Society for the Teaching of Psychology: Division 2 of the American Psychological Association

E-xcellence in Teaching
Editor: Manisha Sawhney
Associate Editor: Annie S. Ditta

  • 06 Oct 2021 3:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Gabrielle P.A. Smith, PhD

    Texas Woman’s University (TWU) 

    I, like most academics, was anxious as I prepared for my first day of teaching. I agonized about everything, from my outfit, to the lesson plan. I questioned what my teaching persona would be, and if my students would like me. Did I even want them to like me, can like and respect coexist? I hoped my first day would go off without a hitch, I was not prepared for a run in with a colleague to be a precursor for the navigation of Blackness in the professoriate.

    “What will you do with your hair” – this from an airy voice in the hallway waiting for the copier. “Excuse me?” I asked, taken aback as this tiny voice was referencing my Teeny-Weeny Afro (TWA). I did not know how to respond. I had considered how most white students in a college town in Alabama would navigate my Blackness but had not even considered a change in my appearance.

    “What do you mean? Are you changing your hair or something?” – I decided a matter-of-fact statement was best suited for this copy room ambush. Stuttering ensued, and with a face two shades redder, my peer stammered out a sentence akin to “I just thought you might straighten it or something; I heard of people doing that for important things.”

    Important things.

    Black woman’s hair, accents (specifically from Spanish speakers, Asian people, and residents from the South), attire for LGBTQIA folx and Muslim people, and people with names deemed “hard to pronounce” are some of the aspects of identity often policed in academia (Boustani & Taylor, 2020; García-Bullé, 2019; Syed, 2020). Despite sitting in the ivory tower researching and offering insight into the discriminatory practices outside of the academy, we are not very apt at looking inward.

    Recently a slew of online communities began discussing the idea of Black women’s natural hair being deemed as unworthy of special occasions or professional spaces (Inman, 2021). Discussions about Black women’s hair are everywhere, from the CROWN ACT (a movement to prohibit race-based discrimination against Black hair in the US workplace and academic spaces) and embracing natural hair and even talks about respectability politics concerning the use of bonnets in public (Johnson, 2017; Official CROWN ACT; Pitcan, Marwick, Boyd, 2018). Even now, as we prepare for the Olympics, ShaCarri Richardson’s hair is a topic of conversation, reminiscent (albeit more positively), of the way Gabby Douglas' hair was scrutinized (Gillespie, 2020; Inman, 2021). The policing of Black women’s hair was not new or novel. However, at that juncture of my career (2012), conversations about Black women’s hair were not as public or progressive. Most of my conversations about my hair happened with other Black women, however, these conversations did not include interactions with people I considered friends. Thus, my understanding of the navigation of my hair in my academic world on an interpersonal level was not that accessible.

    In my two years at the University, no one had seen me with straight hair. The last time I straightened my hair was my last semester of undergrad at Spelman College. I had no desire, then or now, to straighten my hair. However, the message seemed clear, straight hair equals professional hair; the way my hair grew from my head did not. I wish I could say that I followed up with an eloquent, informative, and quotable takedown, but I cannot. I stated that “I do not straighten my hair for anyone or anything besides myself.” I ended the conversation there. Later, I broached the topic of my hair as a point of dialogue in a discussion in the Teaching of Psychology, a required course on teaching for all graduate student teachers, including me. The Teaching of Psychology professor was extraordinary and led us a transparent conversation that everyone in the space needed to hear.

    However, that experience made me realize that I was ill-prepared for this side of the academic journey. I was aware that many people expected professors to be older tall white men. I was none of those things, and as a young, Black woman standing under 5 feet, I expected not to fit the mold. However, I was not prepared for the willingness of others to openly express their desire for me to tweak myself to squeeze into this ill-fit model. Professional expectations in the corporate world were well established, but the academic sphere only mentioned tweed jackets and rim-framed glasses. Induced assimilation in a career path frequently touted as aligned with freedom and agency was jarring. Also, as a graduate of a historically Black college, almost every Black professor I knew rocked natural hair unapologetically.

    While my TWA has grown and expanded throughout my time teaching, the need to navigate my personal racial identity alongside my professional identity has remained constant both inside and outside of the classroom. I often teach courses that either center (e.g., The Psychology of the African American Experience) or engage Blackness (Global Perspectives) in ways that highlight my race more than other courses in the field. Classroom interactions vary widely based on course content and the identities that are salient to the course.

    Being Black in the front of a classroom that discusses Blackness is different from being white or any other racial or ethnic group teaching the same topic. Words such as race and diversity are interpreted as Black when they leave my lips. Even when I express that diversity is intersectional and allows space for an array of lived experiences, the follow-up is always an expectation of a bias toward racial issues that will impact my teaching (Crenshaw, 2013; Dill, 2009; Icaza Garza & Vázquez, 2017).

    Most of the focus on identity in the classroom is centered around navigating this for undergraduate students and not how to navigate it for graduate students, staff, or faculty. Further, our conversations about navigating identity in the classroom often center on students’ personal identities and those immediately around them. While the emphasis on student identity is essential, it is not the complete picture. Identity is relevant even outside of the classroom. In other campus spaces, the identities of all involved parties: teaching assistants, lecturers, professors, department chairs, provosts, presidents, administrative assistants, housing staff, facilities staff, and all other campus entities impact the social environment of our academic spaces. These identities are often not considered; however, they can and must be examined when advocating for diverse and inclusive spaces. Even the climate off-campus, in the surrounding social spaces of our campuses, are imperative environments to consider. Everything in our social environment bleeds into the classroom, including experiences informed by our societal position. Thus, we need to be proactive and consider the environment both within and outside our classroom doors.

    If we want to create diverse and inclusive campuses, we need to make sure that we are actively attending to the needs of all campus members. Honestly, we need to be thinking beyond the classroom and attending to identity in all campus spaces. Are you examining the entire campus for areas of improvement concerning diversity? Are we asking questions about inclusivity and belonging concerning the library and the cafeteria? Are we assessing the makeup of our diversity committees and task force and ensuring these loads are not disproportionately distributed to faculty, staff, and students of a few demographics? Do we have diversity and diversity-related initiatives, but are they only regulated to certain areas of campus? Is the institutional rationale for diversity inclusive, or does it center on the educational benefits of students in the majority a critical benefit of diversification (Starck, Sinclair, & Shelton, 2021)? What are the local politics, and how do they impact our campus community? Are some campus members having to navigate belonging on campus and navigation of identity-relevant issues off-campus?

    As a Black woman from the US South, a Social Psychologist, recently promoted to Associate Professor, who has issues with mobility and identifies in a multitude of other ways; I should be tapped to do things both related and unrelated to diversity issues. My colleagues who do not identify as Black, Indigenous, or a person of color, disabled, women, who identify as cis-gendered and heterosexual, and are privileged in various other ways (e.g., language) should also be engaged in diversity work. Every demographic is needed to ensure that our spaces are diverse, and diversity should not be a buzzword or call to action for historically underrepresented groups. The invisible labor expected of those often excluded from academic spaces is unwarranted. It contributes to preconceived notions when someone who looks like me or others with diverse salient identities steps in front of a classroom. The labor should be shared, but often it is not. Thus, the social categorization and social bias of Black professors, staff with disabilities, Latinx students, Muslim administrators, etc., are socially constructed by the campus environment and how we regulate diversity issues to certain departments and specific people (Author Unknown, 2017; García-Bullé, 2019). It is not enough to embrace diversity and increase the numbers; there must be concrete actions to ensure that the needs of all members of the community are assessed and addressed.

    As stated by Toni Morrison, “When you get these jobs that you have been​ so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to ​free somebody else. If you have some power,​ then your job is to empower somebody else. ​This is not just a grab-bag candy game.”​ Reviewing our campus community and ensuring that it is accessible, welcoming, and inclusive to all, even those we disagree with, is imperative to true diversity. Dedication to diversity should be all-encompassing, it is everyone’s job, and the definition of diversity should always be defined broadly.Page Break


    Author Unknown (2017). Social Categorization in the Classroom. PSYCH 424 blog. Retrieved from

    Boustani, K., & Taylor, K. A. (2020). Navigating LGBTQ+ discrimination in academia: Where do we go from here? The Biochemist, 42(3), 16-20. https://10.1042/BIO20200024

    Crenshaw, K.(2013)Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence Against Women of Color’. Stanford Law Review, 43, 1241-1300.

    Dill, Bonnie Thorton (2009) “Intersections, Identities, and Inequalities in Higher Education”, in B. T. Dill and R. Zambrana, eds. Emerging Intersections: Race, Class, and Gender in Theory, Policy and Practice. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, pp. 229-252.

    García-Bullé, S. (2019). The Accent as a Basis for Prejudice in Academia. Observatory of Educational Innovation. Retrieved from:

    Gillespie, C. (2020). Gabby Douglas reveals bald spots from years of wearing ponytails: 'I was so embarrassed'.

    Icaza Garza, R.A, & Vázquez, R. (2017). Intersectionality and Diversity in Higher Education. Tijdschrift voor Orthopedagogiek, 7/8, 349–357. Retrieved from

    Inman, D. (2021). 5 things you should know about olympian Sha’Carri Richardson. Retrieved from

    Johnson. Desiree (2017). .Do you feel pressured to straighten your hair for formal events?

    Official CROWN Act. The Official CROWN Act.

    Pitcan, M., Marwick, A. E., & Boyd, D. (2018). Performing a vanilla self: Respectability politics, social class, and the digital world. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, 23(3), 163-179. https://10.1093/jcmc/zmy008

    Starck, J. G., Sinclair, S., & Shelton, J. N. (2021). How university diversity rationales inform

    student preferences and outcomes. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 118(16), e2013833118. https://10.1073/pnas.2013833118

    Syed, A. (2020). Hijabi students navigate the discussion around wearing hijab in academia. Retrieved from:

    Young, D. (2016). The definition, danger and disease of respectability politics, explained. The Root. Retrieved from

  • 06 Sep 2021 2:50 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Gary W. Lewandowski, Jr. 

    Monmouth University  


    Teaching is easily my favorite part of being a professor. If this past year has taught us anything, it’s that the modalities and ways we teach are constantly shifting, often back-and-forth more than a few times. Although the “how” of our teaching has changed, the “why” remains the same: to support and educate our students in ways that help them improve their lives.  


    Pandemic teaching has been a reminder that teaching takes many forms, many of which lie beyond the classroom walls. Early in my career, at an SPSP Teaching Preconference, I had the pleasure of seeing David Myers give a talk where he made a simple suggestion: Writing is a form of teaching. It stuck with me. Suddenly writing became a lot more appealing.  


    Whether you’re crafting a journal article’s introduction, a chapter, a book, or a blog post, writing in a clear and engaging style determines your ideas’ usefulness. Yet, despite writing being such an essential skill, we don’t discuss it nearly enough.   


    Lately, it’s practically all I think about. Over the past 2 years, I’ve been immersed in writing a trade book (Stronger Than You Think: The 10 Blind Spots That Undermine Your Relationship…and How to See Past Them), revising my research methods textbook, and editing a book on the self in relationships. To keep my head above water during that time, I’ve learned a lot about how to be a better and more efficient writer.  


    I wish I had learned it a lot sooner. Hopefully I can help make your writing journey a little less bumpy than mine by offering a few new insights, or at least some helpful reminders.  


    It takes time. I’m not sure it’s a Gladwellian 10,000 hours, but improvement in anything requires that you put in the reps. Writing is no exception. These days, I write a lot. Every day. Often a couple hours a day. (No one would be more surprised to hear that than my graduate school self.) But it helps. As they say, writers are made and not born. In my case, writing more has made me a better writer. It has gotten easier, but…   


    It’s never easy. If you’re waiting for the moment where perfect sentences naturally and easily flow through you, I hope you’re patient. The fact is, conveying ideas clearly on the page (or screen) is unbelievably difficult. Achieving clarity is a process. It doesn’t mean that you’re a bad writer, just that writing is hard. Fun fact: Some of these sentences are my fifth try, none are my first. Still, most aren’t quite as polished as I’d like. Writing forces you to put your perfectionism aside. 


    Be a professional. Writing is essential to your career success. Respect it. Professionals show up, put in the hours, and commit to getting better. Build your skills by reading books on being a better writer. You likely know about Strunk & White, but also check out William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. Read it, refer to it, practice it. Reviewer 2 adeptly rips apart parts of your manuscript, but you rarely get line edits designed to improve your writing’s clarity. Find someone who writes better than you and get their feedback. I’m also big believer in the BIC (Butt-In-Chair) method. Carve out a set time each day to sit and write at the time of day you’re most productive. Put it in your schedule. I start with 30 minutes and if I’m feeling it, I keep going. If not, I work on something else guilt-free.  


    What “counts”?  Here’s the trick: I almost never work on something else because I count LOTS of activities as writing. Too often we only think of writing as clean ready-for-publication paragraphs. That’s setting the bar way too high. Instead, I consider all of these “writing”: brainstorming ideas, reading articles, taking notes, outlining, writing out key sentences, revising previous drafts, and writing first drafts. Counting more activities allows me to build the habit and maintain momentum.   


    Writing pipeline and “sloppy copies.” Like a research pipeline, having several things in your writing pipeline makes it easier to have lots of things “count.” The hardest most intimidating draft is the first one. Take the sting out of it by only committing to a “sloppy copy” that is full of typos, missing citations, and barely understandable sentences. Get crazy, make some APA style errors too. The important thing is to get your ideas down in an uninhibited way. You could also do this via voice-to-text. Whatever it takes to get started. If you’re not ready for that on a particular day, the other pieces in the “pipeline” are there to revise. Besides, all good writing comes from revising.   


    Do it on deadline.  Whether you’re the “pressure makes diamonds” type or not, a little time blocking is helpful. I don’t know about you, but as a hopelessly overscheduled academic and parent, large chunks of time are hard to find. (I’m currently writing this in a dark parking lot while my daughter is at softball practice.)  In other words, don’t wait for the perfect conditions. Just write. Even when I have more time during regular writing sessions, I force a little artificial time pressure. Perhaps you’re familiar with the Pomodoro technique where you work for small chunks and take frequent breaks. I use something similar of my own creation: the classic vinyl technique. I have a record player in my office and commit to writing for one side of a record (which is about 20-25 minutes). Flipping the record requires a mini-break that helps punctuate my screen time, and if I want to keep listening to the record I have to keep writing. (As I revise this, I'm currently listening to Jimi Hendrix Are You Experienced?  It’s awesome.) 


    Read. I’m also a believer in reading “counting” as a writing activity. Reading is like maintenance run that allows you to keep your writing fitness, without the pressure of a more strenuous writing session. It’s also the cheapest writing coach you can find. When looking for things to read, pick something light. If you must do non-fiction, choose something outside of your research area and ideally not a journal article. Seek out good writing outside of academia wherever you can find it. A stellar recent example is Amanda Gorman’s “The Hill We Climb.” It’s a masterclass on using language, word choice, rhythm, and delivery. It’s clear, cogent, and captivating. Just like good teaching.  


    Parting Thoughts 

    Certainly these suggestions aren’t “one size fits all”, but I hope they fit most. If you’re skeptical about some aspects, engage in little rugged empiricism and give it a try. You never know what might click.  


    We often refer to ourselves as “teacher-scholars.” Remember that when we do, teacher comes first. As a teacher, the students come first. As a writer, the readers come first. It’s our job to write in a way that draw readers in and allows our ideas to reach as many people as possible. The APA wants us to “give psychology away” which “means sharing the broad benefits that psychological science and expertise have to offer in order to enhance society and improve the lives of others.”  We do that when we teach, and we can do it when we write.  

  • 02 Aug 2021 11:52 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Kara Sage 

    The College of Idaho 

    One morning back in February, amidst the start of a spring semester teaching all online, one of the librarians at my college emailed me. He wanted to chat about how students were feeling about the increased reliance on technology in their daily lives on our small liberal arts campus. Though it is no secret that today’s college students are often attached to their technology, the circumstances of the pandemic and online education had required a new type of screen use over the past year. Screen use that was not voluntarily chosen. Screen use that crept into all aspects of their lives. Screen use that was exhausting. 

    We chatted back and forth for quite some time, with me interjecting a variety of thoughts and ideas from my perspective as a professor and researcher of media psychology. Throughout the ebb and flow of our conversation, my increasing realization was that students sat in a somewhat odd digital space at this moment in time. With so much screen use thrust upon them over the last year, they had simultaneously become more reliant on their screens for daily functioning while also feeling more and more burnt out by their screen use. Hints of these juxtaposing experiences and emotions were often evident in my virtual classes; they desired to break free of their screens and finally get outside, see people, and mingle, but the current context prevented them from fully doing so. 

    As we neared the end of this unanticipated year online together, the moment seemed ripe to reflect and consider the future together. Inspired by my conversation with the librarian a few months prior, I decided to toss one of my class’ usual term projects out the window. Instead, I wanted to create a meaningful active learning experience for students that would speak to this moment in time.  

    Together we reflected on our experiences with education during the pandemic. It was clear that my students had the end of the pandemic in sight. First and foremost, they very much wanted to see faces again. They were often tired of starring at little circles on a virtual call as opposed to being with actual people in a classroom. They recognized that online learning had its place as well, but they missed the close-knit community that characterized the small residential college that they had chosen to attend. They worried about their peers too. Maybe half of their peers had never even stepped foot on campus. They also repeatedly referred to the desire to reactivate student-mode for fall semester. Many habits had developed over the last year that they would need to undo, such as waking up just a few minutes before class or doing laundry during class. Students worried about complacency in their study habits, noting the need for a stricter schedule and better time management. That said, they also thought that some of the digital tools they had learned were neat. They had some concerns that they’d never be used again, and all of our time becoming more online learning-savvy would be for naught. 

    Following their reflections, I posed our next step: let us design interventions, activities, and policies together that could help our campus when we return for fall semester. In small teams, students brainstormed, collaborated, and designed what proved to be a sound list of suggestions for fall semester. It became clear that what is required for fall semester is a systematic approach to rebuilding a sense of community on campus. Such efforts needed to be campus-wide and involve all constituencies – students, staff, and faculty. I mentioned earlier the pairing of screen reliance with feelings of burnout. Agreeably, student initiatives often reflected their attempts to reduce problematic screen use habits. Paired with pandemic-related behaviors like quarantining, students felt that the negative effects of their reliance on the screen had been exacerbated throughout the year. As one example, they had not been able to bond with other students as closely. That said, they often also spoke to the fact that we needed to not just throw our newly acquired digital skills and apps out with the bathwater. Reflecting a good moral from media psychology, they emphasized that we could reap benefits when we had the just-right amount of technology in our lives. 

    Below, I share some of the ideas and initiatives inspired by our class conversations and projects. Ultimately, it is the responsibility of all colleges and universities to actively take steps to help students transition back to campus life, recognizing that we can’t just step right back into old patterns from almost 1 ½ years ago. Many students weren’t even our students then. We must have a plan in place to build a welcoming, inclusive environment and set our new normal. 

    • Offer welcome back events. These initial welcome back events are more important than ever. They help students to meet people, get acquainted with campus, unplug from screens, and connect to campus life. Some activities can encourage student bonding and collaboration from day one, such as campus scavenger hunts and intramural sports. Other options can encourage students to connect with new activities or like-minded others, such as booths advertising different clubs or lunch tables organized by hobbies. And yet additional activities can represent the unprecedented, shared experience we just had, such as faculty or staff-led forums emphasizing how to rebuild study habits and maintain mental health.  

    • Build student and faculty connections. Activities similar to speed dating could help facilitate quick get-to-know-you introductions on campus to meet new people and avoid potentially awkward introductions after such a long time apart. A student-student circle, with students rotating to the next seat every few minutes, would help students quickly get to know some of their peers. A faculty-student circle conducted in the same manner could help both students and faculty get to know each other before the first day of class. 

    • Spend the first day of class building community. The first day will be an adjustment in so many ways. It has been a significant amount of time since most students and faculty were in the physical classroom. Spend the day getting to know each other. Do icebreakers. Place students into study groups that they can work with throughout the entire semester. Consider setting up office hours visits to chat with the professor, either as individuals or in small groups. 

    • Have a technology policy and use new digital tools positively. Given the increased use of screens over the past year, having a technology policy in place will help remind students of their expected use in learning and the classroom. But students and faculty also just invested a lot of time into learning new digital tools. In our case, we mastered Microsoft Teams as a virtual learning and conversational platform and encouraged use of supplemental tools like PollEverywhere and Kahoot for participation. Plan for positive use of these tools for learning, such as to complement exam review, conduct student surveys, or hold virtual office hours in off-hours. 

    • Consider more flexibility and active learning when planning your class. Any adjustment comes with its own challenges. Recognizing that this time WILL be an adjustment is key. Students are transitioning back to campus life, and lingering effects of the pandemic are still in play. Thus, extra flexibility in terms of attendance or late assignment policies or similar may benefit the classroom environment. Students also haven’t had the chance to have in-person discussions or move around with others in the classroom in some time. Incorporate active learning into your semester’s activities. 

    • Encourage mental health awareness. Life has been stressful and traumatic for some. Students will need time to readjust. Consider on-campus seminars on mental health topics. Consider syllabus statements that recognize mental health and connect students with resources. Consider activities like meditation, therapy dogs, and yoga across the semester. Consider continuing to offer virtual mental health services on top of in-person services. And, importantly, don’t simply ignore that this past year and a half has been a mental struggle. 

    The pandemic undoubtedly increased stress for many students and will have ripple effects for some time to come in as-yet undefined ways. When we welcome our students back to our institutions in the fall, we must address that the time is now different. Let’s listen to our students. Let’s build our new community. Together, we can move forward. 


  • 08 Jul 2021 2:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Crissa Levin (Utah State )

    Distance learning is becoming increasingly common, both in response to the pandemic and in normal years (Seaman et al., 2018). This modality brings additional challenges, particularly with retention and engagement (Bart, 2012). Research on distance learning provides clues, however it can also be useful to look also at the related field of computerized psychoeducation interventions, as these are ultimately a different form of teaching online. This form of distance teaching receives far more research attention (including funding), and therefore can be useful in decoding the mystery of student engagement. 

    Below I will present a model for engagement in online teaching based on research and experience that is broken down into three overlapping areas: Micro-Studies, which are ultimately the student’s assignments; Micro-coaching, which is basically how you can build motivation enhancement into the communications that you’re having with your students already; and Information itself, which in this brief version of the model will refer to lectures and how this necessary aspect can still be essential even though they can feel unengaging in online modalities. 


    Assignments can be conceptualized as little studies, where the outcome is like the dependent variable (and construct validity matters). The independent variable is what you are teaching, and it’s worth thinking about – is the course content lined up with the course assessments in such a way that you can really differentiate the learning from the course? So far, all of this is entirely relevant in both in-person and online classes, and is not an original idea (Masland, 2019). However, what is particularly relevant for the web-based environment is communicating this thinking to students. Student motivation is increased by letting students know why exactly they are doing this assignment and what it is trying to measure (Tyler-Smith, 2006). So the first step of importance here is to think through every step of a micro-study, and the second step is to include this information in simple terms as part of the instructions to students. 

    One example of where this is particularly important in online teaching is the regular use of discussions. We know that it is useful to have regular interaction between peers in online classrooms (Mbukusa, 2017; Akcaoglu & Lee 2016), but it is common to see discussions lead to a sea of responses stating some form or another of “I agree,” which really is the prototypical example of a lack of online engagement. An alternative might be to instead start with the outcome and work backwards. What would you like the students to prove they are able to do?  

    In one of my courses, I described the setup for a behavioral problem, and asked each student to describe how they would use the current chapter to develop an intervention. The catch was, they only had 4 sentences for their intervention, which meant the intervention would be definitively incomplete. Students were required to respond with more information to another student’s post, ultimately adding on to another student’s intervention. Because they were being trained in various behavioral interventions (IV) the outcome was how effective they were at applying these interventions (DV). This also met the goal of student interaction online, but did so in a meaningful way, and students got to know each other and interact weekly while still actively applying content. 


    Among the most important things to keep students engaged and motivated in an online course, both in my experience and based on a variety of studies, is to bring oneself to the online class (Dennen, et al., 2007). This can mean anything from being genuine about your own self and life in your announcements, to not trying to cover imperfections, to ensuring that there is a person and voice in your feedback and, as regularly as is feasible, for your own instructor role. This has great meaning for students and is particularly important to helping students stay connected with the content and the course.  

    Reviewing the literature, it starts to feel like engagement interventions for online teaching (and web-based psychological interventions) center around the same tenants as those of Person-Centered Therapy. Beyond genuineness lies positive regard and empathy. It is beyond the scope of the current writing to detail how and why these skills play well within an online context, but one simplification is that students who take online classes are demographically different than students who take in-person classes. Two primary differences between the groups are age and working status – our online students tend to be working adults who are juggling full lives and fit school in between the cracks (Johnson, 2015; Ortangus, 2017). Through this lens, it becomes much simpler to have respect, warmth, and empathy for our students even when on the surface it might in other contexts seem they are not trying. This change in how we relate to our students when we are already spending time giving feedback and providing information can make a substantial difference with regards to which students tend to stay and engage. 

    In one example of how I use micro-coaching in my courses, I have created a jingle (song) to go with my weekly video announcements. I give my weekly announcements off-the-cuff, with only an outline of notes to guide what I will be discussing. I do not edit the content, and instead poke fun at my own mistakes. This is not only because it is familiar to many students to see raw and genuine video, and is not at all actually because of the time savings; this is to help students connect, and to see me as a real person who is really telling them about the week. And while the course data does suggest that some people do not watch regularly, or some people skip around, there are other reports of people who watch with their spouses every week or notice when the announcements are late.  


    It has become common to hear online lectures get a bad reputation, with many comedians joking during the pandemic that online teaching is simply no better than watching YouTube or Ted Talks. That does not match with either the data or with my experience. There is evidence that students do tend to lose attention after a certain amount of time, however I have yet to see a comparison regarding this group-level attention check in online lectures and in-person lectures. An alternate interpretation of this evidence can simply be: many students do zone out during lectures, and this might be even worse online – especially in longer videos. What’s missing from the discussion that shorter lecture videos are essential is how incredibly essential it is for the genuine presence of the instructor to break down the material in the context of the course, in lecture format (Brown et al., 2016). In a far less-scientific way, I have also consistently found through internal surveys that students select lectures as the first or second most useful assignment in each online class I’ve taught over the last seven years. That said, everyone who worked during 2020 had our fair share of zoom burnout and became familiar with how hard it would be to consume information if it was delivered in the same format as in-person lectures. So what becomes important then may be to recognize that while lectures are essential, to be successful online, they ought to be made into micro-studies and ought to use some micro-coaching to combat the increasing problems with engagement.  

    To use micro-coaching and micro-studies in my lectures, I first am sure to be genuine, and to “bring myself” to my lectures. I often tell stories about my own life at times that I’m trying to convey examples. To make these lectures into micro-studies, I started with the outcome, and determined that simple attention to the content (simple reiteration) was the DV, with an added goal of reinforcing “showing up” if possible. So, I focus on the outcome of attention and memory to what was just said. To do this, I pause the lectures at key times using lecture interaction software (I use Kaltura, but many are available), and it asks a question that is meant only to ask how to re-state content that was said at some time over the last several minutes. The questions are spaced out and intentionally simple, which focuses on attention but also helps to reinforce “showing up” as opposed to punishing drifting off (that which naturally occurs). This slight change in focus shifts students out of multiple patterns, including zoning out after a few minutes. This occurs because of playing to the modality of the online medium. By helping students to keep their attention between questions, because they don’t know which part of the lecture will be important for the simple question coming up, this helps to keep students attending. By bringing myself – by being genuine and showing up in each lecture of the semester, there’s a steady and stable presence throughout the semester that allows for connection in the course, and keeps students connected not only to the content, but to the instructor. 


    Ultimately, it is much more time-intensive to teach online courses than in-person courses. This is due to the editing time that is avoided by just showing up in-person, due to the motivational coaching needed for the different modality itself, but also for the different types of students that find their way to online courses. This time comes from putting a lot of yourself into the course as well – to adding to your feedback the little comments that let your students know you’re a person, maybe one who laughs and sees good in people and their work. This all can be quite time intensive. And because of this differential time impact, matched with the loss of smiling faces and interactions unless something is wrong. It might not be for everyone, but I find it useful to remember that we are reaching a different set of students, in a more challenging environment, and providing the same promise of education. It’s a tall order and a meaningful one, and that challenge can be rewarding.Page Break 


    Akcaoglu, M., & Lee, E. (2016). Increasing social presence in online learning through small group discussions. The international review of research in open and distributed learning, 17(3). 

    Bart, M. (2012). Online student engagement tools and strategies. Faculty Focus. Retrieved from free-reports/online-student-engagement-tools-and-strategies/ 

    Brown, G., Leonard, C., & Arthur-Kelly, M. (2016). Writing SMARTER goals for professional learning and improving classroom practices. Reflective Practice, 17(5), 621-635. 

    Dennen, V. P., Aubteen Darabi, A., & Smith, L. J. (2007). Instructor–learner interaction in online courses: The relative perceived importance of particular instructor actions on performance and satisfaction. Distance Education, 28(1), 65-79. 

    Johnson, J. M. (2015). On-Campus and Fully-Online University Students: Comparing Demographics, Digital Technology Use and Learning Characteristics. Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 12 (1), 11-13. 

    Masland, L. (2019, October). You were trained as a scientist. Isn't it time to start teaching like one? [Keynote Address] The 19th Annual Conference on Teaching in Denver, CO, United States. 

    Mbukusa, N. R.Kibuule, D., Lates, J. (2017). Overcoming barriers of isolation in distance learning: Building a collaborative community in learningAdvances in Social Sciences Research Journal, 4(17). 34-42. 

    Ortagus, J. C. (2017). From the periphery to prominence: An examination of the changing profile of online students in American higher education. The Internet and Higher Education32, 47-57. 

    Seaman, J. E., Allen, I. E., & Seaman, J. (2018). Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States. Babson Survey Research Group. 

    Tyler-Smith, K. (2006). Early attrition among first time eLearners: A review of factors that contribute to drop-out, withdrawal and non-completion rates of adult learners undertaking eLearning programmes. Journal of Online Learning and Teaching, 273-85. 


  • 11 Jun 2021 12:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Clemente I. Diaz, M.A. 

    Baruch College, City University of New York 

    Roni Reiter-Palmon, PhD 

    University of Nebraska at Omaha 

    Psychology is an extremely diverse field. Its diversity can be seen in its various subfields as well as the numerous career paths one can pursue. Consider the fact that individuals with a bachelor’s degree in psychology were employed in 92 different occupation categories, individuals with a master’s degree in 74 occupation categories, and those with a doctoral degree in 61 occupation categories (American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies, 2018).  While the field of psychology is diverse, there is one constant regardless of which career path one takes or which subfield one pursues, we will be working for most of our lives. Yet despite this, most introductory psychology courses don’t cover Industrial-Organizational (I-O) psychology (i.e., the psychology of work). 

    Why I-O Psychology should be included in Introductory Psychology 

    There are various reasons to include I-O psychology in introductory psychology courses, the most basic being that working is a fundamental aspect of human life and behavior. In fact, estimates show that we spend roughly one-third of our lives at work. It’s no surprise that under its guidelines for the undergraduate major the American Psychological Association (APA) has specifically included professional development as a key goal (APA, 2013). Additionally, whether one agrees or not, the vast majority of students pursue higher education in hopes of increasing their employment outcomes (Eagan et. al, 2016, p. 70). Undergraduate psychology majors are not exempt from this trend given that over 56 percent of 2018 psychology graduates were either employed full-time or seeking employment (National Association of Colleges and Employers, 2019). Interestingly, and contrary to what most of us believe or would like to believe, the majority (56 percent) of psychology majors don’t pursue graduate studies of any kind (American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies, 2018). Although the inclusion of I-O psychology in introductory psychology won’t serve as a magic wand in preparing students for the workplace, it’s a good start.   


    Tips for incorporating I-O Psychology 

    I-O psychology isn’t usually included in introductory psychology for many reasons, but generally revolve around the following themes (in descending order): not in designated curriculum/textbook, not enough time, and lack of subject matter knowledge (Diaz, 2018). This section will provide tips and resources targeting each of these themes. 

     Not in designated curriculum/textbook 

    According to data collected from the Open Syllabus Project, the most frequently used introductory psychology textbooks don’t cover I-O psychology (Butina, 2019). The lack of coverage is a topic that the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) has made a concerted effort in tackling through the creation of the Getting I-O into Intro Textbooks (GIT SIOP) taskforce ( In addition to reaching out to publishers, GIT SIOP has developed a vast array of free educator resources (sample syllabi, one-page I-O content summaries, PowerPoints, a stand-alone I-O psychology chapter, and other supplemental material). These resources can be accessed via the following website - In addition to SIOP’s educator resources, open source publishers such as OpenStax ( and the NOBA Project ( each have a stand-alone I-O psychology chapter along with a PowerPoint and test bank. 

    Lack of time 

    Unlike more specialized, or upper level, psychology courses, introductory psychology tends to cover an exorbitant amount of content which can often overwhelm instructors. It is not surprising that some instructors have difficulty incorporating additional content. When time is a primary factor, the best solution is to integrate new material into already existing content.  

    Using the table of contents from Myers and DeWall’s (2021) introductory psychology textbook (according to the Open Syllabus Project David G. Myers authors the most frequently assigned introductory textbooks), we highlight I-O psychology topics which can be discussed at varying points in the semester. I-O psychology draws from many other areas of psychology therefore it is not too difficult to integrate content into already used material.  

     1. Thinking Critically With Psychological Science - Cursory glance of the psychology of work 

    2. The Biology of Mind - Neuroleadership, Organizational Neuroscience, Neuroscience of trust 

    3. Consciousness and the Two-Track Mind - Drug use in the workplace, presenteeism 

    4. Nature, Nurture, and Human Diversity - Workplace diversity (e.g., training, recruiting, discrimination) 

    5. Developing Through the Life Span - Career transitions (e.g., entering the world of work, aging and work ability) 

    6. Sensation and Perception - Managing workplace perceptions (e.g., attitudes, interests, work setting) 

    7. Learning - Training and development, training transfer 

    8. Memory - Impact of memory loss at work, working memory and task completion 

    9. Thinking and Language - Judgement and decision making (e.g., evidence-based management); creativity and innovation in the workplace 

    10. Intelligence - Individual differences and their assessments in the workplace (e.g., cognitive abilities vs. emotional intelligence, relationship between cognitive abilities and performance) 

    11. What Drives Us: Hunger, Sex, Friendship, and Achievement - Application of motivational theories to work setting 

    12. Emotions, Stress, and Health - Emotional labor, burnout, workplace stress, occupational health and safety, impact of Covid-19 on workers, work-life balance, occupational health psychology 

    13. Social Psychology - Group dynamics, teamwork, leadership, power and authority 

    14. Personality: Individual differences and their assessments in the workplace (e.g., relationship between personality traits and performance, how and why is personality assessed), personality traits associated with different types of leaders (e.g., charismatic, situational) 

    15. Psychological Disorders - Mental health stigma in the workplace, work-induced disorders 

    16. Therapy - Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) and other workplace interventions 

    Since the integration of I-O psychology content into current material only provides a surface level view of the field (versus having a unit specifically devoted to I-O psychology), instructors should also consider giving assignments that allow students to gain a more in-depth understanding of the subject (e.g., informational interviews, job analysis). One possible assignment is Department 12’s free I-O psychology mini-course. This 30-minute SIOP material-based course provides an overview of the field and culminates in a certificate of completion for anyone who obtains a 70 percent or higher on the end-of-course quiz. Department 12’s mini-course, in addition to other valuable information (e.g., articles, podcast episodes) can be accessed via the following link -  


    Lack of subject matter knowledge 

    Not feeling well-versed on a subject can result in any instructor not incorporating said topic. But where should one start in hopes of better familiarizing oneself with I-O psychology? In addition to the educator resources mentioned earlier, SIOP publishes a free quarterly publication titled The Industrial Psychologist (TIP) which covers a variety of topics. Current and back issues can be accessed on the SIOP website ( Other great resources include, ScienceForWork ( and IOAtWork ( both of which provide research summaries.  

    Podcasts more to your liking? There are numerous I-O psychology related podcasts out there. Some well-regarded podcasts, in no particular order, include:  

    ·        Department 12 (  

    ·        The Indigo Podcast (  

    ·        Mind Your Work (  

    ·        Midnight Student (  

    ·        The World of Work (  

    ·        Workr Beeing (  

    ·        Worklife with Adam Grant (   

    Still don’t feel comfortable speaking about I-O psychology? SIOP has you covered once again. Consider reaching out to an I-O psychology professional for a guest lecture via SIOP’s Advocacy Registry (  


    In this article we have made the case for the importance of adding I-O psychology to the curriculum of introductory psychology. The concerns expressed by faculty members teaching introductory psychology courses have been noted, and we have attempted to provide solutions to each one. Specifically, resources are available via the national organization (SIOP) that allow for either a full unit on I-O psychology or integration of specific I-O topics into existing course materials. Further, expert resources such as speakers and podcasts are also available. 


    American Psychological Association. (2013). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. Retrieved from    

    American Psychological Association Center for Workforce Studies (2018). CWS data tool: Careers in psychology. Retrieved from   

    Butina, B. (2019, July 25). The most assigned psych textbooks. Retrieved from  

    Diaz, C.I. (2018). Incorporating I-O Psychology into Introductory Psychology. Psych Learning Curve: Where Psychology and Education Connect. Retrieved from  

    Eagan, K., Stolzenber, E.B., Ramierz, J.J., Aragon, M.C., Suchard, M.R., Rios-Aguilar, C. (2016). The American freshman: fifty-year trends, 1966-2015.  Los Angeles: Higher Education Research Institute, UCLA. Retrieved from  

    Myers, D.G., DeWalls, N.C. (2021). Psychology (13th ed.). Worth Publishers. 

    National Association of Colleges and Employers (2019). First destinations for the college class of 2018: Findings and analysis. Retrieved from  





  • 07 May 2021 10:22 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Shlomit Flaisher-Grinberg, PhD

    Saint Francis University

    My secret mission, as a college psychology professor, is to bring as many animals as possible into my classroom. Of course, I strive to improve my teaching effectiveness, maintain my scholarship productivity, and expand my service activities, but what I really want is to have cats sitting on my students’ laps, or dogs sitting at my students’ feet, during lectures. My college is a pet-free institution, and thus, animals can only be a part of it if integrated into the curriculum. Students in my undergraduate “Learning” course train rats to ride tiny scooters, play bowling, or shoot hoops. Students in my “Animal Minds” course receive numerous visits from ferrets, chickens, rabbits, cats, and their humans. But this is not enough. Millions of dogs annually enter animal shelters around the US. Some lack training or socialization, and many display problematic behaviors which can hinder their adoption (Protopopova et al., 2018). The integration of shelter dogs’ training into our lessons enables my students and myself to target this issue, make an impact on dogs and humans alike, and welcome shelter dogs into our campus environment.

    Purpose and Goal:

    In the spring of 2015, I taught the “Canine Learning & Behavior” undergraduate psychology course for the first time. The course was designed to allow students to foster shelter dogs for an entire academic semester, bring them to class, and train them using “learning” methodologies. It was hypothesized that the course will improve students’ ability to translate theoretical concepts to real-world, skill-based practices, apply their knowledge towards their personal and professional development, while improving the behavioral repertoire of shelter dogs and facilitating their adoption.

    Course Set Up: I teach psychology, but I am not a dog trainer. I know the theories, but I also know that shelter dogs don’t bother reading the textbook. To prepare for the teaching of the course; I teamed-up with an experienced dog trainer, to later become the course adjunct instructor, set up a partnership with a local animal shelter, secured dog-appropriate classrooms and animal-approved housing units, submitted IACUC (Institutional Animal Care & Use) protocols and assured safety and liability regulations. The course was defined as an upper-level course, with a size limit of 12-15 students.

    Course Content: If you teach “learning” concepts, for your freshman (e.g., Introduction to psychology) or advanced courses, you probably know the struggle. Students find it hard to differentiate CS from a US, UR from a CR. They tussle with the combination of ‘positive’, ‘negative’, ‘reinforcement’ and ‘punishments’ into meaningful units. They do not always “see” the application of these terms to their lives, the lives of people around them, or to their future professional occupation. Shelter dogs can bridge the gap.

    We start the semester with a visit to the animal shelter. Interacting with, and selecting, dogs in need to join our classroom is an opportunity for students to practice behavioral observation and analysis. Assessing the dogs’ behavioral deficits and excesses (e.g., jumping, barking, nibbling, pawing, humping, leash-pulling, fear, house-soiling) allows students to align the dogs’ needs with their interests and capabilities. Once the dogs are chosen (one dog per 3-4 students, a total of 3-4 dogs per semester) they are transported to campus to live with preselected course students.

    During the first few weeks after their arrival, students receive the opportunity to practice habituation, gradually and carefully exposing the dogs to the campus environment, and to new unfamiliar people. Discovering stimuli that stress/frighten the dogs (e.g., certain individual characteristics, moving cars), they learn to apply and de-sensitization and counterconditioning techniques (e.g., combining the exposure to a fear-producing stimulus with the dogs’ favorite treats). Later in the semester we expand the training to obedience and agility training. Grounding our work in the American Kennel Club’s “Canine Good Citizen” program, students train the dogs to calmly react to the approach/touch of a “friendly stranger”, to tolerate unexpected/distracting stimuli, to behave politely in public places or around other dogs, to sit at the students’ sides for an entire class session, to respond to the basic commands “sit”, “down”, “stay” and “come”, and to walk nicely on a loose leash. Depending on the interests of the students, the dogs are then taught different tricks, such as “paw-shake/high-five”, “roll-over”, “sit nicely”, “speak” or “army crawl”, and are trained using various agility courses. The work to extinguish maladaptive behaviors (e.g., jumping) and allow the acquisition of new adaptive behaviors (e.g., “nice” leash-walking) offers students with the opportunity to practice the application of classical and operant conditioning techniques. For instance, clicker-training requires the conversion of a “click” from a neutral stimulus to a conditioned stimulus, via its repetitive association with a treat, an unconditioned stimulus. Later, it can be used to mark the appropriate response in operant conditioning training, or to regain the dog’s attention if a distraction arises during practice. Training a dog to eliminate jumping or leash-pulling calls for the use of positive reinforcement (providing a treat/toy/other reinforcer when the dog does not jump, or for appropriate leash-walking), as well as negative punishment (withholding attention while the dog is jumping or pausing the walk for leash-pulling). Agility courses provide an opportunity to apply shaping (e.g., progressively training a dog to jump through a hoop), fixed/varied ratio schedules of reinforcement (starching the ratio by adding more hoops/waving-poles to the course), as well as forward/backward chaining (chaining various components within the course). Training dogs to sit quietly and calmly by their sides for an entire class session allows students to practice fixed/varied interval schedules of reinforcement (progressively requiring the dogs to sit “nicely” for 5, 10 and even 15 minutes before a reinforcer is provided). Training dogs for these tasks in various campus locations (including a hospital-like learning-environment comprised of wheelchairs and patient’s beds), enables the practice of generalization techniques. Finally, completing “research projects” focusing on the training of dogs for students-selected tasks (e.g., scent discrimination, responding to commands provided in sign language, pressing pre-recorded buttons for “verbal” communication) allow students to experience with all stages of the scientific methodology: literature search, hypothesis formation, methodological design, data collection and analysis, scientific writing, APA citation, and occasionally, conference presentation or the preparation of a manuscript for peer-reviewed publication.

    Benefits: The end of the semester is marked with a “Puppy Graduation” celebration. During the event, the dogs receive paw-shakes, “graduation” diplomas, dog-cakes, and transition into the care of their adoptive families. In addition to its benefits to the dogs, there are benefits to animal shelters, enrolled students, campus community and me, the teaching faculty. Since 2015, 17 dogs were trained by our students. All were successfully adopted. In addition, staff and volunteers at the animal shelter often comment that the course reduces shelter crowding, lighten the time-burden on shelter personnel, increase the shelter’s visibility in the local community, and is perceived as a genuine contribution to the shelter’s efforts to improve the well-being of sheltered dogs. Importantly, the assessment of course effects on students’ learning outcomes suggest that the impact on students may be multidimensional (MS under review). First, the opportunity to “practice what they learn” in this course has been found to improve students’ comprehension of course materials and to enhance their appreciation of psychology. Students believe that it has enabled them to acquire employable skills (applicable towards the work with various animal species or with humans), solidified their future goals and enhanced their graduate school/workforce preparation. These findings are aligned with literature, demonstrating that hands-on learning (especially when involving live animals) increase students’ preference, enjoyment and understanding of class concepts (Elcoro & Trundle, 2013; Hunt & Macaskill, 2017). Second, students believe that learning to balance their schedules to accommodate the training of a shelter dog and learning to share training responsibilities with other students has enhanced their interpersonal awareness, effective communication, teamwork, leadership, and time-management skills. Third, students comment that pursuing activities that aligns with their values (e.g., animal advocacy) has provided them with a sense of self-efficacy and allowed them to become engaged members of their community. Fourth, walking a dog on its daily outing and spending time with it during the day has been suggested to improve the student’s physical and mental health via exercise and stress-reduction. In fact, students state that it allowed them to get to know more individuals on campus and generate new friendships, centered around the love of dogs. This is not surprising, given the joy brought to campus by our four-legged companions. Various individuals on campus stop to greet the dogs on their way to class, and many comments that after meeting the dogs their day got much better. Finally, the benefits to myself, as the teaching faculty, spans all 3 pillars of academic duties. The opportunity to design and teach the course has been a constant drive to improve my teaching pedagogy, and the assessment of the course’s effects on students, dogs, and our community-partners has yielded new research projects and publications (Flaisher-Grinberg, 20202a, 2020b). In addition, teaching the course has enabled me to connect with my local non-academic community, to better understand the needs of my community, and to make meaningful connections with individuals who share my passion for dogs. As such, the course has promoted both my personal and professional development, not to mention the attainment of my ultimate goal – bringing more animals into my classroom!

    Important Consideration: There are a few important factors to consider if one wishes to develop a similar course. Working with shelter dogs may require adequate hands-on experience, a constant supply of “dog-necessities” (food, kennels, etc.) and veterinary supervision. The generation of a collaborating with an experienced dog trainer in the community and the cooperation with a local animal shelter may be of benefit. In this respect, it is advised that the roles and responsibilities of each ally in this partnership be clearly defined. Working with shelter dogs in an academic institution generates potential risks and obstacles. The investment of time and effort into the creation of IACUC protocols, preparation of safety/precaution procedures, elucidation of liability regulations and attainment of adequate permissions from all involved academic offices is advised. It is also recommended that the possibility of allergies/phobias in campus residents is evaluated.

    Possible Alternatives: There are alternative ways to integrate shelter dogs (or shelter cats) into “learning” (or other) psychology courses. One can organize visitations of shelter animals to the classroom, or arrange for students to visit animal shelters, allowing students to practice supervised, yet time-restricted animal-training sessions. These may be included within the course’s syllabus or extend the curriculum, offering extra credit opportunities to invested students (McDonald, Caso, & Dee, 2005). These may involve observation, documentation and analysis, instructor-led training demonstration, or individual/group-led animal training. Seeking opportunities to engage students in independent research projects, community service or internships – one may consider supervising their work with, or at an animal shelter. If the institution holds pet-friendly policies, or allow animal residency in campus housing, these options can be extended to include the fostering of animals in need by responsible and experienced students. At any point, attention should be dedicated to institutional guidelines, safety of students and animals, and the pursuit of fun, interactive and impactful learning/teaching opportunities!


    Elcoro, M., & Trundle, M. (2013). Student Preferences for Live Versus Virtual Rats in a Learning Course. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 7(1), 1-13.

    Flaisher-Grinberg, S. (2020a) Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks: Using the Academic Classroom to Improve the Adoption Outcomes of 10 Shelter Dogs. Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science. 28:1-15. doi:10.1080/10888705.2020.1717339

    Flaisher-Grinberg, S. (2020b) For the Love of Dogs! Creating an Academia-Community Partnership to Target a Mutual Goal. Impact: The Journal of the Center for Interdisciplinary Teaching & Learning, 9(1) 8-15 2020.

    Hunt, M. J., & Macaskill, A. C. (2017). Student Responses to Active Learning Activities with Live and Virtual Rats in Psychology Teaching Laboratories. Teaching of Psychology, 44(2), 160–164.

    McDonald, T. W., Caso. R., & Dee F. (2005). Teaching and Learning Operant Principles in Animal Shelters: Perspectives from Faculty, Students, and Shelter Staff. Journal of Instructional Psychology, 32(4) 310-321.

    Protopopova, A., Hauser, H., Goldman, K. J., & Wynne, C. (2018). The effects of exercise and calm interactions on in-kennel behavior of shelter dogs. Behavioural processes, 146, 54–60.

  • 05 Apr 2021 12:57 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    By Deborah Miller, PhD, HSPP

    Assistant Professor of Psychology

    Indiana University East

    I like having fun with my students. It’s one of my favorite things about teaching. Getting to know about them and their personalities, senses of humor, pets, jobs, families and how they interact in a group of their peers is so rewarding. But beyond being enjoyable for me (and hopefully the students!) the sense of engagement and classroom community engendered by a positive classroom environment is beneficial to overall student success (Kuh, 2001).

    Personalized interactions can be tough to cultivate in an online environment. I’m sure many of us have found out just how tough it can be as we’ve pivoted to online instruction during the COVID pandemic. And it’s likely that online learning is only becoming more prevalent with time – in 2019, about 65% of students had participated in an online course (Sellers, 2019) and that number will likely be closer to 100% by the time the pandemic comes to its conclusion. It will be essential in the coming semesters and years to find innovative ways to engage students in the online learning environment and create a sense of community that allows for relationships between faculty, students, and their peers to grow.

    One way to do that is through new technology that is popular among younger generations and allows for glimpses into our students’ lives and personalities. A few studies have explored the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook as tools to increase engagement and community (e.g. Heiberger & Harper, 2008; Junco et al., 2011), but we certainly find that new technologies are springing up and gaining popularity at rates that make it difficult for researchers (and instructors!) to keep up.

    TikTok is one such technology that is incredibly popular and also provides ample opportunity for students to engage with class material, faculty, and peers in creative, highly personalized ways. If you’re like many faculty members, you’ve perhaps peripherally heard of TikTok but may not have ventured to use it yourself. But, if there was ever a time to put yourself out there and learn something new for the sake of your students, now is that time.

    What is TikTok?

    TikTok is a smartphone app that allows users to create short video and photo projects that can be edited to include music, filters, effects, text captions, and more. TikTok-ers use the app in many ways, including creating lip sync videos and viral dances to their favorite songs, brief comedy videos, and other incredibly creative, engaging content styles. The allure of TikTok is that the videos are short, engaging, and creative. Once you get the hang of it, TikTok is very easy to use and videos can be created anywhere in a short amount of time.

    Why would I use TikTok in my classes?

    TikTok can provide a unique way for students to engage with the course material, their instructor, and their peers. It offers a chance that goes beyond ordinary assignments, papers, and discussion posts for students to inject their personality, sense of humor, and snippets of their personal lives into the classroom in ways they might typically do in seated courses. When creating their videos, students turn to their environment for inspiration – whatever is nearby gets used as the cast and crew. For some students, this means allowing their peers and instructor to meet their pets, family members, roommates, significant others, etc. while creating their videos. For others, it is an opportunity to display an artistic skill or a behind the scenes look at an aspect of their lives that would not normally be presented in an online course. This sharing of themselves can increase a student’s sense of belonging and community with their online peers and faculty.

    How can I use TikTok in my classes?

    While there are endless uses of TikTok depending on your own level of creativity, there are two ways I typically use this in my course to promote engagement and community. First, I want to promote engagement with the material in a creative way, so the TikTok assignments always require students to create a video explaining a concept from the week’s materials according to their own understanding of it. They can complete this in any way they want, whether it is ultra-creative or just meeting the basic requirements. Second, I want the students to engage with each other, so the TikTok video creation assignments are embedded within a discussion post. Students are divided into small groups of about 5-6 and must post their own video to the discussion, view each small group member’s video, then vote for their favorite video of the week by “liking” their favorite video’s discussion post (a feature that can be enabled in the Canvas LMS, but I’m unsure about the features of other LMS platforms). This creates a slight sense of competition for some students and for those who enjoy competition, it motivates them to do their best work to impress their peers. However, I ensure that the environment is not so competitive that it intimidates the students who are less competitive in nature.

    This model of discussion board TikTok assignments is very effective at increasing students’ engagement with material and each other, but one final factor requires instructor attention throughout the course so that student-instructor engagement is increased. I make sure to watch and make personalized comments on every student’s video in each discussion. Students are putting themselves out there in a somewhat vulnerable manner for their peers and instructors – showing parts of their personal lives that they may not be accustomed to sharing with online peers and instructors (or even in seated classrooms if they are more introverted). It can be an intimidating and vulnerable process for some – but I have certainly found that the students who were willing to step out of their comfort zones to fully engage with this assignment had incredibly positive experiences when they were met with encouraging responses to their videos, not only from peers but especially from the instructor. I take great pains to make an encouraging comment about a personalized aspect of the video (e.g. I love your dog! You certainly used him to effectively explain the concept of operant conditioning.)

    An additional way that I actively use TikTok is to make my own videos that use my own personal life and environment. This is a great way to let students get a feel for who you are as an instructor and just regular person behind your instructor persona, which can highly contribute to students’ perception that you are accessible, approachable, and authentic – three factors that are important to students forming a personal connection with their instructors, which is a predictor of student engagement and sense of community (Mandernach, 2009). I not only create TikTok videos as examples of what students could do for their discussion assignment videos, but also to embed into course materials as a quick way to illustrate a variety of course concepts. This way, students get “behind the scenes” engagement with me throughout the semester, just as they would if we were chatting before or after class or if I told an interesting personal story that related to the lecture material.

    Are there any downsides to TikTok?

    If students are unfamiliar with TikTok, it can feel intimidating or vulnerable. Nontraditional students may feel especially nervous to leave their comfort zone and learn a new technology that is typically associated with younger people. That is why it is important to design all TikTok assignments with transparency in mind – students need to know that there is a pedagogical purpose behind the activity. You’re not just trying to be a “cool parent” who knows the latest trends – you’re using this app for real purposes that will help them succeed and as an added benefit, hopefully have fun at the same time. This is one assignment that can benefit especially from the Transparent Teaching framework by Winkelmes (2016), so students fully understand the goals and rationale for the assignments at the outset.

    Another important factor is that students will need plenty of time to learn how to use TikTok before the first assignment is due. Provide some tutorial materials (easily found on YouTube) and plenty of examples of the types of videos you are expecting. Make the first TikTok assignment a complete/incomplete grade to allow students some wiggle room as they are learning a new skill. Give them a wide range of acceptable types of videos for the assignment.

    Finally, you will have students that for whatever reason, students just feel a lot of anxiety about creating a video of themselves. It is important to be clear to those students that personal information is NOT required. TikTok allows users to create photo slideshows and text-based videos that do not require the students to video themselves or their surroundings if they want to retain their privacy. I have had students create a slideshow using a series of memes they found on the internet and did not contain any private information at all. Other students have used tools within TikTok to create text-based explanations of their chosen course concept accompanied by a song – again, no personal disclosures required. It can also be helpful to let students turn in video using ANY app they wish, even just the video recording app on their phone, if they have a particular aversion to TikTok. Students can also create private videos in TikTok, download them to their computer or phone, and re-upload them to the discussion board so that they do not have to use the public sharing feature of TikTok or link their peers and instructors to their personal TikTok account if they have one for personal use. For students who are extremely averse to this assignment, I allow them to create more traditional presentations in PowerPoint or Prezi, if they meet the minimum standard for explaining course concepts.


    Using new technologies to engage students and create a sense of classroom community should be a strategy in addition to what has already been found to work. However, popular technologies like TikTok can provide unique opportunities to engage students in ways that are not possible with traditional strategies. While it can be challenging to learn something new, it can also be highly rewarding. Whatever strategies you end up using to create engagement and community, you can be confident that you are doing your students a service and contributing to their success.


    Heiberger, G. & Harper, R. (2008). Have you Facebooked Astin lately? Using technology to increase student involvement. In R. Junco & D. M. Timm (Eds), Using emerging technologies to enhance student engagement. New directions for student services issue #124 (pp. 19–35). San Francisco, CA: Jossey‐Bass.

    Junco, R., Heiberger, G. & Loken, E. (2011). The effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, 27, 2, 119–132. doi:10.1111/j.1365‐2729.2010.00387.x.

    Kuh, G. D. (2001). The National Survey of Student Engagement: Conceptual framework and overview of psychometric properties. Retrieved from

    Mandernach, B. J. (2009). Effect of instructor-personalized multimedia in the online classroom. International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 10(3).

    Sellers, E. (2019). Poor time management in online education. Seattle PI.

    Winkelmes, M. A., Bernacki, M., Butler, J., Zochowski, M., Golanics, J., & Weavil, K. H. (2016). A teaching intervention that increases underserved college students’ success. Peer Review, 18(1/2), 31-36.

  • 06 Mar 2021 11:47 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Brian D. Bergstrom, Shirley A. Ashauer, and Dustin R. Nadler

    Maryville University

    Psychology majors are often attracted to the discipline by a deep and authentic desire to help improve the lives of others through the application of psychological science. Yet, as students encounter unexpected challenges or setbacks in courses such as Statistics or Research Methods, they sometimes become disenchanted, thinking they lack the ability to be successful in the field. After their first “C” on a Statistics exam, for example, they throw up their hands and despair that they no longer “have what it takes” to make it in psychology. A rather narrow and specific disappointment gives way to a fretful concern that their performance reflects a lack of ability, and some students surrender to the conclusion that they are not be “cut out” for psychology if they can’t compute a MANOVA (on their first attempt!).

    In short, they implicitly believe that statistical ability is a fixed, innate trait that some lucky students possess, while others (like them) lack the “right stuff.” Even students who have learned the concept of growth mindset - the belief that ability can be developed - may not be able to implement that belief in the face of their own academic struggles. This dilemma raises two questions: what factors stymie the productive application of a growth mindset among students, and how can we intervene to bolster psychology students’ resilience when they encounter such setbacks in challenging psychology courses?

    In a recent study, we addressed this question with an entire first-year cohort of college students that was part of a broader longitudinal assessment on college student development and success (Ashauer et al., 2020). Research on growth mindset has received much attention for its relevance to academic performance (Paunesku et al., 2015; Robins & Pals, 2002; Walton, 2014; Yeager et al., 2016). But, we asked, is having a growth mindset enough? Or are there individual differences that support (or undermine) its application? To address this, we considered two major themes in college student development that are critical aspects of becoming a mature, fully functioning adult: (1) intrapersonal development, toward becoming an autonomous individual, and (2) interpersonal development, as social relationships undergo considerable change (Allen & Land, 1999; Erikson, 1961). Specifically, we examined whether attachment theory (relationship functioning) and self-determination theory (autonomous functioning) might inform the trajectory of student success, and whether these constructs might contribute to our understanding of why some students are better able to mobilize a growth mindset when they encounter academic struggle.

    Attachment and Autonomous Functioning

    Attachment relationships are those in which another person serves, in some measure, as a “secure base” and a “safe haven” for the student. The attachment system is often conceptualized as including a pair of unconscious mental models—one of self, one of others—that are “tuned” to different degrees of anxiety and avoidance and provide default expectations for social relationships (Ainsworth et al, 1978; Bowlby, 1982). Anxiety is associated with concerns about self-worth, the dependability of others, and a high need for reassurance, while avoidance is associated with a strong desire for independence, a reluctant stance toward intimacy and disclosure, and a tendency to pull away when their autonomy is challenged (Crowell et al., 2016). Previous studies have found that greater attachment security is associated with better adjustment to college, higher academic performance, and higher self-esteem (Mikulincer & Shaver, 2016).

    We believe that the cognitive and emotional volatility of insecure attachment can disrupt the application of cognitive and emotional resources needed to implement a growth mindset. When the attachment system is activated by a perceived threat, the cognitive, emotional, and motivational resources consumed by attachment processes might make it hard to redirect those resources in the service of academic goals. In this way (and others), a growth mindset may lie impotent in the mind of an otherwise capable student, as attachment dynamics co-opt attention and subvert the executive resources needed to drive a growth mindset into action.

    The transition to college is also an important time in development during which a major task is becoming an autonomous individual (Allen & Land, 1999; Erikson, 1961). Thus, we also examined autonomous functioning (self-governance) in students (Deci & Ryan, 1985; Ryan & Deci, 2000), and more specifically, authorship, which involves being primarily guided by one’s own personal values (Weinstein et al., 2012). Authorship has been positively associated with persistence and confidence (Deci & Ryan, 2000; Nix et al., 1999); greater self-esteem (Deci & Ryan, 1995); and heightened vitality and academic performance (Ryan & Frederick, 1997; Vansteenkiste et al., 2008). We believe that authored students will be less vulnerable to the slings and arrows of academic challenge as well attachment distress, and thereby could translate a growth mindset into concrete, constructive action because they have more cognitive and emotional resources to invest in academic tasks and are less likely to engage in off-task cogitation related to attachment concerns (Bernier et al., 2004).

    In our study of a first-year cohort of college students, we found precisely that (Ashauer et al., 2020). Students with more of a growth mindset had higher end-of-semester GPAs, but insecure attachment completely dissolved that link. Concurrently, authorship buffered this inverse relationship such that authored students maintained higher GPAs than less authored students. Because attachment anxiety played a significant role in compromising the growth mindset-performance relationship in our study, we focus our teaching recommendations on mitigating attachment anxiety and bolstering attachment security. Based on our findings as well as the extant literature, we propose three strategies from the growth mindset, self-determination, and attachment literature that could be applied in psychology courses: 1) short-term strategies to create a “safe haven,” (2) process versus person feedback strategies, and (3) long-term strategies to promote autonomous functioning through security-enhancement.


    Short-Term Strategies to Create a “Safe Haven”

    Attachment theory has shown that relationship partners, including instructors, can provide a safe haven for students during moments of challenge and distress, as well as a secure base from which to explore and make mistakes that are an inevitable part of learning new concepts (Mikulciner & Shaver, 2016). Yet, when anxiously attached students become distressed, they exhibit hyperactivating strategies to attain reassurance that the instructor will still respect them. These strategies can preoccupy them such that their performance is compromised, prompting the question: what strategies can instructors use in the moment to create a safe haven and mitigate momentary anxiety for such students?

    Caprariello and Reis (2011) found that when an anxiously attached student perceives a relationship partner as responsive (that the instructor understands, respects, and values the student), the student becomes less defensive after receiving failure feedback because they feel they are valued for who they are (rather than how they perform). With the increased social isolation of the current pandemic (possibly exacerbated in anxiously attached students), the social connection and support created by perceived instructor responsiveness may be even more critical to the learning process. When students feel valued and respected, they experience fewer concerns about perceived worth and diminished social value (Baumeister & Leary, 1995). Instructors can support anxiously attached students by calming them when they encounter challenge, helping them to acknowledge the issue, discussing ways in which the issue can be solved, and providing the reassurance they need to remain constructively focused (Arriaga et al., 2018).

    Process Versus Person Feedback Strategies

    Moreover, instructors can play crucial roles in helping anxious students mitigate their sense of contingent self-worth (the belief that their worth is contingent on performance) by helping them attribute their successes to their own efforts (Caprariello & Reis, 2011). When instructors bolster students’ internalized beliefs that they are capable and worthy, they decrease an overdependence on instructors to affirm their self-worth. What concrete practices can instructors enact in the classroom to do so?

    By providing students with effort-oriented feedback (“You worked hard to troubleshoot what went wrong in SPSS when you ran the MANOVA!”), instructors focus student attention on process (problem solving strategies) and their own effort, which fosters better self-regulatory skills and ultimately autonomy. Moreover, process feedback, whether it is praise or criticism, encourages mastery-oriented responses to setbacks (Kamins & Dweck, 1999). For example, attributing failure to effort or strategy (“you didn’t read the chapter on MANOVA before completing the assignment”), rather than a fixed trait (“statistics just comes easier to some students”) mobilizes student persistence, their willingness to use error as diagnostic information on how to improve, and improves academic performance (Kamins & Dweck, 1999).

    On the other hand, when instructors provide students with person or trait-oriented feedback (“you are so talented in statistics!”), students learn to measure their self-worth by their performance and innate ability (Kamins & Dweck, 1999). Instructors may be unwittingly teaching students that their competence or self-worth is determined by their performance when they use person-oriented feedback, leading to a student’s belief that “I must not be cut out for psychology!” and a helpless response pattern of anxiety, lowered persistence, and decreased performance (Burhans & Dweck, 1995). By providing students with process feedback, instructors can help anxious students mitigate the hyperactivating strategies that often compromise their performance when they experience distress during setbacks.

    Long-term Strategies to Promote Autonomous Functioning through Security-Enhancement

    Although the aforementioned strategies can assuage students’ momentary anxieties of self-worth triggered by setbacks, these short-term strategies may unintentionally lead to students’ overreliance on instructors for reassurance, and an overdependence on them to boost their sense of self-worth (Arriaga et al., 2018). As a result, students’ maturation into autonomous individuals with secure relationship functioning can be stunted. According to the Attachment Security Enhancement Model (ASEM; Arriaga et al., 2018), instructors can implement long-term developmental strategies to shift students’ dependency on them in the direction of greater independence and autonomous functioning by enhancing their secure model of self and others.

    In the short term, instructors can employ autonomy-supportive teaching behaviors by making connections on the relevance of a topic to students’ lives and engage students in learning for its intrinsic value (Black & Deci, 2000). In the long-term, however, instructors might employ strategies that encourage students to pursue their own personal learning goals and the activities associated with those goals, thereby building students’ self-esteem and autonomy (Feeney, 2004). As anxious students begin to internalize the belief that their instructor views them as capable and worthy, their self-confidence should increase, and their overdependence on instructors for reassurance and approval should decrease (Mikulciner & Shaver, 2016). Finally, instructors can both challenge and support students’ development of autonomous functioning by increasing students’ self-awareness and endorsement of their own actions (Sheldon et al., 2018). Rather than telling students what to do, instructors can ask them questions like “What do you think? What do you want to do?” and then problem-solve together to build confidence in their skill and ability to autonomously self-regulate.


    In sum, our findings showed a more complex, nuanced relationship in the growth mindset – academic performance relationship. Our results suggest that a promising future direction for promoting and predicting success among psychology students may involve a “hearts and minds” approach: that is, seeing students as whole persons may improve the teaching and learning process. The relationship an instructor develops with their students – the social connection they create, the type of feedback they provide, and supporting students’ development of self-awareness and endorsement of their own internalized actions - may play an important role in bolstering students’ resilience and academic performance in the face of challenge throughout their college experience.


    Ainsworth, M.S. (1989). Attachments beyond infancy. American Psychologist, 44(4), 709-716.

    Aninsworth, M.S., Blehar, M.C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psychological study of the strange situation. Oxford: Lawrence Erlbaum.

    Allen, J., & Land, D. (1999). Attachment in adolescence. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications (pp. 319-335). New York, New York: Guilford.

    Arriaga, X.B., Kumashiro, M., Simpson, J.A., & Overall, N.C. (2018). Revising working models across time: Relationship situations that enhance attachment security. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 22(1), 71-96.

    Ashauer, S.A., Nadler, D.R., & Bergstrom, B.D. (2020, June 1-September 1). Attachment and growth mindset: Future directions for promoting and predicting academic success among first-year college students [Poster presentation]. 32nd Association for Psychological Science Annual Convention, Virtual Poster Showcase.

    Baumeister, R.F., & Leary, M.R. (1995). The need to belong: Desire for interpersonal attachments as a fundamental human motivation. Psychological Bulletin, 20, 1175- 1181.

    Bernier, A., Larose, S., & Whipple, N. (2005). Leaving home for college: A potentially stressful event for adolescents with preoccupied attachment patterns. Attachment & Human Development, 72(2), 171-185.

    Black, A.E., & Deci, E. L. (2000). The effects of instructors’ autonomy support and students’ autonomous motivation on learning organic chemistry: A self-determination theory perspective. Science Education, 84, 740-756.

    Bowlby, J. (1982). Attachment and loss (Vol.1: Attachment). 2nd ed. New York, New York: Basic Books.

    Burhans, K.K., & Dweck, C.S. (1995). Helplessness in early childhood: The role of contingent self-worth. Child Development, 66, 1719–1738.

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    Crowell, J.A., Fraley, R.C., & Roisman, G.I. (2016). Measurement of individual differences in adolescence in adult attachment. In J. Cassidy & P.R. Shaver (Eds.), Handbook of attachment: Theory, research, and clinical applications, 3rd ed, (pp. 599-634). New York, New York: Guilford Press.

    Deci, E.L, & Ryan, R.M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self-determination in human behavior. New York, New York: Plenum.

    Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (1995). Human autonomy: The basis for true self-esteem. In M. Kernis (Ed.), Efficacy, agency, and self-esteem (pp. 31-49). New York, New York: Plenum.

    Deci, E.L., & Ryan, R.M. (2000). The “what” and “why” of goal pursuits: Human needs and the self-determination of behavior. Psychological Inquiry, 4, 227-268.

    Erikson, E.H. (1961). Youth: Fidelity and diversity. In E.H. Erikson (Ed.), Youth: Change and challenge (pp. 1-23). New York, New York: Basic Books.

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    Mikulciner, M., & Shaver, P. R. (2016). Attachment in adulthood: Structure, dynamics, and change, 2nd ed. New York, New York: Guilford Press.

    Nix, G., Ryan, $. Manley, J.B., & Deci, E.L. (1999). Revitalization through self-regulation: The effects of autonomous and controlled motivation on happiness and vitality. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 35, 266-284.

    Paunesku, D., Walton, G.M., Romero, C., Smith, E.N., Yeager, D.S., & Dweck, C.S. (2015). Mind-set interventions are a scalable treatment for academic underachievement. Psychological Science, 26(6), 784-93.

    Robins, R.W., & Pals, J.L. (2002). Implicit self-theories in the academic domain: Implications for goal orientation, attributions, affect, and self-esteem change. Self and Identity, 1(4), 313-336.

    Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78.

    Ryan, R.M., & Frederick, C.M. (1997). On energy, personality, and health: Subjective vitality as a dynamic reflection of well-being. American Psychologist, 55(1), 68-78. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.68

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    Vansteennkiste, M., Ryan, R.M., & Deci, E.L. (2008). Self-determination theory and the explanatory role of psychological needs in human well-being. In L. Bruni, F. Comim, & M. Pugno (Eds.), Capabilities and happiness (pp.187-223). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

    Walton, G.M. (2014). The new science of wise psychological interventions. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(1), 73-82.

    Weinstein, N., Przybylski, A., & Ryan, R.M. (2012). The index of autonomous functioning: Development of a scale of human autonomy. Journal of Research in Personality, 46, 397-413.

    Yeager, D.S., & Dweck, C.S. (2012). Mindsets that promote resilience: When students believe that personal characteristics can be developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302 -314.

  • 07 Feb 2021 2:18 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

      Kevin J. O’Connor (Providence College)


    Most schools and their disability services office require students with disabilities to hand deliver accommodation notification letters to their professors. This is done with purpose. The exchange of the letter invites a conversation about the accommodation and learning needs of the student in relation to course requirements and delivery.

    This essay grew from a question about how often a meaningful discussion regarding accommodations is had. Findings from a brief study I conducted on the topic indicate the accommodation process may have become commonplace resulting in only a cursory interaction between students and professors before or after class when the accommodation letter is submitted (O’Connor, 2020). I view this as a lost opportunity to help students maximize their experience in a course. In response, I share with you some thoughts and suggestions on how to communicate with students regarding academic accommodations with the hope that I may pursued interest in doing so.

    The Accommodation Letter

    The accommodation letter is a notification (not a request) that identifies the student as having registered with the campus disability services office and identifies the accommodations the student is to receive in your class. The letter forces disclosure of disability status on the part of the student in order to receive accommodations; however, the specifics of the disability itself are not disclosed. The process is backed by federal civil rights statutes supportive of equal educational opportunity – the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA, 2008; formerly ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (1973).

    Delivering the Accommodation Letter

    A core value of disability services on campus is the promotion of self-determination in the students who access services (Gelbar et al., 2020). The Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD, n.d.) calls on disability service programs and specialists to “use a service delivery model that encourages students with disabilities to develop independence” (Section 5. Counseling and Self-Determination). This includes educating and assisting students to function independently and to develop a program mission that promotes student self-determination. So it is quite intentional when schools put students in the position of having to deliver the news of their accommodation needs to their professors.

    Discussing Accommodations with Students

    You do not have to be a disability specialist or service provider to talk with students about their accommodation needs. The expertise you bring to the conversation is in knowing how you conduct your course. Here is an approach and some suggestions on how to have this conversation with students:

    Syllabus and First Class Meeting

    Students with disabilities often look for signs from their professors that they will be supported if they disclose their disability status through the accommodation process (Quinlan et al., 2012). You can let students know that you will be supportive by having a statement in your syllabus that speaks to your openness to work with students needing academic accommodations and referring to it during an early class meeting. This goes beyond simply stating that students needing accommodations should contact the disability services office. It is a statement that lets students know it is important to you personally as their instructor.

    Invitation to Meet

    When handed an accommodation letter ask the student to schedule a meeting with you to discuss what is in the letter. I phrase this as an invitation to discuss how an accommodation will be provided and an opportunity for me to share in more detail information about the course and how it is delivered.

    Preparing to Meet

    Ask the student to prepare for the meeting by looking over the course syllabus. I ask students to think about accommodation needs and themselves as learners in relation to what is seen from their review. For your part, you should prepare for the meeting by gathering materials that represent the course and what the requirements will entail. In addition, it is helpful to have a description in mind of the teaching approaches you plan to use (lectures, group work, write on the board, show slides, expect class participation, and so on).

    Conducting the Meeting

    Let the syllabus be your template for the meeting and keep the accommodation letter at hand. Use gathered additional course materials as needed. I usually guide the discussion as follows: 1) review the obvious alignments that exist between the accommodations listed in the letter and course assignments (e.g., there are tests-student needs extended time-how will we do this?), 2) review other course requirements of a less obvious nature for the same (e.g., there are also weekly quizzes-student needs extended time-will extra time be needed for the quizzes and if so how will we do this?), 3) discuss the student’s accommodations in relation to teaching approaches (e.g., often call on students-is the rationale behind needing extended test time going to hold any relation to being called on in class and if so what will we do about it?), and 4) notify that you will be checking in with the student a few times to see how it is all working.

    After the Meeting

    Send an e-mail thanking the student for meeting with you and note anything of importance that may have been discussed. Following a first milestone in the course where an accommodation may have been used (e.g., first exam, paper) check in with the student to see how it went. You will discover all kinds of things at this point (e.g., student with fine-motor impairment couldn’t finish open-response items; student finished exam in half the required time; the quiet testing environment wasn’t quite at all; the student had a few questions during the test but couldn’t ask because it wasn’t taken in the classroom; there was so much information on the exam the student couldn’t remember it all). Each of these examples comes from students I have had. In each case adjustments were made that contributed to a more accurate demonstration of learning on the part of the student. Without an open conversation about accommodations and learning needs this would not have occurred.

    Additional Considerations

    Here are some additional suggestions to keep in mind when interacting with students regarding their academic accommodations:

    It would be pollyannaish to assume that students will always have a favorable experience discussing accommodations with professors. Documentation of the contrary has been shared (Lyman et al., 2016, Toutain, 2019). Be mindful that some students may be guarded about discussing accommodation needs as a result of past experiences.

    Avoid asking students what their disability is. Students are obligated to disclose that they have a disability in order to receive accommodations but they are not required to disclose specifics. In my experience students will be open about their disability and share how it impacts them as learners if they know you have their best interests in mind.

    Prior to college, students with disabilities receive a tremendous amount of support from others and may not have had the opportunity to develop the skills required to discuss their learning needs (i.e., self-knowledge, awareness). Receive students where they are at and be patient if they do not have insight when you meet. This is particularly so for students new to the college setting.

    Remember to hold information about the disability status of students in confidence. Students are often comfortable sharing their disability letters in the presence of classmates but this is for them to do, not you.

    If you don’t agree with an accommodation, and it happens sometimes, don’t put students in the position of having to defend or negotiate the request. Start with the disability support services office or person who handles accommodations and then work backward to the student. Have this discussion with the disability services office before you meet with the student.

    You are not obligated to go beyond what is in the accommodation letter. This said, accommodation letters are often general in nature and do not take into account all of the idiosyncrasies of a particular course. There may be some adjustments needed or additional accommodations that may be beneficial to the student – to the extent you are comfortable offering these.

    Final Thoughts

    Students with disabilities make up a good amount of the undergraduate population (in 2015-2016, 19 percent according to estimates of the U.S. Department of Education, 2016). An important predictor of their college success is the extent to which course accommodations are provided. The process of obtaining accommodations is complex but it can be made easier when faculty are supportive and open to engaging in a meaningful dialogue with students about their learning needs.


    Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act, Pub. L. No. 110-325 § 3406 (2008).

    Association on Higher Education and Disability (n.d.). Program standards and performance indicators.

    Gelbar, N., Madaus, J. W., Dukes, L., Faggella-Luby, M., Volk, D., & Monahan, J. (2020) Self-determination and college students with disabilities: Research trends and construct measurement. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 57(2), 163-181.

    Lyman, M., Beecher, M. E., & Griner, D. (2016). What keeps students with disabilities from using accommodations in postsecondary education? A qualitative review. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 29(2), 123-140.

    O’Connor, K. J. (2020, June 1–September 1). “Here’s my accommodation letter”: Student perspectives on interacting with faculty about accommodation requests [Poster presentation]. Association for Psychological Science/Society for the Teaching of Psychology Teaching Institute Virtual Poster Showcase.

    Quinlan, M. M., Bates, B. R., & Angell, M. E. (2012). ‘What can I do to help?’: Postsecondary students with learning disabilities’ perceptions of instructors’ classroom accommodations. Journal of Research in Special Educational Needs, 12(4), 224–233.

    Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Pub. L. No. 93-112, 87 § 394 (1973).

    Toutain, C. (2019). Barriers to accommodations for students with disabilities in higher education: A literature review. Journal of Postsecondary Education and Disability, 32(3), 297-310.

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  • 04 Jan 2021 7:52 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Melissa Maffeo Masicampo, PhD 

    Wake Forest University 


    I’m a mean teacher, its true. I trick my students all the time. I’ve given my students PTC paper to demonstrate bitter taste (I do warn them first, though). Once I encouraged a Pepsi vs. Coke taste-test and debate and got the students really riled up. The thing was, unbeknownst to them, both of the sodas they tasted were Coke. My biggest trick, though, is teaching students to use metacognitive strategies without them even knowing it. And I do it with zombie brains.  

    Zombies are the perfect model organism for studying neuroscience. In neuroscience, researchers will often manipulate the brain of a model organism like a rat or mouse, and then observe the behaviors through carefully planned testing. Zombie brains are already altered, and these alterations result in some very specific behaviors. Since we can’t get our hands on a real zombie to examine the actual underlying neural damage, we have to infer the damage through careful observations of their behavior. To provide one example, Voytek and Verstynen (2014) argue that, based on characteristics of movement, there are two subtypes of zombies. Type 1 zombies are the prototypical stiff-moving zombie with the slow, lumbering gait and wide-legged stance. And yet, they appear to have little to no trouble initiating or executing goal-directed movement. These zombies very likely have damage to regions of the cerebellum, leaving basal ganglia and cortical motor pathways largely intact.  Conversely, Type II zombies can move very quickly and very little difficulty moving from victim to victim. From this motor behavior, we can infer that Type II zombies probably have little, if any, damage to motor areas of their brains. Voytek and Verstynen point out that any motor impairment of Type II zombies is probably more likely due to the fact that their arms and legs are rotting, rather than a specific neural deficit. Type II zombies, however, might lack attentional control, as they appear to move quickly from victim to victim, hardly devouring the first victim before shifting attention to the next.  

    Using zombie brains and behavior as a backdrop, my goal is to design engaging assignments that help students develop skills to become more efficient learners. Research shows that students who engage in metacognitive strategies, that is, students who learn how to learn, are much more poised to achieve learning outcomes for their courses (for review, see Brown, Roediger & McDaniel, 2014 and Lai, 2011). In this essay, I’d like to share some of these assignments that I’ve used in my classes. But first, I’d like you to imagine you are a student, sitting in your first biopsychology class. Your worst nightmare has come true – your university is now overrun with the flesh hungry undead. You know in your heart that you and your peers must not only learn biopsychology, but also master it, in order to find a cure for this awful affliction and save your campus. To do so, your professor unleashes her plan for training, practice, and ultimate mastery of both biopsychology and the apocalypse:  

     Strategic Planning Exercises. These weekly reflections are intended to be low stakes formative assignments that help students engage in metacognitive strategies. In this way, students can “strategically plan” for both the zombie apocalypse and for larger stakes assignments. In most semesters, there are four ways a student can complete their strategic planning:  

    Conduct a necropsy: Students had to find a zombie kill it, and bring it back to their lab for necropsy. After examining the brain, students should write a blog post about their observations. The blog post should describe a brain area or system, the role of that area/system in human behavior, and how it because dysregulated in the zombie brain to produce aberrant zombie behavior.  

    Video lab notebook: In a video lab notebook, students could video record themselves teaching a topic to me – but that catch is that they must do it with no notes.  

    Reflection: In this Strategic Planning, students could submit a journal reflection to me, following the prompt, ““Something I learned recently that I found particularly interesting is _____. I think this topic is super cool because _____, and it relates to my life because _____. I was also a bit confused by ____, but one thing I did to help myself understand the content was ____.” 

    Demonstration: To demonstrate knowledge, students have the opportunity to work either solo or in small groups to create a skit, screenplay, or other artifact reflecting course content – the sillier, the better!  

    Target Practice. In every good apocalypse, its important to test our aim to make sure we’re actually doing what we should be doing. It would not be a good idea to go into a zombie battle without any target practice, and nor would it be a good idea to begin a high stakes assignment without practice! In this class, Target Practices are low-stakes, progressively cumulative quizzes that students take outside of class time through the learning management system.  

    Battles. These are the highest-stakes assignments, and this is what students prepare for with the strategic planning and target practice. This is where we take everything we know and go fight those zombies. Students typically have four Battles over the course of the semester. The first Battle asks students to write a short story or narrative where the characters of the story are either brain areas or cells of the nervous system. The functions of the area or cell must be evident from the behavior of the character. Battles two and three ask students to respond to a primary research article in a ‘summarize-connect-apply’ format. The final Battle is a group project. Each group asks a question about aberrant zombie behavior (e.g., as a zombie is ruthlessly devouring your flesh, can it recognize you?”). Each group presents their answer to the class and submits a short written summary of their findings.  

    By doing these regular assignments, students are less likely to fall behind because procrastination is less of an option. All too often, students sit in classes with unit exams, and don’t begin studying for that exam until a day or two prior (at best!). The student might make a high grade on the exam, but they will likely not retain the material they were tested on. At the start of the semester, I ask students if they’ve ever had experiences like what I just described, and invariably, most hands go up. I take the opportunity to explain to my students that my primary course objective is to help them learn biopsychology and think about it in their everyday lives. To do this, I tell them, I encourage them to start thinking about their own thinking, and start engaging in evidence-informed good learning practices. Using these practices will not only help them in this class, but also in other classes and even outside the classroom. I’ve received good anecdotal feedback from students, saying that they have used strategies like these in their other classes, with good results. I’ve also had students say things like, “The assignments are bad, because they force you to stay on top of the material, but they’re also good, because they force you to stay on top of the material.” I’ll take that as a win.  

    By taking this class, students are gaining exposure to techniques that should help them think about their own thinking, and experience learning as a process, not as a destination. When students learn to reflect on the course content, it encourages engagement with the course content, as well as engagement with the instructor and their peers. In this way, students start making connections between aspects of their lives and aspects of the course, which further solidifies learning. And, by the way, my students can learn biopsychology in the midst of a zombie apocalypse as they fight to save their campus. Can yours?  



    Brown, P., Roediger, H., & McDaniel, M. (2014) Making it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.  

    Lai, E. (2011) Metacognition: A literature review. Retrieved from 

    Verstynen, T. & Voytek, B (2014) Do zombies dream of undead sheep? A neuroscientific view of the zombie brain. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press. 


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