful talk on how he is using the APA guidelines for psychology majors to steer his course (re)designs; it was fun to talk with him afterward about course design and how he came to work on the Cozby text too. Turns out both our stories share a similar right place/right time theme. Also, I was delighted to meet a fellow regional representative of the STP’s Early Career Psychologist Council, Ali O’Malley at Butler University.

For the rest of the conference, my networking opportunities were largely driven by Twitter conversations and chance encounters. For example, I happened to sit next to my UBC colleague Eric Eich during the good data practices symposium (see below). He’s the editor in chief of our field’s top journal, Psychological Science. Sitting next to him meant I met Bobbie Spellman, editor in chief of Perspectives On Psychological Science (PoPS). As speaker after speaker pointed to journal editors as the key to improving our field, it was interesting to consider their perspectives too. Tweeting regularly meant that people recognized me, I could learn what was happening in other symposia, and I had conversations in person and online that would not have been possible otherwise. Check out this Twitter feed for what was said by everyone using #aps2013dc.

2. Insight into Good Data Practices, Replicability, and Data Ethics

One of the major reasons I wanted to attend APS this year was the theme program on Building a Better Psychological Science. These speakers built on their contributions to a recent issue of PoPS focusing squarely on this topic.  It was fascinating to hear Daniel Kahneman recall his early days as a psychologist, during which he gave up on a line of research that seemed profitable but he couldn’t replicate to his high standards. Apparently, his own introspection on how he could have been so convinced his small sample studies would replicate became the basis for his later revolutionary and Nobel Prize-winning work with Amos Tversky. Seems to have been a good choice.

Collectively, this lengthy line-up of speakers helped me reconsider the big-picture costs of the way our field has under-valued exact replications in favour of conceptual replications, and how we’ve been chasing p-values below .05. The arguments weren’t really new, but packaging them together in this symposium was impactful for me. Now that I’m a textbook author preparing for my 2nd edition, I found myself constantly considering how we can help our 2nd year psych majors learn best practices. For example, why not include an ethics unit in a statistics course? There’s usually one in research methods… but why not stats too, dealing with data management and reporting and fraud? Also, I’ll be changing the way I discuss the value of exact replications in my next edition. In courses, we could require our students to submit their data and analyses along with their final papers, to be able to reward data archiving and get our students into the habit of submitting raw data to back up claims. So much to (re)consider…

Talking to colleagues about the teaching-related implications of the Good Data Practices symposium was a fascinating exercise. It seems obvious to me that we should be “raising” our majors on best practices, yet there was more variability in reactions to this idea than I had expected. Many colleagues seemed to have simply not considered implications at an undergraduate level, but agreed with me that it’s a good place to start. In a couple of cases, I was challenged about whether such efforts would have any effect. These challenges have compelled me to consider writing a why bother/how-to piece to submit for publication. (Oh summer, could you give me an extra month?)

3. Ideas for my classes

Throughout the entire conference and preconference, I had tons of ideas for my courses! I mentioned a few above regarding methods and stats. In addition, Laura King helped me re-think how I approach Personality Psychology in intro: “you wouldn’t spend a full day discussing phrenology in the biological psychology unit, so why spend a full day on Freud in the personality unit?” Wow. That hit home. I do incorporate modern science of personality in intro, but I will be making major changes to that unit next year.

In her preconference keynote address, Beth Morling offered a ton of specific ideas for intro and methods, centred on her priority of creating effective consumers of psychological research. Specifically, she promotes teaching students to identify the type of claim being made (frequency, association, or causal), and asking four questions about the validity of the study (construct, internal, external, statistical). Which of the four validities is most important depends on the type of claim. See her blog for a bevy of excellent examples. This consumer-oriented approach will inform how I teach methods in intro in particular, where I’m not training psych majors.

Talks by Scott Bates and Keith Stanovich prompted me to strongly consider changing my supplemental readings for research methods. In addition to his course design process, Bates offered a great resource on the purpose of APA style as an indicator of values in the discipline. This article dovetails with conversations a colleague and I have had about this very topic (Jaclyn Rea of our Arts Studies in Research and Writing department). I am strongly considering incorporating this discussion into methods this fall. Usually, I assign parts of Stanovich’s text How to Think about Psychology. I’ve always known it’s unpopular with many students due to its long-windedness and general lack of pedagogical features to help students learn from it. I value his ideas, which was why I’ve been assigning it for years, but the packaging just doesn’t compel my students to read it. I must say that hearing him speak convinced me that although his ideas are insightful he seems to have little sense of audience–a feature reflected in his book, too. Although I’ll still draw from and cite his book, I may be replacing those readings with the APA style article and some other big-picture perspectives on replicability/methods.

Another idea came to me at a talk by Jason Priem, who is promoting his altmetrics approach to measuring scholarly impact. I’d like to create a shareable library for each course in Zotero including all the papers I cite during class. Students can follow up on any article they want, and I can always find what I’ve cited. It’ll be a lot of work to set up, but once it’s there, it’ll be a rich resource that’s easy to update and share.


What a fun exercise this was to reflect on my notes and memories from this conference! I highly recommend this process to anyone hoping to actually follow up on rich conference experiences. I am pleasantly surprised by how much I gained from going to APS. I had feared it would be just too big and overwhelming to extract anything meaningful, but that fear was wholly unfounded.

Thanks for reading. Have an experimint.

“Writing-to-Learn” in Intro Psych

While flying to the APS convention in Washington DC today, I was perusing a back-issue of the journal Teaching of Psychology. I came across an interesting article that made me consider a new paper-writing option for my intro psych class. In two studies, the researchers asked intro psych students to upload 16 brief (1-2 paragraph) statements that expanded on one concept from a 10-concept shortlist from each chapter. The paragraphs were graded for completion only (just a check to make sure they were topical), and were then coded for topic choice. Students responded better to midterm exam questions on topics they had previously written about than to questions on topics they had not previously written about–even when students had been told specifically which concepts to write about (Study 2).

What I’m finding particularly intriguing about this study is that (a) students seemed to learn the concepts better after writing about them, (b) the task seems pretty simple and straightforward for students (“What I learned about the concept is…” or “An example of the concept in my life is…”), (c) it may promote strong study habits that can be transferred to other topics and courses, and (d) because it’s ungraded and tracked online, it seems logistically manageable in a very large class.

Indeed, my classes are pretty large (depending on the year/term, they range from 250 to 400 students). Couple that with very limited TA resources, and fitting in writing is always a challenge. Currently I assign one 600-word application-style paper in each term. Recently I added a peer feedback step using peerScholar software, and that worked out pretty well. Informally, students reported learning from reading others’ papers, yet few seemed to revise their work at all, let alone implementing changes based on others’ feedback.

Maybe the assignment in this study could be a worthwhile pursuit. In this research paper, the authors noted that completion of all 16 was worth 10% of the students’ grade. I’m not sure I could offer that just for completion… we have pretty strict grading standards here in UBC Psych. But once I cut it in half (separating term 1 101 from  term 2 102) that’s only 5%… that seems more manageable.

I continue to ponder… as I lie awake… on Pacific time… in Eastern timezone.

Ethics in Teaching

This morning I gave a guest lesson in an “Ethics and Professional Issues” seminar for clinical graduate students. Although I encounter ethical issues in teaching routinely, preparing for this guest lesson gave me a chance to deliberately examine all the activities involved in teaching using the lens of ethics. My thinking was greatly informed by the edited volume called Teaching Ethically that came out last year, which also prompted me to examine the APA code of ethics.

I came up with a list of domains in teaching where ethical issues pop up. You might be surprised by some of these, but not by others. Do you have anything to add?

  • Competency
    • Content knowledge (what to teach)
    • Pedagogical knowledge (how best to teach it; evidence-based assessment)
    • Adequate preparation (class, course)
    • Classroom management (e.g., strategies for dealing with sensitive issues like mental illness, gender differences, ugly history of IQ scores)
    • Self-assess “boundaries of competence” and don’t work beyond them (if must, obtain training)
    • Professional development
    • Seeking advice from and collaborating with colleagues to improve learning
    • Continual improvement (self, course, program, degree)
    • Scholarly teaching/SoTL: using new method without adequate research or preparation
  • Fairness
    • Diversity and inclusivity (access to materials including cost of the textbook, self-disclosure in class activities)
    • Assigning a textbook you don’t use (much)
    • Discourage and pursue cases of plagiarism, cheating
    • Textbook cost
    • Grading and evaluation is clear, competently done, consistent
    • Doing the SoTL work including withholding treatment to one group
    • Accommodations for special circumstances: extra grade chances, re-grades, make up a missed exam
    • Accurately describe your course, set up appropriate expectations (e.g., grades)
  • Faculty-student relationships
    • Trust and power
    • Authorship with graduate and undergraduate student collaborators
    • Writing reference letters for students you know have slim chances of getting in somewhere or who you don’t know that well (and not writing letters when you can)
    • Avoiding multiple (conflicting) roles: research supervisor, employer, teacher, mentor, evaluator, researcher (SoTL), TA/teaching supervisor
    • Consider the impact of challenging students’ core beliefs (e.g., God, evolution, trust in authority, gay rights…)
    • Social media: Facebook friends, Twitter following à blurring edge of professional relationship
    • Assigning a textbook when you’re and author and will receive royalties
    • Accepting gifts from students (and textbook publishers, for that matter)
  • Confidentiality
    • Grades files shared over email (security)
    • Sending grades over email to students using non-UBC email addresses
    • Storage and confidential shredding of paper material
    • Non-disclosure to parents
  • Law
    • Understanding copyright laws (including digital copyright)
    • Complying with copyright laws

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!