E-xcellence in Teaching
Editors: Manisha Sawhney & Natalie Ciarocco

  • 15 Feb 2017 7:19 PM | Anonymous

    Enhancing Student Learning with Podcasting and Screencasting

    David B. Miller, Ph.D.
    Professor, Department of Psychology
    University of Connecticut

        Portable devices for media consumption became prominent in the 1950s and 1960s with the growing popularity of the transistor radio (Schiffer, 1991). Since then, there has been a cultural shift fostered by the invention of newer technologies such as the Sony Walkman in the 1980s, and in the current century, the Apple iPod and similar personal listening devices. A vast ecosystem of accessories that facilitate portability has co-evolved with these technologies (Darlin, 2006). While these devices were originally intended for listening to musical recordings, other media such as books, newspapers, magazines, movies, and podcasts have since gained popularity in the portable media market.

        Podcasts are digital recordings that can be downloaded from the Internet or from another source, such as Apple’s iTunes Store, from which they are also available for subscription, usually at no cost. Once downloaded, they can be accessed directly on a computer or transferred to a portable digital media player, such as an iPod, iPhone, or any other mobile device capable of playing audio files. (Despite the name, “podcast,” one does not need an Apple “iPod” to use these digital recordings.)

        When podcasts were first introduced around 2004, they were audio recordings. While this has remained the primary format, others have evolved. An “enhanced” podcast contains not only audio, but also a visual component, typically a series of static (i.e., no animations) Microsoft PowerPoint or Apple Keynote screens. Enhanced podcasts also contain a navigation menu. When accessed on a computer via iTunes, a new menu item appears called, “Chapters.” Clicking on this unfurls a list of “chapters,” along with a small visual icon, of each screen composing the podcast. Users can navigate to whichever chapter they want to hear, or can simply allow the podcast to play sequentially. Enhanced podcasts can be created in a variety of ways, but the most popular software packages are Apple GarageBand, which comes bundled with every Macintosh computer as part of the iLife software suite, and a shareware software package from Humble Daisy called ProfCast (http://www.profcast.com). For non-iTunes users, enhanced podcasts can be saved as .mov files playable on the Internet.

        Finally, actual video podcasts have become more prevalent. They are best used only when a video component is essential, because video can greatly increase the file size depending on how it is encoded, its dimensions, and other factors. For example, if the university cancels class because of bad weather, I upload a video podcast of that day’s lecture to keep my class on schedule. In this case, video is essential. Some podcasts, such as speeches by notable individuals, are available either as audio-only or as video. The visual aspect is appealing in such cases, but the audio alone can suffice.

    iCube: Issues In Intro   

        I began my first podcast series in the Fall of 2005, in connection with my 315-student General Psychology course. The main component of iCube: Issues In Intro is a weekly discussion of course material that I conduct with a small group of up to 20 students. The discussions, which typically last 40-50 minutes, are primarily student-driven (Sener, 2007). They ask questions and I respond. Nothing is scripted. These casual discussions take place in a seminar room near my office in which I set up eight microphones connected to an audio mixer, which, in turn, is connected to my laptop computer for capturing the audio.

        Students who participate receive no extra credit for doing so. Some students return every week, and others stop by only a few times in the semester. Because I have to identify a time when both I and a seminar room are available, there are usually many students who would like to participate but cannot due to schedule conflicts. I encourage students to send in questions via email if they are unable to attend, and we address those items in the podcast.

        The participants are highly motivated and willing to invest the extra time. Interestingly, the majority are not psychology majors, but many of them become very engaged in the course content via our podcast discussions and end up either switching majors, incorporating psychology as a double major, or pursuing a minor in psychology. As an added benefit, I’ve become the academic advisor of former podcast participants. In large classes, students and professors often have difficulty getting acquainted with one another, but podcasting greatly facilitates the kind of scholarly interactions that might otherwise not occur in large classroom settings. Having podcast participants as my advisees enables me to better serve them, and, of course, there are additional benefits to the students in terms of having at least one professor who can write somewhat detailed letters of recommendation in the years that follow.

        Perhaps most importantly, these weekly discussions provide a means of personalizing the course, making it seem psychologically “smaller.” The large class sessions are lectures with minimal opportunity for discussion; but, students who participate in the podcast recordings have an opportunity to interact with me (and me with them) in a relatively informal context. Students who routinely listen to the podcasts also report of sense of having a more personal connection with me and with the student participants. While I prefer lecturing with computerized multimedia in my courses, podcasting provides an important means to incorporate active learning for those students seeking such an opportunity (McLoughlin & Lee, 2007).

        In addition to the weekly discussion, there are two other components of iCube: Precasts and Postcasts. Precasts are short, enhanced podcasts (5-15 minutes long) that I record twice weekly (because I lecture twice each week). They’re intended to provide students with important points that I’ll cover in the next lecture. I also play the Precasts before class begins for students who arrive early, which gives them yet another way of accessing the material and also provides a mechanism for “setting up” the lecture that immediately follows.

        The third component of iCube is the Postcasts, which I create sporadically. Postcasts are content modules that I record to clarify difficult concepts, or items that I feel I didn’t cover clearly in class. In recent years, I have uploaded video screencasts (see below) of full lectures to keep the class on track when school is cancelled.

        iCube is accessible via iTunes for free subscription. As is the case with participating in the recording sessions, listening to the podcasts is entirely optional. I make it available as one of several course enhancements to aid in student learning.

        Every semester, I add items to the University course evaluations to ascertain how many students are listening to iCube and whether they believe that these podcasts help them learn the material. Data gathered over the course of eight semesters starting in Fall 2005, indicate that approximately 40% of the class listen more than occasionally to the podcasts. Of that 40%, 76% of the students report that the podcasts enhance their learning. Most of the remaining 24% report that the podcasts were only marginally helpful. The reason that most of the non-listeners give for not accessing the podcasts is that they don’t feel they have enough time do so.

    Animal Behavior Podcasts

        In the Fall of 2006 (one year after launching iCube), I began a second podcast series for my upper-division Animal Behavior course. This course, which used to have a capacity of 50 students, now has a capacity of 150, and is also taught as a lecture. Among the 150 students, there are typically about 10 who are in the University Honors Program. Honors students at UConn may, with an instructor’s permission, convert a non-Honors course to obtain Honors credit. (Students in the upper-division Honors Scholars Program need 12 Honors credits to graduate with Honors, along with other requirements.)

        My Animal Behavior Podcasts series provides an opportunity to earn Honors credit in this course. It’s based on the iCube discussion model, but Honors students who participate are expected to attend regularly. In these 40-50-minute sessions, we discuss animal behavior course content. Like iCube, these discussions are informal and are distributed on iTunes. In recent years, there have been about 14 Honors students each semester earning Honors credit by participating in these podcasts.

    Interactive Discussion vs. Coursecasts

        In higher education, podcasting gained popularity as a means of recording and distributing entire lectures (what I refer to as “coursecasts”). Lecture recording has been around at least since the invention of affordable, portable cassette tape recorders. Today’s coursecasts are much easier to distribute because of their digital format. At some universities, coursecasts can be created by any professor at the flick of a switch when they enter classrooms outfitted with recording equipment. But one wonders about the extent to which such ease of recording has been preceded by forethought regarding course enhancement.

        Some professors fear students might skip class if coursecasts are readily available (Young, 2008). To minimize attendance problems, some professors who do coursecasting have developed counter-strategies, such as giving regular in-class assessments, recording only a portion of each lecture, waiting a week or longer before uploading the recordings, or even eliminating coursecasting altogether if attendance drops significantly.

        My own experience at UConn with both General Psychology and Animal Behavior podcasts is that students not only view these podcasts as genuine enhancements over and above the classroom experience, but also that the podcasts help the students understand the material and become further engaged with course content. Nevertheless, coursecasting appears to dominate higher education podcasts (certainly those available via iTunes U).

        Coursecasting can also be helpful on religious holidays when observant students will not be in class, and when weather conditions are not threatening enough to deter some (but not all) commuting students, yet not bad enough to result in cancelled classes. The result is that students who have legitimate reasons for being absent from a particular lecture will still have the opportunity to access the course content.

        A major issue for coursecasting is the inclusion of copyrighted material in these distributed lectures. Materials that may have been used legally in a classroom through the “fair use” provision of the Copyright Law of the United States should not be distributed in downloadable podcasts. Instructors who record and then distribute lectures are legally required to edit out such materials prior to distribution. Unfortunately, some of the automated recording systems installed in lecture halls make this difficult because the files are immediately uploaded to a server. In situations where coursecasts are editable, instructors need to acquire expertise in editing as well as a willingness to devote the time for such post-production following each lecture. Thus, routine coursecasts not only have questionable value as an educational enhancement but also potentially have legal consequences.

        Coursecasts might provide an enhancement if approached differently. For example, instead of recording in-class lectures, the actual course content could be delivered by recordings of the professor for students to access online on a regular basis. Class time could then be used for discussion, clarification, demonstrations, examples and applications that weren’t included in the recorded podcasts, and student presentations. Perhaps a better way to conceptualize the application of such media for classroom use is to use the term “coursecast” in reference to a recording of a live classroom lecture, and “screencast” as a recording intended to substitute for a live lecture, thereby providing a basis for what has come to be known as a “hybrid” or “flipped” course.


        In a sense, a screencast can be viewed as an evolutionary advance relative to podcasts and coursecasts. Screencasts are dynamic in the sense that they are produced by recording all activity on one’s computer screen with added narration, edited with sometimes powerful post-production tools, and then exported as videos to be uploaded to the Internet for viewing. Software programs such as ScreenFlow (http://telestream.net) and Camtasia Studio (http://techsmith.com) offer powerful, but user-friendly interfaces for producing screencasts.

        Screencasts can range from simple tutorials (e.g., instructions to be followed in a laboratory course), elaborations of points made in class, or even entire lectures and entire courses, as would be the case with a hybrid or flipped course.

        In 2009, I used ScreenFlow to convert my large Animal Behavior lecture course to a hybrid course in which most of the content was delivered online via streaming video. Students were able to access the videos anytime on a password-protected server, and we met once weekly for discussion, questions, and additional course content not covered in the screencasts. The post-production editing tools enabled me to focus students’ attention on particular screen elements, which is not easily done in a live lecture. Additionally, students were able to pause the videos, replay parts if they so desired, and take thorough, high-quality notes.

        The time that it took (well over 400 hours) to produce the screencasts paid off in terms of student engagement in course material and learning. Almost half of the class of 140 students earned course grades of “A,” and not a single student failed the course the first time it was offered in Fall 2009. It’s been offered in this format every Fall since then with similar results.

        What is clear is that technology (podcasts, coursecasts, screencasts, and other innovations), when used properly, can serve as pedagogical enhancements. However, technology should not be used just for the sake of using it, or simply because it happens to be available. Pedagogy must always precede technology.


    Darlin, D. (2006, February 3). The iPod ecosystem. The New York Times, C1.

    McLoughlin, C., & Lee, M. J. W. (2007). Listen and learn: A systematic review of the evidence that podcasting supports learning in higher education. In: C. Montgomerie & J. Seale (Eds.), Proceedings of ED-MEDIA 2007 World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia & Telecommunications (pp. 1669-1677). Vancouver, Canada, June 25-29, 2007.

    Schiffer, M. B. (1991). The Portable Radio in American Life. Tuscon: The University of Arizona Press.

    Sener, J. (2007). In search of student-generated content in online education. Retrieved February 15, 2013, from http://www.e-mentor.edu.pl/artykul/index/numer/21/id/467

    Young, J. R. (2008). The lectures are recorded, so why go to class? The Chronicle of Higher Education, 54, A1.


    David Miller is a Professor of Psychology, Associate Department Head, and Coordinator of Undergraduate Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.  He received his Ph.D. at the University of Miami in 1973, and his research has focused on animal behavior, both in the field and in the laboratory.  He was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the North Carolina Division of Mental Health, where he did field research on parent-offspring auditory interactions of several avian species.  In 1977, he became an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow at the University of Bielefeld (Germany) in the Department of Ethology and a participant in a nine-month interdisciplinary conference on “Behavioral Development in Animals and Man” at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research. He returned to the North Carolina Division of Mental Health in 1978 as a Research Associate, where he began a long series of studies on alarm call responsivity of mallard ducklings, which continued when he joined the faculty at the University of Connecticut in 1980.  Beginning around 1990, his long-standing interest in the effective use of multimedia in the classroom expanded and has continued to evolve.  He has received several awards for teaching excellence at the University of Connecticut and, in 1989, was the recipient of The National Psi Chi/Florence L. Denmark Faculty Advisor Award “for outstanding contributions to Psi Chi and psychology.”  He received the high honor of University of Connecticut Teaching Fellow (1997–1998), and, in 1999, his work in multimedia instructional design and classroom implementation was recognized with the Chancellor’s Information Technology Award.  In 2005, he received the University of Connecticut Alumni Association Faculty Excellence Award in Teaching at the Undergraduate Level, as well as the 2005–2006 University of Connecticut Undergraduate Student Government Educator of the Year Award.  In 2007, he received the University of Connecticut Outstanding Student Advisement and Advocacy Award, and his efforts in podcasting were recognized by the national publication, Campus Technology, which awarded him the 2007 Outstanding Innovator Award in Podcasting.  In 2011, he received the Frank Costin Memorial Award from the National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology for promoting quality teaching methods, as illustrated in a poster on screencasting, and, in 2012, the Animal Behavior Society Distinguished Teaching Award.  He has served on several editorial boards and was Editor-in-Chief of the scholarly journal, Bird Behavior for 15 years.  In recent years, Dr. Miller has devoted considerable time in creating computerized, multimedia versions of his animal behavior and introductory psychology courses.  Multimedia production of university-level educational material is one of his foremost activities.  His most recent multimedia project involved a major transformation of his Animal Behavior course into 90 screencast movies, an effort that was also featured in Campus Technology magazine.
  • 02 Feb 2017 9:07 AM | Anonymous

    Ditching the “Disposable Assignment” in Favor of Open Pedagogy

    Rajiv S. Jhangiani

    Kwantlen Polytechnic University

    Ever since George Miller’s famous (1969) APA presidential address, many others have called upon our field to “give psychology away” (e.g., Epstein, 2006; Goldman, 2014; Klatzky, 2009; Lilienfeld, Ammirati, & Landfield, 2009; Tomes, 2000; Zimbardo, 2004). There is arguably no better way to achieve this than by adopting open pedagogy to place the knowledge base of our discipline in as many hands as possible.

    With open pedagogy, students are not just consumers of educational resources but also producers of educational resources. A key aspect of open pedagogy therefore involves replacing “disposable assignments” with “renewable assignments” (Wiley, 2013). Disposable assignments are those that are typically only seen by the instructor. Students often see little point in them (and rarely revisit them) and many instructors despise grading them. David Wiley, an open education pioneer, describes them bluntly:

    They’re assignments that add no value to the world – after a student spends three hours creating it, a teacher spends 30 minutes grading it, and then the student throws it away. Not only do these assignments add no value to the world, they actually suck value out of the world. Talk about an incredible waste of time and brain power (and a potentially huge source of cognitive surplus)! (2013, para. 5)

    By contrast, renewable assignments are those in which the students’ energy and efforts are repurposed by having them generate materials and resources for the “commons,” including future students taking their course and other formal and informal learners around the world. The materials produced might include developing tutorials, wiki entries, or even videos posted online.

    Incorporating openness into pedagogy is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. It challenges instructors to reflect on their practices and move away from the traditional top-down model of pedagogy by assigning open-ended problems and empowering students to act as co-creators (Rosen & Smale, 2015). But whereas it takes a degree of courage to untether oneself from the security and predictability of the staid research essay, once accomplished, the benefits to the learning process are sizable. For one, students and instructors work collaboratively towards creating resources for public consumption, adding tangible value to the world outside of their classroom. Second, students tend to invest more effort and care more deeply about the product when they know that their work has a larger potential audience than just their instructor (Farzan & Kraut, 2013). Third, open pedagogy unleashes the students’ creative potential, allowing them to ascend the rungs of the cognitive process dimension in Bloom’s revised taxonomy (Anderson & Krathwohl, 2001). Here they generate, plan, and produce instead of merely recognizing and recalling, in the process acquiring higher-order cognitive and meta-cognitive skills that will serve them throughout their university education and career. Fourth, depending on the specific nature of the assignment, the resource produced may serve as an enduring electronic portfolio of their academic work that can be shared with others, including potential employers. In this fashion they may showcase their writing skills (e.g., blogs, wiki entries, etc.), multimedia skills (e.g., videos, websites, etc.), or even their ability to integrate and apply research findings (e.g., policy proposals or briefs). And finally, “because any one of these remixes might end up helping next semester’s students finally grasp the concept that has proven so difficult in the past, faculty are willing to invest in feedback and encouragement at a different level” (Wiley, 2013, para. 16).

    Instructors interested in experimenting with open pedagogy might, for example, design course assignments that require students to create a guide for parents on the use of rewards and punishments with young children based on principles from learning theory, design a public service announcement for a local nonprofit organization based on principles from social psychology, build and edit a wiki that might serve as an instructional resource for future students, write questions for an in-class practice quiz ahead of midterm examinations, or publish blog posts that critically analyze depictions of psychological phenomena in popular films. On a larger scale, an excellent example of an organized open pedagogy initiative is the Association for Psychological Science’s (APS) Wikipedia Initiative.

    APS Wikipedia Initiative

    Wikipedia is a free, online encyclopedia, written and edited collaboratively by those who use it. Its English language edition includes about 4.7 million articles and is the sixth most popular website in the world, with nearly 500 million unique visitors every month (“Wikipedia,” n.d.). Its incredible popularity among students, for whom it is often the first resource accessed when looking up background information for a term paper (Head & Eisenberg, 2009; Lim, 2009), is matched only by its equal unpopularity among faculty, who strongly caution against citing its articles or even penalize their students for doing so (Waters, 2007). Some instructors may work with librarians to better instruct their students on how (and why) to access refereed articles from research databases, but this strategy is merely a weak left jab at the problem. The APS Wikipedia Initiative (APSWI), on the other hand, presents a creative and pragmatic right hook.

    Born out of a desire to “deploy the power of Wikipedia to represent scientific psychology as fully and as accurately as possible and thereby to promote the free teaching of psychology worldwide” (“APS Wikipedia Initiative,” n.d.), the APSWI serves to improve the very resource whose use psychology faculty routinely rail against.

    For context, there are currently more than 8,500 articles on Wikipedia devoted to topics in psychology. At the time of this writing, only 63% of these have been assessed through Wikipedia’s peer assessment system. Far more terrifyingly, only 9% of these have achieved “good article” status while the remaining lower quality articles are viewed in excess of 64,000 times every six months (“APS Wikipedia Initiative,” n.d.).

    These sorts of numbers are why, in 2011, then-APS President Mahzarin Banaji called upon psychology faculty to participate in the APSWI as contributors, reviewers, and especially through adopting open pedagogy:

    The likely most effective way to generate contributions, in my opinion, is to include writing for Wikipedia as part of college and graduate-level courses. In this way, professors and students in a class can begin to populate Wikipedia on the topic of the course, taking advantage of the built-in expertise that is contained in that collective, in a semester long time frame. Writing Wikipedia entries from scratch, editing entries, or evaluating them can be a worthwhile learning experience in a standard classroom. Such work can teach students so much — that even the simplest ideas are hard to communicate to general audiences; that logic, strength of argument, flow and clarity of writing, citations of the appropriate literature, and, above all, accuracy need to be mastered in order to be a member of this guild. My request is that for any course that you are about to teach this semester and beyond, that you consider adding contribution to Wikipedia as part of the course’s requirements. (para. 8)

    Many faculty have since responded to Banaji’s call. During the Fall 2011 and Spring 2012 semesters alone, 640 students across 36 classes participated in the APSWI. Collectively, they edited 840 articles – “the rough equivalent of writing a 1,200 page textbook in psychology” (Farzan & Kraut, 2013, p. 5). Participating instructors have ranged from those completely new to Wikipedia (e.g., Hoetger & Bornstein, 2012) to those with extensive experience (e.g., Marentette, 2014), and the classes enrolled have ranged from small seminars (e.g., Karney, 2012) to enormous 1,700 student sections (Joordens, 2012). The APSWI has also been incorporated into courses at all levels, displacing a research paper in an introductory psychology course (Ibrahim, 2012), a literature review in a 200-level cognitive psychology course (Munger, 2012), a research article review in an upper level course on memory (Hoetger & Bornstein, 2012), an essay for a fourth-year course on the history of psychology (Reynolds, 2011), a 15-page paper in a graduate seminar in social psychology (Karney, 2012), and a traditional final paper in a graduate course on clinical neuropsychology (Silton, 2012).

    Naturally, appropriate instruction and support must be provided and the specific assignment (e.g., adding citations, writing or revising articles, being granted “good article” status by the Wikipedia community on the basis of the quality of writing, neutrality, and appropriate sourcing, etc.) must be tailored to the level and ability of the class. For example, introductory psychology students might be best served by working in teams and focusing their efforts on a small number of articles, adding citations, images, and links where necessary, tagging them appropriately when problems are located, and incorporating feedback from their peers and the Wikipedia community. The potential benefits to students from participating in the APSWI include achieving a deeper understanding of the topic (Farzan & Kraut, 2013), learning to evaluate and defend the credibility of their sources (Marentette, 2014), learning to write more concisely and think more critically (Farzan & Kraut, 2013), collaborating with students from other universities and around the world (Karney, 2012), learning to provide as well as receive constructive feedback (Ibrahim, 2012), enhancing digital literacy (Silton, 2012), and learning how to communicate ideas to a general audience (Association for Psychological Science, 2013).

    Although some students begin a little wary of the assignment, they go on to derive excitement, meaning, and even pride from the open nature of their work, as the following instructor testimonials indicate:

    The students also realized they were a valuable asset to Wikipedia. Their thinking and writing skills as well as their access to an extensive academic library were not broadly shared. As knowledge translators, they could also provide a service to the general public by clearly communicating basic concepts about language acquisition. They wondered who their readers might be: parents? teachers? students in developing countries? One thing that the students uniformly loved about this project was the possibility of other people seeing and recognizing their work. (Marentette, 2014, p. 37).

    They felt their work was meaningful because their contributions are shared with the entire world, rather than just their instructor. They liked that their contributions will not end up in a drawer after the semester ends, but will continue to be available to many people as a useful resource. Some students even noted with pride that their contributions might have wider use than some articles published in academic journals. (Ibrahim, 2012, p. 29)

    Of course, participating in the APSWI is not without its challenges, which include developing an appropriate rubric for grading (Silton, 2012), learning the writing style and referencing standards of Wikipedia (Reynolds, 2011), managing the time frame of the assignment (Marentette, 2014), and maintaining flexibility with the assignment guidelines (Hoetger & Bornstein, 2012). Some practical strategies for instructors considering participating in the APSWI include providing a list of topics not yet covered on Wikipedia, gaining experience with posting an article, looking through the sample Wikipedia assignments provided by the APS, making use of the many articles and step-by-step guides for editing Wikipedia articles and participating in the APSWI, and enlisting the help of a campus Wikipedia Ambassador (Hoetger & Bornstein, 2012; Ibrahim, 2012).

    Concluding Thoughts

    Adopting open pedagogy can seem daunting at first but does not have to mean designing an entirely new assignment or working with new media. All that is required is for the students to work towards producing a resource that others will find useful. This could include literature reviews, evidence-based policy recommendations, or practical guides for the application of psychological knowledge (e.g., promoting environmentally responsible behavior, parenting, etc.). However, if an assignment requires students to develop and exercise a new skill, instructors will need to plan to provide instruction and support throughout the process (e.g., it takes some practice to learn how to properly edit Wikipedia articles). Depending on the nature of the assignment, instructors may also have to develop or locate an appropriate grading rubric.

    As mentioned earlier, adopting open pedagogy is simultaneously liberating and terrifying. With traditional (closed) assignments, vague guidelines, a poor design, unclear rubrics, and insufficient support remain hidden, with student evaluations and perhaps a few grey hairs being the only enduring record. With open pedagogy, on the other hand, both successes and failures with the assignment are much more public. But while this opens the instructor to more criticism, it is also an opportunity to share, collaborate, and receive constructive feedback. More importantly, it creates a foundation for our students to begin to invest more deeply, think more critically, work more collaboratively, and communicate more accessibly—exactly the skills needed to be able to “give psychology away.”


    Anderson, L. W., & Krathwohl, D. (Eds.). (2001). A taxonomy for learning, teaching, and assessing: A revision of Bloom's taxonomy of educational objectives. New York: Longman.

    APS Wikipedia Initiative. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.apastyle.org/learn/faqs/web-page-no-author.aspx

    Association for Psychological Science [PsychologicalScience]. (2013, May 23). 2013 APS convention video: The benefits of traditional vs. Wikipedia research assignments [Video file]. Retrieved from       https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YBdQH0eIEQ&t=66

    Banaji, M. (2011). Harnessing the power of Wikipedia for scientific psychology: A call to action. Observer, 24(2). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/february-11/harnessing-the-power-of-wikipedia-for-scientific-psychology-a-call-to-action.html

    Epstein, R. (2006). Giving psychology away: A personal journey. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 1(4), 389-400. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6916.2006.00023.x  

    Farzan, R., & Kraut, R. E. (2013). Wikipedia classroom experiment: Bidirectional benefits of students’ engagement in online production communities. CHI'13: Proceedings of the ACM conference on human factors in computing systems (pp. 783-792). New York: ACM Press. doi:10.1145/2470654.2470765

    Goldman, J. G. (2014). Giving psychological science away online. Observer, 27(3), 9-10.

    Head, A. J., & Eisenberg, M. B. (2009, December 1). Lessons learned: How college students seek information in the digital age. Project Information Literacy Progress Report. Retrieved from the Project Information Literacy Website at the University of Washington: http://projectinfolit.org/pdfs/PIL_Fall2009_Year1Report_12_2009.pdf

    Hoetger, L., & Bornstein, B. H. (2012). Enliven students’ assignments with Wikipedia. Observer, 25(4), 44-45.

    Ibrahim, M. (2012). Reflections on Wikipedia in the classroom. Observer, 25(1), 29-30.

    Joordens, S. (2012). Using Wikipedia in a mega classroom: A 1,700 student case study. Wikipedia Symposium.

    Karney, B. (2012). Feedback from the whole world. Observer, 25(3), 45-46.

    Klatzky, R. L. (2009). Giving psychological science away: The role of applications courses. Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(5), 522-530. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01162.x  

    Lilienfeld, S. O., Ammirati, R., & Landfield, K. (2009). Giving debiasing away: Can psychological research on correcting cognitive errors promote human welfare? Perspectives on Psychological Science, 4(4), 390-398. doi:10.1111/j.1745-6924.2009.01144.x 

    Marentette, P. (2014). Achieving “good article” status in Wikipedia. Observer, 27(3), 25, 37.

    Munger, M. (2012). Improving students’ writing with Wikipedia. Observer, 25(5), 43-45.

    Reynolds, M. (2011). Wikipedia in the classroom. Observer, 24(7). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2011/september-11/wikipedia-in-the-classroom.html

    Rosen, J. R., & Smale, M. A. (2015, January 7). Open digital pedagogy = critical pedagogy. Hybrid Pedagogy. Retrieved from http://www.hybridpedagogy.com/journal/open-digital-pedagogy-critical-pedagogy/

    Silton, R. (2012). More than just a grade. Observer, 25(2). Retrieved from http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2012/february-12/more-than-just-a-grade.html

    Tomes, H. (2000). Giving psychology away. Monitor on Psychology, 31(6). Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/monitor/jun00/itpi.aspx

    Waters, N. (2007). Why you can’t cite Wikipedia in my class. Communications of the ACM, 50(9), 15-17. doi:10.1145/1284621.1284635

    Wikipedia. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retrieved January 14, 2015, from

    Wiley, D. (2013). What is open pedagogy? Retrieved from http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/2975

    Zimbardo, P. G. (2004). Does psychology make a significant difference in our lives? American Psychologist, 59(5), 339-351. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.59.5.339 


    Biographical Sketch

    Dr. Rajiv Jhangiani is the Open Studies Teaching Fellow and Psychology Faculty at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Vancouver, BC, where he conducts research on open education and the scholarship of teaching and learning. A recipient of the Robert E. Knox Master Teacher Award from the University of British Columbia and the Dean of Arts Teaching Excellence award at KPU, Dr. Jhangiani serves as the Senior Open Education Advocacy & Research Fellow with BCcampus, an Associate Editor of Psychology Learning and Teaching, and a faculty workshop facilitator with the Open Textbook Network. Along with the other members of the STP ECP committee, he recently co-edited the e-book A Compendium of Scales for Use in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. His forthcoming book is titled Open: The Philosophy and Practices that are Revolutionizing Education and Science (Ubiquity Press).


  • 18 Jan 2017 1:35 PM | Anonymous


    In Pursuit of Teaching Outcroppings:

    Engaging Students with Emotionally Involving Current Events


    Christie Cathey

    Ozarks Technical Community College

              Most of us can likely remember the one experience that caused us to first fall in love with psychology and made us think, “This is the stuff I want to do forever.”  For me, that experience happened 21 years ago this spring, when I took Ralph McKenna’s Advanced Social Psychology class at Hendrix College.  The thing about that class that really hooked me on the discipline was how enjoyable the research process became for me.  Dr. McKenna encouraged original, creative research designs (he would have nothing to do with canned research projects) and our class meetings were these ridiculously fun and engaging brainstorming sessions.

                Dr. McKenna taught us to look to the world around us for unique opportunities to examine human social behavior, encouraging us to be on the constant lookout for “research outcroppings.”  This term, originally coined by Webb, Campbell, Schwartz, Sechrest, and Grove (1981), is a really nice metaphor.  Just as geologic outcroppings, like highways cut through hillsides, allow us to observe aspects of Earth’s strata that would normally remain hidden from view, a research outcropping results when an atypical event in the world exposes normally hidden aspects of human behavior.  For example, the semester I was enrolled in Advanced Social Psychology happened to coincide with the LA riots (sparked by the acquittal of three police officers in the Rodney King case). I remember my classmates and I excitedly considering the possible new vantage points into aspects of social thought and behavior this atypical event may have opened up.

                I’ve always been a fan of this outcropping metaphor, and now, as a teacher of psychology, I like to use what I refer to as “teaching outcroppings.”  These are unexpected, or infrequent events that are inherently involving for students, and that give us an opportunity to truly engage students by helping them see the immediate application of course concepts to the world around them.  Sometimes these teaching outcroppings are difficult to spot, but other times, they appear without effort.

                Early last September an unexpected (but in hindsight, obvious), outcropping revealed itself. I had my Social Psychology class planned out for the entire fall semester and had no intention of making changes. However, one morning, I happened to overhear a campaign ad for a local election playing in the next room, and it really ticked me off.  The ad’s message was in direct opposition to my own values, and it so enraged me that I wondered how I would survive eight more weeks of listening to that garbage.  I then had one of those “when life give you lemons…” realizations, and it occurred to me what a potentially rich teaching outcropping the 2012 election season might be.  I knew then that I needed to quickly plan a new project for my Social Psychology class to take advantage of this fleeting opportunity. 

                The election season provided the perfect teaching outcropping for four distinct reasons.  First, as we all know, the 2012 elections were particularly contentious and emotionally laden.  I knew that if I could find a good way to get students to relate course concepts to the elections, their existing emotional investment in the elections might translate into heightened engagement in the course.  Second, the sheer relentless and omnipresent nature of the persuasive attempts in the media in those final months of the election meant that students couldn’t escape them and would be forced to think about social psychological concepts between class sessions.  Third, my class was composed of students with diverse political attitudes, and I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to have them work together in small groups to experience diversity and to practice civility. Fourth, it would give them a chance to develop an important research skill: the ability to examine emotionally laden social topics in as unbiased a manner as possible.

                Two weeks later, just as we began our coverage of persuasion in my Social Psychology class, I told my students that they would be working in groups to analyze persuasive tactics used in currently running political television advertisements.  Then, in my most obnoxious infomercial voice, I added, “But wait…there’s more!” and announced that they would also be writing and producing political ads of their own, and that on Election Day they would present and discuss their ads for the class.  I knew I was onto something good when a 64-year-old student in the front row immediately exclaimed, “Oh!  This is going to be fun!”

                Over the next five weeks, the five groups of four students each met frequently outside of class. First, they selected two ads from opponents in the same local, state, or national election and then pinpointed the specific persuasive tactics they believed the campaign teams were using in those ads.   While working on their analyses of existing ads, the groups also worked together to conceive of a fictitious political candidate, and to invent details about that candidate’s life and campaign.  I gave students the option of inventing either a third candidate for the same campaign they’d selected for the first part of the assignment or a candidate in an entirely different campaign. Students then chose specific persuasive tactics we had covered in class and used those to produce their own 30-second ad.  I realized that not all students would have video production skills, so I gave them the option of creating either a television or radio ad and told them they even could act out their ad if they really feared technology.  Alas, I underestimated students’ technological adeptness, as no groups went with the “Shakespearean option.”    

                On Election Day, I came to class armed with patriotic-themed cupcakes to help calm students’ public speaking jitters, and we began the 15-minute presentations.  Each group first showed videos of the two current ads they’d selected and presented their analyses of the intended persuasive goal and the effectiveness of each.  They then provided details about their fictitious candidate (e.g., age, gender, political affiliation), and about their candidate’s campaign (e.g., Was it early or late in the campaign? Was the candidate ahead or behind according to polls?), and played their original ad for the class.  Finally, the group gave an in-depth analysis of their original ad, including a discussion of the intended audience, the ad’s overall goal, and at least one persuasive tactic employed in the ad.

                Although I was initially nervous about trying out a new, potentially risky project that involved students working closely in groups for an extended period of time, I believe this project was the most successful (and certainly the most fun) I’ve ever used.  The level of work all groups put into the project far exceeded my expectations.  Their analysis of existing ads was sophisticated and thoughtful, and their original ads were creative and, in some cases, enormously entertaining and humorous.  What’s more, the class really loved the project, and despite the fact that several groups were comprised of members on opposite polar ends of the political spectrum, I am happy to report that not only were there no thrown punches, but that I witnessed true teamwork, high levels of civility, and the formation of strong bonds within groups of very diverse students.  Finally, the class as a whole was the most engaged and excited about learning I’ve experienced in my 15 years of teaching Social Psychology.  Of course, I can’t be certain that this was a result of the election project and its usefulness as a teaching outcropping, but I strongly suspect that it was.

                This project reinforced my belief in the value of seeking out and exploiting teaching outcroppings.  I fully intend to make use of the 2016 election outcropping, but in the meantime, I have amped up my intentional search for others.  This semester, for example, I simply asked students which current events most grab their attention.  The resounding answer was the debate surrounding gun control in the U.S., so I’m building an assignment that takes advantage of students’ high emotional involvement in that issue.  Regardless of the courses we teach, I believe we can all make use of teaching outcroppings; we must only be insightful enough to recognize them when they occur and flexible enough to change our plans in order to take advantage of them.  By recognizing these fleeting events in the world, we can develop creative coursework that grabs and holds students’ attention, and emotionally involves them in their studies.  By doing this, we can not only better engage our students, but, in some cases, we can truly transform a class.    


    References and Suggested Readings


    McKenna, R. J. (1995). The Undergraduate researcher’s handbook: Creative experimentation in social psychology. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    Webb, E. J., Campbell, D.T., Schwartz, R. D., Sechrest, L. & Grove, J. B. (1981). Nonreactive measures in the social sciences (2nd ed.). Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

    Christie Cathey received her B.A from Hendrix College and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from the University of Connecticut.  After teaching for nine years at Missouri Southern State University in Joplin, where she was an Associate Professor, she is now Lead Instructor for Introduction to Psychology at Ozarks Technical Community College in Springfield, Missouri.  She was a visiting professor at Tsinghua University in Beijing, China in 2009, and her research interests focus on an application of the Confucian ethical ideal, ren, to pedagogical practices.  She’s passionate about mentoring undergraduate researchers and was an Associate Editor for the Journal of Psychological Inquiry, a student research journal, for six years.

  • 02 Jan 2017 5:58 PM | Anonymous

    From Passive Learner to Active Participant:
    Examining the Effectiveness of Inter-Teaching

    Peter Frost, PhD Southern New Hampshire University

                Typically, inter-teaching requires that random pairs of students answer questions involving application, synthesis and/or critical thinking by teaching each other during a portion of class (Boyce & Hineline, 2002; Saville, et al., 2011). Generally, the professor sets up questions for each inter-teaching session. Students are expected to prepare answers to all questions since they usually don’t know which question will be used during a particular inter-teaching session. During each inter-teaching session, students are randomly assigned to dyads or triads and spend part (as in our approach) or all of class to discuss the question and write-up a response. The professor or student helpers/coaches observe the groups to help correct any misconceptions, or help answer questions through Socratic dialogue. Write-ups of each group’s responses are collected, graded, and typically handed back by the next class meeting. Some versions of inter-teaching also include a peer review process of some sort. Many versions of inter-teaching exist; we describe our version in the Methods section.
                Regardless of the variation used, inter-teaching is intended to encourage students to take ownership of their learning since they are responsible for contributing to their peer partnership and knowing the material well enough to teach it. The peer review process places additional pressure on students to know information ahead of class.
                The version of inter-teaching we used, adopted with some modification from Carroll (2011), also included the use of online practice quizzes (described in more detail in the Methods section). We designed the quizzes to ensure students knew basic and fundamental concepts ahead of each inter-teaching session, using an approach developed by Daniel and Broida (2004) described below.
                 Past studies have shown that courses with inter-teaching lead to higher exam scores (Saville, et al., 2011) and greater long-term recognition memory of course concepts (Saville, Bureau, Eckenrode, Fullerton, Herbert, Maley, Porter, & Zombakis, 2014) than traditional lecture courses. We suspected that inter-teaching would facilitate intrinsic motivation. To test this, we examined whether students using inter-teaching in a section of Cognitive Psychology would find their section more stimulating and worthwhile compared to students using a traditional lecture approach in another section of Cognitive Psychology. As with past studies, we also suspected that students in the inter-teaching section would show evidence for greater learning and retention of course concepts.


                We compared two sections of Cognitive Psychology offered during the Fall 2014 semester. One section (n = 22) was randomly assigned to implement inter-teaching while a second (n = 24) implemented a lecture-based course. Both courses were taught by the same professor, covered the same content, and included the same lecture format.

    Materials and Procedures

                We provided a study guide to the inter-teaching section at the beginning of the semester. A set of between two and five questions was shown for each of seven inter-teaching sessions that were conducted throughout the semester. We informed students that they had to prepare for all of the questions for each session since they would not know which question would be part of an inter-teaching session. Inter-teaching questions were designed to encourage thought, application, or synthesis.
                Each inter-teaching session ran at the beginning of class for about 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the difficulty of the question. We paired students randomly, and they all received the same question. If the students had questions during the session, the teacher would use Socratic dialogue to help prompt an answer (the answer was never provided). Student pairs handed in a written response to the question based on their discussion.
                We gave the students feedback about their written response by the next class. They were also asked to fill out a peer review assessment survey made available on Blackboard.
                Students in the inter-teaching section also took an online practice quiz designed to help them master the facts needed for the inter-teaching sessions. The parameters of our online practice quizzes (based largely on the approach described by Daniel and Broida, 2004) were as follows:
    • A large number of multiple-choice items were included (40 – 100).
    • Students could re-take each quiz as often as they wanted until the due date. The highest grade achieved was recorded.
    • Questions were scrambled, as were answer choices.
    • Once logged in, students had to complete the quiz.
    • The quiz was timed.
    • Students could view only one question at a time.
    • Feedback was restricted to ‘correct’ or ‘incorrect’ for each item.
    A Likert-like Scale survey was given at the end of the semester to assess student motivation for each section of Cognitive Psychology. The questions took on the form as follows:

                    Did you find that time in class was worthwhile (circle one)?

      Not at all   0%  10%  20%  30%  40%  50%  60%  70%  80%  90%  100%  Absolutely


                Although no main effects occurred for Type of Course (Inter-Teaching versus Traditional) nor GPA (upper versus lower GPAs), ps > .05, there was a statistically significant Type of Class by GPA interaction, F(1, 42) = 4.23, p = .046. Inter-teaching appears to have improved the test scores of students in the lower 50th percentile, but not students in the upper 50th percentile.
                Across all questions about student engagement, average Likert-like scale responses associated with inter-teaching were higher than that for standard courses. Participants found that time in class was more worthwhile in the inter-teaching course (M = 82.02, SD = 5.23) than the standard course (M = 55.45, SD = 9.04). The inter-teaching course was found to be more intellectually stimulating (M = 76.25, SD = 7.00) than the standard course (M = 61.90, SD = 9.61). Participants also indicated wanting to learn more in the inter-teaching course (M = 78.66, SD = 10.01) than in the standard course (M = 65.72, SD = 11.63).  We found that the average overall score associated with the student engagement survey was higher for inter-teaching than for the lecture section, t (44) = 15.52, p = .02. Attendance was higher for IT than that for the lecture section (94% attendance on average for IT and 86% attendance for a control group).


                Our findings replicate other studies showing that inter-teaching methods and online practice quizzes can help improve exam scores (Daniel & Broida, 2004; Saville, et al., 2011; Saville, et al., 2014), but our results suggest the benefit is exclusive to students with lower GPAs. Inter-teaching did not improve test scores for higher-performing students, perhaps because their scores were closer to ceiling from the start of the semester.
                As predicted by our hypothesis, inter-teaching led to evidence of enhanced intrinsic motivation as shown by higher ratings (relative to an exclusively lecture-based course) associated with viewing the course as worthwhile and intellectually stimulating, rating the instructional method as helpful, and wanting to learn more. Moreover, inter-teaching was also associated with greater attendance.
                There are many variants of the inter-teaching method. For example, peer evaluation can either be figured into the grade or not (we did not include ratings in peer evaluations as part of the grade); some teachers choose to lend significant time to inter-teaching activities (we only had seven inter-teaching sessions over the semester between 15 and 30 minutes each). Inter-teaching is versatile enough to be adapted to course needs.
                Our inter-teaching approach had several potentially beneficial aspects, but a limitation of our study is that we did not determine the extent to which the different aspects benefited learning and motivation. Future research should analyze how different aspects and variations contribute to the effectiveness of the inter-teaching method. Our findings show that the effectiveness of inter-teaching, both with regard to improving academic performance for lower-performing students and facilitating motivation in all students, makes further research into what makes this method effective worthwhile.


    Boyce, T. E., & Hineline, P. N. (2002). Interteaching: A strategy for enhancing the user-friendliness of behavioral arrangements in the college classroom. The Behavior Analyst, 25, 215–226.

    Carroll, D. (2011, October). Development, application and evaluation of an 'inter-teaching' approach to learning. Paper presented at the meeting of the Northeast Conference for Teachers of Psychology, Fairfield, CT.

    Daniel, D.B, & Broida, J. (2004). Using web-based quizzing to improve exam performance: Lessons learned. Teaching of Psychology, 31(3), 207-208.

    Saville, B.K., Bureau, A., Eckenrode, C., Fullerton, A., Herbert, R., Maley, M., Porter, A. & Zombakis, J. (2014). Interteaching and lecture: A comparison of long-term recognition memory. Teaching of Psychology, 41(4), 325-329. DOI: 10.1177/0098628314549704

    Saville, B. K., Lambert, T., & Robertson, S. (2011). Interteaching: Bringing behavioral education into the 21st century. The Psychological Record, 61, 153–165.


    Peter Frost (Ph.D., Baylor University) is Professor of Psychology at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) and a Steering Committee member of the New England Psychological Association. He has been a recipient of the SNHU Excellence in Teaching Award and the SNHU President’s Merit Award. He is a firm believer that undergraduate Psychology majors should collaborate with faculty on original research projects. His current projects with students focus on the effects of using mobile devices on various aspects of higher cognition. Other studies have explored how personality relates to susceptibility to false memory and how faulty reasoning can alter autobiographical memory.

  • 15 Dec 2016 7:11 PM | Anonymous
    Evaluating Alternative Reality Games

    for Introductory Psychology

    J. Mark Cleaveland and Rachel Abril

    Vassar College


                    Game-based learning refers to the use of games in pedagogy.  We typically use game-based learning to increase a learner’s “engagement,” however operationalized, with a problem or content area.  The game in question might explicitly model a particular set of contingencies or do so implicitly.  For example, in the board game, “Freedom: The underground railroad,” players take on the roles of abolitionists who are attempting to aid slaves on their passage to freedom. In doing so, players interact with cards that detail historical events and personages (see Cleaveland, 2014).  Conversely, a game such as “Mastermind” is not explicitly about scientific reasoning, but we can use it to teach aspects of the scientific method implicitly, and then, with discussion or targeted responding, bring out these points explicitly (see Strom and Barolo, 2011).  Another form of game-based learning is given by the “Reacting to the Past” consortium begun by Mark Carnes (see Carnes, 2014).  In these sometimes semester-length games, students role-play the personages and debates of particular historical periods.  Regardless of the specifics however, a fundamental goal of all instances of game-based learning is to re-contextualize traditional pedagogy in creative ways.  Games or texts are no longer passive objects, but repositories of opportunities.  “Mastermind” is no longer a collection of pegs and a board, but also a physical metaphor for the scientific method.  A speech of Demosthenes is no longer only something to learn for a test, but also potential leverage for a team in an upcoming roleplaying debate.  In other words, the best examples of game-based learning can create a pedagogical narrative that naturally blurs the distinction between what happens in the classroom and the student’s day-to-day life.

                In April of 2015, we experimented with game-based learning in an Introductory Psychology class at Vassar College.  Specifically, we designed and ran an “alternate reality game,” or ARG, that we called “Backtrack.” The story, thematically centered on memory and used material covered in earlier lectures. Participation in its narrative was offered as an extra credit opportunity. Students who signed up for the game received an email with a request for help from one of the characters, and by replying to this email began a narrative journey in which their knowledge of memory-related concepts would be highlighted.  Before going into the details of the game, itself, we’d like to explain why we attempted this experiment, and what we mean by “alternate reality game.”

                Introductory Psychology is taught as a single semester survey course at Vassar College. Typical classes are limited to 30 students and meet for approximately 2.5 hours per week across the semester.  We are fortunate in that small classroom sizes allow for more in-class flexibility than is typical of many academic institutions. Nonetheless, the overwhelming amount of content in an Introductory Psychology course, especially if taught in a single semester, places severe constraints on pedagogy.  By necessity, class-time must focus primarily on the systematization of “facts” that will tend, of course, to appear on tests.  As a skill, systematization has its place, however what psychologists actually do is use this systematization in the service of open-ended exploration, constrained by methodology.  It is this latter activity–open-ended exploration with the intent of uncovering heretofore unnoticed contingencies–that is missing from many Introductory Psychology survey courses.  Our goal therefore, was to see if we could come up with an activity that explicitly targeted and reinforced the creative detective work that undergirds our field.  For this reason we turned to ARGs.

                Alternate Reality Games (or ARGs) are games that are based around a single, cohesive narrative. The narrative is constructed by an individual or a group of so-called “puppet masters,” and then then broken into interactive elements that make use of a variety of media. For example, a story might unfold through texts, images, audio, video, or even real-life interaction. Players uncover the narrative through interaction and investigation, and can even have an impact on the outcome of various in-game events.  Given that the narrative of an ARG is “found” more than it is encountered, the lines between reality and fiction tend to blur in this narrative medium.  Some ARGs go so far as never overtly to acknowledge the events as being part of a game. Both players and the game makers are expected to behave as though everything that happens in the game is true.

                The blurring of reality that lies at the center of an ARG narrative creates a uniquely immersive experience. Players are led to believe that every action that they make in the game is significant, that they have a direct impact on the events that transpire and, perhaps most importantly, that they are forming real relationships with the characters that they interact with in the narrative. This illusion creates a level of engagement that may be unmatched by any other kind of game, and can offer a special benefit to education. Using an ARG as a teaching tool can provide students with “real world” applications of psychological concepts. Interaction with concepts from class outside of a classroom setting requires students to draw on their knowledge of course material to puzzle out the story without feeling like they are being formally tested. The hope is that this will provide a stronger connection to the source material, and reinforce the concepts in the minds of the players.

                We ran “Backtrack,” our own ARG, in April 2015.  Because our game was only meant to cover one section of material (i.e., lectures specifically centered on memory), we decided that the game would last five days.  Ultimately we extended this time frame to a week because the players had difficulty determining what they were supposed to do.  The general plot was as follows.  It began with a message to the players from a fellow student identifying herself as “K.” This person claimed that her friend, “J,” was having memory problems, but that he refused to believe her.  “K” asked the students to validate her concerns by directing them to a recording of a memory test that “J” had taken (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XR4EmyrU-Us).  Players were required to characterize “J’s” memory deficiencies before “J” contacted them via Skype.  This interaction led the students to an online journal of J’s that was filled with puzzles, coded sections, and general information that provided background on “J.”  For example, a linked paged entitled “CBT” led to a description of a simple cognitive behavioral technique.  By figuring out how to work through the journal, the players ultimately came to a confession that “J” had fatally struck a dog with his car and disposed of the body.  The players then learned that the owner of the dog, a daughter of a family friend, had disappeared in the search for her dog, and that “J” blamed himself for her disappearance.  The game concluded with the players determining that “K” was actually encouraging some of J’s memory problems (e.g., via attempts to plant false memories) in a misguided attempt to help her friend through a difficult time.  The game concluded with an in-person meetup with “K,” and a scavenger hunt to locate an object that would hopefully aid in the retrieval of some of J’s lost memories. 

                The participating students were asked to fill out a questionnaire at the conclusion of the narrative, so that we could obtain a qualitative sense of their experience.  From this questionnaire we learned that students overwhelmingly enjoyed the collaboration with their fellow students that the ARG afforded.  Students also appreciated the central mystery of the narrative and interactions with the story characters. All reported at least some explicit awareness of course concepts embedded in the narrative.  After the game had concluded, one student even sent a follow up email to “comfort” one of the characters.  For these reasons, we feel that an ARG provides an interesting pedagogical tool that deserves further exploration.  That said, our recommendation of this tool comes with certain caveats. 

                First, workload.  An ARG is not an undertaking that can be put together at the last minute.  Creating as much of the material in advance as possible is vital. Whether this entails outlining character interactions to avoid being sidetracked in a chatroom, drafting content to appear in an email or blog post, or creating web pages will vary depending on what media are being used to present the ARG. In most cases, ARGs contain at least one central website and one point of interaction with characters and players. For “Backtrack,” we opted to use a single static website, and contacted the players through email, Skype, text messages, and one in-person character meeting. All of the content for the website was finished and uploaded before the game began. This proved to be immensely helpful once the game itself was underway, because it allowed the puppet master to focus on guiding the players through the narrative itself rather than having to worry about producing new content. For longer games, producing all content may not be as feasible, but at the very least an outline of the planned events and core concepts to which they’re tied should be created before the game is launched.

                Furthermore, the preparatory workload in our case was matched by the work required of the students.  “Backtrack” only lasted for a week but still had to tell a complete narrative and incorporate an assortment of pre-determined course concepts. For this reason, the workload required of students was high, and multiple participants noted this in their feedback. One potential remedy would be to have the game last for a longer period of time to allow students to play once they have dealt with their other commitments. Players also noted that they felt that course material should have been more vital to the advancement through the story rather than utilizing classic ARG ciphers. Several of them mentioned the puzzle that required the players to teach the characters psychological concepts as a memorable instance of the course material being used, indicating that puzzles of this nature would be a wise choice for anyone considering making an educational ARG in the future. Such specificity of puzzles, of course, only serves to increase the potential workload and creative requirements on the part of the game makers. 

                Finally, it should be pointed out that some students found the engagement that is central to ARGs to be difficult.  As mentioned above, our players had difficulty at the beginning of the story in determining how to play the game.  We eventually used both character prompting and feedback from the instructor to teach the students how to engage with the story.  This need to teach the students how to engage via self-generated exploration was interesting and perhaps unsurprising given how little it is emphasized in most Intro Psychology courses.  Our hope, moving forward, is to further amplify this element of the ARG experience, while working to further embody psychological skills and concepts in the narrative, itself.




    Cleaveland (2014).http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1219031/ professors-playing-games-freedom-underground-railr

    Carnes, M. (2014). Minds on Fire, Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA.

    Strom & Barolo (2011). Using the game of Mastermind to teach, practice, and discuss scientific reasoning skills. PLOS Biology. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pbio.1000578.

    J. Mark Cleaveland is an associate professor in Vassar College's Psychological Science department and Neuroscience and Behavior program.  At Vassar he teaches courses in the areas of comparative psychology, learning, and introductory psychology. An inveterate gamer, he has long possessed an interest in how games have been used in behavioral modeling and how they might inspire pedagogical frameworks.

    Rachel Abril graduated from Vassar College in 2015 with a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Psychology. She has long been interested in immersive fiction, and has been an active ARG player and designer since early 2010. Backtrack was part of an independent study at Vassar, and creating the website for this project inspired her to continue her studies. She is currently pursuing an accelerated Bachelors/Masters degree in Graphic Information Technology at Arizona State University.

  • 06 Dec 2016 3:07 PM | Anonymous

    Undergraduate Psychology Students Participating in Professional Conferences

    Ronald G. Shapiro, Ph. D.

    Barbara Fritts, Ph. D.


    Attending a regional professional conference such as the Eastern Psychological Association (EPA) or the Midwestern Psychological Association (MPA) Annual Meeting can be one of the highlights of a psychology student’s undergraduate experience.  Similarly, organizing a conference for students from multiple colleges and universities, as well as for professionals outside of academia, can provide students with valuable experiences as event organizers, presenters and attendees.  Thus, every effort should be made to afford each student the opportunity to participate on at least two occasions.  Ideally, capstone projects should be aligned with conference proposal dates so that students completing high quality capstone projects will have an opportunity to present their work to a broad audience.  Why should each student have the opportunity to participate?


    For students likely to pursue an advanced degree, the convention experience provides:

    • An introduction to what will be a highlight of their entire career—doing and sharing research. 
    • Insights on what they might want to study in graduate school. 
    • Learning how to navigate conferences prior to attending graduate school.
    • An opportunity to present their work and possibly obtain feedback.
    • Great networking opportunities to meet faculty and graduate students at schools they may wish to attend.
    • Opportunities to explore career opportunities outside of academia.
    • Opportunities to have conversations with professionals in the student's desired field—these professionals may be willing to provide guidance and mentoring. 
    • Resume/CV building.
    • An opportunity to determine that they do not want to pursue graduate studies in psychology, thereby saving themselves (and graduate faculty) a costly, non-productive experience.


    For students not likely to pursue an advanced degree, the convention experience provides:

    • A culminating and great summary of their undergraduate years.
    • An opportunity to practice the professional skills, which we tell students they will learn as a psychology major regardless of their career choice, but often do not have the opportunity to practice within their own university psychology department.
    • Exposure to conferences, conventions and trade shows, which will be very valuable to them if they chose a professional career.
    • An opportunity to network and possibly develop friendships, which may help to land great professional jobs.
    • An opportunity to determine that they want to make a career change and pursue an advanced degree, but possibly in a specialization that they did not become familiar with at their home college.


    There are also numerous advantages for the university.  Encouraging student participation in professional conferences ought to provide the university with a competitive advantage in recruiting potential students.   Conference photos may be featured in recruiting materials.

    Not all undergraduate students will have an opportunity to participate in professional conferences as undergraduate students.  Neither of the authors did.  Barbara chose to participate after completing her undergraduate degree before applying to graduate school.  She later wrote:

    The value of that first convention could best be summarized for me as "initiative paying off". My undergraduate institution did not have a big research lab and so I had no opportunities to attend APA as a student prior to graduate school. Unlike most of my counterparts, my presence at my first convention was completely self-motivated. I was not third presenter on a poster that my undergraduate research group had put together, for example. I wasn't with an advisor or program. It was just me. Twenty-two year old, Bachelors in Psychology, naive, me. I saved my money, planned a trip to Washington DC because my aunt and uncle lived there and I could stay with them, navigated the public transportation system in a city I did not know, and made the most out of that convention because I had a dream of getting my PhD in psychology I and wanted to make it come true. Akin to the initiative that brought me to the convention in the first place, I took risks and talked to as many people as I could and gathered as many email addresses as I could. I did not let the fact that I was alone stop me. I am convinced that it was this practice in self-motivation which propelled me into becoming a desirable doctoral student and it was what helped me to get into graduate school. 

    While Barbara’s story is motivating, her undergraduate program could have made life easier for her. If her program had included attending a professional conference in their curriculum, she would have been guided in this endeavor by her undergraduate faculty and may have had the experience and contacts she needed for acceptance into graduate school sooner.


    Tips for Optimizing Conference Participation

    The remainder of this article is focused around optimizing the conference experience for the undergraduate student.   It is written to the student, so that faculty may simply forward it on to their students without the need to rewrite.


    One of the primary purposes of attending a professional conference (whether presenting or not) is networking with other students and professionals.   Prepare for these networking opportunities at least three months before the conference by considering the following:

    • Order business cards.  The cards should look professional and contain name, professional title (could be Psychology Club President, Undergraduate Student, or whatever is most appropriate), University, email, phone, and mailing address.  Use contact information which will remain current for many years. 
    • If you plan to visit book or other exhibitors at your conference consider bringing some  pre-addressed labels or an address stamp to the conference so that you can sign up for their mailing lists without needing to take the time to write your name and address.    
    • Listen to your voicemail message.  Does it sound professional?  If not, update it.  If you do not have one set one up.  Voice rather than texting is the professional way to communicate.
    • Establish a LinkedIn profile and connect with a number of professionals.
    • Check your Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. accounts. Is there anything visible you would not want a future employer or graduate school to see?  If so, adjust accordingly. Be aware of what the pages of your online friends may indicate about you. Consider trimming friends or adjusting your privacy settings, but do not become invisible.  Future employers may be suspicious of a candidate who does not have social media presence.  Encourage friends whose pages are not professional looking to upgrade their pages. As a last resort, consider the possible consequence of being connected to people with unprofessional pages and consider disconnecting from them.
    • Assume that your prospective employers or graduate school advisors (or their graduate student assistants) will Google you. Do your own internet searches of your name and look for postings which you may have made as a high school student. Do they look professional? If not, adjust accordingly.
    • Prepare an “elevator” speech, a one to two minute summary which tells the listener about your background and why you would like to connect with them.  Whenever possible, be sure your speech indicates why it will be of benefit the listener to connect with you. Practice this speech.
    • Practice having professional conversations with students and faculty at your school. 
    • Register early for early registration discounts and shop for great hotel rates near your conference. 
    • Investigate scholarship or other funding opportunities for students attending conferences from your college or university.
    • Prepare a resume (or Curriculum Vita)  that ROARs (is Results Oriented And Relevant)
      • Results Oriented:  For every job, major volunteer experience, and academic experience, be sure to explain your contributions in a way that really excites the reader.
      • Relevant: Prepare a statement which goes right under your name at the top of the resume that links the needs of a potential employer (or graduate school advisor) with your Results Oriented accomplishments.  This should hook the reader.
    • Be certain that your resume (or CV) stands apart from any you will find in a resume book. If you are applying for graduate school immediately after graduation ask an advisor or faculty member give you feedback.   If you will be applying for jobs outside of academia please be sure to have a recruiter, manager who hires professionals or equivalent business professional review your resume.
    • If you are considering many different career options, it is fine to have multiple versions of your resume/CV rather than a one size fits none version.
    • Volunteer to help out.  Volunteering to help out may provide you with a great opportunity to network.  If you have the opportunity, consider the following:
      • Distribute name badges to the dignitaries attending a conference. You will be positioned to meet many, and hopefully speak with some.  This may be a highlight of your undergraduate years.
      • Volunteer to run the projection equipment at a workshop that you are interested in. You will have the opportunity to attend the workshop for free and speak with the presenters. You never know where this opportunity may lead.
      • Do not do behind the scenes volunteer work such as preparing registration packets while at the conference unless it is in your home town.  While volunteers normally receive reduced or free conference registration, when one considers the total cost of attending a conference (travel, hotel, registration fee, food, etc.), even with the registration fee waiver you are probably paying to volunteer, so be sure that you are benefiting, not just providing a service. 
    • Discuss appropriate dress with people who have been to the conference before.  Generally business dress is appropriate, but business casual may be appropriate, too. 
    • Be sure to bring writing utensils and paper, your resume and business cards as well as electronic devices you may chose to use to make notes. 
    • Review the conference program online and research the work and background of professionals you're interested in before the conference.  This will help with conversations and give you the opportunity to formulate your questions to them ahead of time.


    At the professional conference:

    • If you are presenting or planning to attend a really important session, be sure you know where the session will be and how to get there on time, even if the elevators are over packed. 
    • Try to meet people everywhere you go.  Talk to people while waiting for an elevator, if you arrive early at a session, or if you are sharing transportation.
    • Have dinner (or go on a side tour) with people you do not know.  You will have plenty of opportunity to network with your friends at school.  Try to meet and get to know people you do not already know at conferences.
    • Trade business cards with people you meet.  Make notes on the back of each card to help you remember the people.   If your new acquaintances are not as prepared as you are and do not have business cards, record their information (perhaps in your phone, along with a note indicating why they are relevant to you) so you can still keep in touch.
    • Take photos
    • If you are particularly interested in a presentation, tell the presenter.  Ask questions.  Trade contact information.   You never know where these contacts may lead. 
    • If you are comfortable being on stage, participate as an on-stage volunteer at a demonstration during a program.  You will learn more than just sitting in the audience, hopefully have fun, and possibly even obtain a job offer.   No kidding, some of Ron’s on-stage participants in his activity based programs have gotten job offers from members of the audience who liked their performance.  Others have established long lasting professional relationships.  For example, Barbara and Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto (our external reviewer) met Ron when they participated in his programs at a psychology convention.
    • Always be thinking about how you might work with new colleagues in the future.   Not all of these ideas will work out, but hopefully many will.


    After the conference:

    • Connect with your new friends on social media, particularly LinkedIn.  Send your new friends an email. 
    • Follow up with an email to the presenters whose work interested you the most.  Share your ideas with them.
    • Write (and photo illustrate) an article on your conference participation for your university
    • If you’ve done your job right, you may still be in touch with some of your new conference friends 10, 20, 30 or more years after the conference.


    Authors’ Note: We would like to thank Industrial Consultant Dr. Margarita Posada Cossuto for helpful comments.

    Ronald G. Shapiro is a Speaker and Consultant in Career Development, Leadership Development, Learning, and Human Factors/Ergonomics.  His recent presentations at professional conferences and academic institutions focus on 1) careers and 2) game show style programs to help participants and organizations become safer, more productive and better communicators.  Ron received his PhD and MA from Ohio State University and his BA from the University of Rochester.  He is a Fellow in the American Psychological Association (APA), the Eastern Psychological Association, and the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES) and has served as President of APA Division 21 and Secretary-Treasurer of HFES. .  He spent most of his career as a technical employee, corporate staff member, and manager in IBM in both Human Factors/Ergonomics and Human Resources/Learning.  He has also taught psychology at community colleges, colleges and universities.


    Dr. Barbara Fritts is a licensed clinical psychologist who works in private practice at Walpole Behavioral Healthcare in Walpole, Massachusetts. She received her Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology in 2012 from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, following a B.A. in Psychology, emphasis in Women's Studies, from Elmira College in 2003. Her areas of clinical specialty include perinatal and postpartum mental health, LGBTQ issues, and trauma and abuse. Dr. Fritts contributes to OnTrend magazine and values writing as her voice for teaching and mentoring, helping people understand and have compassion for one another, and advocating for those who are not able to advocate for themselves.

  • 15 Nov 2016 4:49 PM | Anonymous

    Clara Michelle Cheng
    Carlow University

          Before the popular Ice Bucket Challenge, there was #FeedTheDeed.

         The premise is simple: Perform a random act of kindness, share a video of it to social media, then nominate friends to continue the chain of good deeds. Since it began in 2014, #FeedTheDeed has spread to thousands of individuals across more than 25 countries (What is #FeedTheDeed, n.d.).


    Action Teaching with #FeedTheDeed

         I have been implementing a variation of #FeedTheDeed in my undergraduate Social Psychology course as an action teaching project. Coined by Plous in 2000, “action teaching” is analogous to Lewin’s (1948) “action research,” which promotes scientific endeavors that both contributes to knowledge and tackles societal issues. Action teaching thus refers to a project or class activity that fosters student learning while simultaneously benefitting the community at large (Plous, 2000, 2012).

         Pedagogically, my goal of the #FeedTheDeed project is for students to personally experience the effect of prosocial behavior on happiness and to learn more about research methodology, while engaging in behaviors that promote and spread kindness to others.


    Class Project Design

         Students taking Social Psychology at Carlow University are nominated to #FeedTheDeed, which entails recording themselves performing a good deed, with the twist that they are randomly assigned to perform the good deed for 1) a stranger or 2) a friend or family member. I do this purposely, to create an experimental design aimed at conceptually replicating past research that shows that prosocial behavior increases happiness (Dunn, Aknin, & Norton, 2008), particularly if said generosity is directed at those with whom we share close social ties (Aknin, Sandstrom, Dunn, & Norton, 2011). Students have the freedom to choose their good deed as long as it is not already a part of their regular routine, and that it must have a direct impact on the recipient.

         Students rate their happiness levels on a 5-point scale prior to and again following the good deed (1 = not at all, 5 = extremely). In addition, they report the amount of time it took to plan their good deed, how connected they felt towards the recipient of the good deed, and how anxious they felt while performing the good deed.

         I use the act of kindness and the questionnaire measures to give students the experience of how a generous behavior affects them emotionally. Incorporating an experimental design into the project served the goal of deepening students’ understanding of research methods.


    Class Discussion

          Thus far, two cohorts of students have participated in the #FeedTheDeed class project. Examples of good deeds include paying for a stranger’s frozen yogurt, giving food to a homeless person, giving away cookies to college students, surprising mother and grandmother with thank you cards, and buying a dress for a friend who indicated that she wanted it on a recent shopping trip.

         After students have completed their good deeds, we have a class discussion during the course unit on prosocial behavior, to examine the results of the project in the context of research on the benefits of doing good. For example, combining two years’ data thus far (N = 39), students rated their happiness significantly higher after performing the good deed (M = 4.49, SD = .64) compared to before (M = 3.36, SD = .67), F(1, 37) = 71.89, p < .001. This result replicates existing research on the positive effect of prosocial behavior on mood (e.g., Dunn et al., 2008). However, contrary to past research (Aknin et al., 2011), this effect was not moderated by whether the recipient of the good deed was a stranger or a friend/family member, F(1, 37) = .97, p = .33. These results provided the basis for discussion on why the effect previously demonstrated in the literature was not fully replicated.

         Since I designed the project as an experiment, the class discussion also serves as a forum for critically evaluating the methodology of the project as a scientific study. Students came up with such critiques as that the sample was small and biased, consisting of mostly female students with similar backgrounds; demand characteristics; and a reliance on self-report data. The points made during the discussion also serve to inform the project in subsequent years. For example, a student from the first year of the project’s implementation suggested that people assigned to perform a good deed for a stranger may have experienced more anxiety than those who were in the friend/family member condition. As a result, we added anxiety as a factor in the following year to examine its influence on the results.

         The class discussion further provided an opportunity for students to reflect on prosocial behaviors in general. For example, our data yielded no significant correlation between the amount of time spent planning the good deed and increase in happiness, r(37)= -.10, p = .55. One implication of this finding is that even a simple act of kindness that doesn’t take much effort to prepare can offer benefits to a person’s mood.

         In addition, we discussed research demonstrating that people who benefitted from generosity are themselves more likely to be generous towards others and pay the good deed forward (Stanca, 2009). Thus, although we have no way of tracking this, it is possible that not only did the recipients of the students’ good deeds experience direct benefits, but this project may have indirectly inspired further good deeds and benefits beyond the class project itself.


    Students’ Reactions to the Project

         Anonymous surveys conducted at the end of the semester indicated that students generally enjoyed the project (M = 5.64, SD = 1.56, N = 33, on a 7-point scale where 1 = not at all and 7 = extremely) and felt that the project helped them learn about the effects of prosocial behavior (M = 5.91, SD = 1.49, N = 33). Here is a sample of students’ comments:

    • “I liked how we got to experience first hand the feeling of giving out and spreading kindness and how it affects us as much as who we do the deed for.”
    • “I like the idea of doing a good deed for a random person because it was not something I would normally do.”
    • “I liked doing the good deed. It actually made me feel better to brighten someone’s day. I also like that I now think about, and do more prosocial behavior.”
    • “It was nerve-wrecking thinking of a good deed to perform on a stranger.”
    • “It was hard to video someone that we didn’t know and to get them to accept the deed.”
    • “It was different than any project I have ever done. Also, I liked that we got to go out in the community and do something nice for someone.”
    • “I did not have to write a long paper, but I still feel like I learned a lot.”

     The last two comments above, in particular, illustrate that there are creative ways to promote learning, and that students can reap great educational rewards from a relatively simple assignment such as this.


    Incorporating #FeedTheDeed in Your Class

         Although I personally use the #FeedTheDeed project in my Social Psychology course, I believe this project is appropriate for any course that deals with the topic of prosocial behavior, such as Introduction to Psychology or Positive Psychology.

         You can adapt #FeedTheDeed to work in both small and large classes. For example, while the class discussion format I currently adopt works well in my small class of around 20, you can achieve the same purpose in large classes by having discussions in breakout groups or online, or through reflection papers.

         In addition, you can add or modify elements of the project to suit the learning objectives you have for your students. For example, part of my assignment involves students giving a presentation on this project at Carlow University’s annual Scholarship Day. Through working on this presentation, students have the opportunity to learn more about the research literature on prosocial behavior, to reflect deeply on and share their experience, to hone their presentation skills, and to showcase how their course work integrates Carlow’s core values of mercy, service, hospitality, discovery, and sacredness of creation.

         One specific suggestion for implementing this project in your class is to limit student videos to no more than 3 or so minutes, which is plenty of time to demonstrate the student’s good deed and helps limit the amount of time spent grading the videos. Students also find it helpful, prior to doing their own good deeds, to view a sample #FeedTheDeed video—easily found online—to better understand what is required of them. In addition, some students have expressed discomfort in taking videos of strangers. In one case, a student delivered flowers and food to a women’s shelter but was not permitted to take a video despite having called the facility and obtained permission to do so ahead of time. In such cases, it may be a good idea to provide an alternative option, such as a photo or a video of the student describing the good deed, rather than a video that shows them committing the good deed.

         One issue that warrants special attention is that of privacy. In the United States, it is generally legal to make video recordings in public spaces where privacy cannot reasonably be expected. However, individual states do vary on their wiretap laws with respect to audio recordings of private conversations. It is thus important to research the laws in your country or state, have safeguards in place, and ensure that students understand what they can and cannot do prior to implementing this project. In the case of private spaces (such as someone’s home), I provide my students with a consent form that those who appear in their video can sign.

         Despite a few minor concerns, there are many benefits of using #FeedTheDeed as a class project. It’s fun, it spreads kindness, and it’s also highly rewarding for the instructor. I can think of no better kind of grading than watching videos of your students brightening someone’s day, all because of you nominated them to #FeedTheDeed.

    Clara Michelle Cheng is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Carlow University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. She received her Hon. BSc. (2000) in Psychology from the University of Toronto and her M.A. (2002) and Ph.D. (2006) in Social Psychology from The Ohio State University, where she was the recipient of two teaching awards. She currently teaches undergraduate classes in introductory psychology, social psychology, and statistics. Her research interests are in the area of automaticity, social cognition, and mindfulness. More recently, she has delved into the scholarship of teaching and learning in a project examining the efficacy of the flipped learning format in statistics. She met her husband at the National Institute for the Teaching of Psychology conference (NITOP) 10 years ago and they have been happily married for 4 years.



     Aknin, L. B., Sandstrom, G. M., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2011). It’s the recipient that counts: Spending money on strong social ties leads to greater happiness than spending on weak social ties. PLOS ONE, 6, e17018. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0017019

     Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness, Science, 319, 1687-1688. doi: 10.1126/science.1150952.

     Lewin, K. (1948). Resolving social conflicts: Selected papers on group dynamics. New York, NY: Harper.

     Plous, S. (2000). Responding to overt displays of prejudice: A role-playing exercise. Teaching of Psychology, 27, 198-200.

     Plous, S. (2012). Action Teaching. In D. J. Christie (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Peace Psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 1-5). New York: Wiley-Blackwell.

     Stanca, L. (2009). Measuring indirect reciprocity: Whose back do we scratch? Journal of Economic Psychology, 30, 190-202. doi: 10.1016/j.joep.2008.07.010

     What is #FeedtheDeed. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://kindnesscountsfoundation.com/feedthedeed/what-isfeedthedeed/

  • 03 Nov 2016 12:15 PM | Anonymous
    There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.  Maya Angelou

    Change the story and you change perception; change perception and you change the world.  Jean Houston

    Lynda L. Crane and Tracy A. McDonough
    Mount St. Joseph University


    People with schizophrenia are commonly stigmatized, ignored, and discounted, and they have little or no opportunity to have their voices heard (Link, 1987).  It is only recently that clients with schizophrenia have been consulted even about the effects of their own medication or their perceptions of treatment outcomes (Schulze & Angermeyer, 2003).  That they are asked about their lives beyond their condition is even more rare, and we know of no oral histories of those affected. 


    We initiated the Schizophrenia Oral History Project in the spring of 2011 in the hope of providing a forum for individuals with schizophrenia who would not be comfortable speaking or writing publicly about their lives.   To date, we have recorded the life stories of forty-seven narrators, and we have given more than 40 presentations of our narrators’ stories (through audio excerpts and photographs) to mental health providers, mental health advocacy groups, and undergraduate and graduate college classes. Additionally, our website offers information about The Schizophrenia Oral History project, provides individual pages for each of our narrators (featuring audio excerpts), and offers contact information for anyone with schizophrenia who might want to tell their story,  www.schizophreniaoralhistories.com 


    Oral history offers an opportunity to promote empathy and understanding for those with schizophrenia among students (and others) that other methodologies do not, because it allows students to come into “direct” and personal contact with those with have the disorder.   For example, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 60 percent of the population believes that those with schizophrenia are likely to be dangerously violent, despite statistics that show the majority of violence committed by those with schizophrenia is mediated by substance abuse and is likely to be directed toward themselves (National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2013). As students hear the words of individuals (in their own voices) who demonstrate awareness and concern for others, it is difficult for them to continue to believe that all individuals with schizophrenia are dangerous and violent. 


    After more than 35 students heard the presentation, they filled out response forms that solicited their understanding and reactions through open-ended questions.  The following are characteristic examples of student responses that indicate their increased understanding and empathy to those who have schizophrenia and their appreciation for the oral history method.


    Greater Understanding

         I believed that schizophrenia patients had very negative and destructive lives, but after this presentation I now know that there is a possibility for people to be positive even with schizophrenia and to have a life.

         I was under the impression people with schizophrenia were out of touch with reality, but Amber showed me that she can be aware of her surroundings, her situation, and what it means to her.

         People who struggle with this are not violent.  They are more often victims.

         I know that they are not all violent.  They are able to cope.

         They just want to be normal.  They still have dreams and goals for themselves.  They see that there are people who are worse off than they are, and they want to help people.

         [What stood out] Their ability to have compassion for others despite their own problems.

          Pretty amazing.  I’m glad to have my perceptions of schizophrenia informed by this presentation, specifically that these people are ill, not crazy or evil and that they have obstacles to overcome.  Also they want to be ‘’normal.”

         People with schizophrenia are thought to be violent, and they are not usually.

         Schizophrenia isn’t at all what I originally thought.  They are not violent, dark people.  They are caring, bright, gifted individuals who just have a hard life.

         My general reaction is being surprised.  I’ve had stereotypes of people with schizophrenia.  To hear these narrators it changes my view in a good way.

         I thought schizophrenic people were violent, but many can differentiate between the voices (such as Amber) which surprises me.

         The public stereotypes are very wrong, and the media does not help people with these illnesses at all.  Violence and schizophrenia is not common and that stereotype is wrong. People really do struggle and they are strongly affected by the stereotypes.

         It was interesting to hear these stories.  I have never heard anything like this, and how aware they are of everything everyone else says and thinks about them and how they can work past it is amazing

         I find it shocking b/c it breaks down every preconception.  Hearing the speakers in a way is sad but others it is relieving because they are typical people.

         I found it revealing that these narrators were so aware of others reactions to them.

         I was encouraged to hear how positive and independent each of the narrators seemed through the course of the interview.  I was surprised how open each narrator was in discussing their disease and symptoms.

         I was in a way surprised.  My initial thought of people with this disorder were not able to control their movements/actions and they were all the same, but these stories opened my eyes to who these people truly are.  They all have their own identities for themselves and making positive contributions.

         People who struggle with this are not always violent.  I feel that they are blamed for crimes, but often they are really victims.


    Increased Empathy

         [What stood out most] I think is the realization that they are hurt by societal judgment + live with it daily.

         It was sad to hear how hard it is for them to do the little things.   I loved hearing the talk.

         I have a greater appreciation for the individuals who have to put up with this mental illness.  To hear the narrators speak about themselves gave me a different perspective. 

         It made me feel sad.  I felt sad because these people deal with things that I have taken for granted each day.  They have to constantly struggle with simple things.

         It’s not that I ever looked down on people with schizophrenia, but after hearing this, I have a lot more respect for them.  It’s sad that the narrators realize how the world perceives them.

         Their stories are inspiring.  It is definitely an eye opener.  It makes me think twice about judging others.

         I gained the upmost [sic] respect for the narrators and for everyone with this disease.  It’s a struggle, like anxiety, and I admire how they’ve learned to cope with it. 

         I have the most respect for these narrators.  For them to open up about their problems is rough, and their [sic] strong individuals.  I wish them the best, and I hope they get to accomplish everything they want to in life.

         The comment about how people with schizophrenia are cut off from the reality of the world stood out to me because as our presenters were talking about it I put myself in that situation and its truly unbearable to think about being cut off from the world.

         Alice:  “Just because I have this illness doesn’t mean I’m not a good person.  I’m just a human being with a problem.”  The fact that she felt that she had to say that made me hurt for her.

         When Amber says she wants to be able to do things that most people take for granted and it really bothers her, it made me realize not everyone is able to do the simple things I do every day.

         Very touching.  It is painful to hear them talk about their struggles, especially with society.  I am happy to see that some have found ways to cope.

         It’s heartbreaking but amazing how strong each of them are.  Heartbreaking, again, b/c they believe the things society says about them when they are not true at all.

         It really opens my eyes to what it’s like living with schizophrenia.  These people are fighting against schizophrenia every day every hour.

         Made me feel so much more compassion for others and their personal struggles.

         Alice:  “I’m just a human being with a problem.”  Who isn’t?  I may not have any illness like Alice but I still get/have my own problems sometimes.


    Appreciation for Oral History

         It is better to hear from an individual with the disorder than a second-hand story.

         Hearing stories from the narrators it made me realize to treat everyone with the utmost amount of respect.  Although people may not look “normal” or be different, on the inside people all have hearts and emotions.

         I loved hearing the actual voice of the narrator.  It’s more meaningful and really connects us, the listeners, to her story.  I loved Amber’s story, because I want to be an RN as well.

         It was much more helpful than reading about the disease in a book; you can see that schizophrenia seems to be on a continuum.

         Hearing the stories and seeing the pictures impacted me more because its more personal, more relatable than textbooks.

         It’s pretty amazing that I have learned so much from these people that I would never meet or listen to otherwise.  Thank you.

         It was an awesome experience that helped to break down stereotypes.

         Hearing the individuals talk this way about themselves was a lot more informative and hearing the pitch/tone the way they talked helped me think how they were feeling.

        I was shocked after hearing the stories.  The stories were at some points heartwarming then others breaking my heart.  Hearing the narrators speak brought the point across better.


    It is clear that many of our students changed their minds about persons with schizophrenia from the presentation.  For more information, or for questions about using material on our website with students, please contact:   lynda@schizophreniaoralhistories.com




    Link, B. (1987).  The social rejection of former mental patients:  Understanding why labels matter, American Journal of Sociology, 92, 1461-1500.

    National Alliance on Mental Illness (2013).  Schizophrenia Survey Analysis:  Public Attitudes. 

    Retrieved from http://www.nami.org/content/NavigationMenu/SchizophreniaSurvey/Analysis_Main.htm

    Schulze, B & Angermeyer, M. (2003) Subjective experiences of Stigma, Social Science and Medicine, 56, 299-312.       

    Lynda Crane is Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Mount St. Joseph University. She earned her Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and was a post-doctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She has held research positions at the Wright State University School of Medicine (Fels Institute) and at the National Institute of Mental Health. She has a background in mental disabilities, having worked with inpatients at the Springfield Hospital Center, a state-operated psychiatric facility in Maryland, and having published a textbook entitled: "Mental Retardation: A Community Integration Approach." She is co-founder of The Schizophrenia Oral History Project.

    Tracy McDonough, PhD is a licensed clinical psychologist and Associate Professor at Mount St. Joseph University as well as co-founder of The Schizophrenia Oral History Project (TSOHP). In 2006, Dr. McDonough won the Clifford Award for Excellence in Teaching as well as Ohio Magazine's Excellence in Education Award. Dr. McDonough is active in several professional organizations, including being a Past-President of the Cincinnati Academy of Professional Psychology. TSOHP is an archive of life stories of persons with Schizophrenia or Schizoaffective Disorder and in 2014, articles about the project were featured in The New York Times (http://nyti.ms/1ipyZA1) as well as The Oral History Review (http://ohr.oxfordjournals.org/content/41/1/27.abstract).

  • 17 Oct 2016 7:41 PM | Anonymous

    Using the Show Lucky Dog to Teach
    Elements of Operant Conditioning


    Debra K. Stein, Ph.D.
    Widener University

    Classical and operant conditioning techniques and their associated principles are often hard for undergraduate introductory psychology students to understand. Visions of salivating dogs and bar-pressing rats can often repel students and prevent them from gaining basic knowledge of how such procedures operate on all of us across varied situations throughout the day. The Emmy Award winning television show Lucky Dog, hosted by Brandon McMillan, (CBS Dream Team, 2016) offers excellent examples of the elements of operant conditioning within a humanistic framework. In 22 minutes, McMillan takes the viewer on a sensitive, but somewhat precarious journey, as he trains abandoned canines (that would otherwise be scheduled to be euthanized) for adoption into loving homes. Although the stories are very engaging and sometimes bring a tear to the eye, the focus on simple animal training techniques used in applied settings is the hallmark of the program, and underscores the program’s usefulness for the identification and analysis of operant conditioning components.

                As psychology instructors, we know it is important that our students understand the nature and execution of operant conditioning methods, because these methods are primary in facilitating behavior change (McLeod, 2015).  However, students often report the technical language and related principles are hard to comprehend. Although they understand how behavior can increase and decrease in frequency as the result of simple reinforcers and punishers, when you add concepts of shaping, extinction, discriminative cues and reinforcement schedules,  students become overwhelmed and tune out.  After all, once the basic components have been defined, and the rat has gone through his paces, what else is there to learn? Actually, as we know from Bloom’s Taxonomy of the Cognitive Domain (Huitt, 2011), knowledge comprehension is just the start of the learning process. Knowledge application in the service of problem solving, followed by analysis and evaluation of problem situations, form the pinnacle of critical thinking. Thus, having students analyze applications of operant conditioning within an appropriate situation, complete with contextual cues, shaping procedures, and varied consequences is essential for students’ complete understanding of the paradigm and its application within personal settings. My evaluation of 120 Lucky Dog assignments (Stein, 2016)  has shown that critical  thinking scores for undergraduate students as measured by the Widener University Critical Thinking Rubric are improved by these assignments becoming quite good, averaging a 3.4 on a 4 point scale across television episodes (3 is competent; 4 is expert). As per the rubric, students clearly identify goals of each training situation, precisely analyze and evaluate training examples, and accurately interpret evidence to support their evaluations. Thus, analyzing episodes of Lucky Dog does enhance higher order thinking skills.

                So what specific components of operant conditioning do students identify and evaluate? In my introductory psychology courses, I have students view 2 specific episodes of Lucky Dog. Their job, for this assignment, is to identify and analyze at least 5 examples of operant conditioning per episode.  For each example, students are asked to note 5 conditioning components:

    1. the target behavior;
    2. the consequence (noting whether it is a reinforcer or punisher, as well as the type of reinforcer/punisher); 
    3. the direction of change in behavior (increase or decrease);
    4. any/all discriminative cues used to signal the target behavior; and
    5. any procedure that is used to gradually shape the behavior into the desired form.

    Many of the examples are simple, and students quickly establish a rhythm and breeze right through. But some situations require additional thought as the students attempt to isolate cues and consequences. In one episode, for example, students had to identify the elements of operant conditioning including the discriminative cues for “shadow walking.”  In this example, the cue was neither a verbal one (e.g., a command) nor a physical hand gesture, but the actual spontaneous/unpredictable pause of the trainer’s body while walking along a path. The students also had to identify the shaping procedure used (tug on leash) and the consequence/reinforcer (“Good dog!”) when the dog appropriately paused. Students are often apprehensive starting the assignment, but even when they go from the first episode to the second (usually a more difficult episode), they do well. The episodes that I have used most recently include the training of “Kobe” and “Lily” both of which can be accessed on Youtube (http://www.tv.com/shows/lucky-dog/). However, each new season of Lucky Dog provides highly inviting stories to analyze.

                It’s important to note that McMillan (Canine Minded, 2016) not only trains the dogs on his seven basic commands: Sit, Stay, Down, Come, Off, Heel and No, but investigates the environment that each dog will inhabit so that the transition into their new home is a success. Thus he highlights the importance of not just behavior learning, but behavior adaptation within a particular environmental context.  According to Bouton, Todd, & Leon (2014) the learning context can have strong control over operant responding. Their research findings suggest context change can disrupt the performance of free operant responses, even after the best of training paradigms. The fact that McMillan carefully examines the environment of the future dog owner and interviews the family members about their needs adds another dimension to the undergraduate students’ understanding of operant behaviors and what influences the success or failure of transfer of training. This careful scrutiny of the future home environment generates a discussion of what additional factors prompt the effectiveness of operant conditioning, in addition to what factors enable the successful match between dog and owner. 

                Finally, not all dogs have the same temperament, so a canine that would be a good match for an elderly couple would not necessarily be appropriate for a young boy or an adolescent with a physical handicap. We know differing temperaments exist, and Brian Hare (2016) in his research on dog cognition has made it very clear that these temperament differences—part of the natural nature of the organismare important considerations in  dictating how a learning situation will progress. Thus, the notation of differences in temperament offers a valuable avenue for discussion of how learning situations in humans can be different as well. Entering into a discussion of temperament can further evolve into a discussion of individual differences in reinforcement preferences or instinctive drift. This discussion, again, facilitates an important addition to the students’ understanding of the operant conditioning paradigm.  In fact, Hare (2016) believes that “The study of the animal mind is central to any scientific endeavor seeking to identify human uniqueness” (p. 1). Thus, although essential elements of operant conditioning generalize across many venues, one must always consider what the animal or human organism brings to the mix.

                Although Lucky Dog is a family show aimed at entertaining viewers, it is also part of the CBS Dream Team Saturday morning line up of programs which have an educational focus (CBS Dream Team, 2016). The mix of information and storytelling within the format of these shows engages the audience thus, increasing the viewer’s attention to the material under review.  Since attention is the first step in all learning (Matlin, 2013), students watching Lucky Dog notice details and form hypotheses about conditioning elements that they might not have gleaned from a simple classroom lecture. In fact, Lewis (2015) speculates in her comparison of the effectiveness of operant conditioning training when using Sniffy the Virtual Rat vs. humans learning target words, “if students have  a sense of empathy and familiarity with the subjects under study, then they are more likely to find the process interesting and  as a result, less difficult to complete” (p. 187). She goes on to suggest that instructors further explore the availability of easy and cost-effective animal alternatives for use in teaching operant conditioning. I submit that the Lucky Dog assignment, as described above, does just that. Furthermore, in completing this Lucky Dog assignment, students gain a new, broader, more practical appreciation for the complex psychological laws that govern behavioral acquisition through operant conditioning. By simply viewing a 22 minute program, psychology students can gain a long-term understanding of one of the most important learning methods identified by psychologists thus far.


    Bouton, M. E., Todd, T. E., & Leon, S. P.  (2014). Contextual control of discriminated operant behavior. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Animal Learning and Cognition, 40, 92-105.

    CBS DreamTeam. (2016). CBS Dream Team…It’s epic:  Six shows. Retrieved  April 22, 2016 from  http://cbsdreamteam.com.  

    Hare, B.  (2016, January). The Trojan dog: How the animal mind turns psychological broccoli into ice cream for everyone. Session presented at the 38th National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology, St. Petersburg, Florida.

    Huitt, W. (2011). Bloom et al.'s taxonomy of the cognitive domain. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/cognition/bloom.html [pdf].

    Lewis, J. L. (2015, June). A comparison between two different activities for teaching learning principles: Virtual animal labs versus human demonstrations. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 1(2), 182-188.

    Matlin, M.W. (2013). Cognition. (8th ed.). Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

    McLeod, S. A. (2015). Skinner - Operant conditioning. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from www.simplypsychology.org/operant-conditioning.html

    McMillan, B. (2016). Dog Training: The Seven Common Commands System, Canine Minded. Retrieved April 22, 2016 from http://www.canineminded.com.

    Stein, D.K.  (2016, January).  A critical evaluation of the use of operant conditioning in the show Lucky Dog. Paper presented at the 38th National Institute on the Teaching of Psychology. St. Petersburg, Florida.

    Debra K. Stein is an Assistant Professor of Psychology and an Adjunct Professor of Education at Widener University in Chester Pennsylvania. Debra also acts as a consultant for New Jersey’s Educational Information and Resource Center.  Debra has taught a wide range of Psychology courses at the undergraduate and graduate levels although her concentration is in courses within Life-Span Developmental Psychology and Memory & Cognition. Her research interests focus on the use of rubrics in the evaluation of critical and reflective thought, as well as public understanding of moral injury, developmental aspects of guilt, and the value of self-forgiveness. Debra can be reached at dkstein@widener.edu.


  • 03 Oct 2016 5:21 PM | Anonymous

    Connecting the Introductory Course to the Lives of Peers with Disabilities

    Hunter W. Greer and Ashton D. Trice

    James Madison University

      The chapter on abnormal psychology in introductory textbooks is most often a quick tour through DSM-V by way of diagnostic criteria, lifetime instances, and general symptomology. Myers (2014), for example, lists diagnostic criteria for both major depressive disorder and persistent depressive disorder; mentions a number famous people who have had depression, and contrasts the biological and social-cognitive perspective. There is a short paragraph about the stressors of college and mood disorders in general. Schizophrenia and personality disorders are given similar coverage. ADHD and autism spectrum disorders are discussed only in boxes (autism in the developmental chapter); traumatic brain injury is not covered in the text.  

    Normally, there is scant attention, if any, to the ways in which various conditions affect everyday life, particularly how mental health issues and/or disability may affect college students. This is unfortunate for three reasons. First, by not exploring how mental health issues affect coping with the environment students best understand, because they are coping with it themselves, we may be missing an opportunity to provide meaningful learning. Second, for non-majors, the introductory course may be their only examination of the etiology, expression, and treatment of psychological disorders. Students may be less able to recognize or support those with mental health issues as friends, parents, and voters if their learning is confined to psychiatric diagnostic criteria. Finally, by not discussing how mental health issues and disability impact college performance, we fail to help students behave more tolerantly and helpfully toward affected peers.

                All of this matters at least in part because students with disabilities or mental health issues have low success rates in college. They often feel marginalized on campus and are likely to earn low grades and be twice as likely as their nondisabled peers to drop out (Sparks & Lovell, 2009). The most consistent finding in the research on why this is so, is that few disclose their disability to friends and teachers or seek classroom accommodations (Kurth & Mellard, 2006; Quinlan, Bates, & Angell, 2012) or they wait to seek assistance only after several distressing semesters (Lightner, Kipps-Vaughan, Schulte, & Trice, 2012). Among the prominent reasons that students give for not seeking assistance are that they worry that their professors will think them intellectually inferior and their peers will view accommodations as “cheating” (Hartman- Hall & Haaga, 2002; May & Stone, 2010).

    Research has found that faculty do hold somewhat negative views and have limited knowledge of how to help (Lombardi, Murray, & Gerdes, 2011), but it has also been found that modest interventions can make substantial impacts on both the willingness of faculty to assist students with disabilities and the quality of that assistance (e.g., Milligan, 2010; Murray, Lombardi, & Wren, 2011). Surprisingly, we know very little about peer attitudes. There are no published studies on the views of accommodation by American college students.

                We have conducted three studies at our university to 1) describe how nondisabled peers view students with disabilities and the appropriateness of accommodations for them; 2) elucidate the underlying (mis)understandings students have about mental health issues and disability, and 3) suggest a way of supplementing introductory course material that will help explain the challenges of mental health issues in the context of college. By changing the understanding of disability and mental health challenges, we hope to change the attitudes toward students with mental health issues and thereby enhance the climate for them.

    A Survey of Attitudes

    In our first study we surveyed the opinions of 245 students about individuals with the “psychological” disabilities of depression, learning disabilities, ADHD, TBI, and autism spectrum disorders. The questionnaire focused on obtaining ratings of the acceptability of granting individuals with each of these disabilities 10 specific accommodations.  These ratings were on a 7-point scale, so scores of 4.00 or better were generally positive, while those below 4.00 were negative. The administration of the survey was done on-line using Qualtrics, and students enrolled in 100-level psychology courses participated for course credit.      

    We found little support for accommodations to persons with ADHD or depression. The mean ratings for the 10 accommodations were 3.44 (SD = 0.86) for depression and 3.62 (SD = 0.91) for ADHD. Traumatic brain injury (M = 4.87, SD = 1.10) and autism spectrum disorder (M = 4.91, SD = 1.03), however, received positive endorsements. The ratings for granting accommodations for learning disabilities were close to neutral (M = 4.32, SD = 1.02).  

                Across the five disabilities, there was little support for preferential registration (M = 3.37, SD = 1.27), waiving penalties for late papers (M = 3.25, SD = 1.07), or waiving graduation requirements (M = 2.74, SD = 1.31). Ratings for substitute activities for papers (M= 3.88, SD = 1.22), unlimited time on tests (M = 3.92, SD = 1.06), and waivers from dormitory residence requirements (M = 4.12, SD = 0.93) were rated neutrally, while note-takers (M = 4.62, SD = 1.00), oral tests (M = 4.63, SD = 1.26), quiet testing (M = 5.90, SD = 1.07), and 25% extra time on tests (M = 5.29, SD = 1.28) received positive views.

    Understanding the Results: Focus Groups

      In the second study, we conducted four focus groups, also drawn from the same introductory classes, to ask about the findings of the first study. All of the focus groups were conducted during the exam period, so all students had completed the course. We structured the focus groups around the following questions:
    1. Why were the ratings of giving accommodations low for students with depression, ADHD, and LD?
    2. Why were the ratings relatively high for TBI and Autism Spectrum Disorder?
    3. Why were the accommodations of waiving graduation requirements and penalties for late papers, and early registration rated so low?
    4. Why were quiet testing, oral tests, and note-takers rated so positively?
    5. Why were the accommodations of substitute activities for papers, unlimited time on tests, and waivers of the dormitory policy rated neutrally by other students?

    The reservations about granting accommodations to peers experiencing major depression were attributed to the idea that depression is “easy to fake” and that “everybody gets depressed.” The first of these beliefs is part of the widely researched phenomenon in both the educational and organizational literatures that people are more likely to assist when someone has a noticeable disability, such as an orthopedic or sensory disability, than one that cannot immediately be seen (Neely & Hunter, 2014). Both of these issues indicate how little students know about how disabilities or mental health issues are diagnosed, even after completing an introductory psychology course. Likewise, the belief that “everyone gets a little ADHD from time to time” and that ADHD was not only easy to fake, but was frequently faked, was expressed in all focus groups. Other students indicated that they believed that stimulant medication cured ADHD and therefore no further accommodations were necessary: “It’s just like having glasses for a vision problem: once you have them, you don’t need anything else.” The participants in the focus groups had little to illuminate why accommodations for learning disabilities received only neutral endorsements.

      When asked about the relatively high endorsement of accommodations for students with autism spectrum disorder and traumatic brain injury, two themes emerged. The first was references to media representations of the disorder (“It would be like asking Sheldon to survive having a roommate without the roommate agreement” or “Everyone’s seen things about concussions in the NFL”); the second was the expectation that these disorders would be visible (“If you’re around someone on the spectrum, you get it really quickly.” There appeared to be confusion in several students between traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

                As for accommodations themselves, there was nearly unanimous belief that all testing should be in quiet rooms for all students, with or without disabilities, and two of the focus groups turned into lengthy discussions of why faculty members tolerated distracting activities during tests. There was also nearly universal acceptance of oral tests, 25% extra time, and note takers. “If I miss a class, I get someone’s notes. That’s not a problem. If I have a broken arm, I take my tests orally. It doesn’t alter the playing field. If right before I turn an exam in, I change my mind about what I want to say in an essay, most professors would give you a little extra time. Some people need these things nearly all the time. Some of us only once in a great while.”

            Many of the less favored accommodations were seen through the lens of the social contract: different universities, programs, and majors had different graduation requirements. “Students know what they are getting into, therefore it isn’t fair for them to try to get out of (graduation) requirements.” The same went for course requirements, such as penalties for late papers, unlimited time on tests, and substituting activities for papers. “A paper is a paper,” one student said. “Sometimes that doesn’t matter, but if it’s an English course it sure does. As they say, you can’t dance about architecture.” Dormitory modifications were seen as impairments to developing “school spirit” and “not making them (students with disabilities) live in a dorm would be to deprive them of an important aspect of U life. Wouldn’t that be discrimination?”  Preferential registration received the least support in the focus groups. Here the most common theme was students’ worry that they would not be able to complete degree requirements because a person with a disability had gotten a seat in the class they needed, a highly unlikely event, given that most seniors need advanced courses in their majors to complete degrees.


              We were surprised at the negative tenor of the survey results. Indeed, with such negative attitudes, students’ worries about peers’ reactions to getting accommodations are well founded. And while the focus groups disclosed that many of the negative attitudes were due to misunderstanding of the process (“You shouldn’t get an advantage in a class just because you broke up with your boyfriend”) or of the nature of disabilities (“Why don’t they just take their meds?”), these attitudes are there unless the misunderstandings are addressed.

                But whose job is it to address them? Certainly, some of the responsibility falls to K-12 school systems. They have been giving accommodations to peers for 13 years prior to coming to college, largely without explaining any aspect of the process to classmates. Perhaps some of the responsibility at the university-level belongs to Orientation or the Office of Disability Services. While we would not suggest that psychology departments should take this on alone, a small amount of attention may produce substantial benefits. Psychologists have expertise in many facets of the accommodation process: We grasp the nature of disabilities; we understand effective instruction; we know about developing competence and expertise. We also understand the effects that marginalization and stigmatization and how disabilities and mental health issues affect learners well beyond the classroom: how they manage time, stress, and conflict. Even if we are not responsible for explaining the process, adding our perspective should help student developed deep and nuanced responses to the needs of their peers,

                In the third study we looked at whether a brief (1200 word), on-line, reading about the impact depression can have on college students can change attitudes. In this study we asked participants for both ratings of “how fair do you think it would be” to grant each of the same 10 accommodations as in the previous study, and we also asked for ratings of whether the student thought the intervention would be “helpful.”

            The reading addressed many of the issues that had arisen in the focus groups. For example, we emphasized that in order to receive accommodations for depression, there has to be a formal diagnosis by a psychiatrist, which includes a statement of the probable educational impact on the specific student in specific contexts, and that the condition has to exist over an extended period of time. We developed examples that included the classroom impact; out-of-class academic impact; as well as the effects on social interactions and relationships. We included visual illustrations and reinforced the material from the textbook (diagnostic criteria and incidence).  

                Those who read the materials about depression rated the accommodations for depression as significantly fairer (M = 4.58, SD = 0.88) than those who read an unrelated reading (M = 3.54, SD = 1.00). And while the composite of the 10 accommodations rated for helpfulness did not achieve significance, the ratings of waivers of penalties for late papers and unlimited time on tests, both frequent accommodations for depression, were rated significantly higher among those who completed the depression-related reading.

                We also looked at a similar reading about TBI, but that did not bring about significant changes, largely because endorsements were very high in both the control and readings conditions.

    These findings suggest, as usual, that additional investigations in the area are warranted as well as that on-line ancillary readings might be a profitable avenue of pursuit to develop students’ understanding of mental illness/disability and to increase social justice on campuses. As research, these studies are highly limited in that they look at only one institution, and many of the attitudes toward individuals with disabilities and accommodations are local: for example, large state institutions often do have problems with class availability which may affect views on  preferential registration that would not exist at small, private colleges. There are other accommodations that may be of more pressing concern in other places; for example, some institutions have begun to experiment with allowing students with TBI to receive financial aid while not being full-time enrolled. The processes we followed to develop the intervention (a survey to determine areas of concern; focus groups to get perspective on the problems; and a brief intervention targeting what was learned from the survey and focus groups) might have more generalizability.
    • Hartman-Hall, H. M., & Haaga, D. A. (2002). College students’ willingness to seek help   for their learning disability. Learning Disability Quarterly, 25, 263-274.         
    • Kurth, N., & Mellard, D. (2006). Students’ perceptions of the accommodation process in post secondary education. The Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 19, 71-84.
    • Lightner, K. L., Kipps-Vaughan, D., Schulte, T., & Trice, A. D. (2012). Reasons university students with a learning disability wait to seek disability services. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 25, 145-159.
    • Lombardi, A. R., Murray, C., & Gerdes, H. (2011). College faculty and inclusive   instruction: Self-reported attitudes and actions pertaining to universal design. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 4, 250-261.
    • May, A. L., & Stone, C. A. (2010) Stereotypes of individuals with learning disabilities: Views of college students with and without learning disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 43, 483-499.
    • Milligan, N. V. (2010). Effects of training about academic accommodations on perceptions and intentions of health science faculty. Journal of Allied Health, 39, 54-62
    • Murray, C., Lombardi, A., & Wren, C. T. (2011). The effects of disability focused training on the attitudes and perceptions of university staff. Remedial and Special Education, 32, 290-300.
    • Myers, D. G. (2014). Exploring psychology (9th ed.). New York: Worth.
    • Neely, B. H., & Hunter, S. T. (2014). In a discussion on invisible disabilities, let us not lose sight of employees on the autism spectrum. Industrial and Organizational Psychology: Perspectives on Science and Practice, 7, 274-277.
    • Quinlan, M. M., Bates, B. R., & Angell, M. E. (2012). ‘What can I do to help?’: Postsecondary students with learning disabilities’ perceptions of instructors’ classroom accommodations. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12, 224-233.
    • Sparks, R. L., & Lovell, B. J. (2009). College students with learning disabilities diagnoses: Who are they and how do they perform? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 42, 494-510.

    Authors’ note: Address correspondence to Dr. Ashton Trice at tricead@jmu.edu 

    Hunter Greer is a third year graduate student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at James Madison University, completing an internship at the counseling center at Bridgewater College.
    Ashton Trice is a Professor in the Graduate Psychology Department at James Madison University where he teaches developmental and educational psychology courses in the school psychology program. He received his doctorate in Educational Psychology from West Virginia University. His primary interests are career development among adolescents with disabilities and media influences on mood and cognition.

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