By Benjamin Cheung
Imagine – you’re walking with a friend on the street when, suddenly, a wild spider appears! Your friend, who has arachnophobia, screams at the spider. It wasn’t very effective. The spider stands its ground, staring back at your friend, whose heart rate increases, palms get sweaty, and pupils dilate.
If you weren’t a psychology student, the story might end with either a callous laugh from you, or some empathetic comforting. But you’re a psychology student, which, of course, means that you’re still reflecting on the situation long afterwards, thinking about how this simple, common situation actually depicts many psychological concepts at work.
Well, at least that’s ideally what we’d like you to do.
You see, education should empower students to make a difference in their world using what they have learned in class. Maybe that sounds intimidating – perhaps a good first step is to simply notice the fact that you are surrounded by what you’ve learned before moving on to effecting change in the world around you. It would be especially useful if students can make it a regular habit to notice these things. This is definitely relevant for psychological concepts because the human mind is everywhere, and affects so many things!
Looking at the scenario from the beginning, one can already see many avenues for connecting that experience with what you may have learned: biopsychology students might think about the activation of the thalamus and the amygdala in your friend’s brain (Granado, Ranvaud, & Peláez, 2007); clinical psychology students might think about the physiological responses of fear (Williams et al., 2001); or social psychology students might think about whether you were laughing callously because you’re high on sadism or Machiavellianism (Buckels, Jones, & Paulhus, 2013).
The question, then, is how can you, as students, find a way to make it a regular activity of noticing the psychology that exists around you?
Over the last few years, I have taught PSYC 217 (Research methods) and PSYC 308A (Social psychology), and I have encouraged my students to take their learning to the Twitterverse with a simple (voluntary) challenge: Psychology is all around you. See something in your everyday life that demonstrates a course concept? Tweet about it using the course hashtag! We can discuss Tweets before class.
A search for #ubcpsyc217 and #ubcpsyc308 on Twitter reveals how students have taken up this challenge to become more engaged in their courses. These Tweets range from the silly:
— Alanna Marie (@alanna_marie_j) September 17, 2013
To the more serious observations about our world:
Player’s team is down 4-1, gets driven headfirst into boards, retaliates w/ slash. Frustration-aggression theory at its finest? #ubcpsyc308
— Ed (@Buzzinat0r) October 18, 2015
I lay down this challenge to my students to Tweet not because I want them to suffer through more work (it is, after all, voluntary). I do so because getting students to interact with course content in this way enhances student engagement in their classes, their ownership of their learning, and ultimately, their academic performance (Dabbagh & Kitsantas, 2012; Junco, Heibergert, & Loken, 2011). Rather than simply having students see what they’re learning as information that is restricted to classrooms and libraries, I want students to continuously reflect on the material that they’re learning, with the goal of nurturing their engagement with the course, the subject, and their world. Ideally, my students can scaffold from this activity and become more perceptive about their world, always looking at it through the keen eyes of someone trained in psychological science.
Ultimately, this is what I want education to be like, and it aligns with UBC’s vision for its students: to provide students with knowledge about the world, and to empower them to apply that knowledge. Noticing the intersection of academia and everyday life is the first step, and it’s important to have fun in the process. And if it also has the added benefit of increasing student engagement AND helping them get better grades, then I’m all for it.
In the end, we all just want to have some fun, and my students should have fun learning.
In class we discussed having sex with dead chickens..And YES I still think the arts is a legitimate study for job prospects DAD! #ubcpsyc308
— Nick Day (@njsday3) October 6, 2014
So the next time you’re taking a course, whether it’s in psychology, or physics, or political science, know it, think about it, apply it, Tweet it. It’s a great way to learn.
Engage with @UBCPsych courses and apply your knowledge in 140-characters or less! #TweetYourKnowledge #OwnYourEducation #ApplyYourself
Buckels, E. E., Jones, D. N., & Paulhus, D. L. (2013). Behavioral confirmation of everyday sadism. Psychological Science, 24(11), 2201-2209. doi: 10.1177/0956797613490749
Dabbagh, N., & Kitsantas, A. (2012). Personal Learning Environments, social media, and self-regulated learning: A natural formula for connecting formal and informal learning. The Internet and Higher Education, 15(1), 3-8. doi: 10.1016/j.iheduc.2011.06.002
Granado, L. C., Ranvaud, R., & Peláez, J. R. (2007). A spiderless arachnophobia therapy: Comparison between placebo and treatment groups and six-month follow-up study. Neural Psychiatry, 2007, 10241. doi: 10.1155/2007/10241
Junco, R., Heibergert, G., & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27(2), 119-132. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x
Williams, L. M., Phillips, M. L., Brammer, M. J., Skerrett, D., Lagopoulos, J., Rennie, C., … Gordon, E. (2001). Arousal dissociates amygdala and hippocampal fear responses: Evidence from simultaneous fMRI and skin conductance recording. NeuroImage, 14(5), 1070-1079. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0904
About the Author
Benjamin is a graduate student and sessional instructor who is passionate about teaching and enhancing undergraduate education. When he’s not working on his own research or writing his dissertation, he enjoys playing hockey, watching YouTube gamers, and doing some gaming himself. If you’re a fan of the Yogscast and the Canucks, then you’re automatically friends with Benjamin.