Some people believe teaching and research do not mix. I disagree. I believe teaching and research are a perfect combination for both the teacher=researcher and the student. I teach by embedding research methods into all my courses. Within this overarching goal I have implemented six principles that have become the standards against my own teaching practice. These principles are contextualized in my teaching to explain and justify the efficacy of engaging students effectively in the classroom. Briefly, these six principles for effective teaching: (1) encourages active learning; (2) encourages interdisciplinary thinking; (3) develops reciprocity and cooperation among students; (4) Using feedback to evaluate and improve; (5) communicates high expectations; and (6) respects diverse talents and ways of learning.
1. Active Learning. I engage my students in more applied activities and demonstrations to help them see psychology in action. For example, when teaching Intro Psych I designed an experiment in Learned Helplessness in which students read about learned helplessness and watched an interview with psychologist Martin Seligman on learned helplessness. In the following class session, I had students divided into two groups in which each student was randomized into a helpless condition vs control. In the helpless condition students were given a set of anagram words that were unsolvable. In the control group, the anagrams were scaled from easy to challenging. Once the experiment is finished, I take a poll of hands to describe their experiences. We then discuss how this single experience of helplessness might relate to successive trials of failings. After the discussion, we note key points of the theory, and I have the students finish with reading a peer-reviewed article of published evidence to motivate an online discussion about learned helplessness and ways to overcome this learned behavior. In my interdisciplinary class, Research Methods in Social and Behavioral Science, I have my students conduct focus groups, record/transcribe, and analyze the data so that they may use the hands-on experience as a tool for their own research project.
2. Encourages Interdisciplinary Thinking. Because my students tend to be majors outside of psychology, I teach all my courses from an applied interdisciplinary perspective. When I assign a reading in my Child Psychology class, I have articles that a person in Computer Engineering or architecture might found relevant. A make special note to see what the demographics in my courses are each semester. On the first day of class I pose: “Do you know how this class might relate to what your field of major is? Why would this class be a requirement for your major?” Most often, they say they don’t know. I have found a bridge to foster the change from “I don’t know” to “Wow, I can’t be believe”. The bridge is through research involvement in their own project. It is the ultimate active-learning, interdisciplinary thinking experience. Even on smaller and shorter term projects, my students find a place or project that is rewarding. Each student in my Child Psychology course creates a product –A book, a toy, and an art piece, a game, some even conduct a classic research study—all explained though theory and research.
3. Develops Reciprocity and Cooperation among students. In addition to developing hands on activities, I provide my students with frequent opportunities to practice and improve their communication and writing skills. In my Child psychology course, students write 3-4-page papers connecting psychological concepts to an applied project of their choice, write up short summaries of conversations with friends and family members about our class projects/discussions, and submitted short responses for each weekly assignment. Students shared excerpts of their writing project during class discussions and I, including each student, provided feedback on their content and ideas.
4. Using feedback to evaluate and improve. I view feedback as an important mechanism for learning both to the teacher and to the learner. In addition to providing my students with frequent feedback about their progress towards our course goals, I regularly solicit frequent feedback about my own effectiveness as a teacher. For example, the first week I administer surveys on Blackboard to gain a better understanding of my students’ background and their cognitive mindsets, study habits and their desire to learn in college. Throughout the semester, I incorporate research articles related to the surveys I administered in that first week. During their final week, students complete the follow-up administration of the same surveys to show any change from pre-post administration. During the day of project presentations, I too present my “semester research project” alongside my students showing the relations found in the variables I measured. They delight that I too had homework as well! I also attend special seminars on teaching, read widely about teaching techniques, record my lectures, and seek feedback from other professors and colleagues in my field about my performance. End of semester evaluations of the assessments are presented to my students at the end of the semester (see, sample here). Includes pre- and post- assessments of student motivation, cognition and, and learning behaviors.
5. Communicates high expectations. At the same time, students are pushed to expand their abilities and to do things they may not have thought possible in my course. This was especially true in the presentation phase of student research projects. Many students have a great fear of public speaking. Standing in front of a group of people and presenting your research makes most students very anxious. In the end, one of the greatest benefits to students was the feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction after making a presentation. All of the fear and all of the anxiety only served to make the accomplishment even more meaningful and significant.
6. Respects diverse talents and ways of learning. My experience teaching a diverse range of students has helped me appreciate the importance of diverse teaching styles and instructional methods, such as integrating lecture with discussion, small group assignments, and alternative media (e.g.,video clips). I also strive to excite students about the material by illustrating how the material is relevant to a wide range of career goals (e.g., how to recognize a particular problem when working with children, scientifically evaluating claims made in news media). The myriad possibilities of educating diverse students make undergraduate instruction one of the most exciting aspects of my teaching. While I prepare well-organized and interesting lectures, I acknowledge attention spans may be short. Thus, I incorporate multiple types of learning activities that vary the pace and style of learning. These activities also take into account individual differences in learning styles and offer choices to students. For example, when introducing gender roles and stereotypes in child psychology, I cover the major theoretical background and findings, and also ask students to write a short self-reflection paper drawing on ideas discussed in class. Once students have explained why and how gender roles develop, I have students collaborate in small groups to share and discuss their thoughts about gender roles. After group discussions, I have each group write on the board their main discussion points. Thus, my teaching addresses teacher-centered, student-centered, visually-oriented, and audio-oriented learners. In addition, students have opportunities to improve their abilities to communicate in different modalities (written, oral, visual). I strongly believe that these approaches enhance student’s understanding and appreciation of the material, and my teaching evaluations confirm that students perceive me as an effective teacher.