My overarching teaching goal is for my students to be inspired—to see the different ways of knowing about the world, particularly through the lens of scientific discovery and psychological science. My core goals are to help students understand the concepts, theories, and perspectives that comprise psychological knowledge and inquiry, to promote multiculturalism, to utilize active learning strategies, and to promote independent critical thinking. Over the course of my academic career—from community college to private universities—my most inspirational instructors have been passionate about their field, dedicated to student success, and challenged students to never settle. These are the same qualities I try to inspire my own students.
I strongly value the diversity of learning and unique perspectives—both individual and cultural—my students bring to the classroom. Because an array of perspectives is crucial to for comprehensive evaluation, I strive to provide an environment in which students feel comfortable expressing their needs and opinions. I have found each class provides new challenges and opportunities for my own learning as an instructor. As my students change, I change. As my discipline grows, I am constantly motivated to meet the challenge of passing that knowledge on to my students. However, I ultimately hope to give them the curiosity and skills that will allow them to participate in the creation of that knowledge.
While I believe science is relevant to everyone’s life, relevance is different for different cultures. Thus, I use a wide range of examples and analogies in class. Racial diversity and gender equity should be encouraged in all areas of science. Greater diversity brings fresh insight into our investigation of scientific problems and demonstrates science is inclusive rather than exclusive. As a corollary, I also believe social justice should be a part of the science classroom. As the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu said, “Those who have the good fortune to be able to devote their lives to the study of the social world cannot stand aside, neutral and indifferent, from the struggles in which the future of the world is at stake.” I believe it is our duty as academic psychologists to have a discussion with our students about relevant psychological research related to social justice issues.
As a way of including this critical component in my research methods course, I construct a class project to empirically examine discrimination. This involves having students read the psychological literature on the effects of group membership on helping behavior. Students read about studies demonstrating the tendency for people to help ingroup members more often than outgroup members, but they also read literature about potential factors that can mitigate this effect (e.g., increased empathy, decreased diffusion of responsibility). Students then conduct a research study to examine if such factors can reduce the negative effects of group membership on helping behavior. My hope is by reviewing and conducting research on these effects, students will not only learn about the research process, but also learn of empirical ways to reduce discrimination in their everyday lives.
In addition to incorporating social justice into the science classroom, I strive to integrate an equity pedagogy into all my courses. To achieve this goal, I modify my teaching in ways that attempt to facilitate the success of my students from diverse racial, cultural, and social-class groups. By having multiple methods of assessment and teaching styles, I try to create an environment in which all students have equal chance for achievement. Therefore, I involve visual aids and hands-on activities in addition to writing papers and more formal examinations. For instance, research suggests cooperative learning activities tend to be more beneficial for these groups compared to competitive learning activities. I am aware to be successful students must feel that they have equal status in intergroup interactions, that teachers value and support cross-racial interactions, and that students from different racial groups must work together in teams to pursue common goals. As a result, I am diligent about building community within the classroom. I believe building community in the classroom creates a safe space in which students feel more comfortable to share their opinions, ideas, and experiences.
I am also a proponent of active learning and use a variety of methods to encourage discussion and interaction on course concepts. I am fond of creating concrete activities for abstract concepts. For example, in my research methods course, the idea of random assignment in an experimental design is very intangible. Often, students understand it is an important concept but struggle with how the process works. In the activity, I have students get into pairs and give them a fake data set of 20 participants who vary on a variety of demographic variables. Student pairs are given a coin and asked to randomly assign each one of the participants to either a control condition based on tails or an experimental condition based on heads. Students then compare the means of each demographic variable between the two groups. After doing this, the majority of students seem to have an “Ah-ha!” moment and see the two groups are now equalized in a fairly concrete manner. Instead of only reading about concept in the textbook, students can interact with the random assignment process to see how it works.
When I lecture, I intersperse my talk with questions that prompt students to reflect on important points I raised during the session, share their reflections with classmates, and briefly discuss the insights gained from any class activities. I also make my slides available to all students. By distributing my lecture slides, I allow students to reflect on the central points of the class session without feeling forced to concentrate purely on note-taking.
I believe when students engage in the writing process, they are forced to think more deeply about and engage more fully with a concept. Thus, I assign a variety of writing tasks in my courses. For instance, in my research methods course, I require students to write a formal APA-style research paper as well as a series of smaller essays, including an analysis of readings, and class observations in which the student can engage in self-reflection on the issues raised by the course and the relevance of the material to current events or their lives in general. Class observations are also useful in allowing me to engage in a private dialogue with students who may be reluctant to attend office hours but who feel comfortable in raising issues within the context of writing. Using these class observations also allows me the flexibility to pursue important points raised by the students during a lecture without sacrificing coverage of important course material. Furthermore, allowing students to express themselves informally through writing affords me the opportunity for a more complete assessment of a student’s ability than would be possible by relying only on a combination of formal papers and examinations.
I also understand that part of a student’s everyday world is the university itself. Thus, my role as a teacher includes helping students succeed in the unique culture of higher education. While I want students to be able to personalize their education via active learning, I also recognize I have expertise from which students may benefit. I believe most students will rise to the challenge when quality work is demanded of them if they are also helped to develop the skills necessary to make that possible. For this reason, I encourage critical thinking and the improvement of oral and written skills in all my classes.
I believe students are best served when they are actively and rigorously engaged in the pursuit of knowledge. An instructor may inspire, but students should be actively engaged in the learning process for it to be successful. To give students greater ownership of the knowledge they encounter, I use cooperative and active learning strategies as well as lecture in my classes and try to develop assignments that foster both analytical and critical thinking and opportunities for creative application.
For example, in my statistics course I emphasize the ability to quantify intuitions and observations and apply tools to solving real-life problems is essential across all fields. Information about the world often is conveyed by the media in statistical terms, pointing to the need for us to have a clear understanding of the kinds of problems statistics can and cannot be asked to solve. University students have an intuitive understanding of everyday problems, developed through their own experiences. The key to teaching statistics is to show students how to relate theoretical concepts to the understanding of such problems they have achieved already. I facilitate the teaching of statistics by relating statistical concepts to other courses and problems encountered in everyday life and by using diagrams and humorous illustrations to help explain concepts.
Additionally, I emphasize the importance of the research process, rather than simply conveying a set of psychological findings. The strength of this approach is it teaches students to think critically about research and decide for themselves if the results of a study truly support the authors’ hypothesis or theory. To this end, I present key course concepts alongside a detailed description of a research study that has tested an important aspect of that concept. Throughout this process, I ask students to generate predictions, practice interpreting data from tables and figures, discuss the implications of the findings, and identify alternative explanations for the results. This approach also permits many opportunities to highlight important concepts in research methodology, such as the use of operational definitions in the literature. I believe this approach to teaching stimulates students’ intellectual curiosity, instills an appreciation for the ways psychology can be used to understand human behavior, and provides them with a toolbox for critically consuming research in any field.
In summary, I am committed to providing an engaged learning environment that is both exciting and rigorous, one that bolsters both the student and the teacher in the pursuit of knowledge. I devise various assessment strategies that allow me to fairly assess student learning regardless of the student’s background and previous experienced. Above all, I treat my students with the utmost respect, creating an environment in which students feel safe to freely discuss ideas and topics.