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.

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  • 28 Jul 2020 4:48 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: GSTA Editorial Team members Teresa M. Ober, Elizabeth S. Che, Jessica E. Brodsky, Charles Raffaele, and Patricia J. Brooks

    The Graduate Student Teaching Association (GSTA), led for six years by graduate students in Psychology and Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center, City University of New York (CUNY), recently compiled and edited a *free* electronic handbook (eBook) for new college teachers. How We Teach Now: The GSTA Guide to Transformative Teaching which is now available for download on the Society for the Teaching of Psychology website. 

    In editing the eBook, we were frequently asked what is transformative teaching? In our view, it involves teaching with the ultimate goal of changing students’ lives for the better. Transformative teachers make a difference by seeing the potential in their students, setting up appropriate challenges, and providing encouragement and support for their students to push boundaries and adapt quickly to shifting environments. We have come to view transformative teaching as instruction and course design that promotes student engagement, fosters personal growth and agency, and connects psychological science in relevant ways to issues of global and local concern.

    As graduate students and early career college teachers, we recognize it can be challenging to figure out where to start in becoming more transformative teachers. How We Teach Now: The GSTA Guide to Transformative Teaching provides practical guidance for teachers at all levels of experience and is particularly written specifically for current and future graduate students. Our hope is that the volume will serve as a valuable resource for new instructors as they embark on careers as teachers of psychology.

    In editing the eBook, we have had the unique privilege of interfacing with experienced and novice instructors of psychology, and have observed the development of our own professional identities in the process. Many of the contributors have been instrumental in helping to shape not just our perspectives, but also broader discussions around the teaching of psychology. We are deeply grateful to the contributing authors for taking the time to share their insights and experiences here. 

    Acknowledging the remarkable work that has been done to promote better college teaching in the field of psychology, we also recognize that the institutions and general context in which our students are taught is far from perfect. Indeed, at no point in recent history does there appear as desperate a need to transform students' lives for the better, both now and in the foreseeable future. College classes throughout the U.S. are increasingly taught by adjunct and graduate student instructors with limited experience and who work burdened with the expectation of efficient time management in order to balance other demanding professional and scholarly obligations, including research and coursework. On top of this, educators and students alike are now simultaneously coping with, adjusting to, and further preparing for the repercussions of a global pandemic that within a matter of a few months swiftly upended routines taken for granted. In our daily lives, the ability to simply leave our homes and venture into the world has become less of a viable option. In our lives as teachers, replacing in-class instruction with online learning has become a necessity or a likely future possibility. The current situation would seem to be rife for instructional, professional, and personal chaos, yet many teachers have acted as silent heroes, handling the situation with earnest concern for students and others. 

    Though it is too soon to know the long-term consequences that the COVID-19 pandemic will have on K-16 education throughout the world, we are confident that there will remain a need for transformative teachers who are capable of providing opportunities for students to learn new knowledge and skills while also educating them to become more compassionate and justice-oriented. To that end, we hope this eBook may provide a foundation for new, experienced, and future instructors to develop transformative practices and further instill a sense of these values through transformative teaching.


    How We Teach Now (Volume 2): The GSTA Guide to Transformative Teaching

    Click here for a list of the chapters contents, and to download your own copy.

    This blog post originally appeared in the blog for the Program in Educational Psychology at the Graduate Center, CUNY and has been republished with permission.

    Teresa M. Ober, Ph.D., is a Postdoctoral Research Associate in the Department of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame working in the Learning Analytics and Measurement in Behavioral Sciences (LAMBS) Lab. While completing a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology with a certificate in Instructional Technology and Pedagogy from the Graduate Center CUNY, Teresa served as the GSTA Chair (2017-2018). Teresa’s current work focuses on the science of learning, particularly the use of learning analytics, online and educational technologies to support learning, as well as literacy development, and statistics education. 

    Elizabeth S. Che is a doctoral student in the Educational Psychology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include the use of Wikipedia editing to develop students’ writing and other teaching practices that foster the development of workforce relevant skills. She served as the GSTA Deputy Chair from 2017-2018 and GSTA Chair from 2019-May 2020.

    Jessica E. Brodsky is a doctoral student in the Educational Psychology Program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests include media literacy assessment and instruction, and development of online resources for teaching scientific and quantitative literacies. She served as the GSTA Deputy Chair from January 2018 - May 2019 and is currently the GSTA Chair.

    Charles Raffaele is a doctoral candidate in the Educational Psychology program at the Graduate Center, CUNY. His research interests include multimedia-based and game-based second language learning. He is a member of the Child Interactive Learning and Development (CHILD) Lab and the Studying and Self-Regulated Learning SIG of the American Educational Research association. He has served in various capacities of the GSTA since 2015.

    Patricia J. Brooks, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology at the College of Staten Island and the Graduate Center, CUNY. Her research interests are in three broad areas: 1) individual differences in first- and second-language learning; 2) the impact of digital media on learning and development; 3) development of effective pedagogy to support diverse learners. Dr. Brooks served as the Faculty Advisor to the GSTA from 2014-2019.
  • 24 Jul 2020 3:31 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Manpreet Rai, Ph.D., D'Youville College

    Many of you have undoubtedly taken a quick laugh break through This is my shameless plug for the comic that got me through grad school. There is no shortage of comics relating to sleep or lack thereof in this collection of comics. As with many comics, these have a hint of truth to them. It is no surprise, as the research shows, that grad students don’t get enough sleep (Alan et al., 2020; Oswalt & Wyatt, 2015). Not only is the quantity of sleep impacted, but so is the quality as grad students juggle several responsibilities: their own classes, research, families, and teaching, to name a few. In the midst of a pandemic, these sleep problems can be further exacerbated as stress and anxiety increase (Altena et al., 2020; Sher, 2020). Given these intertwining issues, the purpose of this post is to help two-fold:

    1. How to sleep better as busy students.
    2. How to incorporate sleep activities/concepts to any psychology class you’re teaching.

    (Part 1) Let’s start with a checklist to sleep better.

    Sleep Hygiene (health and environmental factors)

    • Keep regular sleep hours
      • An erratic sleep schedule messes up your circadian rhythm and can make getting a full night’s sleep more difficult
      • Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning (even on weekends and vacations)
      • Avoid oversleeping or lying in bed for prolonged periods of time after your sleep is completed
    • Maintain a regular physical activity routine
      • 20-30 minutes daily. This doesn’t have to be rigorous. A simple walk in your neighborhood counts.
      • Physical activity helps with stress and with sleep quality, especially N-REM Stage 3.
    • Don’t forget your diet
      • Finish dinner at least 2 hours before sleeping
      • Avoid eating large meals before bed or too much junk food
      • Do not go to bed hungry or full
      • Take care to eat appropriately during the working/waking time (that means don’t forget breakfast or skip lunch!)
      • Avoid alcohol and caffeine at least 4 hours before bed
      • Avoid over the counter medications that cause sleep problems
    • Establish regular routine and sleeping environment
      • Brush teeth, change clothes, comfortable sleep wear, use the bathroom
      • Relaxing Routine
      • Warm bath/shower
      • Quiet activities
      • Lower lights
      • Limit technology and remove technology from sleeping environment (no television or phone 30 minutes before bed)
      • Use room-darkening curtains
      • Ensure a dark, quiet, cool environment (temperature between 60-72 °F or 20-22 °C)

    Stress Management (techniques to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety)

    • Try stress management strategies that work for you: mindfulness, yoga, relaxation, breathing exercises. (CALM app) warm bath; herbal tea; dim light; reading; music
    • Establish regular routine
    • Limit news intake, especially before bed (especially when we’re overwhelmed with so many different stories, making it hard to distinguish real from fake)
    • Talk about and share dreams you’ve had with others. This self-disclosure builds empathy and relationships, both which actually help sleep.
    • Don’t ruminate
    • Focus on what you can control, and don’t worry about what you can’t
    • Work on emotion regulation. You can actually rehearse what you want to dream, impacting a "dream simulation" in a positive way.
    • Spend time during the day outside in sunlight
    • Ensure your home and work environment lets lots of daylight in 
    • Keep connected to others (live games on Zoom/Skype; check in with others; write a gratitude journal; faith and social clubs)
    • Engage in hobbies (art, music, puzzles etc.)
    • Use Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) principles (Create three columns to write out initial concern, why that creates a perceived fear, and finally a reasonable solution for it).
    • Have hope! We’re in this together!

    (Part 2) Incorporating sleep concepts in your classes

    From the above list of how you can help your own sleep, perhaps you have noticed several themes throughout that relate to different topics within psychology. Sleep education programs exist to help students sleep better (Brown et al, 2002; Blunden, & Rigney, 2015; Tanaka et. al, 2016), but they will not actually learn about the intricacies of sleep itself. Deficiencies in sleep quality and quantity can impact student performance at the academic and social/extracurricular levels (Gilbert & Weaver, 2010; Hershner & O’Brien, 2018; Lowry et al., 2015). However, there are few - if any - explicit ways in which students have devoted time to address their own sleep and understanding of sleep itself. Hence the need for a “Psychology of Sleep” class is as important as ever. From my anecdotal interaction with students, sleep is a topic that comes up a lot in various classes, and even in meetings in general.

    As such, in general psychology classes, you can have students complete a sleep journal using validated sleep scales (i.e., from the national sleep foundation, RUSH sleep scale, or the Epworth Sleepiness Scale (Johns, 1991) to name a few). Further, students who have fitness trackers can track their waking and sleeping activities that speak to how sleep was impacted across several days or weeks. The whole class can do a sleep challenge where you as the instructor or GTA can participate as well.

    In classes where time does not allow for a full self-sleep study with accompanying assignment throughout the semester, you can incorporate this topic into lectures. For example: how sleep impacts memory, learning, consciousness, lifespan development, cognition in general, emotion and motivation, work (I/O psychology), sensation and perception, clinical psychology, health psychology, biological/neuropsychology, drugs and behavior, physiological psychology, forensic psychology, consumer behavior, personality, social psychology and more. As psychology is the scientific study of behavior and mental processes, sleep can speak to all of these processes via the biopsychosocial model in general. As such, it could be a theme throughout any course for the entire semester.

    The moral of the story is that sleep is important for all, including graduate students, to be used both personally and professionally. As the comic below says…let’s all be human!


    Allen, H. K., Barrall, A. L., Vincent, K. B., & Arria, A. M. (2020). Stress and Burnout Among Graduate Students: Moderation by Sleep Duration and Quality. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 1-8.

    Altena, E., Baglioni, C., Espie, C. A., Ellis, J., Gavriloff, D., Holzinger, B., ... & Riemann, D. (2020). Dealing with sleep problems during home confinement due to the COVID‐19 outbreak: Practical recommendations from a task force of the European CBT‐I Academy. Journal of Sleep Research, e13052.

    Blunden, S., & Rigney, G. (2015). Lessons learned from sleep education in schools: a review of dos and don'ts. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 11(06), 671-680. doi: 10.5664/jcsm.4782

    Brown, F. C., & Buboltz, W. C., Jr. (2002). Applying sleep research to university students: Recommendations for developing a student sleep education program. Journal of College Student Development, 43(3), 411–416

    Gilbert, S. P., & Weaver, C. C. (2010). Sleep quality and academic performance in university students: A wake-up call for college psychologists. Journal of college student psychotherapy, 24(4), 295-306.

    Hershner, S., & O'Brien, L. M. (2018). The impact of a randomized sleep education intervention for college students. Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, 14(03), 337-347 doi:/10.5664/jcsm.6974

    Johns, M. W. (1991). A new method for measuring daytime sleepiness: the Epworth sleepiness scale. Sleep, 14(6), 540-545.

    Lowry, M., Dean, K., & Manders, K. (2010). The link between sleep quantity and academic performance for the college student. Sentience, 3(2), 16-9.

    National Sleep Foundation (n.d.) National Sleep Foundation Sleep Diary.

    Oswalt, S. B., & Wyatt, T. J. (2015). Who Needs More Sleep? Comparing Undergraduate and Graduate Students' Sleep Habits in a National US Sample. International Journal of Higher Education, 4(1), 77-85.

    Sher L. (2020). COVID-19, anxiety, sleep disturbances and suicide. Sleep medicine, 70, 124. 

    Tanaka, H., & Tamura, N. (2016). Sleep education with self-help treatment and sleep health promotion for mental and physical wellness in Japan. Sleep and biological rhythms, 14(1), 89-99 doi: 0.1007/s41105-015-0018-6

    TED talks about sleep:

    Dr. Manpreet Rai is an assistant professor in Psychology at D’Youville College Buffalo, NY. Her research interests are in cognitive psychology, namely working memory and language processing. Additionally, she is interested in sleep. Other research interests are in Teaching and Learning within the scholarship of teaching and learning. She loves working with and teaching for overall student success.

  • 22 Jul 2020 1:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Susan A. Nolan, Ph.D., MaryClare Colombo, Seton Hall University

    Does COVID-19-related science have your mind reeling? Don’t wear masks! Wait, please do! You’re at higher risk if your blood is Type A! Not so fast!

    Since the global pandemic altered just about every aspect of our lives, more people than ever are active consumers of science, and are noticing, in real time, the twisting turns of knowledge as it is created. In the past, the general public mostly read journalists’ interpretations of peer-reviewed articles, but now, we’re eager to see the results of every new study. Preprints, the drafts of research papers posted online before peer review, are now read by the public, sometimes without full realization that the paper has not been vetted (except perhaps on Twitter). Nonscientists are suddenly using the lingo of science, asking about samples and replications and even, although maybe not quite with this vocabulary, effect sizes. The open science movement, with its push toward increasing transparency, is making its mainstream debut!

    The pandemic is a (devastatingly) perfect example of how current events, directly related to all of our lives, might drive student interest in understanding the previously murky scientific processes, and the clearer processes engendered by the open-science movement. Indeed, Grahe and colleagues (2019) argue that exposure to open science is not just a good idea, but one that fosters inclusion, helping all students feel connected to the scientific process. We can harness pandemic-related discussions about preprints and replications in the media, and use this as an opening toward discussing the full range of psychological science. And we can impart these lessons across the curriculum (see Morling & Calin-Jageman, 2020). Here, we outline ways to talk about open science in any course, including introductory psychology, and then introduce more advanced ideas suitable for a research or capstone course. This integration of open science can enhance students’ ability to think critically about science from all kinds of sources.  

    Across the curriculum: An open science approach. Open science need not use the “scary” language of statistics. For instruction in lower-level courses, replication is at the center. At its core, the question is whether other researchers can repeat a study’s findings, especially one with an unexpected outcome. Indeed, Chopik and colleagues (2018) reported the benefits of instruction on replication, even at the introductory psychology level, including a better understanding of research generally and open science specifically.

    Based on that premise, we’ll offer some examples of how instructors can embed open-science lessons into all of their courses in ways that encourage critical thinking.

    • Initiate discussions related to behavioral observations from everyday life. What leads people to comply with public health directives such as mask-wearing, for example? How could we study this? If a study comes out, why is it important to wait for a replication?
    • Initiate discussions related to news articles. Share news articles about psychology research, and ask what students can determine about the study, including the sample, from the news report. Explore with them how to dig deeper, including to find out whether this finding has repeated.
    • Introduce crowdsourcing, with all of its pros and cons. When a study appears to be based on crowdsourced data, such as a community sample recruited through a platform like Amazon Mechanical Turk (, encourage students to consider why that sample might be better than an introductory psychology participant pool, why the self-selected nature of such a sample might be problematic, and how such methods might be unethical (e.g., extremely low pay).
    • Introduce the open-science-badge initiative from the Center for Open Science ( Show your students how to find out if a study they read in the news has any badges by looking at the peer-reviewed journal article. Ask students what they can learn from each of the badges, and why it’s important to have this kind of transparency.

    Upper-level courses: Preregistration. For upper-level courses—whether research methods or laboratory courses—we can teach students about open science via the online preregistration process, such as the one on the Open Science Foundation’s website ( Here, we’ll talk about a Seton Hall University course, Laboratory Research Experience (LRE), in which students attend a once-a-week class to learn practical research skills while also working in a faculty member’s laboratory gaining hands-on experience. Courses such as LRE teach students research basics such as finding and reading scientific sources, the steps in the research process, and how to present and write about research (Joh, 2019). Students can jump into the process at any point, charged with the typical tasks of a research assistant. In the lab, students can use open-science tools—particularly preregistration—as simple, yet powerful, classroom-to-laboratory bridges, while increasing critical thinking skills.

    Students can understand two important concepts through preregistration—HARKing, or hypothesizing after the results are known, and p-hacking, manipulation of data and analyses to achieve statistical significance. Preregistration reduces these sketchy practices by detailing hypotheses, methodology, materials, and planned analyses in a time-stamped online log before data collection (Nosek et al., 2018). Students can complete a preregistration as a course project by using information from an Institutional Research Board application and asking questions of lab supervisors. In one study of a senior-level research course, students first reported unfamiliarity with preregistration, but later reported that completing a preregistration increased connections between methodology and statistics, prevented later changes in statistical decisions, and improved time and careful thought spent on research design (Blincoe & Buchert, 2020). In our own LRE course, undergraduate students took charge of the preregistration process, overseen by us (a professor and a graduate student), for an actual study; after completing this detailed assignment, they exhibited deep knowledge of the research process.

    Preregistration could also be used as a classroom exercise to teach about ethical research considerations. Students could design a replication study and work through a preregistration assignment in groups. (The assignments in this case would not ultimately be uploaded to OSF.) Due to the precision required for preregistration, students must consider how study components fit together, why certain decisions are made, and what implications and restrictions arise. A discussion following the activity should highlight the importance of preregistration as it relates to research ethics and ask what students perceive as the benefit of completing the preregistration.

    In summary, many aspects of open science are accessible to students at all levels of the undergraduate psychology curriculum. As the messy nature of the research process is increasingly visible to the general public, an understanding of open science can help our students to develop the critical mindset necessary to navigate the world.


    Blincoe, S., & Buchert, S. (2020). Research preregistration as a teaching and learning tool in undergraduate psychology courses. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 19(1), 107-115.

    Chopik, W. J., Bremner, R. H., Defever, A. M., & Keller, V. N. (2018). How (and whether) to teach undergraduates about the replication crisis in psychological science. Teaching of psychology, 45(2), 158-163.

    Grahe, J. E., Cuccolo, K., Leighton, D. C., & Cramblet Alvarez, L. D. (2020). Open science promotes diverse, just, and sustainable research and educational outcomes. Psychology Learning & Teaching, 19(1), 5-20. /10.1177/1475725719869164

    Joh, A. (2019). PSYC 2315/2316: Laboratory research experience [Syllabus]. Department of Psychology, Seton Hall University.

    Morling, B., & Calin-Jageman, R. J. (2020). What psychology teachers should know about open science and the new statistics. Teaching of Psychology, 47(2), 169-179.

    Nosek, B. A., Ebersole, C. R., DeHaven, A. C., & Mellor, D. T. (2018). The preregistration revolution. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 115(11), 2600-2606.

    Authors' Bios

    Susan A. Nolan, Ph.D. is a professor at Seton Hall University, an author of statistics and introductory psychology textbooks, and President Elect of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology. Susan is co-editor of a new book on assessment of undergraduate psychology ( and is on Twitter @Susan_A_Nolan.

    MaryClare Colombo is a Master’s student in Experimental Psychology at Seton Hall University, where she is also pursuing a certificate in Data Analytics. She has several blossoming research interests including mental illness stigma and engagement in learning.

  • 21 Jul 2020 5:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Natasha Segool, Ph.D., Margaret Tarampi, Ph.D., Beth Richards, M.F.A., Jessica Nicklin, Ph.D., University of Hartford

    Writing and effective communication are hard! As professors and graduate students in psychology, we engage in a very specialized community that disseminates our scientific knowledge through peer-reviewed journal articles, books, scholarly blogs, and other professional products. Indeed, as graduate students we immerse ourselves in dissecting scientific literature and eventually, through many iterations and by receiving critical feedback on our drafts, we produce a scholarly dissertation as the hallmark of our expertise on a specialized topic. This is often a grueling, years-long learning process that is undoubtedly influenced by our earlier writing experiences in both college and the K-12 educational system. Yet, as we become expert writers, it can be hard to remember how daunting and anxiety-provoking writing can be for undergraduate college students. Effectively teaching our students to write skillfully is even harder—we discuss in this blog post two promising strategies for supporting psychology-majors’ writing experiences.

    Entering college, few high school students are well-prepared for first-year writing courses that are designed to provide general, non-disciplinary, academic writing instruction (Aull, 2015). In 12th grade, just 27% of high school students score at or above the “proficiency” standards on the National Assessment of Educational Progress writing assessment, which assesses students’ ability to persuade, explain, or convey experiences to a specific audience (U.S. Dept. of Education, 2011). Further, just what makes a “good writer” is often unclear to students and instructors, especially disciplinary instructors, and each need clear (and shared) descriptions of the expected organization, skills, language, and argumentation strategies expected in academic discourse. As a result, students often do not know what type of writing is expected of them or how to translate their current skills into the murkily-framed expectations of collegiate instructors (Aull, 2015).

    Recognizing that writing is an essential learning outcome for psychology majors, we describe a program evaluation of specially designed courses providing writing instruction for Psychology majors. We examined instruction through curriculum-based Learning Communities (LC) and major-specific cohorts of first-year psychology majors in comparison to traditional non-major-specific instruction through our University’s Academic Writing general education program. Our hope was that LC and Cohort courses would address writing skill deficits among students, enhance retention and academic success, and enhance community among Psychology majors. Our results suggest promising relational and learning effects.

    Psychology-Writing Partnership

    Learning communities (LCs) involve groups of students sharing similar academic goals, collaborating on coursework, or focusing on learning distinct skills (Kern & Kingsbury, 2019). Curriculum-based LCs link two or more courses serving the same group of students (Zrull, Rocheleau, Smith, & Bergman, 2012). They are implemented on college campuses and in universities to build stronger relationships between students, increase student engagement, and enhance academic achievement.  Research supports numerous benefits of LCs including higher GPAs and university retention (Baker & Pomerantz, 2001; Bonet & Walters, 2016; Kern & Kingsbury, 2019). Other significant benefits include improved sense of belonging in the major (Masika & Jones, 2015), which has been found to be associated with reduced dropout (O’Keefe, 2013). Furthermore, Buch and Spaulding (2008) found that in a longitudinal study of a psychology LC, students had greater retention, academic progress, academic involvement, and satisfaction within their major. 

    The Department of Psychology at our mid-sized university partnered with the Academic Writing program to pilot two new approaches to instruction in comparison to traditional instruction: (1) cohorting psychology-majors in a typical writing course to create a major-specific community within a non-major course and (2) developing a learning community that paired a 200-level Psychology course with a writing course to create a major-specific LC emphasizing “writing for psychology.” The cohort writing course, just like the traditional non-major-specific course, emphasized the practices of close readings of diverse texts, critical thinking, and rhetorical writing as a multistep process. In the LC, a few writing assignments were planned across both courses, providing students greater instruction in writing for the psychology discipline. Over a period of five years, we surveyed 128 students at the end of their writing course using questionnaires to assess their experiences in the different classes. 

    We found that students reported significant positive effects of both the LC and the major cohort courses. In comparison to students in the traditional general education writing classes, students in the LC reported greater overall academic writing and psychology writing skills, greater confidence in their psychology writing skills, and greater connectedness with their peers. Interestingly, compared to the major-cohort students, the LC students reported significantly greater overall academic writing and psychology writing skills, and greater connectedness, suggesting that the LC students demonstrated greater positive learning and relational outcomes. It is possible that the LC benefited from the scaffolding of concepts across courses. The Cohort students reported some benefits compared to students in the traditional classes, including greater psychology writing skills, greater commitment to their major, and fewer plans to change their major. Interestingly, we found indirect benefits of greater commitment to their major and lower major turnover intent among the Cohort, but not the LC, and the LC students reported lower University commitment than students in the Cohort. It is possible this could be due to the greater choice students in the Cohort had in selecting their Psychology courses (versus taking the pre-selected psychology Learning Community course).

    Ultimately, in education, and especially in this time of tight higher-education budgets, we must look for promising pedagogical interventions that are low-cost yet have the potential to make a meaningful impact on students. This intervention, which was cost-neutral for students, and low-cost for the university ($400 in instructor professional development) positively impacted not only student perceptions of learning and skill development but also relational outcomes and major commitment. We encourage graduate students to teach within Learning Communities if you have the opportunity – or to advocate for the development of first-year Learning Communities – especially within the area of writing. Not only will your students benefit, but we hope that working closely with an expert writing instructor will benefit your own teaching.


    Aull, L. (2015). First-year university writing: A corpus-based study with implications for pedagogy. Palgrave.

    Baker, S., & Pomerantz, N. (2000). Impact of earning communities on retention at a metropolitan university. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory & Practice, 2(2), 115–126. doi: 10.2190/62p5-cq2u-ntuw-dm1c

    Bonet, G., & Walters, B. R. (2016). High impact practices: Student engagement and retention. TheCollege Student, 15, 224-235.

    Buch, K., & Spaulding, S. (2008). A longitudinal assessment of an initial cohort in a psychology learning community. Teaching of Psychology, 35, 189-193. doi:10.1080/00986280802181582

    Kern, B., & Kingsbury, T. (2019). Curricular learning communities and retention. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 19(1). doi: 10.14434/josotl.v19i1.26779

    Masika, R., & Jones, J. (2015). Building student belonging and engagement: insights into higher education students’ experiences of participating and learning together. Teaching in Higher Education, 21(2), 138–150. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2015.1122585

    O'Keefe, P. (2013). A sense of belonging: Improving student retention. College Student Journal, 47(4), 605–613. Retrieved from

    U.S. Department of Education (2011). National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2011 Writing Assessment. summary.aspx

    Zrull, M. C., Rocheleau, C. A., Smith, M. C., & Bergman, S. M. (2012). Curriculum-based learning communities centered within a discipline. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2012(132), 19–29. doi: 10.1002/tl.20033

    Authors' Bios

    Natasha Segool is an Associate Professor of Psychology and the Director of the Undergraduate Program in Psychology at the University of Hartford. Her scholarship focuses on teacher stress and student anxiety in educational settings.  Natasha is a dedicated teacher-scholar who is proud to train school psychologists to be skilled mental health providers. Natasha leads with a student-first perspective and diligently promotes student success.

    Margaret Tarampi is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at University of Hartford. Her Spatial Cognition and Physical Environments (SCaPE) Laboratory investigates the cognitive mechanisms that underlie space perception and spatial cognition in select populations including visually impaired individuals and spatial experts such as dancers and architects. She implements an interdisciplinary approach in her teaching by employing student-centered teaching methods that use content and approaches from other disciplines.

    Beth Richards is an assistant professor in the Department of English and Modern Languages and director of the First- and Second-Year Writing Programs. A former technical writer, her work at the University of Hartford focuses on helping students develop effective writing skills for their academic journey and for their future careers. She also works extensively with faculty in various disciplines, helping them more effectively integrate discipline-specific writing into their courses. She does not have pets, but she does have an adopted philodendron that is conspiring to take over her home office. 

    Jessica Nicklin is the Associate Vice President for Student Success and an Associate Professor of Psychology at the University of Hartford.  She is dedicated to providing innovative solutions for student success and retention. Her research interests include work-life management, positive psychology, and motivation in the workplace. Jessica is published in several prestigious outlets, including Psychological Bulletin, and is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the Inaugural Schmidt Hunter Meta-Analysis Award.

  • 18 Jul 2020 3:15 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: The GSTA Steering Committee

    This position statement and call to action was originally published on June 11, 2020 at

    The GSTA stands in solidarity with #BlackLivesMatter and with fellow graduate students of color. The events of the past several weeks have, once again, highlighted how systemic racism and inequality have long permeated our lives. We call on our departments, institutions, and professional organizations to address these issues in the context of graduate student admissions, training, and mentorship. As graduate students, we must also address these issues in our circles of impact. Advocating for inclusion, equity, and anti-racism should be at the heart of our scholarship, our teaching, and our practice.

    As graduate student teaching assistants and instructors of courses in psychology, we must recognize and acknowledge the ways that our own and our students’ experiences, prejudices, and biases shape our classrooms. If you are not familiar, we encourage you to seek out resources to educate yourself on the history of racism and injustice in and beyond higher education. It is not the job of your students or colleagues of color to educate others. For our colleagues of color and for those who are teaching students of color right now, we hope that you and your students are being supported in your actions and decisions inside and outside the classroom.

    Looking ahead, we must find ways to show support for our students and colleagues through our actions as educators. We call on our fellow graduate student teaching assistants and instructors in psychology to:

    • Decolonize your syllabi by including the work of scholars and psychologists from diverse identities and backgrounds.
    • Adopt anti-racist and culturally responsive teaching and assessment practices.
    • Create inclusive learning environments that celebrate diversity, do not tolerate discrimination, and embrace all voices and opinions.
    • Discuss with students and colleagues how discrimination and inequity have shaped the field of psychology and the world around us.
    • Engage with students and colleagues across disciplines in activism to create change in your classrooms, institutions, and communities.
    • Above all, be compassionate and supportive to your students, your colleagues, and yourself during these times.

    Our actions as today’s graduate student teaching assistants and instructors set the tone for what the psychology classroom and the field of psychology will look like now and in the future. We call upon you and ourselves to be the change we want to see in this future.

    Over the upcoming months, the GSTA Steering Committee will be collaborating with editors of the GSTA Blog ( to post resources addressing these action items. We also invite our community to engage with us in an ongoing dialogue about possible and effective ways to foster inclusion, equity, and anti-racism in our classrooms, institutions, and communities. Voicing your opinions, suggestions, and needs is crucial to guiding our work. We can be reached on Facebook ( and Twitter (@gradsteachpsych), as well as by email at


    The GSTA Steering Committee

    Jessica Brodsky, Adam Green, Amy Maslowski, Laura Simon, Terrill Taylor, Maaly Younis

  • 14 Jul 2020 6:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Barnard C. Beins, Ph.D., Ithaca College

    In choosing potential dating partners, women are more selective than men, right? Did we actually need research to know this?

    Psychological research, especially research that finds its way into mass media, often evokes the dreaded response by non-psychologists that the outcome is so obvious that there was no need to conduct the study. This is nothing new. Over a century ago, E. C. Sanford wrote that “Somebody has defined psychology (with a touch of cynicism) as the science of what everybody knew beforehand, anyway” (1906, p. 118). The exercise I describe here is designed to illustrate to students that they need to go beyond obvious and cursory explanations about research findings.

    To start, we should ask how obvious our results really are. Although we clearly have some insights into human behavior, our ability to predict outcomes in advance may not be as good as we would like to think.  For example, consider the possible outcomes listed below from five studies that I have taken from the published literature. (These are not “Gotcha” types of findings for which one would learn to pick the “less obvious” outcome.) Can you pick out the actual result (A, B, or C)?

    I ask my students to identify the actual outcome; I subsequently group them in pairs to come up with an explanation for the results. As it turns out, they can come up with plausible reasons for the answer they choose, even when they are wrong. This exercise serves to let them know that predicting results is not as straightforward as they might think and that results might be obvious only in hindsight.

    Available Materials

    These materials that follow are part of my presentation at the 2020 Eastern Psychological Association convention. The entire set of scenarios, reference citations, and classroom materials (along with the presentation itself) are available on my website:

    Select the Actual Outcome




    Short tests in school lead to worse performance.

    Test length is unrelated to test performance.

    Short tests in school lead to better performance.

    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score lower than women not wearing lipstick.

    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score about the same as women not wearing lipstick.

    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score higher than women not wearing lipstick.

    People with high cognitive abilities (i.e., smart people) are less likely than others to form social stereotypes.

    People with high cognitive abilities (i.e., smart people) are just as likely as others to form social stereotypes.

    People with high cognitive abilities (i.e., smart people) are more likely than others to form social stereotypes.

    When looking at reviews of online products, people pay more attention to how many people reviewed a product than to the rating of the product.

    When looking at reviews of online products, people pay about equal attention to how many people reviewed a product as to the rating of the product.

    When looking at reviews of online products, people pay less attention to how many people reviewed a product than to the rating of the product.

    Women spend less time making eye contact with men they know are gay than with men they know are straight.

    Women spend about the same amount of time making eye contact with men they know are gay as with men they know are straight.

    Women spend more time making eye contact with men they know are gay than with men they know are straight.

    How Well Do Students Perform?

                When I ask my students to give their best guesses on an expanded set of 15 studies, they are invariably at chance levels. The level of accuracy is pretty constant across sections and semesters.

                I should point out that students do score relatively well with some scenarios. For instance, 75% of students correctly predicted that people undergoing stress are likely to gain weight. And they were correct 57% of the time when speculating that the sleep of people with insomnia improves when they take vitamins. I point out to them that the purpose of this exercise is not to embarrass them, but to show the difficulty of our task as psychological researchers. In addition, when I have demonstrated this for Ph.D.-level psychologists, they were no better than students in their guesses.

                As such, why are outcomes so “obvious” after you know what actually happened? Our job as researchers (and as people) is to construct a good story about why people behave as they do. It is pretty easy to construct a plausible story in each of the scenarios above, (although as psychologists we call them interpretations) regardless of the direction of the outcome. Solid interpretations can be very convincing, even if you are describing an outcome that is opposite to the real result.

    Goals of the Exercise

                I use this activity in my Research Methods class, although it is also effective in an introductory class. I like this demonstration because it helps students understand three important points. First, predicting research outcomes is difficult, although experts may be right more often than others in their specialty area. Interestingly, it appears that expertise is fairly narrow; when experts discuss matters even a little outside their specialty, their knowledge pretty quickly becomes similar to that of a layperson (Pigliucci, 2010).

    We do research because we want to know with a level of confidence what people do and why they do it. And we won’t know that until we actually do the research.

                The second point is that we can come up with plausible explanations, no matter how research turns out. But just because we can generate an explanation, it doesn’t mean that we actually understand the phenomena we are investigating. After all, we can construct compelling stories that are the opposite of what actually occurred.

                A third, related point is that for most research results, there are multiple possible explanations for the outcome. When students generate explanations, they often generate different reasons to explain the same predicted results. This points out the need to plan further research so we can identify the best explanation and, as with most complex behavior, why we need to pay attention to combinations of variables. Students are often quite good at asking “What would happen if we manipulated this or that variable?”

    How Well Did You Do?

    How well did you predict the outcomes? The table below shows the actual outcome and the percent of my students who picked the real result.

    Actual Outcome

    Percent of Students Answering Correctly

    Short tests in school lead to worse performance.


    Women wearing lipstick while taking a test score higher than women not wearing lipstick.


    People with high cognitive abilities (i.e., smart people) are more likely than others to form social stereotypes.


    When looking at reviews of online products, people pay more attention to how many people reviewed a product than to the rating of the product.


    Women spend more time making eye contact with men they know are gay than with men they know are straight.


                Finally, to address the issue I posed at the beginning about women being more selective than men in choosing a dating partner, maybe the answer isn’t so obvious. If you change the parameters of the setting, women and men seem to show similar levels of selectivity (Finkel & Eastwick, 2009). This is why we do “obvious” research.


    Finkel, E. J., & Eastwick, P. W. (2009). Arbitrary social norms influence sex differences in romantic selectivity. Psychological Science, 20(10), 1290-1295.

    Pigliucci, M. (2010). Nonsense on stilts: How to tell science from bunk. University of Chicago Press.

    Ryan, R. M., Bernstein, J. H., & Brown, K. W. (2010). Weekends, work, and well-being: Psychological need satisfactions and day of the week effects on mood, vitality, and physical symptoms. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 29(1), 95-122.

    Sanford, E. C. (1906). A sketch of a beginner's course in psychology. Pedagogical Seminary, 13(1), 118-124.

    The British Psychological Society has a digest in which they provided a list of 10 counterintuitive research findings:

    Authors' Bio

    Barney Beins is Professor of Psychology at Ithaca College. He is the author of Research Methods: A Tool for Life (Cambridge University Press) and co-author of Effective Writing in Psychology: Posters, Papers and Presentations (Wiley) and The Worth Expert Guide to Scientific Literacy (Worth Publishers). He has taught at Ithaca College since 1986. He is a Fellow of the American Psychological Society, the American Psychological Association, the Eastern Psychological Association, and the New England Psychological Association. He also served as president of the Society for the Teaching of Psychology and of the New England Psychological Association. He is the 2020 president of the Eastern Psychological Association.

  • 30 Jun 2020 3:31 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Thomas E Heinzen, Ph.D., William Paterson University

    When was the last time a student turned in an exam and then begged the professor, “That was so much fun! Would you let me take it again but next time, please, make it a little more difficult!”  

    Never? Well, that happens all the time in game design. The extravagant promise that game designers make to higher education is that we can induce academic persistence. That includes students labeled as “poorly prepared” or “just not ready.” Many of those same students will hurry home after class in order to spend the next eight hours playing a difficult video game, learning from (and teaching) fellow players, managing complex on-line relationships, and figuring out constantly changing rules. They’re doing all the stuff we want them to do for a grade but for the pure joy of achievement. Yet we dare to think of them as “unmotivated.” 

    Higher education has a lot to learn from game designers (see Schell, 2008). A mash-up of definitions produces the idea that play is the voluntary expenditure of exuberant energy in an aimless activity: voluntary energy. The definition of a game is just as important: Arbitrary obstacles that make it difficult to achieve a specific goal: rules and goals. 

    My cousin and I were “just playing” when we kicked an empty box down the sidewalk of a New York City street. But we started “playing a game” when we invented a competition to see who could kick the box the farthest. What, specifically, can professors and curriculum designers learn from game designers? Here are four principles. 

    1. Deliver an Experience.  Game designers don’t design games; they design experiences. They use game mechanics to deliver that experience. In chemistry lab, the experience could be an almost pure solution; in psychology, an “aha” moment of self-recognition; in literature, a shock of understanding. 

    Two actor friends started laughing while watching an independently produced film. They had spotted a boom mike dipping into the tippy top of the screen. But they still loved the film because it delivered a satisfying experience even though some of the filmmaking mechanics were sloppy. 

    2. Get Good at Onboarding. Game designers recognize onboarding as the most critical moment in a game. Onboarding in a course is a first impression opportunity to grab and sustain a student’s attention. Onboarding makes players want to play and students want to learn. 

    Some professors design the first moments of a class the way a novelist labors over an opening sentence. They might come to class ten minutes early to chat with incoming students. The number of possible course points in the syllabus can convey impressions of fairness. The first contact with students is bursting with consequential opportunities.  

    3. Design a Flow Zone. The flow zone carries students higher up the ladder of difficulty (“leveling up” in game-speak).  A flow zone relies on the same game mechanic financial planners use to carry clients to a safe, early retirement: continuous rebalancing. 

    A teaching flow zone continuously rebalances difficulty and rewards as it shifts the student’s experience from extrinsic to intrinsic motivation. Many classic games (Tetris, Pac Man) require greater achievements before accelerating the game’s pace. A flow zone can sustain a student’s engagement from week to week, course to course, and across an entire, satisfying career. 

    4. Model Failing Forward. Higher education too often relies on threats to motivate learning. An error lowers your grade; too many leads to an embarrassing trip to the Dean; keep it up and higher education rejects you from the system. But a fear of failing that can be lethal to authentic learning. So change things, teachers: get out there and fail! (see Bennett, 2017).

    Don’t be timid; there is plenty of failure to go around. Toddlers learn to walk by experiencing many painful failures. Yet they learn because a) walking looks like fun; b) they suspect there is a cookie high up on the table, and c) everyone else is doing it. Higher education succeeds when the effort is fun, rewarding, and common (see Birney, Burdick, & Teevan, 1969; Boston & Zhao, 2017).

    In 2015, an APA symposium presented game-based applications to diabetes management, aging, education, assessment, and much more. Game labs are promoting “serious games” and using fun to solve social problems. So, if you are thinking about or playing with game design to improve the art of your teaching and learning, you’re not alone! This is a growing interest among many educators. 


    Bennett, J. (2017, June 24). On campus, failure is on the syllabus. The New York Times. Retrieved from 

    Boston, P. & Zhao, B. (2017). Failing to innovate. Ivey Business Journal. Retrieved from 

    Birney, R. C., Burdick, H., & Teevan, R. C. (1969). Fear of failure. Van Nostrand-Reinhold Company.

    Heinzen, T. E., Gordon, M. S., Landrum, R. E., Gurung, R. A., Dunn, D. S., & Richman, S. (2015). A parallel universe: Psychological science in the language of game design. In Gamification in education and business (pp. 133-149). Springer, Cham.

    Heinzen, T. E., & Ivezaj, S. (2019). Fat Points and Fairness: Inserting a Minor Game Mechanic in the Syllabus. Journal of Applied Testing Technology, 20(S1), 60-68.

    Lee, P. T. Y., Chau, M., & Lui, R. W. C. (2019). The Role of Attitude toward Challenge in Serious Game Design. Journal of Computer Information Systems, 1-12.

    Schell, J. (2008). The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses. CRC press.

  • 19 Jun 2020 4:24 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Laura Freberg, Ph.D., California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and Stephanie Cacioppo, Ph.D., University of Chicago.

    All of us have been there. Our herculean efforts to assemble fascinating experiences for students are met not with rapt attention, but with mobile phones and bored expressions. The goal of promoting engagement seems impossibly elusive, especially when coupled with COVID-19 adjustments to our means of instruction.

    What does it mean to be “engaged” with course material? Our dictionaries tell us that to engage means to “make an effort to understand.” We can present the most amazing class experiences, but if the students don’t meet us halfway, it’s all for naught.

    How then, do we encourage students to make an effort to understand? To answer that question, we need to dig deeper into students’ motivations. Although we all know the dangers of introspection, it might be useful to contemplate what drives your own engagement with psychology. What attracted you to this amazing field of study? What were you trying to accomplish in your own search for knowledge?

    In this personal search, you might find yourself thinking, “I was so curious about what makes people do what they do!” The concept of curiosity fits rather nicely with our construct of engagement. To be curious means that you have a “strong desire to know or learn something.” In other words, curiosity is what leads to engagement.

    Psychology has a rich history of examining curiosity. William James (1899) called it “the impulse toward better cognition.” Pavlov (1927) called it the “what-is-it” impulse. More recently, Kidd and Hayden (2014) refer to curiosity as a “drive state for information.” Curiosity has been presented as a trait, whether that is an aspect of openness to experience, novelty-seeking, need for cognition, intrinsic motivation, tolerance for ambiguity, sensation-seeking, and even IQ. Curiosity seems developmental, as each leaf, twig, and bug encountered on a walk with a two-year-old is special.

    Does this mean that curiosity is fixed?  Are we doomed to work with students whose engagement is simply low? No! Looking around us, we see many situations in which people from all walks of life are perched on the edge of their seats waiting to see what will happen next. Will Elizabeth Barrett and Mr. Darcy finally get together? Who will sit on the Iron Throne? What is going on in Tiger King? Is there a person among us who hasn’t clicked on click-bait at least once? We maintain, with an homage to Carol Dweck, that curiosity is not fixed but rather something that we can grow.

    A somewhat neglected article by George Lowenstein, published in 1994, provides a road map to growing curiosity. Lowenstein argued that curiosity happens in a special place between what we know and what we need to know, or within the so-called “curiosity gap.” Think about the following—are you more distracted when listening to another person speak on the phone, or when you overhear a conversation at a restaurant? Most people say the former is more distracting. Lowenstein would argue that listening to a phone conversation naturally elicits curiosity from us, because there is a gap between what we’re hearing from the person who is present and what the entire conversation is all about. We try to fill in the gaps! A master of manipulating the curiosity gap is the tech giant LinkedIn. All of us have received notifications saying, “someone has looked at your profile.” We ask ourselves with considerable curiosity, “who could that be?” Then LinkedIn provides a solution. By “upgrading to Premium,” you can close the gap. The user interface (UX) community is far more familiar with George Lowenstein than most psychologists are, and they use the curiosity gap constantly to push us in a particular direction, usually toward a purchase.

    How can psychology instructors harness the curiosity gap to promote student engagement? Again, let’s think about tasks that make us feel curious, like playing Trivial Pursuit or completing a puzzle. Two principles stand out: 1) Curiosity is highest when confidence is moderate, and 2) Curiosity is highest when learning the solution is valuable. Both principles can be applied in the classroom with a minimum of effort.

    We see the impact of confidence on engagement in our classes every day. Students with too little confidence shut down. The gap between what they already know and what they’re being asked to learn is too great. These students might benefit from many low-stakes practice opportunities and the presentation of material in small chunks. Regular formative feedback gently nudges them to greater confidence. The gap narrows to a manageable width. Then there are those who come into our classes thinking that they already “know” human behavior. We need to rattle their confidence a bit, perhaps by addressing common psychological myths and demonstrating the gaps that we are trying to fill with our own research programs.

    More specifically, we can take advantage of the natural “puzzles” of our field. In a presentation at NITOP 2020, Daniel Willingham noted that students learn surface facts rather than deeper principles because facts are easy to understand and will appear on tests. He believed that deeper thinking could be stimulated by framing lessons that invite problem solving. Focusing on the questions that drove classic studies (what was Stanley Milgram actually trying to figure out?) and using case-based and problem-based learning activities can energize a classroom.

    A simple redo of how we ask in-class questions can also promote considerable curiosity. Ask a question with several alternatives. After students have answered, knock out one of the incorrect (but popular) alternatives and let them try again. Promote discussion as students work out the answer. As the alternatives are knocked out, you will hear the volume of the discussion go up as students argue for their favorite answer.

    One of our favorite approaches is to start each lesson by asking students what questions they have about the topic. What do you need to know about memory? What do you want to know about psychological disorders? Then use their questions to frame your presentations and activities.

    These approaches manage the issue of moderate confidence, but we still must address the matter of valuable learning. In psychology, this should be easy. Every topic we cover has personal relevance, but sometimes students need our help to make the connections. As Sue Frantz is fond of saying, “what does my neighbor the plumber need to know about action potentials?” If the answer is “nothing,” we might reconsider covering the material. With all due respect to Sue, we think her neighbor should know about action potentials if he is contemplating adjusting his neurochemistry with either recreational or prescription substances. In general, though, we need to make the “so-what” factor of our material very explicit.

    William James, in his 1899 Talks to Teachers on Psychology, set lofty goals for us, including making students remember our class until their dying days. By harnessing students’ curiosity gaps and illustrating the everyday value of our field, we don’t guarantee that we’ll meet James’ criteria completely, but our students might start to put down the social media and pay attention.


    James, W. (1899). Talks to teachers on psychology: And to students on some of life’s ideals. New York: Holt.

    Kidd, C., & Hayden, B. Y. (2015). The psychology and neuroscience of curiosity. Neuron88(3), 449–460. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2015.09.010

    Loewenstein, G. (1994). The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation. Psychological Bulletin, 116(1), 75-98.

    Pavlov, I.P. (1927). Conditioned reflexes: An investigation of the physiological activity of the cerebral cortex (G. V. Anrep, Trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Willingham, D. (January, 2020). Teaching students to think critically about psychology. General Session presentation at NITOP, St. Petersburg, FL.

    Authors' Bios

    Laura Freberg. Laura Freberg is Professor of Psychology at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. She received her bachelors, masters, and PhD from UCLA and conducted her dissertation research with Robert Rescorla of Yale University. Freberg co-authors Discovering Psychology: The Science of Mind (3rd ed.) and authors Discovering Behavioral Neuroscience: An Introduction to Biological Psychology (4th ed.), both for Cengage, and is lead author on Research Methods in Psychological Science (2017) for Top Hat. Freberg is the Psychology Consultant for the New York Times InEducation program. She served as the 2018-2019 President of the Western Psychological Association.

    Stephanie Cacioppo. Named a “Rising Star” by the Association for Psychological Science for her innovative and outstanding contributions to the science of psychology and woman’s health, Dr. Steph Cacioppo is the world authority on social brain dynamics and wellness. Her work focuses on the dynamics of emotions and social connections and their impact on brain health and human performance. The first female President of the Society for Social Neuroscience, Dr. Steph also served as the director of the Affective Science Center of Excellence at the Mamba Sports Academy and is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine.

  • 09 Jun 2020 1:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Michelle Schmidt, Ph.D., Moravian College

    More and more, teaching and learning is moving away from traditional methods and focusing instead on opportunities for students to engage outside of the classroom, work collaboratively, and be more engaged in the local community. Community-based learning is one pedagogy that allows students to use their research skills while serving the community (Ingman, 2016).  Community-based research allows students and community partners to collaboratively identify a research question, operationalize the variables, explore a research design and data collection approaches, analyze data, and disseminate the results (Mello-Goldner, 2019).

    The benefits of students engaging in community-based research are underscored by the findings of the Council on Undergraduate Research, which reports that the benefits of undergraduate research include greater critical thinking, problem solving, and intellectual independence, as well as a deeper understanding of research methodology.

    Given my interests in developmental psychology, undergraduate research, nonprofit organizations, and student-community engagement, I decided to try a community-based research project in my upper level developmental psychology seminar. Having used service-learning in my courses for 20 years, this seemed like a new and exciting way to engage students with the local community.

    The theme of my seminar was stress and families. In the course, we typically spend a lot of time reading about at-risk youth and relevant social policy. Before I began teaching a recent iteration of this course, I became aware of a local YMCA’s interest in evaluating their summer campers’ experiences. The camp had been run for decades, but they never evaluated to determine if the camps were doing what they intended to do. It seemed to me that my seminar was relevant to summer camp for at-risk youth, and I might have a perfect match for helping the Y design a study of summer camp effectiveness. And so began the community partnership between my seminar students and a local nonprofit organization.

    Over the course of the semester, 4 full-time YMCA staff partnered with the class, visiting and engaging with the class several times. Everyone started at the same place: Something about summer camp needed to be evaluated to determine if the campers were having a beneficial summer experience. Beyond that, everything had to be figured out. The Y staff described summer camp to the class, and the class described research on camp effectiveness to the Y staff. With time and effort, the students proposed what had perhaps been obvious all along, studying whether the local Y’s summer camp successfully advanced the 3 primary goals of camp: Achievement, Belonging, and Relationship Building. 

    The students organized themselves into the three focus areas and launched their efforts to research these areas in relation to summer camp type experiences, paying attention to research methodologies along the way. With a shared Google spreadsheet, students worked individually, within their groups, and with the larger class to keep a log of their resources and progress. We devoted time in class each week for students to share their “leads” with the rest of the class. The end goal was a formal presentation of the proposed study with a how-to guide for the Y staff with each student having contributed to the design of that study but also writing an individual research paper on their own piece of the pie.

    It worked! After 14 weeks, the class delivered a well-designed study that was grounded in the literature that the YMCA staff carried out a month after the class ended. Students reported numerous benefits of the community-based research partnership that can be organized around 4 themes:

    • Real Work: Students enjoyed working in a consulting type capacity for the nonprofit.
    • Applied Work: Students saw the benefits of communicating their knowledge and using their skills for something bigger than a grade.
    • Nonprofits: Students gained a better understanding and appreciation for the work of nonprofits.
    • Rigorous but Worth It: Students reported that the course was rigorous and time consuming but very worthwhile.

    The benefits for student learning and engagement were fabulous, but, as always, the course was not without its challenges:

    • The community-based research was a larger assignment than the traditional research paper that students would have completed for the course, so it was time consuming and more challenging for students from a “thinking” perspective. 
    • For the instructor, there was more work required to coordinate the students and the community partner and to oversee the progress of the research. 
    • Also for the instructor, there was a great deal of planning that had to be done before the course started—establishing the nonprofit that needed this type of work done, laying out a plan for the nonprofit before the exact plan could be known, and coordinating schedules and planning meetings throughout the semester. 

    But as the instructor, my takeaway was the same as my students: Rigorous, but worth it!

    For those wishing to establish a community-based research project, I offer the following tips:

    • Identify local nonprofits whose goals match your teaching areas 
    • Make connections and learn the needs of a local nonprofit or two
    • Think about your courses and how the students could assist the nonprofits with their research needs (I have also used a model in which students did service learning for the organization while they were doing research with the organization)
    • Be sure you have people at the nonprofit who are willing to work with you and your students throughout the semester
    • Be willing to not know everything at the start of the semester; much of community-based research projects with students get figured out as you go along!


    Council on Undergraduate Research (2020). Mission.

    Ingman B. C. (2016). The student experience of community-based research: An autoethnography.

    Journal of Higher Education Outreach and Engagement, 20, 62–89.

    Mello-Goldner, D. (2019). Community-based research as an alternative to traditional research

    courses as a method promoting undergraduate publication. Frontiers in Psychology, 10,

    10-12. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01012

    Michelle Schmidt is Professor of Psychology at Moravian College in Bethlehem, PA., where she has been on the faculty since 2000. Her teaching focuses on developmental psychology courses, research methods, and statistics. She is especially interested in research on and the practice of service learning and community-based research. Her scholarship focuses on attachment, friendship, and victimization. 

  • 09 Jun 2020 9:00 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By: Brian C. Smith, Ph.D., Graceland University and Sal Meyers, Ph.D., Simpson College

    We approach our work as teachers with the goal of improving student learning, both in our courses and – we hope – throughout the rest of our students’ lives. As psychologists, we know much about learning, including both strategies most likely to enhance learning (e.g., testing effect, distributed practice) as well as those less useful strategies most often used by students (e.g., highlighting; re-reading; Dunlosky et al., 2013). In this post, we shift our focus to the social aspect of learning. We argue that teacher empathy improves the quality of student-teacher interaction and leads to better learning.

    We’ve previously defined teacher empathy as “the degree to which instructors work to deeply understand students’ personal and social situations, feel caring and concern in response to students’ positive and negative emotions, and communicate their understanding and caring to students through their behavior” (Meyers et al., 2019, p. 161). In understanding students’ social situations, we explicitly urge consideration of factors including race, gender, and socioeconomic status.

    The cognitive understanding component of empathy might be viewed in part as a willingness to suspend negative attributions for students’ undesirable behaviors – or even lack of behavior. If a student misses class or doesn’t turn in a major assignment, pause before assuming that the student doesn’t care or is lazy. In order to afford college, students may spend 20 or more hours a week at a job. Students may juggle family responsibilities. They may experience fear of failure; it’s easier to not write a paper and believe that they could do it than to turn in a terrible paper that will evidence that they can’t do it. Students are subject to stereotype threat, or they may feel that they don’t belong (impostor syndrome, anyone?). In short, before making a negative dispositional attribution, listen to the student. For an example of changing attributions in a K-12 setting, see the experiment with 8th grade math teachers by Okonofua et al., (2016). Students whose math teachers practiced empathy (i.e. thought about non-pejorative reasons why students misbehaved, read positive student stories like “the teacher really listened to me”, and reflected on their practice) were only half as likely to be suspended from school as those whose teachers were in a control group.

    Our understanding of students’ social and individual circumstances should contribute to an emotional response, which isn’t necessarily the same as the student’s. As our face-to-face courses became online courses, many students’ anxiety levels spiked. We felt and acknowledged that anxiety. Empathy also suggests that we show joy when students “get” a concept, or they mention something good happening in their lives.

    We demonstrate our empathy through behaviors. What we do – whether one-on-one or with an entire class – communicates empathy. So too do our policies. Which raises the question – how do we demonstrate empathy?

    Empathy can be communicated in the syllabus. When we randomly assigned college students to read syllabus excerpts, we found three things led students to perceive the instructor as more empathetic (Smith & Meyers, 2019):

    1. Building in flexibility and second chances. You might provide students with a set number of virtual tokens that can be exchanged for the chance to revise an unsatisfactory paper or excuse an absence from class. You might give a cumulative final exam and, if the final exam grade is higher than a midterm exam grade, replace the lowest midterm exam grade with the final exam grade.
    2. Providing a student-focused rationale for the policy. This lets students know that you understand their situation and considered it when creating your policy.
    3. Using first-person. Sometimes instructors have very little flexibility with regard to policy (e.g. an accommodation statement). But even here, students perceive greater empathy when policies are preceded by the instructor’s point of view (e.g., “I strongly support the accommodation policy”).

    What can you do to communicate empathy if you don’t have control over the syllabus?

    1. Take the time to get to know your students by surveying them about who they are and what they bring to the class.
    2. Use mail merge to send personalized email messages to students asking how they are, how much progress they have made on a large assignment, and whether they have any questions about course content.
    3. Let students know that you do not expect them to already have all the skills they need to be successful in the course. Then provide resources so students can learn better study skills, stress management (e.g., meditation), support seeking, and self-control.
    4. When working with an individual student, asking questions and active listening work well. We recommend reviewing and incorporating motivational interviewing strategies (Miller & Rollnick, 2012; North, 2017).

    In short, we suggest that we as teachers invest the time and energy to know our students, to interact and to create policies in ways that demonstrate our understanding, and to acknowledge learners’ emotions. Please note that we do not lower our course standards. Instead, we keep the focus on students’ learning; we strive to act in ways that heighten the odds that students reach our learning goals. We suggest that empathy and other relationship-focused topics are especially important as students and faculty live with the continued uncertainty linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.


    Dunlosky, J., Rawson, K.A., Marsh, E.J., Nathan, M.J., & Willingham, D.T. (2013). Improving students’ learning with effective learning techniques: Promising directions from cognitive and educational psychology. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 14, 4–58.

    Meyers, S.A., Rowell, K., Wells, M. & Smith, B.C. (2019) Teacher empathy: A model of empathy for teaching for student success. College Teaching, 67:3, 160–168, DOI: 10.1080/87567555.2019.1579699

    Miller, W. R., & Rollnick, S. (2012). Motivational interviewing: Helping people change (3rd ed.). Guilford Press.

    North, R. A. (2017). Motivational interviewing for school counselors. Independently published through

    Okonofua, J. A., Paunesku, D., & Walton, G. M. 2016. Brief intervention to encourage empathic discipline cuts suspension rates in Half among Adolescents. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 113 (19): 5221–6. doi:10.1073/pnas.1523698113.

    Smith, B.C. & Meyers, S.A. (2019, February). It’s in the syllabus: Policies’ effects on student perceptions of teacher empathy. Poster presented at the annual conference of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, Portland, OR.

    Dr. Brian C. Smith is Professor of Psychology at Graceland University, where he heads new faculty orientation and supports professional development. Dr. Sal Meyers is Professor of Psychology at Simpson College, where she served 12 years as the first director of faculty development. Sal and Brian frequently offer sessions at Lilly Conferences on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

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