Welcome to the GSTA blog! 

In an effort to keep the Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA) blog current, we regularly welcome submissions from graduate students as well as full-time faculty. As a blog team, we advocate for and promote inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in pedagogy (see updated GSTA Position Statement from the Steering Committee). At this critical juncture in history, we have declared our solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and are motivated to use this platform to feature voices for change in the following areas as outlined by the GSTA:

  • Suggestions relating to decolonizing syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds.

  • Tips on adopting anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.

  • Recommendations on creating inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity and do not tolerate discrimination.

  • Strategies on discussing how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us  with students and colleagues.

  • Tips on engaging with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in classrooms, institutions, and communities.

  • Input on being compassionate and supportive to students, colleagues, and ourselves during these times.

We are also still committed to diversifying blog content to include submissions ranging from new research in the area of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL), public interest topics related to teaching and psychology, occasional book reviews, as well as continuing our traditional aim by including posts about teaching tips. Example topic areas include:

  • Highlights of your current SoTL research

  • Issues related to teaching and psychology in the public interest

  • Reviews of recent books related to teaching and psychology

  • Teaching tips and best practices for today's classroom

  • Advice for successfully navigating research and teaching demands of graduate school

  • We would especially like activities that align with APA 2.0 Guidelines!

The blog posts are typically short, ranging from about 500-1000 words, not including references. As it is an online medium, in-text hyperlinks, graphics, and even links to videos are strongly encouraged!

As we focus the spotlight on inclusion and non-discrimination, we will continue to provide  graduate students and faculty an outlet to share their experiences, ideas, and opinions regarding graduate students’ teaching practices.

If you would like for any questions to be addressed, you can send them to and we will post them as a comment on your behalf. If you are interested in submitting a post, please email us at 

Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Hallie Jordan, Sarah Frantz, Maya Rose, Raoul RobertsTashiya Hunter, Laura Mason and Megan Nadzan

Follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.

  • 16 Sep 2019 5:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Danae L. Hudson, Ph.D., Missouri State University

    As a graduate student, could you articulate the processes you use to learn? I’m definitely not talking about the “won’t-ever-die-myth of learning styles.” Instead, think about how you study. Why do you do what you do and where did you learn those approaches? I would guess that many of you would respond with, “I just figured it out along the way by what worked and what didn’t.” If we were to take a closer look, you probably utilize several evidence-based study strategies from learning/cognitive science. You are most likely engaging in some form of deep processing of the information, while connecting that information to previously learned material. You may have the best of intentions of spacing out your practice (whether that actually happens is another story, but you know that you should.) And, you have probably attempted to get your hands on any old/practice tests because you’ve learned that answering test questions helps prepare you for the exam. Prior to starting graduate school, did anyone ever specifically teach you how to study? Probably not. Now let’s remember, you’re in graduate school because you’ve demonstrated yourself to be bright and hardworking. You are not the average student……Being “the average” student isn’t bad, but as instructors, we often have to remind ourselves that our own experience is not representative of the average student’s experience. In most cases, students aren’t taught explicit study strategies or anything about how learning and memory works. Further, they often don’t have the experience of figuring it out on their own.

    Should I Teach Learning Science in Every Course?

    Yes. Part of our role as instructors involves teaching and modeling for students, important life skills. Most people would agree that teaching students how to think critically and evaluate information is at least as important as learning the content of your course. Discussing how memory works and how learning occurs is an important precursor to teaching good, evidence-based study skills. You might think, “Well, I teach an upper division course so surely these students know these principles already.” I can guarantee you that is mostly likely not the case. Even the strongest students will likely pick up something new when you present the information (just like you do when you go to a conference on a topic in your area of expertise).

    How Should I Approach Teaching About Learning Science?

    There are many approaches to teaching about learning science. It is best if you use a variety of methods spaced throughout the semester. In our Introductory Psychology program at Missouri State University, we use a combination of informal instruction (e.g., using learning science principles to illustrate other psychological concepts, one-on-one discussions with students) and traditional classroom activities and assignments to infuse learning science throughout the semester. Our students are exposed to the topic of learning science on the first day of class because improving students’ study skills is one of our course objectives! We explain that Introductory Psychology is a logical choice to tackle this important life skill because of the content of the course (e.g., including the topics of learning and memory) and because students typically take this course early in college.

    Classroom Examples and Demonstrations

    Whenever possible, we use examples from cognitive science to demonstrate difficult concepts. For example, I recently adapted Stephen Chew’s multitasking demo (the link to this demo is provided at the end of this blog) to explain some concepts associated with research design. While students learned about between-subjects and within-subjects designs, they also learned (by experiencing) that multitasking is nothing more than shifting attention and overall, quite inefficient.

    A Study Skills Class

    One week after the first exam in Introductory Psychology, we hold a “Study Skills Class” for students. The class is optional, but we really talk it up to students and give extra credit for attending. We typically have about 75% of our 330 students attend this class. The timing of this study skills class is important. You can’t offer it too early because students will think they don’t need it (due to poor metacognition). We have found after the first exam is a time when we have their attention and they still have plenty of time left in the semester to make changes. In this class we focus on the most important principles from learning science (e.g., strategies to enhance deep processing, retrieval practice, distributed practice) and give specific examples of how students could incorporate these strategies and apply it to their current class.

    Additional Readings and Assignments

    The textbook we use has a prologue chapter called “Learning How to Learn.” It is a brief chapter that addresses important concepts from learning science and provides students with practical advice to enhance their study skills. We assign this chapter and the accompanying quiz questions as extra credit that is due after the second exam.

    A Midterm Wrapper

    An exam wrapper is a post-exam assignment where students reflect on their performance with the goal of improving metacognition and subsequent grades. While the empirical literature is a little mixed regarding the efficacy of exam wrappers (e.g., LaCaille, LaCaille, & Maslowski, 2019; Pate, Lafitte, Ramachandran, & Caldwell, 2019; Soicher & Gurung, 2017), we have found a variant of this assignment to be a useful component to our class. Our midterm wrapper consists of students completing a worksheet detailing every grade they have in the class so far. They are asked to calculate their current grade and figure out how many points they would need to earn in the rest of the class to obtain their desired grade. We also ask about their current study skills and if they are unhappy with their performance so far, ask them to commit to trying something new before the next exam. This is a required assignment but worth a very small percentage (i.e., 0.5%) of the students’ overall course grade.

    Individual Student Meetings

    We have all experienced the student in our office who says, “I studied for hours and thought I did really well on the exam, but I got a D.” I always use these opportunities to discuss the concept of metacognition with students. I explain that what they experienced was a “metacognitive failure” (it sounds dramatic and gets their attention). I use this time with the student to discuss evidence-based study strategies that can help improve metacognition. I ask students to commit to trying some of these strategies in preparing for the next exam and to let me know how it worked for them. I warn them that these strategies take practice, so it will take time to develop their skills. Students often do seek me out later to let me know that what they did “worked!” For me, these are the moments that remind me of the value we, as educators, bring to students’ lives.

    Regardless of your background in psychology, I hope this blog has convinced you of the importance of bringing the principles from learning/cognitive science into each and every course you teach. If you are interested in the multitasking demo I described and other lesson plans for improving student study skills, please see this document prepared by Stephen Chew and Guy Boysen. This document is part of the many resources available as part of the Fall Pilot from APA’s Introductory Psychology Initiative (IPI). The goal of the IPI is to have instructors from a variety of institutions involved in implementing the new Student Learning Outcomes (SLOs) and their assessments in their Introductory Psychology classes. Initially, we will be collecting data from these instructors and their students about their experience with the student learning outcomes. If you’d like more information, or would like to be involved in an upcoming pilot of the program, please visit


    LaCaille, R. A., LaCaille, L., & Maslowski, A. (2019). The effect of exam and quiz wrappers on metacognition, learning perceived competence, and course performance in online undergraduate psychology courses. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology.

    Pate, A., Lafitte, E. M., Ramachandran, S., & Caldwell, D. J. (2019). The use of exam wrappers to promote metacognition. Currents in Pharmacy Teaching and Learning11, 492-498.

    Soicher, R. N., & Gurung, R. A. (2017). Do exam wrappers increase metacognition and performance? A single course intervention. Psychology Learning & Teaching16, 64-73.

    Danae Hudson is a Professor in the Department of Psychology at Missouri State University. She teaches large sections of Introductory Psychology in addition to other clinical psychology undergraduate and graduate courses. Dr. Hudson is the Graduate Program Director for Clinical Psychology at MSU, serves as the Director of Teaching Resources for the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP), and is a member of APA’s Introductory Psychology Initiative committee. She is the co-author of Revel Psychology 1e published by Pearson Education.

  • 09 Sep 2019 6:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Garth Neufeld, Psychology Faculty, Cascadia College

    First Thing’s First

    After 15 years in the classroom, I have some thoughts about ice-breaker activities:

    I do not like them.

    Students do not like them.

    Why? Because they are usually superficial while simultaneously forcing us all out of our comfort zones and perhaps even asking questions that we either don’t want to answer publicly or don’t know the answers to. And so, it turns out that the social risk is high and the social reward is low. Additionally, too often the person leading the activity has not thought through the point of the activity and how it fits into the course. “Welcome to class, now pair up with a stranger and share about your life,” is not a great setup for a meaningful activity.

    Here’s an icebreaker rule I subscribe to: if I’m bored, then my student are twice as bored. And going around the room talking about what you are studying or what you ate for dinner last night is boring. No one cares. In some ways, I think a bad icebreaker leaves the impression that the course will be unengaging and unimportant.

    Still, the ice-breaker is widely used because it is important. Spending all of our time on the first day of class merely reading through the syllabus, or worse, dismissing students early with no meaningful learning experience or connection to the course, is a missed opportunity. So, it is my opinion that we should be looking for high quality ice-breakers that check many of the boxes that we hope to accomplish on the first day of class.

    The Speed Dating Ice-Breaker

    This activity seems to work for me and my students are surprised by how much fun they have at it. As we do this activity on the first day of class, I invite them to “trust me” even they don’t know me. A couple of things that this activity has going for it is that it is fast-paced and it touches on things that students are genuinely interested in and can easily share. It also reminds students that they are interesting and have something valuable to contribute!

    To set this up, I have my 30-ish students get into pairs and stand across from one another in two lines of 15. Then, I give each student a piece of paper with a question on it. I choose one line of students to ask their question first – they will also be the students who will be moving between questions. This line of students asks their partner their question. For example, “if you could live anywhere in the world, where would you live and why?” The partner then answers until 30 seconds is up and you, the teacher, says, “switch.” Now the other partner asks her question. Thirty seconds later, you call out “rotate,” and the one student line takes a step down to the next person, while the person at the very end of the line rotates to the beginning. This goes on again, and again, until all 15 students have engaged with 15 other students.

    After the activity is over, we have a class-wide conversation (sometimes small groups first) about what kinds of things we learned through the activity. You can ask any questions here, like, “did anyone get a really interesting answer to a question they asked?” I will also lead a conversation about what kinds of skills students displayed in the activity. Then, I talk about the relevance of those skills to this particular course and to learning in general. I also encourage students to follow up with others who they found to be interesting! Finally, in a “lightning round,” I allow students to ask me any of the questions that they were asking each other. This proves to be a great way for them to get to know me.

    Here are some sample questions. Some I stole and some I wrote, though I can’t remember which are which. Feel free to write your own questions and to be creative. But, keep in mind the diversity of your student body and avoid any questions that can obviously make students feel uncomfortable. Remember, our questions can quickly become biased to our particular worldview or assumptions. (Someday, I might have students create and submit their own questions to use for speed dating.)

    Some Questions

    What is your favorite thing to do around town?

    Are you more of a morning person or a night person?

    If you could visit any place in this world, where would you go and why?

    What is something you're passionate about?

    What is something you’re most knowledgeable about?

    What is something good that happened to you today?

    What show or shows do you watch religiously?

    What is something you wish you could change in today's world?

    Can you tell me some things about your family?

    What are some little things that bring happiness into your everyday life?

    What do you do for a typical night out with your friends?

    Where did you grow up? What was it like?

    Which animated character should portray you in a documentary about your life?

    What was an embarrassing moment of your life?

    What is your most random, silly childhood memory?

    Do you break any traffic rules if there is no cop around? Which ones?

    We’re at a restaurant and you find a hair in your food, how do you react?

    What is one thing that you absolutely cannot stand?

    If you were any superhero, who would you be?

    Garth Neufeld teaches at Cascadia College in Washington State. He is the founder of Teaching Introductory Psychology Northwest, the co-founder of the PsychSessions podcast, and the co-founder of the non-profit organization Shared Space For All, for which he received an APA Citizen Psychologist Presidential Citation. Garth is the co-chair of APA’s Introductory Psychology Initiative and the recipient of the 2019 STP Wayne Weiten Teaching Excellence Award.

  • 26 Aug 2019 5:05 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Tim Lawson, Ph.D., Mount St. Joseph University

    Many years ago I discovered that even my brightest seniors believed in psychic powers and other paranormal and pseudoscientific phenomena. It was then that I realized the importance of teaching students about the differences between science and pseudoscience, and teaching them to think critically about such phenomena. 

    I am always looking for ways to make my psychology courses more fun, engaging, and effective for enhancing student learning, and pseudoscience and paranormal phenomena are topics that help accomplish all of those goals. These topics are interesting and grab students’ attention while helping us teach students critical thinking principles (e.g., considering alternative explanations, examining assumptions, and recognizing weaknesses in anecdotal evidence) as well as scientific principles (e.g., placebo effects, the necessity of control groups, and the importance of double-blind procedures).  

    I thought I would share with you some of my favorite demonstrations and activities related to pseudoscience and paranormal phenomena, which I have researched and found to be quite effective. My hope is that you might find them useful for courses you teach.

    1. In my Introduction to Psychology course, I do a very believable, but fake, psychic reading after we cover the topics of perception and extrasensory perception. Prior to the class, I gather information about one particular student (using public sources, such as the internet and students' Facebook sites that are open to the public). In class, I tell them that I’ve been practicing my psychic reading skills, and then I “randomly” chose a student (whom I actually selected before class – but the students don’t know this) and bring that person to the front of the room. I ask the student to give some personal item (e.g., car keys) that I can hold to get “psychic vibes.” I start my reading with “cold reading” techniques, in which I say several general statements that seem specific but actually apply to most people (e.g., “ I see that you have a very flexible personality, sometimes you are fairly outgoing and other times you are more reserved”). Then I begin getting much more specific, acting as if I’m seeing details about them that I actually gathered in advance from my research (e.g., “I’m seeing you on the gym floor of a school that looks like it might be your high school. I see a mean-looking cat, like a wildcat, on the wall, and I see you standing there in a basketball jersey that is red and black. I see a number on the jersey, it’s a 1 and another 1; did you wear number 11?”). After the reading, I ask students whether the accuracy of a reading constitutes solid evidence of psychic abilities and whether there are alternative explanations for accurate statements. I admit that I have no psychic abilities, and we discuss “cold reading” techniques and “hot reading” techniques (and I explain how I obtained my information). 

    2. Another fun demonstration I use after talking about sensation in Introduction to Psychology involves water dowsing. I explain to them that dowsing involves finding hidden objects (e.g., underground water or metal) using metal or wooden rods. I tell students that I’m going to demonstrate dowsing for water, and I pull out two L-shaped metal rods I made from coat hangers. I place two blue plastic cups on a table in front of me and show them that one contains water and the other contains sugar. I then demonstrate that my dowsing rods cross each other when they are over the cup with water, but the rods stay parallel to one another when they are over sugar. I invite three students, one at time, to come up and try the dowsing rods; they typically experience the rods crossing over the water but not over the sugar. I set the cups aside on a computer kiosk, and then I ask students whether this is convincing evidence that dowsing rods detect water, and invite them to generate alternative explanations. After we discuss their answers, I explain that dowsing is supposed to find hidden objects, so I cover the cups and put them back on the table. I mention that I’m putting them back in the same position, but I actually switch the position of the cups. Then I demonstrate, once again, that the rods cross over the cup containing “water” (it’s actually sugar) and not the cup containing “sugar” (it’s actually water). I invite the same three students back to the front of the room and they also experience the dowsing rods crossing over the “water” and not the “sugar.” I reveal that the cups had been switched, and we talk about the ideomotor effect (i.e. how our ideas or expectations cause involuntary and unconscious motor activity). I also discuss how the ideomotor effect is related to Ouija boards and Facilitated Communication. 

    3. In my Research II course, I tell students about the Power Balance Wristband (PBW), which has holographic disks that supposedly improve people’s balance, strength, and flexibility. I bring a PBW to class and demonstrate on a volunteer student how the student’s balance, strength, and flexibility actually improves when the wristband is on his or her wrist compared to when there is no wristband on the student. I invite students to consider whether the PBW actually works or whether there are alternative explanations, and I have them write down their ideas for designing a quick experiment (using the same tests of balance, strength, and flexibility that I conducted) to determine whether the PBW actually works. Then I review a number of important research-design concepts that they learned earlier in our research courses (e.g., control groups, control variables, chance effects, experimenter expectations, double-blind procedures). I ask them to get into small groups to decide on an experimental design to test the effect of the PBW. I have them report out their designs, I select one of them, and the students conduct it in class. Afterward, we discuss whether their design utilized all of the important research design concepts we covered and how we might improve upon their design. I also explain that the PBW does not actually work, and I demonstrate how I made it seem effective by subtly influencing the student’s balance and strength, without the student’s awareness, during my initial demonstration. 

    I hope I have given you some useful ideas for how you might teach students critical thinking while exploring differences between science and pseudoscience in a fun, engaging, and educational manner. If you would like to read more about these demonstrations and activities, as well as the research I have conducted on their effectiveness, please consult the following references:


    Lawson, T. J., Blackhart, G. C., & Gialopsos, B. M.  (2016). Using the Power Balance wristband to improve students’ research-design skills. Teaching of Psychology, 43, 318-322. doi:10.1177/0098628316662763

    Lawson, T. J., & Crane, L. L.  (2014). Dowsing rods designed to sharpen critical thinking and understanding of ideomotor action.  Teaching of Psychology, 41, 52-56. doi: 10.1177/0098628313514178

    Lawson, T. J. (2003). A psychic-reading demonstration designed to encourage critical thinking. Teaching of Psychology, 30, 251-253.

    Tim Lawson is Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Mount St. Joseph University in Cincinnati, OH.  He is an award-winning teacher and scholar, and was recently awarded the Robert S. Daniel Teaching Excellence Award from APA’s Division 2.  Dr. Lawson is the author of two books, Scientific Perspectives on Pseudoscience and the Paranormal and Statistical Reasoning in Everyday Life.  He has published dozens of research studies in professional journals, such as Teaching of Psychology, and has been an invited speaker at many conferences on a range of topics, including social perception, statistical reasoning, and the teaching of psychology.

  • 12 Aug 2019 1:10 PM | Anonymous

    Jason Todd, Ph.D., Xavier University of Louisiana

    One of my favorite professors in college was a guy named Harry Cargas. I attended a small liberal arts school in St. Louis called Webster University. Harry was a bit of a superstar, both on campus and around the world. He'd written numerous books about the Holocaust. He was good friends with Elie Wiesel, Kurt Vonnegut, and Václav Havel. He was an incredibly nice guy, accessible and easy to talk to, even for a shy first-year student. I took way too many Harry Cargas classes -- Holocaust Literature; Utopias and Dystopias; The Novels of Kurt Vonnegut. Eventually, my advisor told me I couldn't minor in Harry Cargas.

    But he was also a bit of a stereotype. Although he bore a striking resemblance to Paolo Freire, he embodied the very thing Paolo Freire criticized in Pedagogy of the Oppressed when he spoke of the Banking Concept of Education. At Webster, most of the English classes met in a building called Pearson House, which was actually a house donated by some people named Pearson that was used for classrooms and offices. All of Harry's classes were in the evenings, once a week, 4:00-8:00, taught in the Pearson's former living room. Harry sat at a desk on the dais in front of the fireplace. Every week, we would read a different novel and then listen to Harry up there on his dais talk about his thoughts on the novel. He was, quite literally, the Sage on the Stage, sharing his knowledge with his students.

    What's all this have to do with writing assignments, you might be asking? Harry used writing the way a lot of faculty use writing: as a means of summative assessment, as a way to see if the students have learned what they were supposed to learn. I did some digging through my files recently, and found one of his old assignment sheets.

    This is an extreme example, I know, but one worth considering when we assign writing to our students. We need to ask ourselves what it is we are hoping to accomplish with the assignment. Is this it? Are we just assigning a paper to see if they've learned enough from our class? If so, why a writing assignment? Why not just a multiple-choice test? Or, are we hoping to do more? Are we challenging them to more deeply explore a topic that was brought up in class? Are we hoping to see them flex their critical thinking muscles by making connections between what was read, what was discussed, and what they've found through their own research? Are we evaluating their ability to do that research? Are we assessing how well they can express complex ideas through the dialect of academic writing? Are we, possibly, trying to get our students to establish a connection between their real lives and this strange world of academia in which they find themselves?

    All these things, I'd argue, are possible through writing assignments (although perhaps not all at once), but not if we simply tell the students to write something, which is what Harry used to tell us to do.

    A few years ago, three faculty members from three very different institutions decided to see if they could figure out what made writing assignments "meaningful" to their students. By thinking in terms of meaningfulness, these researchers were looking for assignments that weren't simply "useful" or "enjoyable," but that had some kind of lasting impact on the students (Eodice, Geller, & Lerner, 2017b). Ultimately, the researchers identified several key findings as to what made a writing assignment meaningful to students:

    ●        They are unique/different from other writing assignments.

    ●        They enable the students to integrate their personal interests.

    ●        They allow students to explore course content more thoroughly.

    ●        They give students some freedom to approach the assignment in their 

               own unique way (Eodice, Geller, & Lerner, 2017a).

    At the same time, researchers at the University of Nevada - Las Vegas were investigating how any academic assignment could be made more accessible and understandable to students. This research, led by Mary-Ann Winkelmes, identified the need for greater "transparency" in the way we make our assignments. According to Winkelmes, by specifically explaining the purpose for an assignment, by clearly explaining the steps we expect the student to take in order to complete the assignment, and by thoroughly describing how we will evaluate the final product, we make it much more likely that students, especially first-generation and under-prepared students, will succeed with those assignments (Winkelmes, 2014).

    By blending these two novel concepts -- meaningfulness and transparency -- we can design writing assignments that will not only more accurately demonstrate what our students have learned, but will also challenge our students to do their best, most engaged work. As an example, let's think about what Harry's assignment might have looked like had he had access to this recent research. For brevity's sake, I'll just think about the purpose statement here.

    Purpose: The purpose of this assignment is to challenge you to apply your understanding of the conventions of Holocaust literature by analyzing a specific work within that genre. While we have discussed each of the assigned texts in class, we have only skimmed the surface of each. This assignment will enable you to dive deeply into one of them, while also demonstrating your ability to do literary research and to integrate that research into your writing. Finally, this assignment will also give you the opportunity to flex your writing muscles by engaging as an equal with some of the best Holocaust writers and scholars.

    The purpose statement is a critical component of transparent assignments. Instead of simply saying, "Do this because I'm telling you to do this," you're saying, "Here's why I want you to do this." But it's also a great opportunity for you to justify the meaningfulness of the assignment. I'm asking students to make a personal connection with one of the novels (and giving them the opportunity to choose that novel). Notice some of the language here: the students are being challenged and enabled, as well as being given a great opportunity. But I'm also explaining the real purpose of the assignment: analysis, research, and writing. By writing this statement out, I'm giving my students a sense of what exactly I'm looking for with this assignment, but I'm also spelling out for myself (and them) how I will be evaluating the assignment. Once students know what's expected of them, they can start thinking about how to make their final product unique to them.

    I loved Harry as a professor, and after my second or third class with him, I knew how to write a paper for him that would get me an A, but I don't remember what any of those papers were about. And while I can't ensure that every one of my students will feel this way, I want to do my best to make sure my teaching and my assignments have a lasting impact on them. By applying the findings from the researchers behind The Meaningful Writing Project and Transparency in Learning and Teaching, I think I'm closer to achieving that goal.


    Eodice, M., Geller, A. E., & Lerner, N. (2017a). Findings. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from

    Eodice, M., Geller, A. E., & Lerner, N. (2017b). The Meaningful Writing Project Learning, Teaching and Writing in Higher Education. Norman, UT: Utah State University Press.

    Winkelmes, M. (2014). TILT Higher Ed Examples and Resources. Retrieved August 6, 2019, from

    Jason Todd studied writing with Frederick and Steven Barthelme and Mary Robison at the Center for Writers at the University of Southern Mississippi. His fiction has appeared in journals such as Southern California Review, Chicago Quarterly Review, Fiction Weekly, and 971 Magazine. Since 2007, he has been a member of Department of English at Xavier, where he teaches American Literature, Freshman Composition, Modern English Grammars, and The Graphic Novel and Social Justice. From 2007 to 2010, he served as Xavier's Writing Center Director. From 2010 until 2015, he served as QEP Director, managing Xavier's Read Today, Lead Tomorrow initiative. In 2015, he became the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Faculty Development's first Associate Director for Programming. As Associate Director for Programming, Dr. Todd assists in providing high-quality, relevant, evidence-based programming in support of CAT+FD's mission to serve faculty across all career stages and areas of professional responsibility.

  • 16 Jul 2019 1:12 PM | Anonymous

    Wind Goodfriend, Ph.D., Buena Vista University

    Every year, around 1.5 million students take Introductory Psychology (Intro) classes (Gurung et al., 2016). Given that about 5% of all college students are psychology majors, the vast majority of students in those Intro classes are not actually particularly interested in psychology. Instead, they are taking it as a general requirement toward graduation.

    Those of us who teach Intro are lucky enough to know that we benefit from inherently interesting material. Personality, mental health issues, how memory works, close relationships, group decision making—almost every chapter in an Intro class should be fascinating and relatable to college students. That said, those of us who teach Intro also know that the ideal situation of every student sitting on the edge of their seat with excitement is, sometimes, not quite reality.

    I’ve been teaching Intro for twenty years now, and I’ve stumbled upon a few secrets that seem to help my students stay engaged. Today I want to share one of my favorite “tricks” – one that is often mentioned as a huge positive in my student evaluations at the end of the semester. I call it intermission.

    Because I know that most of the students in my class aren’t psych majors, and because I ban all electronic devices (minus 5 points each time I catch you!), I feel a responsibility to be as engaging, entertaining, and exciting as possible for my students. I want them to really love my class, despite the fact that it’s challenging at times. Most importantly, I know that I need to keep their attention throughout. In a world where attention spans seem to shrink a little each year, I’ve created a simple technique that seems to really help them get engaged, right when attention seems to slip.

    Approximately half-way through the class, I suddenly call “intermission.” My students know it’s coming around then, so they start to perk up about 20 minutes in, waiting with anticipation for when it’s going to arrive (which means, again, they start paying attention again). Intermission is structured to be about 60 seconds of something completely irrelevant and, frankly, a little silly. I assure the students that the intermission material is not going to be on the test; it’s honestly a time to just take a quick mental break and bond with the class.

    If you want to try this, I suggest choosing intermission topics that really speak to your own interests and personality, so they seem relatively authentic. I also suggest that you steer away from political issues or anything that might be controversial. Intermission is supposed to be light-hearted fun, during which I often use self-deprecating humor. Here are some examples from my own class:

    • Ask the class who would win in a fight: Gandalf or Dumbledore.
    • Show pictures of cute baby animals, with a funny song in the background.
    • Summarize a Shakespearean play in 60 seconds or less.
    • Ask them to turn to a neighbor and describe what country they’d most like to visit, and why.
    • A brief history of the “Smurfs” cartoon and why they are racist.
    • Sing a song together, like “Soft Kitty” (from the Big Bang Theory; you can put the lyrics up on the projector).
    • Ask them to turn to a neighbor and explain whether they’d rather be a vampire or a werewolf.
    • Show pictures of animals dressed up in cute Halloween costumes.
    • Debate with them about what the best superpower would be, and why.
    • Show them embarrassing pictures of you as a child.
    • Show them photos of 1800s-era Presidents and have them choose which is the “hottest.”

    Again – these are all very silly. But that’s kind of the point. You have to be willing to play along with this activity, showing some vulnerability in your own silliness. But it’s a way to show the students your sense of humor, your approachability, and your acknowledgment that Intro can be a lot of material. By breaking up a long lecture into two parts, you get their attention back after the intermission; you don’t lose them for the 10-15 minutes right in the middle of your class. And honestly, my students seem to really love the relaxed nature of the class and the fun, nerdy surprise they get each day. If you want to spice up their attention in a fun way, it’s worth a try! Even if you don’t do it every single day, peppering in intermissions every few days, at random, will give the students something to look forward to, and something that gets their brains back in the game.


    Gurung, R. A. R., Hackathorn, J., Enns, C., Frantz, S., Cacioppo, J. T., Loop, T., & Freeman, J. E. (2016). Strengthening introductory psychology: A new model for teaching the introductory course. American Psychologist, 71(2), 112-124.

    Wind Goodfriend is a full professor of psychology and division chair of social sciences at Buena Vista University in Iowa. She has won the “Faculty of the Year” award there three times so far, and was the recipient of the 2001 Wythe Teacher of the Year award. Her new co-authored textbook Social Psychology won the 2019 Most Promising New Textbook award.

  • 03 Jun 2019 8:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Janet Peters, Ph.D.

    The first time I taught statistics, I was intimidated by the course. I knew the reputation statistics courses have with psych majors and I didn’t want to teach a class that students thought was boring, impossible, and intimidating (the irony that I was experiencing the exact same feelings was completely lost on me). So, I was prepared for the worst – student anxiety, reluctance, or possible mutiny. The first day of school was approaching and I braced myself for impact. After a few weeks of getting the hang of the course, I realized that teaching statistics is actually WONDERFUL. No one had told me that it could be enjoyable! Or maybe they did tell me, and I just didn’t listen (and now that I think about it, that’s way more likely). Thus, this blog post is about throwing out misperceptions and infusing fun into your stats class.

    I’ve broken this post into three parts for you: (1) the basics (easiest and least investment); (2) next level applications (creating course content that uses real applications); and (3) advanced applications (wonderfully fun course projects that require more planning and commitment). You can think of it as an a la carte menu – take what you like and leave the rest.

    Just remember that there is no panacea for creating the perfect course or getting students to understand content; we can only take small, measurable steps in the right direction. I hope you can find one idea that helps refresh your teaching or inspires you to add a little zest to your class because we all love a little fun!

    Making it fun: The basics

    When I think about the easiest way to infuse fun into my own statistics courses, I think of three basic approaches: pop culture, quirky examples, and food.

    Infusing pop-culture can be a lot of fun as you get to engage students with the content using readily available examples from the world around them. For example, I made a Disney themed worksheet to help students practice the scales of measurement. Practice questions might include “A magic mirror that rates the fairest of them all on a 1-7 Likert scale” or “The length of Rapunzel’s hair.” Both questions include elements from Disney cartoons, but answering the questions is not dependent upon that knowledge. The key here is that your items should be inclusive; anyone should be able to answer the questions, even if they’ve never seen a Disney movie. Yet if they are familiar with the examples, it makes the practice more fun and less mundane.

    If you find it difficult to include pop culture, you can always find other fun, quirky examples that might interest your students. For example, when I teach students about z-scores, we do an example using Bigfoot sightings in Washington State (where we are located). This is because one of my institution’s more unique historical claims-to-fame is that we were home to the world’s foremost bigfootologist, Dr. Grover Krantz. In honor of this legacy and to learn about z-scores, we analyze data compiled by the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (seriously, this is real data from a real organization). We use the total number of Bigfoot sightings by county to calculate z-scores, including how many Bigfoot sightings are in the county we live in (below average, by the way!). The students love this activity because it’s unique and the research comes from our home institution.

    If you don’t have the luxury of having a notable bigfootologist, I’m sure there are other examples you can draw upon that are unique – any interesting research your university has produced? Any famous people or alumni from your university or area? Any campus-specific issues you could play with (for example, at a previous institution, students were heavily invested in athletic team rivalries, so I often used examples that played off the good-natured rivalry). The key here is to find examples that are special to your context: your school, your city/state, etc.

    Coming up with pop culture and quirky examples can be tough, so you can always rely on the time-tested approach of using food and candy. For example, I’ve used M&Ms to demonstrate sampling with replacement and Skittle flavors to demonstrate ANOVAs. Once, I used pizza to demonstrate the difference between samples (a single slice) compared to the actual population (the whole pizza). Granted, I tend to have small class sizes, but you could get creative (more on this later).

    Making it fun: Next level applications

    The abstract nature of statistics can lead students to perceive the course as difficult and detached from their everyday lives and professional future. They can generally understand how statistics relates to research, but students rarely feel an immediate and personal connection to the course content. As a result, students often underappreciate the personal and professional benefits that statistics offer. Thus, to help students understand the importance and relevance of stats, I try to create content that helps them see that statistics are all around us – from the way politicians use polling data, to influencing the death penalty in Florida.

    One way to incorporate applications into your course is to think about creating content that is relevant and personally meaningful. In class, I use examples from wedding, housing, and job websites to show them how different markets exploit statistics to alter consumer perceptions and behavior.

    For example, we use national data to examine student loan debt using a variety of tools (depending on where we are in the semester, we might use z-scores, t-tests, correlations, etc.). You can also use less serious examples. For homework assignments, I’ve been able to find user data on companies such as Netflix, Facebook, and Tinder. The degree to which students use or are familiar with these companies varies, but they provide real data that comes from the type of news articles the average consumer is likely to encounter.

    I also have students make their own connections between their lives and course content. One way I do this is to assign pre-lecture activities (PLAs) based on the readings/content that I want students to complete before class. The students can do WHATEVER they want to show me they have read or watched the lecture as long as their submission applies the concepts they learned (the submission cannot just regurgitate definitions).

    The PLAs provide the structure for students to dig a little deeper and look at their world through the lens of statistics. It takes a little getting used to for the students, but I’ve had some amazing student work come out of this. For example, students have submitted a script for a Parks & Recreation (TV show) episode where the characters explained t-tests, an essay on how Eminem's newest album demonstrated different scales of measurement, an animated YouTube video with 3-D animation, cookies baked in the shape of different distributions, and a PowerPoint presentation that used the history of beauty pageants to explain descriptive statistics. I am absolutely stunned at the talent of my students and I find myself looking forward to grading these assignments.

    It’s important to note that not all students produce creative submissions, but ALL submissions are applied examples of the concepts. In general, students seem to really enjoy the PLAs. Some students like them because it gives them the chance to be creative and some students like them because it helps them prepare for class and/or the exams. Either way, I love PLAs because they inject an element of fun (they are my very favorite thing to grade), while also meeting my desire to have students apply the material and come to class prepared.

    Making it fun: Advanced applications

    After teaching statistics for several semesters and solidifying the foundation of my course, I found myself looking for more. I wanted students to be able to work on a project they enjoyed, that increased their understanding of course content, helped them understand how to apply statistics to realistic problems, and helped them develop professional skills that would be marketable post-graduation. From this, my service-learning project was born. To date, I’ve paired with local, non-profit health clinics, homeless shelters, and youth mentoring programs.

    Each semester, someone from the organization visits our class to introduce themselves and the mission of the organization, we take a tour of the facility, and we spend one day volunteering for the organization. In class, we spend lab time each week analyzing data from the organization and writing up results. At the end of the semester, students present their findings to the organization and work together to write a white paper.

    This project is classified under the advanced applications because although these semester-long projects are some of the most fun, rewarding, and valuable work that I have done as a professor, it is also a lot of labor. Coordinating communication, meetings, data, and volunteering can be time consuming. The data provided are often messy and the findings inconclusive (though a great exercise for students!). If you’re interested in incorporating fun in this way, I encourage you to take it slowly, make sure you have a strong connection with your community partner, and only commit to a few small assignments. If you and your students enjoy the project and as you gain experience, you can always add more elements each semester.


    There is no “one-size-fits-all” solution for teaching. You might have different interests, a different student population, different institutional support, different class sizes, or any other of a variety of factors that influence the way we teach. The key here is to adapt as necessary. I’ve presented you with some ways in which I have made my own class more fun, but you should do what makes sense for you and your students. A few things to keep in mind…

    • The work matters most. You can have the most fun class in the world, but none of that matters if you aren’t achieving your learning outcomes. So, before you go wild in trying to find fun examples and activities, set up your foundation first. Identify your learning outcomes and ensure that the content you cover reflects those outcomes. Once you’ve built that framework, you can then look up all sorts of fun stuff.
    • Finding the fun stuff. I spend a lot of time on the internet (too much?), so I’ve built myself a cache of great resources. If you’re having trouble coming up with your own examples, don’t fret. There are lots of great websites, blogs, and YouTube channels out there that already do an awesome job of coming up with fun and helpful activities. To help you get started, I’ve listed a few:

    As you explore these resources, pick examples that you find exciting and engaging. You won’t be able to convey the fun and intrigue to students if you don’t understand the meme or humor yourself.

    The reality is that statistics can be a challenging course to teach (I’m assuming that’s why you’re reading this article and have made it this far). The good news is that it’s also incredibly fun – statistics unites all areas of psychology and is present in everyday life. It’s our job to help foster those connections through well-designed examples, activities, and homework. Using fun, personally meaningful, and professionally relevant coursework is one way we can help students see those connections. 

    Dr. Janet Peters is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychology at Washington State University Tri-Cities. She received her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Colorado State University. Her current research interests center on effective pedagogical practices, particularly as they relate to the teaching of Introductory Psychology, Statistics, and Research Methods.

  • 30 May 2019 9:44 AM | Anonymous

    By Matthew Mulvaney, Ph.D., and Rachel Razza, Ph.D., Syracuse University

    Co-teaching (or team teaching) can be an effective approach for faculty to work collaboratively to deliver new courses that reflect their combined expertise. Here we discuss the approach that we took to develop a course from a co-teaching perspective. The two of us (both faculty in a Human Development and Family Science department) wanted to ensure that our graduate students would be trained in structural equation modeling (SEM). Our context for developing this team-taught class was based on our shared belief that graduate students in our program need to learn the basics of SEM, along with our observations of the limited options available for learning SEM on our campus. We had to be creative in constructing such an opportunity, however, as neither of us are trained methodologists and thus we felt unequipped to tackle this course alone. Therefore, in order to cultivate this opportunity for our graduate students, we pushed ourselves to develop this course via a co-teaching approach.

    The idea for this course and our team teaching approach originated from a Graduate Student Research Seminar Series in our department that was initiated by one of us, but ultimately presented as a collaborative effort. The seminar series consisted of four, 2-hour sessions where students explored the basics of SEM using key variables that we constructed using data from the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. The seminar series was more successful than we imagined, as we routinely had 10-12 graduate students per week who were eager to participate and learn with us! We took away three important lessons from this seminar series. First, it was clear that the students would require more advanced training in this analytic technique, especially if they planned to build more complex models in their own research. Second, it was evident that in order to provide them with this knowledge, we also required additional training. And third, we were eager to continue this journey as collaborators, as having someone to help prepare, test, and teach the material proved to be critical in the seminar series. Thus, we identified a summer grant from our university that would allow us to create and teach this course. We spent a significant amount of time consulting with faculty at peer institutions on course design and assisting each other in strengthening our understanding of the material. We met once a week for approximately 8 weeks to select readings, prepare the syllabus, build models to test, and create assignments. In addition, one of us completed additional statistical training in SEM and shared his new knowledge and skill as we prepared this course.

    The course we constructed was taught over two weeks in the summer, with 5-hour days of teaching. We both attended all sessions but alternated primary responsibility on an every-other day basis, split up the grading of the homework, and co-constructed exams. The daily course routine was consistent. Each session included a lecture based on a chapter from an introduction to AMOS textbook. After the new material was presented, students participated in a guided activity where they constructed models in AMOS and ran the analyses that were included in the textbook chapter. In preparation for class, students also read examples of journal articles that reflected the specific approach to modeling that they were learning in the chapter. These articles were chosen by us during the course-planning phase and we used class time to dissect the models and discuss the results of these current studies. The daily sessions wrapped up with time for questions and an introduction to the homework. The homework assignments paralleled the skills that were taught that day but were based on a secondary data set that we constructed with the help of our external consultant. Thus, the students were practicing on one data set during class time and transferring their skills to a different data set for the homework assignments.

    Previous work has identified critical features necessary for the development of team-teaching approaches, including a shared commitment to the co-teaching process and commitment to constructive, reflective discussion throughout the design and delivery of the course (Lock et al., 2016). We would concur that our ability to openly discuss our challenges with the content at all stages of development and delivery, while building off each other’s strengths, was essential. We could both be honest about the challenges we were having and then use the other for more effective support. This dialogue also infused itself into the classroom, where it provided students an opportunity to observe a model of a collaborative professional relationship where different techniques and teaching practices were implemented simultaneously in a supportive learning environment (Chanmugam & Gerlach, 2013). The co-teaching approach seemed to work very well and the feedback was very favorable overall for the class.

    For those who are interested in pursuing co-teaching opportunities, we would put forth the following suggestions. First, identify a need or potential area of development within your department or across departments and then consider potential collaborators. Obviously, selecting an effective co-teacher is essential. Co-teaching is an intense process and you need to find someone that you can feel comfortable working with, who will be committed to the process, and who is as excited as you are about developing the project. You should also survey the supports that might be possible to develop the course. Institutional support is critical to facilitating team taught courses (Morelock et al., 2017). Costs to consider include those associated with course preparation and course delivery.

    While we are not aware of any instances of graduate students and faculty together in co-teaching approaches, it may be a potentially fruitful area to explore. The benefits of co-teaching extend to the instructors who teach it, as it allows them to develop their knowledge and skills in a particular domain (Carpenter, Crawford, & Walden, 2007; Marshall, 2014). Thus, we think that further explorations of such models may be beneficial for developing graduate student teachers and simultaneously moving forward innovative curriculum.


    Expanding your comfort zone handout


    Carpenter, D. M., Crawford, L., & Walden, R. (2007). Testing the efficacy of team teaching. Learning Environments Research, 10, 53-65. doi:10.1007/s10984-007-9019-y

    Chanmugan, A., & Gerlach, B. (2013). A co-teaching model for developing future educators’ teaching effectiveness. International Journal of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 25, 110-117.

    Lock, J., Clancy, T., Lisella, R., Rosenau, P., Ferreira, C., & Rainsbury, J. (2016). The lived experiences of instructors co-teaching in higher education. Brock Education Journal, 26(1), 22-35.

    Marshall, A. M. (2014). Embedded professional development for teacher educators: An unintended 'consequence' of university co-teaching. International Journal of University Teaching and Faculty Development, 5, 17-30.

    Morelock, J. R., Lester, M. M., Klopfer, M. D., Jardon, A. M., Mullins, R. D., Nicholas, E. L., & Alfaydi, A. S. (2017). Power, perceptions, and relationships: A model of co-teaching in higher education. College Teaching, 65(482-191. doi:10.1080/87567555.2017.133661

    Author Bios

    Dr. Matthew Mulvaney is an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Syracuse University. He teaches courses in parenting, child development, and family theories. He is currently serving as the chair of the SRCD Teaching Committee.

    Dr. Rachel Razza is a an Associate Professor of Human Development and Family Science at Syracuse University. She has served as the department’s Graduate Director and as member of the Teaching Committee for SRCD. Dr. Razza has received several grants focused on curriculum development and pedagogy in higher education and was honored with the Syracuse University Teaching Recognition Award in 2014.

  • 22 May 2019 10:31 AM | Anonymous

    By Jessica Hartnett, Ph.D., Gannon University

    On the very first day of my Introduction to Statistics class, I show my students this and tell them that upon successful completion of my course,  they should add this to their resumes:

    Special skills:

    • Novice data analysis using JASP software, including descriptive statistics, t-tests, ANOVA, chi-square, regression, and correlation

    Over the course of the semester, I work with them, talking about different statistical tests, analyzing and interpreting countless examples using JASP, and learning basic, regimented APA style Method, Results, and Discussion section standards so my students can “talk” statistics. I want them to live up to that special skill claim and to feel comfortable doing statistics. I teach like this because I believe that statistics instructors are in a unique position to teach a core proficiency within our discipline that is also a specific, highly marketable skill.

    Notice that I didn’t include performing statistics by hand anywhere in that paragraph. I do very little by hand calculations in my classes. Why? Because statisticians don’t. And if students need to understand the guts of data analysis, they will go on to graduate school in a quantitative field. And guess what? Most of our BA/BS students ARE NOT doing that. The American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies (APA, n.d.) counted up 3.5 million people in the US who have bachelor’s degrees in Psychology. So you know how many of them have PhDs in psychology? 4% of them do, and 10% of them have a Master’s in psychology. A full 53% stopped with the bachelor's degree and the remainder pursued post-baccalaureate degrees outside of psychology. As such, what skills do we need to teach to serve the majority of our students? Basic, novice stats skills, with the assumption that they will learn more in-depth statistics if they pursue graduate study that requires it.

    Teach them statistics so that they can keep up with data and research within their careers and non-quantitative MS/MA programs. Teach them research methodology along with statistics so they can be valued by their employer and trusted to run the occasional correlation or ANOVA, or so that they can help with someone else’s data collection. Teach them enough about statistics that they are not going to fall for click-bait headlines that poorly summarize research.

    Another benefit of not belaboring by-hand calculations is that it leaves you time to do other things. Like mastering analytic software, calculating alternatives to p-values, and teaching your students how to talk statistics. Rather than focusing on by-hand calculations, my students leave our class feeling confident in JASP and able to produce rough APA reports that include effect sizes and confidence intervals. Which brings me to my next point: Picking appropriate software for novice statisticians who probably aren’t going the academic route.

    Most of your students are not going to graduate school and will probably never see SPSS again if you do use SPSS. I would wager that the small proportion of students you are teaching who do go on to graduate school likely won’t see SPSS again, either. And, your students  aren’t rich and they are on the go, so let’s use free software options they can run off their own machines and, maybe, even tablets and mobile devices. You could use JASP, PSPP, R, Google Sheets, or Jamovi. Both JASP and Google Sheets can be used via web browser, for added flexibility. For a free-ish option, you can teach students to conduct statistical analyses via MS Excel, especially using the data analysis add-ins. I use JASP. It is intuitive and doesn’t take up a lot of RAM. Plus, if your students are graduate school bound, they can use the free JASP/R hybrid program, JAMOVI.

    In terms of my mini-APA style reports, I have them create a Methods, Results, and Discussion section for each test we run. The Methods and Discussion are only one to two sentences long (I said mini) and the Result section teaches them the basics of in-text statistical reporting. My Methods sections also include effect sizes, CIs, and p-values. As I tell my students, the point of conducting statistical analysis is to share your efforts with others, many of whom do not understand statistics at all. Mini-APA style reports teach them this skill, and also allow me to assess my students’ understanding of the analysis.

    *If you have any questions about teaching stats or need any help, feel free to email me: And then re-email me a week later because I can be horrible at email. Or just DM/follow me on Twitter, @notawful.

    **Important caveats relevant to my argument: You may be teaching stats as part of a sequence. Consider what role you have in changing that sequence. How can you work with other instructors to maintain consistency for your students? In my department, we just switched to teaching our Intro Psych class with JASP, and we’re teaching our Stats Lab, Multivariate, and Psychometrics classes with R/Jamovi. This was a big shift but everyone was on board with the change. Now, we don’t have to charge our students a lab fee for our statistics class, either, which I think is an improvement. We also have small class sizes, 30 or less, and significantly smaller advanced classes, which are required for our Bachelor’s of Science track. Additionally, I pick my own textbook and I don’t teach as part of a stats/research sequence. I also teach mostly non-psychology majors.


    American Psychological Association. (n.d.). CWS data tool: Degree pathways in psychology. Retrieved May 8, 2019, from 

    Jessica L. Hartnett is an associate professor of psychology at Gannon University in Erie, PA. She enjoys studying novel methods for teaching statistics and research methods, best practices in obtaining informed consent, and positive psychology. In her spare time, she reflects upon how lucky she is to have a philosopher husband who understands the demands of an academic career and two beautiful sons who doesn’t care about the demands of her academic career in the least.

  • 07 May 2019 6:00 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Maria S. Wong, Ph.D., Stevenson University

    Growing up in Hong Kong, I immigrated to Canada with my family at the age of 17. I vividly remember my first day of class as a senior in a public high school. It was a big surprise for me to find that no student really seemed to care when the instructor stepped into the classroom. It was not until the instructor started speaking that the students slowly quieted down and got ready for class. Similar to the experience of many international students, I was used to standing up and greeting the instructor in unison with the rest of the class. Another surprise came when it was time for class discussion. My education in Hong Kong has taught me that instructors often have the right answer in mind when they posed a question. However, my classmates were used to entertaining different points of view. Most of them also felt comfortable speaking their mind and were ready to defend their view.

    Instructors with international backgrounds have probably experienced similar culture shocks. Research on individualism and collectivism (Hofstede, 1980; Triandis, 2001) could explain some of these cultural differences, with people from individualistic cultures (e.g., European Americans) tending to value individual uniqueness, and people from collectivistic cultures (e.g., East Asians) tending to value social hierarchy and group harmony (Oyserman, Coon, & Kemmelmeier, 2002; Triandis, 1995). Indeed, it took me a few years to process and realize how my cultural background has influenced my own learning and teaching. With this blog post, I hope to share “three don’ts and do’s” with fellow instructors who are also thinking about similar issues related to their teaching.

    Three Don’ts

    1. Don’t assume disrespect right away

    For instructors who came from cultures that emphasize hierarchy and authority, they may have a harder time interpreting the casual demeanor of college students in the U.S. From emails that read like text messages (LOL) to in-person exchanges, instructors may automatically assume that the students are being disrespectful. While it is possible that the students are behaving in a disrespectful way, their behavior may reflect possible cohort or cultural differences. From my own experiences, students sometimes engage in unprofessional or immature behaviors without any bad intentions, and these can be turned into teachable moments that can ultimately benefit the students.

    2. Don’t get bogged down by ESL (English as a Second Language)

    For a long time, I was very self-conscious and insecure of my spoken English. Over time, I have come to realize that my accent has no implications for how well I teach. I am now more focused on whether I am communicating information to my students clearly, and how else I could support my students’ learning, than the proficiency of my spoken English. Interestingly, for the past few years, I have been teaching a course on Writing in Psychology for our majors. Students seemed relieved when I shared with them that English is my second language and that I also struggled with writing in college. They explained to me that finally there was an instructor who could understand their struggles. It was a beautiful moment when I felt connected with my students by sharing my vulnerabilities.

    3. Don’t get fixated on negative feedback

    I have to confess that I still have a hard time with this: I tend to focus on the one single negative comment and ignore the rest of the positive comments from my student course evaluations. While we are hardwired to pay attention to threats (e.g., Shoemaker, 1996), I think it is important to put everything in context. For me, it means that I can never process student feedback the first time I read them. I have to remind myself not to put too much weight on a single negative comment, unless it is something that has been raised by multiple students.

    On a related but separate note, you may receive negative comments from students because of your race, ethnicity, gender, age, etc. Do not feel that you have to process those comments alone. Share them with a trusted colleague. Nasty comments reflect nothing about you, but only the person who was making those comments.

    Three Do’s

    1. Do use your multicultural experience as an asset

    One class that I consistently teach is Human Growth and Development. To this end, I have found that my multicultural experiences have enriched the stories that I share with my students. For example, I usually begin the first class by sharing my own story: how I grew up as an only child living in a 600-square-feet apartment with my parents, maternal grandparents, and my aunt in Hong Kong. I am convinced that personal stories are a powerful tool to build rapport with students and encourage them to think about the role of culture in their own development.

    2. Do seek a trusted person as a teaching mentor

    I am a strong advocate for junior instructors to seek out teaching mentors. I have had the privilege of working closely with a mentor for the past four years. My mentor has offered me great help in processing my thoughts and emotions related to challenging teaching moments. There were also times when I was not sure whether I was overreacting because of my own biases, so it was good to have a trusted person to help me understand and interpret the situation from a different perspective. I am now serving as a mentor for a junior faculty member in Brazil and I hope to take on a supportive mentoring role through our regular Skype meetings.

    3. Do have a growth mindset toward teaching

    Stemming from Confucianism, my education experience in Hong Kong emphasized the mastery of material, which was often achieved through deliberate practice and memorization. In contrast, stemming from Greek philosophy, my education experience in North America was Socratic, which emphasized learning through the process of self-discovery (Tweed & Lehman, 2002). For my teaching to be effective in the North American context, I have learned the importance of designing and incorporating engaging class activities that help students come to knowledge via critical thinking, which is something that I have not experienced much in Hong Kong. For me, having a growth mindset—believing that my teaching ability can be developed through practice—really motivates me to reflect on my experiences and helps me strive to become a better instructor every day.

    Taken together, my multicultural experiences have become a core part of my identity. While there are certainly difficult moments when I navigate between different cultures, culture is ultimately what makes my classes come to life. To this end, there are countless moments when my teaching is enriched as I incorporate elements of culture and diversity. While all instructors can certainly bring these elements into their teaching, I do think that those of us with multicultural backgrounds tend to be more inclined to understanding the nuances of cultural differences, which can become a great asset for our teaching. We have so much to offer!


    Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s consequences: International differences in work-related values. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, Inc.

    Oyserman, D., Coon, H. M., & Kemmelmeier, M. (2002). Rethinking individualism and collectivism: Evaluation of theoretical assumptions and meta-analyses. Psychological Bulletin, 128, 3–72.

    Shoemaker, P. J. (1996). Hardwired for news: Using biological and cultural evolution to explain the surveillance function. Journal of Communication, 46, 32-47.

    Triandis, H. C. (1995). Individualism & collectivism. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

    Triandis, H. C. (2001). Individualism-collectivism and personality. Journal of Personality, 69, 907–924.

    Tweed, R. G., & Lehman, D. R. (2002). Learning considered within a cultural context: Confucian and Socratic approaches. American Psychologist, 57, 89-99.

    Maria S. Wong is an Associate Professor of Psychology at Stevenson University. She teaches courses such as Writing for Psychology, Human Growth and Development, Introduction to Psychology, Statistics for Social and Behavioral Sciences, and Parenting. To her students, Dr. Wong is known for her energy, enthusiasm, supportive guidance, and the use of creative learning activities. As a developmental psychologist (Ph.D. in 2011 from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign), Dr. Wong has an active research program focusing on children’s social-emotional development within the family context. Her work has been published in journals such as Child Development and the Journal of Family Psychology. Dr. Wong is a member of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP) and serves as an Associate Editor for the STP E-book series. She also serves on the teaching committee of the Society for Research in Child Development (SRCD) and was a Co-Chair of the SRCD 2019 Teaching Institute.

  • 01 May 2019 10:00 AM | Anonymous
    By Jennifer A. McCabe, Ph.D., Goucher College

    Last year, as part of my portfolio for promotion to Full Professor, I wrote a teaching philosophy statement. As this is required for nearly every teaching position in academia, this was not my first draft. In fact, I had written a solid statement for my tenure case just six years ago. At first I asked myself, did anything really change in that time? I soon realized that, in a way I could not articulate at earlier points in my career, I could now identify six core principles that guide every teaching-related decision I make. I hope that by sharing these principles I can encourage others to identify and develop their own set of guiding principles as higher education practitioners.


    1. Strategies for Durable Learning

    My scholarship focuses on learning strategies that benefit long-term memory, and I have become more intentional about my responsibility to integrate these evidence-supported memory principles into the structure and delivery of my courses. Early in my career I was worried that some of these choices would be unpopular with students. It took more time and confidence in the classroom to commit fully.

    Now I do so transparently and unapologetically. This includes the use of frequent, effortful, low-stakes, cumulative, spaced (distributed) retrieval practice (a.k.a. quizzes) - followed by discussion to encourage elaboration and connections - in all of my courses. It’s amazing how readily students get on board with these strategies even though they require more time and effort than traditional class practices.

    2.              Interest-First Approach

    Memory researchers also know about the self-reference effect, that we remember information more easily if it relates to ourselves. I enact this principle by adjusting the entry point to many topics and assignments, allowing student interest to be the guiding force. If they begin work on a complex topic using a question or a problem sparked by natural curiosity, I trust that deep and durable learning of the content will follow. I give students much more agency in their assignments and approach to learning than I did in my early years of teaching.

    I also prioritize a narrative approach to course material - learning psychological science through stories. I assign popular press books and articles whenever possible to promote real-world applications of concepts, ensuring a connection between my students’ coursework and their lives. To further engage student interest, I make sure to include (and prioritize) interactive elements such as demonstrations and discussions during each class period.

    3.              Integration and Connection

    I intentionally structure my classes to encourage students to make meaningful connections, drawing on the principle of elaboration. Every day in class, I emphasize how current material links with past topics, and prompt them to continue this work in assignments outside of class.

    For example, I ask students to connect various course topics at the end of the semester as part of a final exam take-home essay. They may identify connections between various aspects of the class with course themes, draw on course material in writing a narrative about each stage of cognition needed to play a game of their choosing, or write a story about how each component of memory would contribute to a day in a person’s life. I have also enjoyed the challenge of embracing college-wide Theme Semesters in my courses, including topics of Mindfulness and Storytelling.

    4.              Authentic and Shared Learning

    I strive to increase the types of activities and assignments that are situated in authentic real-world issues, and that are shared beyond a submission to the instructor. I have found that students are far more engaged—and submit higher-quality products—under these circumstances.

    For example, sharing can happen among classmates in the form of each student reading a different article on a certain topic and then coming to class ready to teach (and learn from) peers in small group discussions. Or they may present mini-TED Talks, consisting of an engaging 5-minute oral presentation on a course-related topic of their choice. There is also great value in having students share their work in other settings, such as presenting at the college’s student symposium or creating resources on course topics for the public. Each semester my students in a seminar on Cognition, Teaching, and Learning complete a “Translational Project for a General Audience.” Formats include podcasts, infographics, videos, games, and one time even a children’s book. Several students who wrote posts in the style of The Learning Scientists blog were subsequently published on this site. Talk about sharing the authentic work of learning!

    5.              Metacognitive Self-Reflection

    My research program also focuses on metacognition, specifically the extent to which students know about and use effective strategies. This scholarly interest permeates all my courses with the goal that students learn about, and reflect on their own, learning. The main idea is to embrace desirable difficulties: learning strategies that are initially slower and harder, but produce more durable memories. Students experience in-class demonstrations showing the memory benefits of these strategies (e.g., spacing, elaboration, testing), followed by activities and assignments to encourage an examination of their own learning beliefs and misconceptions. Then they brainstorm the best ways to communicate this information to peers, and plan for how they will utilize these strategies.

    Metacognitive development is also a natural side effect of frequent, low-stakes, cumulative quizzing. Testing is not only an effective learning strategy, it also provides metacognitive feedback about the state of one’s own knowledge. I encourage students to use testing for both purposes, knowing that the best way to avoid the fluency illusion (believing you have learned something because it seems familiar or easy) is to take a test that requires effortful retrieval from memory. Further, in classes with major tests, I administer a post-exam metacognitive debrief activity aimed to help students understand if they were overconfident, how they studied, the reason(s) they answered items incorrectly, and a preparation plan for the next exam.

    6.              Transparent Course Design with Intentional Scaffolding

    I have improved my communication with students regarding the goals and objectives in my courses, and the purpose behind how I structure the class and assess student learning. In other words, I think about course design in a more integrated way, connecting learning objectives to teaching strategies and assessments. I work to enhance the clarity and detail of my syllabi and assignment instructions, making them as purpose-driven and explicit as possible. To close the loop on this process, one of my favorite activities is to ask students on the last day of class to reflect on the course objectives, evaluating their progress, and identifying components of the course that helped them improve.

    With regard to scaffolding, I remind myself that each of us is in a developing state of expertise (to borrow growth-mindset language). Some students in my class will need a lot of support and opportunities to get to the level of expertise I expect, and others will need less. The best remedy for this, in my opinion, is to offer early and frequent opportunities for formative feedback. Complex assignments can be broken down into scaffolded components, with feedback at every step. This approach leads to both higher-quality end products and a more positive learning experience for students. It is also a step toward a more inclusive classroom that allows for students of diverse backgrounds and abilities to grow.

    A central theme that unites all of the above is something I express to my students early and often: I care about your learning. Learning, by definition, is about change. And I am committed to nurturing that growth in my students, as well as in myself as an ever-evolving practitioner. In this way, I can maintain high standards in my courses while helping students feel informed and supported in their efforts to achieve success. In turn, they can (and should) have high standards for me, including expectations of preparation, availability, clear and consistent communication, prompt feedback, authentic and enthusiastic engagement, and—maybe most importantly—ongoing efforts to improve. After all, teaching is about change too.

    Jennifer A. McCabe is a Professor in the Center for Psychology at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland, where she has taught since 2008. She just completed her 15th year of full-time teaching, having also taught at Marietta College in Ohio. She earned her B.A. in Psychology from Western Maryland College (now McDaniel College), and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has taught courses including Introduction to Psychology, Cognitive Psychology, Human Learning and Memory, Statistics, Research Methods, and Seminar in Cognition, Teaching, and Learning. She has won teaching excellence awards from Marietta College and Goucher College. Her research interests include memory strategies, metacognition, and the scholarship of teaching and learning. She has been published in Memory and Cognition, Teaching of Psychology, Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, Instructional Science, Frontiers in Psychology, Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition, and Psychological Science in the Public Interest. Supported by Instructional Resource Awards from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology (STP), she has also published two online resources for psychology educators on the topics of mnemonics and memory-strategy demonstrations. She has served as a Consulting Editor for Teaching of Psychology, and is currently a Consultant-Collaborator for the Improve with Metacognition project.

Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software