Society for the Teaching of Psychology

GSTA Blog

Welcome to the GSTA blog! This semester's theme is Teaching Tips
Every week we will post a graduate student teaching or teaching assistant tip. The tips, written by graduate students, are sourced directly from classroom practices and syntheses of recent teaching related research.

If you would like to submit a tip for consideration send it to us at gsta.cuny@gmail.com, subject line Blog and your potential title. Submissions should be between 500-1000 words.

You can also submit any questions you would like addressed on our blog as comments below or send them to gsta.cuny.@gmail.com, follow us on twitter @gradsteachpsych or join our Facebook Group.


Thanks for checking us out,

The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

Philip Kreniske, Kasey Powers, Francis Yannaco and Theresa Fiani



  • 08 Apr 2014 11:47 AM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)

    By Theresa Fiani and Rita Obeid




    Sometimes graduate students are required to teach courses soon after they enter grad school. Often these students have had little teaching experience and feel that they are not being supportedundefinedwe certainly felt this way at times! Furthermore, you might not know very much about some of the content of the course you were assigned to teach. The good news is that you do not need to start from scratch as many resources are available either online or in print and these resources can support you in preparing your course. Furthermore, entering a classroom for the very first time can be an anxiety provoking experience. This blog article discusses some of the supports and resources available to help you cope with the stressors and requirements of being a new teacher.


    First of all, you might want to ask around for campus resources at the college where you are teaching. Many campuses provide training for new teachers through Centers for Teaching and Learning. For example, the Psychology Department at Queens College offers a Teaching Apprenticeship Program (TAP). This program helped me (Theresa) a lot! As a first year adjunct, I did not know anything about teaching psychology, even though I was pretty good at learning it. TAP introduced me to a community of adjunct instructors who were familiar with the myriad challenges part-time instructors face, such as fostering positive student–teacher interactions, tackling student complaints, learning how to avoid bias, be fair, set a positive tone for the class from the very first day, how to plan a course and write a syllabus, and many other things that, as a first time instructor, you might never have thought about or expected. TAP is divided into four steps: 1) TAP workshop, which is predominantly theoretical, 2) Observation, where you observe a faculty memberundefinedyour assigned mentorundefinedteaching, 3) Lecturing, where you are given an opportunity to teach a topic of your choice to the class that your mentor is teaching, and 4) Evaluation, where your mentor evaluates your teaching methods and writes an evaluation. I found this to be helpful, primarily because of the feedback I received from my mentor about my teaching. 


    Another useful course is the Teaching of Psychology class, offered annually at The Graduate Center. In this course, I (Rita) was introduced to teaching tips and relevant activities for courses I would likely teach in the future. I learned a lot from the experiences of the other graduate students in the class who ranged from first-year students who had not yet taught, to more advanced students who had taught for one or more semesters. I took this course when I was a first-year students, and it helped me develop a course syllabus, a statement of teaching philosophy, and useful classroom activities. Importantly, as part of this course I am able to observe and learn other people’s teaching skills.


    Other valuable resources are the many conferences where graduate students and experts in the field gather to share their teaching experiences. Such conferences include our own Pedagogy Day conference, held annually at The Graduate Center where experts come to talk about teaching and present their research findings about efficient and effective teaching methods, and many faculty members come to share their teaching experiences. The conference also provides workshops related to different teaching challenges, such as lecturing in large classes, supporting student writing, and teaching online. Another local conference, the annual New York City Subway Summit gathers people from different disciplines and universities to share research findings on teaching and learning.  At a national level, the Society for the Teaching of Psychology, APA Division 2, promotes excellence in the teaching of psychology by offering online resources and services as well as holding its annual conference on pedagogy.  Submissions for this year’s conference to be held in Atlanta, GA will be accepted through June 1 at http://teachpsych.org/conferences/bp/index.php. Other national and regional conferences include the APS-STP Teaching Institute, the Mid-Atlantic Teaching of Psychology Conference, the Northeast Conference for Teachers of Psychology. The STP offers a up-to-date list of regional APA Associations supporting the Teaching of Psychology.


    In conclusion, even though teaching may be a novel and rather stressful experience when you are trying to manage your own school related activities, there are plenty of resources available to support you.  Just look around!  And, even though we have focused a lot on CUNY-specific resources, there are likely to be similar ones at your own college, and the digital resources are generally available to all of us. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, others have been through similar experiences, so save yourself the stress and make use of these resources!

  • 01 Apr 2014 11:45 AM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)
    by Kasey L. Powers

    Teaching students to write is an increasing concern in introductory level psychology courses. Students do not magically gain writing skills in higher level writing intensive courses as these skills take time and practice to develop. One context for this development can be your introductory psychology course. However, there are several barriers to assigning a traditional paper in an introductory level course: 1) there are so many topics to cover that it is difficult to focus on a single topic for a traditional term paper; 2) many students struggle to write comprehensible papers; and 3) large class sizes make it challenging to find time to provide feedback and grade papers.
     
    Low stakes writing addresses these three barriers because it is short and fast, as little as a paragraph. Grading is based primarily on completion and even a large class can be graded quickly. In cases of very large classes you could grade only half of the assignments for each student across the semester. Finally, it gives students a chance to practice writing and hopefully develop as writers.

    Using low stakes writing as a writing to learn exercise is one way to have students practice writing and learn course content. The benefits of writing to learn assigments hold true across generic on topic writing and reflective writing (Nevid, Pastava, & McClland, 2012). Writing can also be used as a critical thinking exercise (Dunn & Smith, 2008).

    To assign low-stakes writing in an Introductory Psychology course one option is to post a critical thinking question to Blackboard each week. Due to the large number of topics covered students will have to think and write on a variety of topics throughout the course. They will practice writing, thinking, and learning content in a new way.

    Questions can ask for student opinion about a topic, to personal history or connection, or simply explaining a concept. Questions can be written by the instructor or taken from the textbook or test bank. Instructors have the option to write all questions at the start of a semester and automate them to post online for responses. Keeping questions in a file allows them to be used each semester changing them as new questions come up.

    On the assignment page I include this note along with the rubric for students to refer to throughout the semester.
    The questions posed each week are designed to get you thinking about different topics in psychology. There are no right or wrong answers. I want to know what you think.

    Here are a few examples of questions I’ve used in the past (feel free to adopt them):

    Social psychology:
    In class this week we watched a video that showed an experiment about the bystander effect where a young boy who was “lost” asked strangers to help him find his mother. No one stopped to help him.
    Do you think of yourself as a generally helpful person? Tell us about a time that you helped or didn’t help in a situation. Why did you act the way you did. Would your reaction be different if you were in that situation again?

    Personality:
    Do you have a higher internal or external locus of control? What about for a choice like what you are you are going to eat and when?  If a psychologist said you don’t have this choice and you never have the chance to decide, would you accept that claim?

    Intelligence:
    What is intelligence and can we really measure it?

    An easy rubric for grading is something like this:

    Post first response on time

    1

    Post on topic (answered question)

    1

    Grammar (spelling, capital letters, punctuation, etc...)

    1

    Total

    3



    Additional points can be given based on how well students answered the question, making that worth 2 or 3 points. Or you can require that students reply to classmates to engage in online discussion and this could be an additional part of the grade.

    Using a low-stakes assignment allows students to gain benefits of learning course content and writing practice without overwhelming the instructor with intensive grading. While ideal in an introductory level course, this type of assignment works well at any level.

     

    References


    Dunn, D. S., & Smith, R. A. (2008). Writing as critical thinking. In D. S. Dunn, J. S. Halonen, & R. A. Smith (Eds.), Teaching critical thinking in psychology: A handbook of best practices (pp 164-173). Hoboken, NY: Wiley-Blackwell

     

    Nevid, J.S., Pastva, A., & McClelland, N. (2012) Writing-to-learn assignments in introductory psychology: Is there a learning benefit? Teaching of Psychology, 39 272-275. doi: 10.1177/0098628312456622



  • 24 Mar 2014 6:36 PM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)


    Naomi J. Aldrich
    Peri Ozlem Yuksel-Sokmen, & Sarah E. Berger

    College of Staten Island and The Graduate Center, CUNY
















    Research suggests that students benefit from guided inquiry-based instruction (Alfieri et al., 2011), however Child Development has traditionally been taught as a content course through conventional lecture formats. Based on findings that a hands-on approach to undergraduate involvement in research in the social sciences is beneficial for undergraduate students’ personal, intellectual, and professional growth (Hunter, Laursen, & Seymour, 2006), we applied a mixed-methods model to instruction of Child Development. We sought to engage students in “legitimate peripheral participation” (Lave & Wenger, 1991) as active apprentices in the research process. Using the experiences of three instructors at the College of Staten Island, this report discusses how apprentice-style undergraduate research can be advantageous for undergraduate students’ intellectual and professional development. First, we discuss a two-fold strategy for presenting the discipline of child psychology: 1) enhanced lecture and 2) research apprenticeship. Then we examine the effectiveness of this approach for teaching undergraduates the methodologies and theories prevalent in developmental psychology.


    Our enhanced-lecture strategy focused on the principal content areas of developmental theory and experimental design via multimedia techniques and data coding projects utilizing both digital video and in-the-field methodologies. Our researcher-apprentice strategy required students to engage in all aspects of research design, from formulating a well-defined research question, conducting the research, to entering and analyzing the data. Our assessments included both individual (exam, lab reports based on coding projects) and group (APA-style paper, mini-conference presentation) assignments. In addition, we had one assignment that required students to combine all of the research skills and conceptual knowledge they had learned in class for a future research proposal which they presented to the class individually at the end of the semester. 


    To examine the effectiveness of our mixed-methods approach, we analyzed 200 students’ performance from ten semesters of instruction. Pearson correlations between all assignments revealed that, except for lab reports and group papers (p=NS), all grades were positively and moderately correlated (all p’s<.01), suggesting that regardless of individual vs. group or written vs. oral, all assignments reflected students’ knowledge. A simultaneous regression analysis was conducted to predict students’ grades on the individual future research proposal. We included four variables as predictors: conceptual knowledge (mid-term exam scores), average lab report scores, final research manuscript scores, and mini-conference presentation of their group research project. The mini-conference presentation performance was predictive of students’ grades on the individual future research proposals (p = .0001); students with higher grades from the mini-conference presentation also earned higher grades when presenting a research proposal to the class individually, accounting for 23% of the variance in the future research proposal grades, F(4, 195) = 14.72, p = .0001. 


    Thus, techniques transfer across types, possibly by emphasizing the material in redundant, complementary ways, suggesting that a variety of strategies is optimal to convey material. Furthermore, by cultivating a “community of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998) between the undergraduate apprentice, their fellow student researchers and instructor, we are in fact better preparing students for their next level of engagement as social scientists.


    References (PDF)

  • 18 Mar 2014 10:55 AM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)


    By: Jeff Kukucka


    “… searching and learning are, as a whole, recollection” – Socrates, Meno



    The Platonic theory of anamnesis posits that the process of learning involves discovering knowledge that is present within us, but lies dormant until we go looking for it. The goal of teaching, then, is not to fill students’ heads with information, but rather to help them uncover, understand, and apply the knowledge that is already there. 


    Consistent with Plato’s epistemology, I find that students often know more than we give them credit for. Indeed, they often know more than they themselves realize. They do not enter our classrooms as blank slates, but with a wealth of prior knowledge, beliefs, and experiences that can (and should) be harnessed to our mutual advantage. 


    To illustrate, take the following in-class “experiment” (adapted from a similar exercise by Gary Lewandowski, Monmouth University), which tests the hypothesis that eating certain types of candy affects intelligence. First, students complete and self-score an “intelligence” test comprised of ten trick questions (e.g., “How many months have 28 days?” The answer: All of them.). Then, I pass around a bowl of candy, filled with just enough Smarties and Dum Dums for each student to eat one. Finally, they take a second “intelligence” test in which they study photos of many objects and then recall as many as they can. (See here for materials.)


    Students can tell that this “experiment” is patently absurd, and they vociferously object to their inevitably low “intelligence” scores. The key is to use Socratic questioning to help them realize and articulate why they so reflexively object to it. For example, I ask them questions such as, “Do you think that eating the candy made you smarter?” (internal validity), “Do you think that the test really measured your intelligence?” (construct validity), and “Do you think that it adequately measured your intelligence?” (content validity). 


    Though students had likely never heard these parenthetical terms, within minutes they are offering sophisticated critiques of our “experiment” and suggestions on how to improve it. From here, these novel ideas do not seem as foreign to students. I have merely given them a new lexicon and framework for concepts that, on some level, they already “knew.”


    I use a similar exercise in my statistics course. I have students imagine that they are given a “magic” coin that is allegedly weighted to yield more heads than tails when flipped. I then ask: If you were to flip the coin 100 times, how many heads would it take to convince you that this really is a “magic” coin? They can agree that a normal coin may yield 55, 60, maybe even 65 heads just by chance, but it would be very suspicious if the coin produced, say, 80 heads.


    At some point, they must decide when the “data” is compelling enough to reject our “null hypothesis” that this is a boring, non-magic coin. (Some students, apparently fearful of a Type I error, even demand that the coin produce 100 heads!) The logic of null hypothesis testing is an especially obtuse and alienating topic; by showing students that they already understand how it works, it no longer seems so daunting. We then build on this analogy to make other concepts (e.g., alpha levels, effect size, power analysis, etc.) more accessible as well.


    In the words of Jerome Bruner (1961), learning is not a search for “islands of truth in an uncharted sea of ignorance.” Rather, it is a process of discovery in which we manipulate our existing knowledge in ways that allow us to go beyond what we already know. The implication is that we should not treat students as empty and passive receptacles for information. Students flourish when they are active and autonomous participants in their own learning (which Bruner called the hypothetical mode). As instructors, we can facilitate this process by helping them unearth their existing knowledge and see its relevance to unfamiliar course material.



    References


    Bruner, J. S. (1961). The act of discovery. Harvard Educational Review, 31, 21-32.


    Plato. (1976). Meno. (G. M. A. Grube, Trans.). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett. 

  • 11 Mar 2014 7:55 AM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)

    By Anna Schwartz


    http://www.jisc.ac.uk/sites/default/files/heads.jpg

    One of the oldest tools on the Internet, (besides of course, the blog) is the forum.  Encouraging students to use the forum can be difficult, as mentioned by Danielle DeNigris two weeks ago, but it is also crucial, and not just as a way to get inter-student participation up in a large lecture class.  The “Discussion Forum” can be a powerful tool for monitoring student progress, and for reflecting on your own successes and weaknesses as a teacher.  I used a mandatory forum, as part of a hybrid online-traditional classroom, to ask my students about their study habits.


    There were several aims. The first aim was simply to see how they were studying and if I could correlate good strategies with good grades to advise them for later exams and also to advise future semesters of students.  The second aim was to get them to meta-cognitively assess themselves – to realize whether what they were doing sounded “right” or whether it had been getting them the outcomes they desired.  The third aim was to assess what concepts they were struggling with – what topics could I have explained better?  Do I need to replace or bolster a bit of lecture with an activity or a demonstration?  What was hardest for them?  The fourth aim was to get them to learn from each other – some had excellent study habits and strategies, others seemed lost but in search of a good technique.  Instead of posing a suggestion to them based on research, let them find it through the recommendation of a peer, an infinitely more trustworthy source!  Lastly, and this is a major goal for me, across multiple aspects of the course, I wanted to foster a sense of citizenship within the class, which I hoped they would take with them into all the communities of their futures.  They need to learn to take on responsibility to do well not just for themselves, but because they are responsible to each other – by doing well, they can facilitate others’ success as well as their own if they share resources.  When they find a strategy that earns them success, I want them to connect that mentally with an obligation to give back to their community, and also to empower themselves to feel worthy of contributing to a community.  By being responsible to each other, my hope was that they would raise the level of work across the class.


    As a teacher, a quick read through the forum can give you a sense of where to concentrate your resources. I wanted to explore the forum in more depth, and so I began analyzing it for content and also for phrasal structure to see what I could learn about my students as individuals and as a group developing ideas together over the course of the semester, around the focal stressor of exams (I even asked them to share with their classmates their strategies for coping with exam stress). One post exemplified a sentiment shared by a number of students:


    I cope with exam stress by trying my hardest to study and by taking short breaks to breathe and play my piano which relaxes my mind. I think they are effective in the sense of calming me down rather then a sense of learning. I would definitely try flash cards because they seem very effective. Participant 55


    The student used this post to convey a degree of stress and to share one of the coping mechanisms they used to deal with this stress. In addition, I learned something about this student – he or she is a musician.  Now I have two new pieces of information that I can leverage to improve my teaching. I have a sense of how distressed the students are overall (useful in deciding whether to push or to ease up on them) and also a relevant topic that I can draw into examples to reach that student.


  • 04 Mar 2014 9:47 PM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)

    By Emily A. A. Dow

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/93866629@N05/10067269455/in/photolist-gkBoti-ePMZtf-88baAV-eWMMut-bUGGV

    Despite the heightened attention to high-stakes testing and assessment, it is unclear how or why higher education instructors select particular assessment strategies in their classrooms.  In my casual conversations with fellow psychology graduate students about their teaching experiences, I have come to understand that my colleagues sometimes choose assessment strategies based on features of the course: multiple choice exams are a natural default for large course sections; pop quizzes take away from lecture time and the demand to get through specific material; there is simply not enough time to grade short answer assignments.  Their choice in using specific assessment tools is driven by course design and not necessarily by student learning goals.


    Boyson (2012) notes that it is unsuitable when student assessments are unrelated to learning objectives: “[for example], it would be incongruent to have objectives related to written communication and not grade students on their writing skills (p. 11).”  This may seem to be an obvious link, but perhaps not.  Often, higher education instructors have little or minimal training in designing courses and making effective decisions about assessment tools.  Emerging higher education teachers may not readily link assessment strategies with learning goals or objectives.  Perhaps their choice of assessment strategies is more related to their beliefs about student assessment than to learning goals or objectives.


    At the Graduate CenterDr. Maureen O’Connor and I are currently collecting qualitative and quantitative evidence about assessment strategies across diverse CUNY classrooms. In a two-phase research project, instructors at CUNY were asked about their assessment strategies. Results from an in-depth focus group revealed that while a variety of assessment tools are used by psychology instructors at CUNY (both novice and experienced), participants had difficulty making the connection between their selected assessment strategies and the learning goals established for a hypothetical course. To better understand this gap between the use of assessment tools and learning outcomes, we are surveying graduate student instructors to: (1) identify types of assessment tools used in higher education; (2) examine the connection between learning outcomes and assessment tools; and, (3) collect information about different philosophies or approaches to assessment.

    https://mail.google.com/mail/u/0/images/cleardot.gif

    We are excited to present our preliminary results at the Eastern Psychological Association conference in Boston on March 15 (Symposium Title: Turning Teaching into Research: Examples from the GSTA).  Results from this research will help inform graduate student training in teaching, and emphasize the need for explicit instruction and discussion about the link between assessment strategies and learning objectives.  If nothing else, instructors in higher education should be aware of this link when designing effective course syllabi. 


    If you would like more information about this project, please contact Emily A. A. Dow, MA at edow@gc.cuny.edu.


    References: Boysen, G.A. (2012). A Guide to Writing Learning Objectives for Teachers of Psychology. Society for Teaching in Psychology. RetrievedFebruary 24, 2014, from http://teachpsych.org/resources/Documents/otrp/resources/boysen12.pdf

  • 25 Feb 2014 11:33 AM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)

    By Danielle DeNigris 

    I believe that learning is a dialectical process in which both students and instructor   must actively participate.  However when you are staring at the faces of 100-plus students, the task of getting each to voice their opinion may seem difficult, if not impossible.  There appear to be many obstacles towards student participation including fear of public speaking, fear of being criticized by peers or the instructor, and language barriers.  These fears may be heightened in larger classes.  Another factor that may negatively affect the quality of classroom discussions is the classroom environment itself.  For instructors teaching in a large classroom or auditorium, projecting one’s voice so that all students can hear comes naturally.  Students, on the other hand, typically do not have this experience and as such speak at a volume just loud enough that only the instructor can hear.  This leaves many other students out of the discussion simply due to their inability to hear one another. 

    As today’s approach to education has shifted to a student-centered paradigm (Celik, 2013), many instructors have begun to seek out new instructional methods through the use of technology.  These technological tools have been continually adapted for the classroom environment and allow for students to interact with material at a potentially more accessible and meaningful level.  Among the various technological resources, online discussion board forums have seen an increase in use to supplement classroom learning.  Discussion boards have become an important tool in facilitating instructors in the creation of an environment in which all students will feel more comfortable sharing questions, reactions, and theories.  The following activity illustrates the way in which discussion board forums can be effectively used to encourage participation from all students in large lecture halls.

    Blackboard, By Winslow HomerThrough the use of the Blackboard I allow students access to the discussion board forum in which they must respond to various prompts.  Typically, I will post an empirical article, critical question, or video that I find is relatable to students of all levels (for example, I have recently used RSA Animate videos and TED Talks).  Students are then required to post a minimum of three times per forum activity.  Of these three posts, at least two must be in response to another student.  With so many students this allows for diversity in the topics being discussed enabling students to choose a topic of personal interest rather than being forced to respond solely to a prompt determined by the instructor.  Students are then graded based on their responses in terms of quality and quantity (at least three posts have been made).  I have successfully used this activity in two large (200 students) and two medium (50 students) lecture halls and have found that the students who rarely participate during class-time tend to enjoy the activity and post more than the minimum of three times.

    Research has highlighted the value of discussion boards (e.g., Celik, 2013; Harman & Koohang, 2005).  By allowing students to communicate with one another via an online forum, an environment is created in which students may feel more comfortable voicing their opinions with each other.  Students are able to process their thoughts and edit their comments before sharing, minimizing the fear of criticism.  Discussion board activities also encourage students to communicate with one another leading to student-student participation rather than the typical student-instructor paradigm characteristic of in-class discussions.  Additionally, this type of activity promotes the development of critical thinking skills as students are exposed to differing perspectives and challenges to their viewpoint.  Students are also able to build off of one another’s ideas leading to collaborative thinking that may not have developed in the classroom.


    References


    Celik, S. (2013). Unspoken social dynamics in an online discussion group: The disconnect between attitudes overt behavior of English language teaching graduate students. Educational Technology Research and Development, 61, 665-683.

    Harman, K., & Koohang, A. (2005). Discussion board: A learning object. Interdisciplinary Journal of Knowledge and Learning Objects, 1, 67-77.

  • 19 Feb 2014 6:26 PM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)
    This semester's theme is Teaching Tips

    Every week we will post a graduate student teaching tip. The tips, written by graduate students, are sourced directly from classroom practices and syntheses of recent teaching related research.

    If you would like to submit a tip for consideration send it to us at gsta.cuny@gmail.com, subject line Blog and your potential title! Submissions should be between 500-1000 words and images are encouraged (just be sure you have the rights to that image!).

    One way to be sure is to follow these directions
    (Creative commons google images link: http://search.creativecommons.org/
    Select google images or Flickr).

    Any questions post them as comments below or send them to gsta.cuny.@gmail.com or twitter@gradsteachpsych.


    Thanks for checking us out.

    The GSTA Blog Editorial Team:

    Philip Kreniske, Kasey Powers, Francis Yannaco and Theresa Fiani



  • 06 Feb 2014 6:55 PM | Philip Kreniske (Administrator)
    Thanks for checking us out. Our fist teaching tip will be posted by Danielle DeNigris on 2/25!

    Come back soon and join the conversation!

    best,

    Phil Kreniske, Kasey Powers, Francis Yannaco, Theresa Fiani
    & the GSTA 


 
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