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

  • 02 Dec 2020 2:23 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    David E. Copeland 

    University of Nevada, Las Vegas  

    The psychology major is unique in that there are a wide variety of paths that students can pursue. While having many options can be great, it can also lead to students being unsure about their future. In addition, those that are confident in a path that requires more schooling may not know how to properly prepare for graduate programs. I can relate to this because during my undergraduate years I was initially lost as to what I wanted to do -- and if that was not bad enough, once I thought about what I might do, I was not sure how to prepare! 

    I designed an Introduction to the Psychology Major course to address these issues, so that students can start planning for their future while in college by getting the most out of the major (Copeland & Houska, 2020). Importantly, I try to set students up for success so that they continue to prepare for careers and graduate school after they finish working with me in my course. In the sections below I first explain why it is important for students to plan their future path, and then I follow that with how I help them with the process and why more programs should offer this course (Norcross et al., 2016).  

    Why Should Students Plan Out Their Future? 

    Students should plan their future so they can tailor their college experience to help prepare them for their goals. Those who need to pursue a Ph.D. for their career goals will want to take advantage of opportunities to get involved with research. Students with interests outside of psychology may want to add a minor or a second major – for example, students interested in marketing might want to minor in business or take part in a summer internship. 

    Another reason is that it can help to take action early. If students want to dive into graduate school after commencement, then they should be applying to programs during their senior year. If students want to start a job right away, they may want to submit applications while wrapping up their courses -- this will improve the odds of having a job lined up. Failing to take these actions early enough in college may lead to an unwanted gap of time after graduation. 

    Explore the Possibilities 

    Over the years, I have encountered students at different levels of certainty (or uncertainty) about their career path -- some have one selected, some have no idea, and others fall in between. For example, students in this last group might want to do something related to mental health treatment but may not have thought much about the details. If students do not have a passion about what they want to pursue, make sure that students know that this is okay. Passion can be developed by learning about a field and getting more immersed in it. 

    Regardless of students’ confidence, I start by presenting them with a list of career possibilities to explore. I also have them fill out career interest/personality tests that are available online or through a campus career center -- however, I warn them that the results are merely suggestions they might consider. Because I know that not every psychology student wants to pursue a career in psychology, I have put together materials about ways that psychology can help prepare students for careers in other areas (e.g., business, medicine, law). A final approach is to encourage students to think about careers that they have noticed in the world around them, but they should know that some careers are not always portrayed accurately in television shows or movies (Smith et al., 2011). 

    Learn More about Possible Choices 

    At this stage, I encourage students to learn as much as they can about their possibilities. This includes learning about the career itself, pros and cons of that path, and the skills and degrees that are needed. I find that some students are surprised when they dig more deeply -- for example, some students who originally say that they want to pursue clinical psychology later find that therapy or counseling are better fits for them. 

    Students can easily find career websites online, but two of the best are O*Net and the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop. Students can also access some excellent books about psychology careers. There are some great books that cover mental health paths such as clinical psychology, counseling, therapy, or social work (e.g., Metz, 2016), and there are others that provide perspectives about a variety of careers in psychology (e.g., Sternberg, 2017). 

    Students can also schedule a meeting with their campus career center to discuss their interests and to learn about resources. Students should be encouraged to utilize their career center regularly -- they should not think about it as a one-time visit. Not only can career centers help them think through career possibilities, but most can help with other preparation such as improving a resume or practicing common interview scenarios. 

    I have students take things further by building and utilizing a network. One approach is to connect them with fellow students who have similar interests so that they can share information and ask questions (a classroom or online discussion can work for this). In addition, I push students to talk with other high achievers at Psi Chi events. Students should also expand their networks into the professional world by conducting at least one informational interview. Ideally these can be done in person, but with more technological tools available, students have options for communicating with others. To help them out, I provide a set of starter questions that they can use. 

    Map Out Helpful Experiences and Accomplishments 

    After students have settled on a small number of career possibilities, they should map out their plans to get there. Students can think about the necessary degrees, skills, and experiences. In addition, I also tell them to identify possible obstacles in their path (e.g., finances, competitive graduate programs) and whether or not they can overcome them. 

    Mapping out their path serves two big goals. First, students can learn whether a career path is possible -- if not, they should consider other options. Second, it allows students to explicitly plot out what they need to accomplish as they move forward. For example, if they know that they need volunteer or internship experience, they can start making plans now. If they need to earn a Ph.D., they can look for research opportunities. If leadership is important, then they might get involved as a student club officer. I also encourage non-traditional students and those who are working while in school to look at ways in which they are developing skills and building accomplishments in their work environment.  

    If graduate school is needed, students can reach out to current graduate students. This is helpful because students can hear directly what graduate school is like and whether it would be a good fit for them. Current graduate students can also inform them about what an undergraduate needs to accomplish in order to be an attractive applicant. Some students mistakenly think that a solid grade point average is all that they need to get into graduate school -- it is important that they learn what else graduate school admission committees’ value. 

    Topics and Assignments 

    I help them with this entire process by discussing resources and experiences that are related to the psychology major and teaching them the basics about graduate school preparation (Copeland & Houska, 2020). For the former, I teach them about student groups, professional organizations, research opportunities, internship or volunteer positions, and psychology courses. For the latter, I let students know about what graduate programs value, including the importance of letters of recommendation. 

    An assignment that helps to reinforce the mapping process is to have my students create a Superstar CV -- this also teaches them how to document their accomplishments too. Students start by listing their current accomplishments but take it a step further by adding experiences and achievements that they want to have when they graduate. To distinguish this from their actual CV, I have them use the title “Superstar Curriculum Vitae” at the top and I also have them write their goals in a different font color (to signify that these are not actual achievements. . . yet). 

    I require some of the activities I described in this article (e.g., Superstar Activity, mapping out their career paths) in my course. However, because not everyone is following the same path and not everyone is at the same stage in their career preparation process, I also create a menu of activities and students choose which of those they want to complete (e.g., visit the career center, attend a Psi Chi event, conduct an informational interview). This way students can take actions that fit their goals. 

    Continue to Seek Out Information and Refine the Plan 

    One of my big goals is to encourage students to strive for continuous improvement by learning and acting after they finish my course. I push them to regularly visit the career center for different types of career preparation. I also let them know that their career choices do not have to be etched in stone -- it is okay for them to change their mind. For example, students might complete a summer internship in their desired field only to learn that the field does not seem to be the right fit for them -- I tell them that this is perfectly fine as it is better to learn that now rather than years down the road. 



    I am a big believer in the idea that we need to be helping students prepare for their futures. Some students might already have career ideas or help from parents, but many first generation students are unaware of the importance of planning for their future path. I have lost track of how many times students have finished my course and told me “I really did not know what to expect from a class like this, but this course was the most impactful class that I have taken -- I now have an idea of what I want to do and what I need to do to get there!” I strongly encourage faculty to develop an Introduction to the Psychology Major course to help prepare their students for the future! 


    Copeland, D. E., & Houska, J. A. (2020). Success as a psychology major. Sage. 

    Metz, K. (2016). Careers in mental health: Opportunities in psychology, counseling, and social work. John Wiley & Sons. 

    Norcross, J. C., Hailstorks, R., Aiken, L. S., Pfund, R. A., Stamm, K. E., & Christidis, P. (2016). Undergraduate study in psychology: Curriculum and assessment. American Psychologist, 71, 89-101.  

    Smith, S. M., Stinson, V., & Patry, M. W. (2011). Fact or fiction? The myth and reality of the CSI effect. Court Review: The Journal of the American Judges Association, 47, 4-7. 

    Sternberg, R. J. (2017). Career paths in psychology: Where your degree can take you. American Psychological Association. 

  • 06 Nov 2020 8:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    John M. Malouff and Ashley J. Emmerton (University of New England, Australia)


    Some psychology teachers develop innovative teaching methods that could benefit other teachers. There are many options for psychology teachers who want to disseminate as widely as possible information about a new teaching method. This article describes a range of dissemination methods psychology teachers can use, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogs, podcasts, psychology magazines, ERIC, teaching conferences, and teacher training courses. The authors suggest using a cost-benefit analysis to choose dissemination methods.

    How Psychology Teachers Can Widely Disseminate Their Innovative Teaching Methods

    Using teaching innovations to deliver psychology topics can help improve education by leading to more learning and to more interest in learning (Savelsbergh et al., 2016). Using teaching innovations can also help increase the work satisfaction of teachers (Gordy, Jones, & Bailey. 2018).

    Recent teaching innovations involve different types of assignments for students, such as recording a video presentation explaining how to do something relevant to a course and uploading it to YouTube (Malouff & Shearer, 2016). Using an escape room to teach is another innovative method (LaPaglia, 2020). Because teaching is both an art and a science, the possibilities for innovation are great.

    Innovation sometimes is forced on teachers by circumstances such as pandemics or wars. Usually, though, teachers innovate to try to find more effective, more efficient, more engaging, or more long-lasting ways to help students learn. The students helped by an innovation can be a subset, such as gifted students (Prochaska & Prochaska, 1983) or non-traditional students (Naz & Murad, 2017), who may face barriers to benefitting from traditional teaching and learning methods. Sometimes we innovate to satisfy our own curiosity or to make our work more interesting.

    When these new methods seem to work, teachers often try to share them broadly so that others may benefit from the innovation. To help the most teachers and students, a new teaching method needs to escape the confines of a single classroom and a single school. Other teachers must become aware of the method and its potential value (Smith, 2012).

    What modes of dissemination are available?

    We identified and evaluated different methods of disseminating information about new teaching methods. The following is a summary of possible dissemination methods, with information on their potential effectiveness based on access statistics (numbers of views, participants, subscribers, or downloads) and engagement level (frequency of comments or interactions between audience and idea developer), along with guides on how to use each method successfully.


    Twitter has about 330 million users each month (Lin, 2019). Teach Psychology (@getRAPT; n.d.) has used the social media platform Twitter since July 2013 to disseminate innovative teaching ideas, resources and articles for psychology teachers. This Twitter handle has 1,146 followers (at the time of writing) and has posted 1,279 tweets since the handle’s creation. A tweet can have a maximum of 280 characters, allowing only brief descriptions of new methods, unless one posts multiple tweets on a topic or includes links to further resources and articles. The Twitter Guide for Teachers (Pappas, 2013) offers advice for teachers on how to use Twitter effectively.


    Facebook has a wide reach, with over 2.4 billion monthly users in 2019 (Wolfe, 2019). Teachers can create their own Facebook group about innovative teaching, or they can post their ideas on the page of any of a number of existing groups. We created a Facebook group called Innovative Teaching Methods (2020) to disseminate new teaching ideas. Over 3,000 members have joined in the past 15 months; members come from over 100 different countries and include school teachers and university professors. Members post links to teaching materials they have made and describe their novel teaching ideas. Pappas (2015) offered tips for educators using Facebook for teaching, as does the Facebook Guide for Educators (The Education Foundation & Facebook, 2013).


    YouTube is a widely used platform, with over two billion monthly users generating a billion hours of viewing daily (YouTube, 2020). Channels focusing on innovative teaching methods such as the Edutopia (2020) channel, which has 125,000 subscribers, can reach a large audience. YouTube allows teachers to demonstrate innovative teaching methods. Users can give responses to new teaching methods using the comments function. For example, an Edutopia video titled Keeping Students Engaged in Digital Learning, published one week ago at the time of writing, attracted 86,553 views and seven user comments. Some comments offered additional strategies beyond those presented in the video. While YouTube tends to be more unidirectional in design than other social media platforms (with the focus on the video itself rather than the comments), the ability to easily share YouTube videos on other platforms such as Facebook and Twitter increases its reach. The Teach Thought (2016) website offers tips for using YouTube for sharing teaching ideas. Teachers can create their own video that they upload, or they can ask to be part of an established video series.


    A blog is an online journal or information site. Teachers can start a blog on teaching or ask to post an article on an existing blog. E-xcellence in teaching (Society for the Teaching of Psychology, 2020) is a popular teaching blog which allows psychology educators to write about innovative ideas they have used. Obtaining permission to post a guest entry on an existing teaching blog can be much faster and easier than building up readership of a new blog. Blogs can be set up so that readers can request an email when the next entry is posted. Blogs typically allow comments from readers, creating a possibility of interaction with the author. Start Your Teaching Blog (Davis, 2014) offers resources and advice on how to blog effectively.


    A podcast is an audio recording that can be downloaded from the Internet. Podcasts discussing innovative teaching methods, such as the Cult of Pedagogy podcast produced by Jennifer Gonzales, can be effective ways of disseminating ideas. This podcast is released twice monthly and averages over 100,000 downloads per month (23,000-30,000 unique downloads per episode; Gonzalez, 2020). The PsychSessions: Conversations about Teaching N' Stuff (Neufeld & Landrum, 2020) podcast consists of 140 episodes focusing on the teaching of psychology and interviews of top psychology educators. The podcast is available over multiple providers making it easily accessible. It might be possible to obtain a guest appearance on a popular teaching podcast. The alternative is to create your own podcast. Like YouTube videos, podcasts are largely unidirectional with limited opportunities for discussion and engagement. The New York Times (Daniels & Schulten, 2020) and Edutopia (Ramirez, 2016) offer advice on how to make a professional podcast.


    There are online psychology magazines such as Monitor on Psychology (American Psychological Association, 2020) that feature, among other things, articles on teaching methods, lesson plans, and ideas for educators. This magazine is available in print and online, with the online version being free to access. Teaching magazines typically have lower standards for publication than teaching journals. There is advice online, e.g., from Freelance Writing (n.d.), on how to write effective magazine articles.


    ERIC, the Educational Resources Information Center (2020), puts online published and unpublished articles relating to teaching, with free viewing. ERIC reviews unpublished articles before accepting them, but the acceptance standards are lower than for education journals. We have documents in ERIC, e.g., on how to teach problem solving to college students. Most search engines include ERIC, which has video guides giving advice on submission and writing (ERIC, 2016).

    Teaching conferences

    National and international psychology teaching conferences and general teaching conferences provide opportunities for disseminating innovative teaching methods. The conferences may focus on teaching in psychology or teaching in general. Keynote speakers can reach hundreds of teachers; other presenters may reach only a handful of attendees. The standard for getting a proposal accepted for presentation can be relatively low, while keynote addresses are by invitation. For tips on giving conference presentations, see online articles such as that of Golash-Boza (2018).

    Online MOOCs

    Another option for disseminating innovative teaching methods is through massive online open courses (MOOCs). Education providers such as Future Learn and Coursera provide MOOCs to millions of users (Shah, 2016). Students engage with instructors through discussion forums. Some MOOCs are free for students. Tips for delivering MOOCs are available online (Morrison, 2014; Richer 2013).

    Things to consider when choosing an outlet

    We have described several ways of disseminating innovative teaching methods. When choosing one or more potential outlets, use a cost-benefit analysis. Consider how much time you need to devote to use or try to use the outlet, how likely your idea is to become available on the outlet, how many teachers and teachers in training are likely to learn of your method, and how persuasive the outlet is as a carrier of your idea.

    We recommend using multiple outlets for disseminating new teaching ideas in order to reach the most teachers and future teachers. It is possible to provide a link to one type of outlet when using a different type. We suggest trying to use at least one free-online outlet in order to help maximize the number of teachers who become aware of the new method. Finally, we suggest using at least one interactive outlet so that educators can comment and make suggestions. That interaction can help improve a new teaching idea (Lewis, 2003).


    American Psychological Association. (2020). Monitor on psychology.

    Daniels, N., & Schulten, K. (2020, April 22). Making a Podcast That Matters: A Guide With Examples From 23 Students. New York Times: The Learning Network.®i_id=107746693&segment_id=25876&te=1&user_id=2dc49c9f83df8e2ab6a37ac38d0209ea

    Davis, M. (2014, June 18). Start your teaching blog: Resources, advice, and examples. Edutopia.

    Edutopia (n.d.). Home [YouTube Channel]. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from

    ERIC (2020).

    ERIC (2016). Grantee and Online Submission System. ERIC.

    The Education Foundation & Facebook (2013). Facebook Guide for Educators. The Education Foundation website.

    Freelance Writing (undated). 6 important tips for magazine article writing. Freelance Writing.

    Golash-Boza, T., (2018, March 8). 6 tips for giving a fabulous academic presentation. Wiley.

    Gonzalez, J. (2020) Cult of Pedagogy: Advertising opportunities for education companies.

    Gordy, X. Z., Jones, E. M., & Bailey, J.H. (2018). Technological innovation or educational evolution? A multidisciplinary qualitative inquiry into active learning classrooms. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 18(2), 1-23.

    Innovative Teaching Methods (2020). Home [Facebook page]. Facebook. Retrieved April 25, 2020, from,

    LaPaglia, J. A. (2020, June 1). Liven up review sessions with an escape room. E-xcellence in Teaching.

    Lewis, E. (2003). Dissemination of innovations in higher education: A change theory approach. Tertiary Education and Management, 9(3), 199-214.

    Lin, Y. (2019, November 30). 10 Twitter statistics every marketer should know in 2020. Oberlo.

    Malouff, J. M., & Shearer, J. J. (2016). How to set up assignments for students to give oral presentations on video. College Teaching. 64 (3), 97-100.

    Morrison, D. (2014, February 2). MOOC development advice from instructors that have ‘been-there-done-that’. Online Learning Insights.

    Naz, F., & Murad, H. S. (2017). Innovative teaching has a positive impact on the performance of diverse students. SAGE Open.

    Neufeld, G. & Landrum, E., (2020) PsychSessions: Conversations about Teaching N' Stuff [Podcast].

    Paniagua, A. & Istance, D. (2018). Teachers as designers of learning environments: The importance of innovative pedagogies. Educational Research and Innovation.

    Pappas, C. (2013, August 6). The twitter guide for teachers. eLearning Industry website.

    Pappas, C. (2015, May 31). Using Facebook for eLearning: The ultimate guide for eLearning professionals. eLearning Industry website.

    Prochaska, J. O. & Prochaska, J. M. (1983) Teaching psychology to elementary school gifted students. Teaching of Psychology, 10 (2), 82-84.

    Ramirez, A. (2016, February 29). Start that podcast!. Edutopia website.

    Richer, S. (2013, October 7). Tips for designing a massive open online course (MOOC). Northern Illinois University: Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center.

    Savelsbergh, E. R., Prins, G. T., Rietbergen, C., Fechner, S., Vaessen, B. E., Draijer, J. M., & Bakker, A. (2016). Effects of innovative science and mathematics teaching on student attitudes and achievement: A meta-analytic study. Educational Research Review, 19, 158-172.

    Shah, D. (2016, December 25). By the numbers: MOOCs in 2016. Class Central MOOC Report.

    Smith, K. (2012) Lessons learnt from literature on the diffusion of innovative learning and teaching practices in higher education. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 49(2), 173-182.

    Society for the Teaching of Psychology (2020).

    Teach Psychology [@getRAPT]. (n.d.). Tweets [Twitter Profile]. Twitter. Retrieved April 28, 2020, from

    Teach Thought (2016, February 2). 9 Tips for smarter teaching with YouTube.

    Weaver, D., Robbie, D., & Radloff, A. (2014). Demystifying the publication process–a structured writing program to facilitate dissemination of teaching and learning scholarship. International Journal for Academic Development, 19(3), 212-225.

    Wolfe, L. (2019, September 24). The number of Facebook users worldwide. The Balance Career.

    YouTube (2020) YouTube for press.

  • 04 Oct 2020 7:51 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Genevieve Condon, MS Forensic Psychology and Legal Studies 

    Senior Lead Faculty Psychology, Bay Path University, TAWC 

    It is no surprise that online learning is becoming more popular as time goes on. As of 2019, 65% of students have participated in an online course (Sellers, 2019). With this comes the need to ensure that online education is as dynamic and engaging as its traditional counterpart. While this may seem like tough undertaking, with technology, dynamic staff, and various activities sprinkled throughout the course ensuring that the online learner remains engaged is possible. 


    When looking at the online learning environment, we want to ensure that we are hiring instructors that are well versed not only in their area of teaching, but in how the online classroom works. This does not simply mean how to navigate Canvas or Blackboard, but rather, being able to anticipate what the students may need. Part of this is going to be real time interaction and various modes of communication (Peterson, 2016). The real-time interaction and various modes of communication can go hand in hand. Students long for interaction so offering a phone call, a live webinar or Skype/Google chat is ideal. Also, posting weekly announcements in video format is useful and adds a personal touch. Students are then able to see the instructors face, and listen to their voice. This may seem small but it adds a visual approach to learning and makes the classroom seem more dynamic. 

    From a personal perspective, it is also vital to set time aside to “breath”.  Technology is flexible and makes individuals easily accessible across different countries and time zones. However, many of us working in education are constantly connected. I know that personally, all my emails go to my phone so I am available even when I am not sitting at my computer.  Often, I will find myself out to eat with friends, and replying to an email or sitting at my daughter’s school function doing the same. However, this can get exhausting. Setting expectations are important within the classroom. What are your office hours? Do you typically respond quickly to all emails? I respond quickly, even on weekends and evenings, however, there are evenings I reserve for myself and family, and when the university is closed for breaks, I set this expectation within the classroom. It is important that we take time for ourselves to prevent burnout and ensure that we are at our best for our students. 

    Another option is to set days for certain tasks. You can reserve Monday’s for grading, Tuesday’s for lesson planning etc. (Sellers, 2019). While this approach may not work for everyone, it can help with time management and enforce a strict schedule for students and help with their expectations. This can aid us in being task oriented and lessen the overwhelming sensation that can come when teaching, especially multiple courses. 

    Curriculum Design: 

    When building curriculum and lesson planning, learning to learn is a phrase that is essential to success (Gulati, 2014). Learning to learn can be defined as the ability to create learning goals, motivate oneself to learn, apply learning strategies, and self-reflect to guide future efforts (Gulati, 2014). To ensure that these abilities are met, as an instructor we plan. This requires that we do the following: 

    • Explore: Understand and define what is required. Here, being able to have specific goals for the course will be helpful. These are generally referred to as course competencies. 

    • Plan: After it is understood what is required to learn, identifying the necessary steps and coming up with an action plan is essential. What skills must the students know? How will be assess these skills? 

    • Implement: We must put each step into motion.  

    • Assess: This is where course evaluations and the course requirements are essential. Requiring discussion posts, assignments in the form of papers, videos, etc. to examine what the students have learned and whether the course competencies are met. 

    Be sure when planning curriculum to step outside of the box. It may be easy to simply require that a paper is written each week, think about how this will keep students engaged if week after week it is the same requirement. There is group work (yes, it is challenging to complete this online but doable), videos they can make, interviews and reflections etc. The sky really is the limit. Make your classroom and curriculum something that students are eager to engage in and leave them looking forward to the next week. 


    Lastly, asking for feedback is essential. When ensuring that as instructors we are engaged, available and build a dynamic classroom, we must provide a way to assess ourselves, just like we do the students. Typically, the most-straight forward way to do this is by having a survey at the end of each course. To ensure participation, this can be a requirement for the course, otherwise there might not be many participates. 

    Keeping students engaged is a difficult task. By ensuring as faculty we are using various resources, building dynamic curriculum, and assessing progress, it is an attainable goalIt is crucial to remember that education is an everchanging field and many ideas, tips and tricks will change with time and the ever-changing demographic of online learners. 



    Gulati, R (2014). The importance of goal setting for curriculum design. Medium 

    Peterson, A (2016). Five ways to make your classroom more interactive. Faculty Focus. 

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


  • 06 Sep 2020 10:57 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jennifer M. Knack (Clarkson University) and Melisa A. Barden (Walsh University) 

    As many instructors can likely attest, there is a certain joy that comes from a student making a connection between course material and their everyday lives. Perhaps they let you know about a recent episode of their favorite show that utilized operant conditioning or how they stopped their younger sibling’s tantrum by breaking a cookie in two due to a lack of conservation. Since we knew that it is beneficial to the learning process to make these types of connections, we set out to create a project aimed at facilitating this process. In addition, we believe it is important for our students to understand that this field can have actual real world implications when it comes to making a difference in areas that matter such as social justice, parenting, education, workplace issues, sustainability, and conservation. For this semester-long group project, we focused on problems in the world that students would be motivated to reduce/solve. Due to our large class size our students worked in groups, but it could be adjusted to an individual project. Social psychology is an area that is well-positioned to apply psychological concepts to address real world problems/issues which is why we created the project in this specific course. However, it could be adapted to a different course such as Human Development or Principles of Learning.  


    Purpose and goals of the project 
    We designed this project to give students the opportunity to identify a real world problem or issue they are personally interested in and deeply consider what the problem is and why it continues to exist despite other people trying to address it. Then, students are tasked with proposing a solution that is grounded in evidence from social psychology. This project is designed to encourage students to think critically and creatively to identify root causes of the issue as well as factors that contribute to the issue persisting. Throughout the semester students complete smaller assignments that engage them in this type of thinking. At the end of the semester, students produce a final paper report and give a presentation in class. In addition, students will use the campus “maker space” (i.e., a space on campus where students can produce physical objects and receive assistance in the design and production of the physical objects as well as digital create products including making or editing videos, audio, or photography) to produce a tangible product appropriate to their proposed solution. As such, this project is designed to help students develop and improve written and oral communication as well as gain experience in the maker space. 

    Major components of the project 

    Phase 1: Identify and evaluate a problem. Students first write a problem statement that conveys the scope of the problem and the specific aspect they will address this semester (assignment 1); then students identify and evaluate specific barriers and factors that created and maintained the problem, consider who is involved in it, and what has already been done to address the problem (assignment 2). The main purpose of this phase is to help students more deeply understand the problem they selected and to guide them to understanding the inherent social issues or nature of the issue. In addition, this phase helps students consider how large issues (e.g., climate change) are comprised of smaller issues that may have different causes and therefore need to be addressed differently (e.g., reducing use of plastic bags, conserving water). In this phase of the project, students are also encouraged to consider why they selected this issue (i.e., why it is important to them personally and as a group) and why it is important at a societal/community level. By the end of this phase, students should be able to (1) identify the opposing perspectives and barriers that have created the problem/issue and impeded resolution, (2) consider who is impacted by the problem/issue (e.g., who is involved, who experiences the ramifications), and (3) determine what is currently being done to address the problem/issue. For example, by the end of phase 1, students might have decided to address reducing the use of plastic bags because they are particularly concerned about the resulting harm to marine animals. 


    Phase 2: Gather evidence and consider solutions. Over the course of two assignments, students start brainstorming ways to address the issue (assignment 3) and gather evidence from the social psychological field to support and improve their proposed solutions (assignment 4). During this phase, students are encouraged to revisit their problem statement to ensure that their solutions and evidence are actually addressing the initial problem they identified. Sometimes students will inadvertently stray from their original path throughout the course of their research. By the end of this phase, students should have a clear plan for how to address the issue as well as evidence from the social psychological field indicating why the plan should be successful. For example, students may consider banning plastic bags in stores or consider how information about attitude change and behavior change can be used to get people to use reusable bags. 


    Phase 3: Final proposal. The project culminates with three outcomes. First, each group prepares a written paper that summarizes their work throughout the semester. The paper is comprised of a description of the real world issue being addressed, a full explanation outlining the major aspects of the issue, a proposed plan to address the issue that is clearly supported and informed by social psychological information, and a brief summary of how to evaluate the success of the proposed plan. Second, each group presents their project to the class during the last week of the semester. Third, each group creates a tangible product in the university’s maker space. This product should be relevant to the group’s proposed plan to address the issue; groups are encouraged to be creative in what this product is. Groups can create something using the digital maker space (e.g., a podcast, commercial, public service announcement) or the physical maker space (e.g., 3D print a template, create bumper stickers, design flyers). For example, students might create a token to serve as a reminder that people can put on their car to prompt them to bring reusable bags into the grocery store (e.g., a sticker, some sort of device) or a public service announcement raising awareness about the need to use reusable bags. 


    Group member evaluations. Despite this project being designed to be engaging and relevant to students, there is always a risk of social loafing. In an effort to reduce social loafing, at the end of each phase students complete self and peer evaluations to rate each person’s contributions and efforts to the group work. Students who do not contribute to the group’s work will have their scores reduced. 


    Final thoughts 

    In our experience, this project has been quite successful. It is worth noting that many students are often concerned about the project at the beginning of the semester since it differs from traditional academic papers that many college instructors require. Students are often worried about coming up with a solution and concerned about thinking creatively. In addition, students typically want to skip straight to developing a solution before they have carefully considered what the problem is and understand the complexity of it. Students often benefit from more coaching and intensive feedback during the first phase of the project. We provide extensive comments on the first two assignments and strongly encourage groups to meet with us to discuss their project development throughout the semester. Students also tend to appreciate the first two assignments being graded more leniently so they can explore and consider the selected problem without fear of  their grade being negatively affected. 


    As students get into the project, they report (anecdotally and on student evaluations) that they found the project meaningful and valuable. Students appreciate working on a project that has personal relevance as well as real application. For example, we have numerous students who plan to pursue health careers; these students have been in groups that examined the misconception that vaccines are associated with autism as well as how to recruit and retain physicians in rural regions. Other students interested in careers in law enforcement have examined how to address the divide between police and the community; students interested in sustainability have examined how to increase water conservation.  


    Overall, this project can satisfy a number of learning outcomes. Not only are the students gaining a better understanding of course material, but they are working on their communication (oral and writing) and interpersonal skills which are incredibly important. It also encourages critical and creative thinking. Finally, this project has the potential to elicit real change in our world if the students are motivated to move forward with their solutions. 

  • 05 Aug 2020 8:24 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Peggy Christidis and Jessica Conroy

    American Psychological Association

    The mission of APA’s Center for Workforces Studies (CWS) is to collect, analyze, and disseminate data that is relevant to the psychology workforce and education pipeline. CWS has looked extensively at the psychology education pipeline, focusing on psychology degree recipients at the master’s and doctoral levels, but in recent years, there has been a growing interest in understanding our psychology bachelor’s degree recipients. In particular, we were interested in knowing what psychology baccalaureates are doing with their degrees once they graduated. Are they moving on to graduate school? If so, are they continuing with a psychology graduate degree, or a degree in a different major? How many psychology baccalaureates are entering the workforce? What types of jobs are they doing? What sorts of skills are they developing during their undergraduate study and using most often at their jobs? Do these skills coincide with the types of skills employers are looking for? Our goal was to collect vital statistics about career trajectories, outcomes, and the psychology job market, as well provide useful resources and tools for psychology faculty and students exploring their future careers. Our research has led to several findings which contribute to the corpus of knowledge currently available, which psychology faculty and students can use to understand their postgraduation options.

    What do you do after receiving a psychology bachelor’s degree?

    According to data from the 2017 National Science Foundation’s National Survey of College Graduates, there were approximately 3.5 million people in the United States with a bachelor’s degree in psychology. For two million of these people (56 percent), the psychology baccalaureate was their highest degree earned, meaning most students directly enter the workforce after graduating.

    The remaining 1.5 million (44 percent) did obtain a graduate degree, but not necessarily in psychology. In fact, 1.1 million (30 percent) of psychology bachelor’s degree holders obtained a master’s or doctoral degree in a field outside of psychology. Approximately 13 percent of psychology baccalaureates went on to receive a psychology master’s degree, and only four percent obtained a doctoral degree in psychology (to learn more about degree pathways in psychology, CWS provides an interactive data tool:

    These findings suggest that the degree pathways of psychology baccalaureates do not necessarily lead to a psychology graduate degree. In fact, this path is the one least traversed. This information has implications regarding what elements of a psychology degree should be emphasized and which skills should be taught to prepare students entering the workforce. As such, psychology faculty and students should be aware of the types of occupations psychology baccalaureates are entering after graduation.

    What jobs can you get?

    According to NSF’s 2017 National Survey of College Graduates, 72 percent of the two million psychology bachelor’s degree recipients were employed. Another 24 percent were not in the workforce for various reasons, such as being retired, leaving the workforce temporarily for family reasons, or working on another degree but not having earned that degree just yet. Only 4 percent were unemployed.

    For the 72 percent who were actively employed, what were their occupations? Psychology baccalaureates cited 92 different types of occupations, including counseling, accounting, marketing, personnel, and insurance. However, most often noted were occupations such as “social workers” (5 percent), “management-related positions” (5 percent), “administrative occupations” (5 percent), and “service” (4 percent). Three percent also had occupations as top-level managers, executives, and administrators (to learn more about careers in psychology, CWS proves an interactive data tool:

    Individuals with a psychology bachelor’s degree as their highest degree are clearly finding employment, in a variety of occupations. This finding suggests that the psychology bachelor’s degree, at the very least, is giving the degree recipient skills and abilities that are transferable to a number of different occupations and make them well-suited candidates for management and leadership roles. As such, faculty and students need to be aware of the types of skills that are developed during a baccalaureate education so that students can both recognize the occupations they are suited for and capable of entering, as well as market themselves effectively when seeking employment.

    Skills and the psychology job market

    So, which skills are important? Understanding the skills that students acquire during their education, those they need in the workforce, and how those skills are changing over time, is of vital importance to preparing students for life after graduation. Unfortunately, there are few sources of information on this topic, so how can we know which and even if the skills students are earning in their programs are being used in the workplace? To begin addressing this question, we have explored and analyzed multiple sources to understand the skills used on the job, as well as the skills employers are looking for.

    To access the demand for skills from an employer perspective, we used a text analysis of psychology job advertisements pulled from the APA psycCareers job board (APA, 2018a). This provided unique and valuable insights into the skills employers are looking for in psychology fields and a snapshot of how those skills are changing over time. To complement these data, we also performed analyses on interviews from the APA’s “How Did You Get That Job?” webinar series and of the O*NET database to find the most important skills for performing psychology jobs. Using these three data sources, we were able to identify several important skills that employers are looking for, as well as skills that are vital to performing psychology occupations. It is important to note that while employers may be placing a high emphasis on certain skills, it may not indicate the skills that are actually being used on the job, but rather, the skills that employers are having the most trouble finding in their candidate pool.

    Which skills do employers want?

    Using a keyword-based decision-tree, we identified the skills requested in all the job advertisements posted to the APA psycCareers job board over a three-year period; from 2015 through 2017. This dataset consisted of 6,922 advertisements, approximately 48% of which were for health service psychologist positions and 37% of for faulty positions. The remainder were for researcher (6%), applied psychologist (4%), and other positions (5%). Across all job types, the most frequently requested skills included “leadership,” “cultural awareness,” “teamwork,” and “communication.” However, the pattern changed when examined by job type.

    Employers looking for faculty candidates requested “cultural awareness” most frequently, followed distantly by “leadership” and “teamwork” skills. Postings for health service positions, on the other hand, requested “leadership,” “teamwork,” and “communication” the most and at almost the same rates. Unsurprisingly, “analytical skills” were most requested among researcher positions, and “communication” and “leadership” skills took the lead for applied psychology positions which included human factors, consulting, and forensic psychology.

    Over time the frequency of advertisements requesting at least one skill has increased, with 45% of advertisements posted in 2015 increasing to 49% in 2016 and 54% in 2017 (APA, 2018b). When broken out by skills requested, we found that some skills were increasing in frequency more than others. Specifically, cultural awareness, which overtook leadership skills as the most requested in 2017. Teamwork and communication skills also increased in frequency between 2015 and 2017. An investigation into these trends found that the increase in requests for cultural awareness was driven primarily by advertisements for faculty positions, while the increase in requests for teamwork and communications skills was likely driven by ads for health service positions. These trends have important implications for students and early career psychologists looking for positions in these fields. They may indicate areas of increased emphasis, such as a shift in the health services field towards interdisciplinary care. They may also indicate the skills that employers are having difficulty finding in the candidate pool (Burning Glass Technologies, 2015). As such, psychologists on the job market should consider highlighting some of the more sought skills that they possess and developing those that they don’t.

    Which skills will you use?

    Accessing the skills used on the job for psychology degree holders is extremely limited by the available data sources. To gain an understanding of these skills, we used a two-fold approach, using both a small dataset of 18 interviews from the APA’s “How Did You Get That Job?” (HDYGTJ) webinar, and an analysis of occupations requiring a higher than average knowledge of psychology from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).1 The HDYGTJ Interviews consisted primarily of applied psychologists, while the O*NET analysis used the average importance of psychology to job performance to determine which occupations to include, and therefore includes jobs that are performed by individuals with or without a degree in psychology.

    The analysis of HDYGTJ Interviews consisted of methods like those utilized in the psycCareers analysis, using an automated key-word search to identify the skills mentioned most frequently. Analyzed questions included a description of the interviewee’s current position, similar job titles for the role, and the most valuable skills and abilities acquired during their training. This analysis identified communication skills, analytical skills, and critical thinking skills as the most frequently used and most useful skills in day-to-day job performance.

    The O*NET analysis consisted of filtering the database for occupations with an importance of psychology higher than average for day-to-day job performance (386 of 967 total occupations represented in the O*NET database).2 Across these occupations, we then averaged the importance scores for the 35 different skills included in the O*NET database. Similar to the HDYGTJ findings, communication skills like active listening and speaking, and critical thinking had the highest average importance scores.

    These findings can be used to help point students and early career psychologists in the right direction when exploring their current skill profile and options for professional development. Furthermore, understanding the skills gained during training and how those can be leveraged on the psychology job market is an important steppingstone for success, and one that should not be ignored.


    Psychology students often turn to faculty for information and guidance regarding the next step after graduation, whether that be graduate school or entry into the workforce. As such, it is essential to provide psychology faculty with the necessary data and statistics to help inform their students. It is also important to recognize the variety of pathways from undergraduate psychology education. While some psychology baccalaureates obtain graduate degrees in psychology, more sizable proportions obtain graduate degrees in other fields or go directly into the workforce. Students that follow that latter pathway could benefit from information about employment options, how to find a job, the skills they should highlight when looking for employment, and a general understanding that a wide range of career pathways exist beyond a graduate education in psychology. We hope that both psychology faculty and students will take advantage of the tools, reports, and statistics that CWS offers, and that these resources will provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions about the many education and career opportunities that are available to psychology baccalaureates.

    For more information on the Center for Workforce Studies and the various resources we have available for psychology students and faculty, visit our website at


    American Psychological Association. (2018a). 2015-17 Psychology Job Advertisements: An Overview. Washington, DC: Author

    American Psychological Association. (2018a) 2015-17 Psychology Job Advertisements [Unpublished special analyses]

    Burning Glass Technologies. (2015). The human factor: The hard time employers have finding soft skills. Retrieved from

    National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. (2017). National Survey of College Graduates Public Use Microdata File and Codebook. Retrieved from


    1Source: This information is from the O*NET 24.1 Database by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (USDOL/ETA). Used under the CC BY 4.0 license. O*NET® is a trademark of USDOL/ETA. The American Psychological Association has modified all or some of this information. USDOL/ETA has not approved, endorsed or tested these modifications

    2 Importance was scored on a scale of 1 (not important) to 5 (very important). Ratings were based on survey data collected from representatives in each occupation and input by occupational experts with years of experience in and around the occupation. Additional information on O*NET knowledge definitions and methodology can be found at

    Suggested Resources

    CWS Data Tools -

    APA’s “How Did You Get That Job?” webinar -

    O*NET OnLine tools for career exploration -

  • 07 Jul 2020 1:36 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Brien K. Ashdown1and Jana Hackathorn2 

    1Hobart & William Smith Colleges 

    2Murray State University 

    Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Brien K. Ashdown, PhD, Hobart and William Smith Colleges, 300 Pulteney Street, Geneva, NY 14456; 

    As the American Psychological Association includes writing as a major undergraduate learning outcome (APA, 2013), meaning that teaching psychological writing skills is of the utmost importance. However, actually teaching students how to write can be pain-staking and tedious, for a wide variety of reasons. One notable reason is that students struggle to build cohesive arguments in their introductions or research proposals. Having students draw a metaphorical map of their own or a peer’s writing can help students focus on the importance of structure and flow when writing the introduction section of an empirical article. This activity could help students get one step closer to effective writing skills in methods courses.

    Teaching How to Write Can Be Frustrating

    The American Psychological Association (APA, 2013) includes writing as a major learning outcome in the undergraduate psychology education. As a result, teachers find this skill to be important and there are a plethora of how to guides and resources full of best practices (e.g., Giuliano, 2019; Ishak & Salter, 2016). Despite the professional guidance, many instructors find teaching students how to write strong papers of significant length is challenging, vexing, or even unenjoyable (Ishak & Salter, 2016). Teachers report myriad reasons for this struggle. For example, students with minimal writing experience tend to have an unrealistic beliefs about how much time and effort they will need to create a high quality piece of writing, often underestimating the required effort (Walvoord & McCarthy, 1990). Often, students confuse introduction sections with annotated bibliographies, and thus write in a way that lacks structure or a coherent argument. As a result, the flow of many students’ introduction sections or literature reviews are choppy and hard to follow (Baumeister & Leary, 1997). Add to this the significant amount of time and effort it takes for instructors to provide quality feedback (Ishak & Salter, 2016), and it’s no wonder that many instructors find the process of teaching students how to write fatiguing and frustrating.

    In our classrooms (and we assume in most of yours,) we tend to see a lot of student writing that contains introduction sections that are really nothing more than a series of strung-together independent paragraphs, each one providing a review of a different (hopefully) relevant article. It seems students believe that providing this list of article summations is sufficient to construct a coherent argument—yet any of us who have read this kind of writing know how painful these types of papers are to read and grade. Moreover, this type of writing tends to lack critical thinking which involves the evaluation and synthesis of their chosen literature, to create the actual underlying argument (Ishak & Salter, 2016).

    One frequently used tactic to help with this problem is peer assessment (see Ramon-Casas et al., 2018, for a review). Although there are some variations in how this works in each classroom, students generally exchange papers and then give each other feedback (Falchikov & Goldfinch, 2000; Guilford, 2001; Ramon-Casas et al., 2018; Venables & Summit, 2003). These kinds of activities typically happen in the classroom or as homework, but tend to be effective, especially for lower achieving students (Ramon-Casas et al., 2018). Importantly, to be effective, instructors need to provide specific instructions, such as rubrics, on how students should work to provide good feedback (Ramon-Casas et al., 2018). More specifically, instructors should tell students what they should look for (i.e., simply telling students to “read and provide feedback” isn’t enough!). We’ve found that this often does not solve the problem of a lack of flow and structure in introductions. After all, why would writers who don’t know how to do this effectively be able to help other writers in doing it?

    We’ve learned that by providing the students with a clear metaphor for the peer editing work they do increases the quality of the feedback they give their classmates. We call this metaphor Mapping a Thesis, and we tell students to envision their peer’s writing as a map that will move them from point to point. The key the success of this activity is having each student draw a literal map of their peer’s argument—which makes very clear quite quickly where the failures of structure and flow are lurking.

    Mapping a Thesis

    Before putting students into pairs to begin the peer workshop, we tell students to think about a popular tourist activity that many of them might have participated in at some point—a city walking tour. One of us teaches at a school in the Northeastern USA, and many students who come from that area have at some point participated in The Freedom Trail that is laid out through and around Boston, Massachusetts ( This particular walking tour is approximately 2.5 miles long, and takes participants on a loop that includes visits to more than a dozen historic sites (such as Boston Common, the site of the Boston Massacre, and Paul Revere’s house). Participating on The Freedom Trail is simple—you simply have to follow the red line that has been painted on the sidewalks. As we discuss The Freedom Trail (or a similar type of walking tour that students in your area might be more familiar with), we talk with students about how the point of the red line is to take tourists from one point of interest to the next in the most logical way possible.

    This is the point at which we shift from talking about city walking tours and tell students that the main points or topics of their papers are the points of interest in their own and their peers’ writing. Sometimes these main points are formatted section headings and subheadings, and sometimes they are not. We explain that often identifying and describing these points of interest is the easiest part of the writing an introduction section. The challenge is constructing the red line that will carry their readers from one point of interest (e.g., a main point or topic) to the next point of interest in a clear, logical, and meaningful way. Creating that red line, or in other words maintaining the flow and structure of their argument from one point to the next, is the challenge we ask them to focus on specifically in the peer workshop activity.

    After putting students into pairs during class and having them swap papers, we provide them with a blank piece of paper. We tell them to read their peer’s paper, marking it anyway that makes sense to them (e.g., typos, spelling, grammar, etc.). Then, after they have finished reading the entire paper, we tell them to draw a map, of their partner’s introduction section. Many students struggle a bit with this at first, but with some encouragement and prodding, they can get to the point of thinking about their peer’s paper as a map that carries them along from one point of interest to another until they arrive at the end (which we explain is the section that describes the project’s hypotheses). We tell students to indicate the points of interest or main topics in the paper, and then draw lines that show how the writer moved or meandered from one topic to the next. We also tell students to write notes along those connecting lines to highlight the ways that the writer made (or didn’t make) that transition in a clear and logical way.

    Once students begin, they often realize how frustrating it is to map an introduction that has no structure, flow, or coherent argument. Most of them can find and identify the points of interest, but quickly realize there is very little, if any, clear path to connect the very next point. This provides a fast lesson in the importance of making sure that their own writing has a clear structure and flow (which often requires a re-write to create).

    After students have finished reading and drawing their maps, they spend time in their pairs sharing and discussing the maps they made of each other’s work. The hope, of course is that this conversation is fruitful and respectful. In the end, the feedback should help the writer to think about how to re-design the paper to provide the flow and structure that is missing on both a macro and microlevel.

    Does It Work?

    Via a quick data collection process that could have been much more scientifically rigorous, we asked students in one of our writing-based classes to respond to a few questions about the Mapping a Thesis activity. The responses were anonymous and collected at the end of the same day as the activity. All of the students in the class reported that the activity was useful and helpful for them in understanding their peer’s paper. One said, “Breaking down the details helped me understand what the heck was going on” and another stated, “It helped me focus on their argument.”

    About two-thirds (62%) of them said that mapping their peer’s paper helped them understand how to better construct the flow and argument of their own paper. For example, one student claimed that “this exercise allows you to see if your paper flows nicely when read by others…what makes sense in your head could confuse others.” Another student said, “It makes me think about whether my own intro flows well. Whether I have properly elaborated on my areas of interest.”

    Finally, the vast majority of the students (92%) said that the drawing their peer did of their own paper was useful in improving the structure of their paper as they worked on the subsequent draft. One student stated: “It helped me to see my thoughts. Sometimes things I know in my head isn’t clear to everyone else and she was useful in seeing that.” And another student succinctly said: “As they are going into this blind, so if they don’t know what I mean, [then] I need to address this.”


    We still share the frustration that many instructors experience when attempting to teach students how to write well. Like many others, we often focus our time and attention on issues of grammar, syntax, APA formatting, and other writing mechanics because, to be blunt, that’s a lot easier to teach than how to structure a cohesive, logical, and flowing argument or synthesis of the literature. Getting our students to understand the necessity of creating such an argument is still difficult and at times infuriating, not only for us but the students, as well. However, we believe that the Mapping a Thesis activity has made our task a bit easier and made us more successful teachers of writing in the process. The flexibility inherent in the assignment has allowed us to use it in ways that best fits with our current goals (evaluations vs. synthesis), the level of the class we’re teaching (intro vs. methods), and at the time of the semester that makes the most sense for that particular course. In fact, it’s an activity that we ourselves have begun using in our own writing as a tool to ensure our arguments flow clearly and logically.


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

    Baumeister, R. F., & Leary, M. R. (1997). Writing narrative literature reviews. Review of general psychology, 1(3), 311-320.

    Falchikov, N., & Goldfinch, J. (2000). Student peer assessment in higher education: A meta-analysis comparing peer and teacher marks. Review of educational research, 70(3), 287-322.

    Guilford, W. H. (2001). Teaching peer review and the process of scientific writing. Advances in physiology education, 25(3), 167-175.

    Giuliano, T. (2019). The “Writing Spiral”: A Practical Tool for Teaching Undergraduates to Write Publication-Quality Manuscripts. Frontiers in psychology, 10, 915.

    Ramon-Casas, M., Nuño, N., Pons, F., & Cunillera, T. (2019). The different impact of a structured peer-assessment task in relation to university undergraduates’ initial writing skills. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 44(5), 653-663.

    Venables, A., & Summit, R. (2003). Enhancing scientific essay writing using peer assessment. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 40(3), 281-290.

    Walvoord, B. E., & McCarthy, L. P. (1990). Thinking and Writing in College: A Naturalistic Study of Students in Four Disciplines.

  • 01 Jun 2020 1:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Joshua D. Fetterman (Chestnut Hill College) & Meredith E. Kneavel (La Salle University)

    The first thing that everyone learns about teaching is that class time is a valuable, and scarce, resource. Every teacher has run out of time during a lecture, and consequently let valuable points slip through the cracks. As a field, psychology is full of fascinating information, and there just isn’t class time for all of it. In our classes we have dealt with this issue by trying to find ways to use class time more efficiently and economically. In this essay, we will propose one way of doing this, what we term “sneaky teaching.”

    In a way, sneaky teaching is exactly what it sounds like, sneaking more information and opportunities for learning into a lecture. Some people have used similar terms to describe either methods of increasing students’ use of efficient, empirically backed study habits (McMurtrie & Barrett, 2018) or ways of connecting psychological concepts with common student experiences (Laster, 2018). We define sneaky teaching as concurrently working multiple learning objectives into singular acts of pedagogy in order to teach not just one concept, but integrate and reinforce multiple concepts throughout the curriculum. In other words, sneaky teaching is connecting peripheral concepts that might otherwise be lost to central curriculum features.

    This is a powerful concept that can be used in many different ways. It can be used to scaffold student understanding of central themes, provide rich psychological examples, and to help students see connections. In particular, it’s a great way of working information that has somehow fallen out of your curriculum back in. As a case in point, there has been a 10% decrease in baccalaureate programs that offer “history and systems in psychology” courses from 2005 to 2014, and among those that offer it, only about half require it (Norcross et al., 2016). This is unfortunate given the rich history of psychology. One way to prevent information from history and systems courses from completely falling out of a curriculum is to incorporate that information into other courses where it connects with the materials in those courses. For example, most personality textbooks mention factor analysis in order to explain the origin of the Big Five theory of personality (e.g., Carver & Scheier, 2017). This is a perfect opportunity to mention Raymond Cattell, who used factor analysis voraciously and is partly responsible for the popularity of this technique, and his controversial theories and ideas that ultimately prevented him from receiving the Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement from the American Psychological Foundation (Hergenhahn & Olson, 2007). The information about factor analysis is more prominent and more closely related to course objectives, but “sneaking in” the facts about Cattell contextualizes the information and makes it more interesting to students. The information can also be reinforced again in a statistics course when discussing factor analysis. In this way, Raymond Cattell and his contributions to psychology can be verified by multiple professors in the department, especially if a history and systems course has been dropped from the curriculum.

    Sneaking in auxiliary information such as stories and anecdotes not only has the effect of packing a greater amount of content into classes, but also can help students better attend to, and later recall, information. Although there is uncertainty about the length of the typical undergraduate attention span (Wilson & Korn, 2007), research indicates that the longer students sit in lecture the more likely their minds are to wander which negatively predicts performance on later evaluations (Risko, Anderson, Sarwal, Engelhardt, & Kingstone, 2012). One solution to this problem is a “task switch,” a brief change in the orientation of the lecture that allows students to later return their attention to the primary task (Risko et al., 2012). Sneaking ancillary information into lectures that briefly changes the subject and reorients students’ attention may serve such a purpose while at the same time providing them with additional information and context.

    It is important to note that our position on this subject is that we probably do quite a bit of sneaky teaching without realizing it. Indeed, when preparing this essay, we realized that we integrate and connect seemingly divergent information in our courses commonly. However, our hope is that by being more cognizant and mindful of the way we incorporate sneaky teaching into our classes we can utilize it even more frequently in the future. In what follows, we will describe a few ways that we have mindfully ‘snuck’ extra information into our classes.


    Within-subjects ANOVA and binocular vision

    Although students often find information about design dry, most research methods and statistics courses cover within subjects ANOVAs. One way to spice up the discussion of this topic is with an activity where students count how many times they can accurately pass a ball back and forth. They do it once with their left eye shut, then with their right eye shut, and then with both eyes open. Before analyzing the results with a within subjects ANOVA, have a brief discussion of binocular vision, and then have students make predictions about what condition should have the most accurate passes. This incorporates the concepts of sensation and perception and the visual system into a statistics course and forces students to think critically about the predictions they will make about the effects of different treatment conditions on the dependent variable. 


    Correlation and the Yerkes-Dodson Law

    One of the assumptions of correlation is that the relationship between the variables must be linear (Privitera, 2012). In order to illustrate a linear relationship it is helpful to contrast it with a non-linear relationship. One famous example of a non-linear relationship is the Yerkes-Dodson Law (and it’s many formulations, see Teigen, 1994). Because many of the variables that are related to performance follow the Yerkes-Dodson law, it is helpful to relate these to common student experiences. For instance, one can discuss exam anxiety and performance: that some anxiety will improve performance, as it is helpful for concentration and dedicated studying; however, too much anxiety is impairing and leads to a drop off in performance. This phenomenon also occurs with athletic performance. Some anxiety, or what athletes call ‘being in the zone,’ leads to peak performance, but too much can significantly impair performance, while not enough will lead to poor performance. What is definitely clear is that there is a relationship between anxiety and performance and this relationship is non-linear. This would be missed with linear correlational methods. We find it particularly helpful to draw example scatterplots with performance on the y-axis and anxiety or stress on the x-axis.


    Theory and Hypothesis Generation and B. F. Skinner

    When explaining ways to generate theories and hypotheses, an anecdote about B. F. Skinner and the partial reinforcement effect can illustrate the fact that sometimes you just get lucky. Skinner reportedly discovered the partial reinforcement effect because on one particularly nice spring day he didn’t want to spend hours making food pellets for his experiments for the upcoming week, and realized that if he were to reinforce his subjects after ever other correct response, he would need half as many pellets. Ultimately he found that this made his subjects much more resistant to extinction (Pelham & Blanton, 2007).

    Factorial ANOVA and Gender and Stress Interactions

    In describing factorial ANOVAs, one example is that males and females react differently to chronic stress. Males under chronic stress tend to perform poorly on spatial memory tasks while females show little to no effect of stress in both spatial memory tasks as well as physiological correlates (Luine, 2002). It is helpful to draw a line graph illustrating the interaction effect and describing that interactions are usually seen as non-parallel lines and that when reporting factorial ANOVAs significant interactions are of primary importance followed by main effects. This allows for discussion of gender differences and physiology of behavior.  

    Memory and Effects of Chronic/Traumatic Stress

    When teaching about memory systems, health psychology or biopsychology can also be incorporated. The work of Sapolsky (2001) and others more recently (e.g., Piccolo & Noble, 2018) has found that hippocampal volume is decreased in those with Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and in those reporting high levels of perceived stress. 

    Failure of Groups to Share Unique Information and Group Polarization

    Counterintuitively, group members often do not share information that only they know with other group members. This is a complex phenomenon, but it can be illustrated in an engaging way by replicating Stasser and Titus’s (1985) classic study on groups’ failure to share unique information (see Fetterman (2017) for ideas about how to do this). During this activity, where students are divided into groups and must pick a candidate for student body president, ask individual students for their opinions on the candidates both before and after group discussion. Individual opinions should become more polarized after group discussion.

    Operational Definitions Activity

    One of our favorite opportunities for sneaky teaching involves an activity where students watch a cartoon, count the number of aggressive acts that they see, decide upon an operational definition for aggression, and then counts the aggressive acts again. Typically, students’ ratings will be much more similar after they have developed a shared understanding of what constitutes an aggressive act (i.e., created an operational definition). For a more detailed explanation of this activity, see Kneavel, Fetterman, and Sharp (2019). This activity offers a multitude of opportunities to work in outside concepts and can be used in multiple course as described in Kneavel et al. (2019). Males and females tend to engage in different kinds of aggression; males are more physically aggressive and females are more relationally aggressive (Card, Stucky, Sawalani, & Little, 2008). Consequently, males may count a higher number of aggressive acts when watching the cartoon. Assuming that students’ counts do converge on the second observation, the standard deviation from the first count should be larger than the standard deviation on the second count. This provides an opportunity to discuss measures of dispersion and the characteristic of sets of numbers that they reflect. Because students are making observations, and learning how to make those observations consistently, it is a great opportunity to discuss the difficulties associated with observational research and with developing interrater reliability. Finally, Loftus and Palmer (1974) demonstrated that the wording of questions individuals are asked about their memories can influence the content of those memories. After watching the cartoon, ask half of the students to make ratings of how aggressively the characters in the cartoon “interacted,” and the other half how aggressively the characters “fought.” These leading questions may replicate Loftus and Palmer’s classic finding.

    As can be seen, opportunities for sneaky teaching are bound only by our imaginations. These connections not only help us to use class time more efficiently, but also break up lecture and help students to remember more information. It can also be a way to weave in dropped material. Finding ways to sneak more content into our classes has become a fundamental consideration for our curriculum development and reinforcement of core concepts, and we hope it will become one for you, as well.



    Card, N. A., Stucky, B. D., Sawalani, G. M., & Little, T. D. (2008). Direct and indirect aggression during childhood and adolescence: A meta-analytic review of gender differences, intercorrelations, and relations to maladjustment.  Child Development, 79, 1185-1229.

    Carver, C. S., & Scheier, M. F. (2017).  Perspectives on personality, 8th edition. New York, NY: Pearson.

    Fetterman, J. D. (2017). Information sharing in small groups: A classroom activity. In S. Baker (Ed.),  Teaching tips: A compendium of conference presentations on teaching, 2017-2018 (pp. 197-199) . The Society for the Teaching of Psychology.

    Hergenhahn, B. R., & Olson, M. H. (2007).  An introduction to theories of personality, seventh edition. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall.

    Kneavel, M. E., Fetterman, J. D., & Sharp, I. R. (2019). Making operational definitions come alive with aggression.  Essays from E-xcellence in Teaching.

    Laster, B. (2018). Sneaky pedagogy: How to utilize students’ implicit knowledge and make psychology real. In W. Altman, L. Stein, & J. E. Westfall (E ds.),  Essays from e-xcellence in teaching (Vol. 18, pp. 54-57).  site:

    Loftus, E. F., & Palmer, J. C. (1974). Reconstruction of automobile destruction: An example of the interaction between language and memory.  Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 13, 585-589.

    Luine, V. (2002). Sex differences in chronic stress effects on memory in rats.  Stress (Amsterdam, Netherlands), 5(3), 205.

    McMurtrie, B., & Berrett, D. (2018, December 6). How one university uses ‘Sneaky Learning’ to help students develop good study habits.  The Chronicle of Higher Education.

    Norcross, J. C., Hailstorks, R., Aiken, L. S., Pfund, R. A., Stamm, K. E., & Christidis, P. (2016). Undergraduate study in psychology: Curriculum and assessment.  American Psychologist, 71, 89-101.

    Pelham, B. W., & Blanton, H. (2007).  Conducting research in psychology: Measuring the weight of smoke, 3rd edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.  

    Piccolo, L. R., & Noble, K. G. (2018). Perceived stress is associated with smaller hippocampal volume in adolescence: Perceived stress effects in adolescent brain.  Psychophysiology, 55(5), e13025-e13025. doi:10.1111/psyp.13025

    Privitera, G. J. (2012).  Statistics for the behavioral sciences. Washington, DC: Sage.

    Risko, E. F., Anderson, N., Sarwal, A., Engelhardt, M., & Kingstone, A. (2012). Everyday attention: Variation in mind wandering and memory in a lecture.  Applied Cognitive Psychology, 26, 234-242. DOI: 10.1002/acp.1814 

    Sapolsky, R. M. (2001). Atrophy of the hippocampus in posttraumatic stress disorder: How and when?  Hippocampus, 11(2), 90-91. doi:10.1002/hipo.1026

    Stasser, G, & Titus, W. (1985). Pooling of unshared information in group decision making: Biased information sampling during discussion.  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 1467 – 1478. 

    Teigen, K. H. (1994). Yerkes-Dodson: A law for all seasons.  Theory & Psychology, 4, 525-547. Retrieved from:

    Wilson, K., & Korn, J. H. (2007). Attention during lectures: Beyond ten minutes.  Teaching of Psychology, 34, 85-89. Retrieved from:

  • 01 May 2020 8:44 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Jessica A. LaPaglia (Morningside College)

                You walk into a dimly lit room. The door slams behind you. A timer counts down from 60 minutes. Escape or die.

                Okay, you won’t really die, but this scenario illustrates a typical escape room. People pay to be trapped in a room with their friends and find clues that will lead to their escape. When gamifying my general psychology class, I sought to make each review session unique. We played review jeopardy, bingo, pyramid, and trivia… but I needed an idea for the last exam. Then I remembered the local escape room in town and “Escape the Evil Professor” review game was born. I learned a lot from creating my first escape room. Students want to be challenged, move around the room, and solve puzzles. In this essay, I will describe the escape room that I created in my Research Methods course as an approach to review material prior to an exam. I will also discuss alternative ways to incorporate escape rooms into the classroom.

                Research Methods in Psychology is not a favorite class among my students. Their eyes either glaze over or show sheer panic when we cover statistics. I typically use an exam review session to provide students with a practice exam and cover their muddiest points. However, with the buzz surrounding course gamification, I wanted to try something different. Jeopardy review is always fun, but is limited to testing students on key words and concepts. I needed a method that allowed students to practice skills like running statistical tests and interpreting data. An escape room, which can involve both practicing skills and retrieving key concepts, seemed like a great option for a review session.

    Sixteen students (primarily 2nd and 3rd year psychology majors) walked into the review session and took their seats. Projected on the screen was a torture room scene and several students laughed. As soon as class began, I shut the door, pretended to lock it, and gave my best evil laugh… something like “Bwahahaha!” The goal was to sing a specific song to me, the evil professor, to appease me and escape the room. Students were instructed to get into groups of three or four to solve my riddles. Each group had a slightly different set of clues (and a different song to sing) so that the escape room was not over once one group finished, but instead each group had the opportunity to escape the room. Although it is fine for all groups to have the same clues, different clues for different groups can reduce the likelihood of cheating. Below, I briefly describe each of the challenges that students completed to escape the review session.

    Challenge 1 covered scales of measurement. Students identified the scale of measurement from each example. The responses were a clue to identify your next challenge.

    Rating happiness on a scale of 1 to 7: ________

    The order that students completed an exam: _______

    Number of friends that one has: _________

    Gender: ________

    Responses to the above items corresponded to a code on one of ten envelopes scattered throughout the room. Each group had a different order for the items above. For instance, the correct code for the puzzle above was IORN (for Interval, Ordinal, Ratio, and Nominal). Within the envelope was the next challenge.

    Challenge 2 was a crossword puzzle that covered threats to internal validity. At the top of the crossword read “Once completed, an author will be revealed. This is your clue to access the next challenge.” The highlighted letters in the crossword were an anagram for one of the authors of one of several research posters hanging in the room. When they looked behind that poster, they found an envelope with instructions for the next challenge. Each group had different letters highlighted, and therefore a different poster, to look behind.

    Challenge 3 allowed students to practice their skills analyzing data in Jamovi (a free statistical program). Each group was provided with a different data set. The instructions are below.

    The Evil Psychology Professor wants to find the best way to torture her students. She sets up and experiment in which students were either given complex homework assignments or boring instructional videos to watch at home. These assignments/videos either covered research methods concepts or statistics concepts. She had them then rate their dissatisfaction with the course on a scale from 1 (this class is great) to 10 (this is the worst class I have EVER taken).

    Open the data set on Moodle called “Torture” and use the data set in the “Torture 1” tab. Analyze the data with the appropriate statistical test. When you are done, examine the data and find the cabinet with the results that most closely match your own. Your next challenge will be in that cabinet.

    Challenge 4 gave students practice with ANOVA tables. Within the correct cabinet, they were provided with an ANOVA table with several values missing. Students solved for F which was the password to an online quiz. Once again, each group was provided with a different ANOVA table.

    Challenge 5 was an online quiz that tested students on types of validity. Each group had their own unique quiz. They could take this quiz as many times as was required to get 100%. Once they received 100%, the song that they needed to sing to the evil professor was revealed.

    To ensure that students completed every challenge, there was a 2-min penalty if students found clues meant for a different group. Each group received two hint cards in case they got stuck on a particular challenge. All groups finished within 30 minutes. We spent the remainder of the class period reviewing the correct responses for each challenge. Following the review, I measured student perceptions using a subset of questions from the Intrinsic Motivation Inventory (IMI; Self-Determination Theory, 2018) and five days later, student learning was measured in a short-answer exam worth 70 points.

    The escape room was well perceived by students with overall enjoyment mean rating of 6.47 out of 7. More importantly, the escape room led to better performance on the exam. Exam items that had been included in the escape room (48 out of 70 points) were compared to items that had not been included in the escape room (22 points).  Students performed significantly better on concepts included in the escape room compared to those that were not. This effect persisted into the final cumulative exam. See LaPaglia (2020) for full results.

    It is well documented that testing students is a powerful way to enhance retention of course material (Roediger et al., 2011; Roediger & Karpicke, 2006; Rowland, 2014). Furthermore, testing makes it more apparent what students do and do not understand (Balch, 1998). Delivering this benefit in an exciting way can improve enjoyment and intrinsic motivation. Since creating this escape room activity, a colleague of mine tried it out in her own classroom. She brought in props (such as color-coded picture frames with clues embedded in the frames themselves) to enhance the escape room experience. Monoghan and Nicholson (2017) created an elaborate escape room within a pathophysiology course. The goal of this escape room was to diagnose and properly treat a patient in under an hour. This activity combined team-based learning with the pressure and puzzles associated with escape rooms. It may be necessary to have students adequately prepared for the activity to ensure participation by all. Borrego et al. (2017), for instance, required students to complete specific assignments prior to entrance into the escape room to ensure they were prepared.

    I have had several individuals comment on how difficult this might be for an instructor to develop such an elaborate review session. However, the escape room challenges could be substituted with simple review questions or “stations” around a room. Ragan (in press) had introductory psychology students complete a series of stations that involved engaging in an activity, completing questions about the activity that corresponded to a code on a lock box, then combining clues within in each lock box to escape the classroom. Additionally, any one of the challenges described in this paper could be used on their own; for instance, a crossword puzzle to review key concepts from that week (there are free crossword puzzle creators available online). It might also be advantageous to have students develop their own escape rooms to test their peers over the material (Nicholson, 2018). Students in a cognitive psychology class could use insight problems and logical fallacies to challenge peers in an escape room. Whatever the method, using an escape room is a fun way to incorporate testing to enhance learning of the course material.


    Balch, W. R. (1998). Practice versus review exams and final exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 25, 181–185.

    Borrego, C., Fernandez, C., Blanes, I., & Robles, S. (2017). Room escape at class: Escape games activities to facilitate the motivation and learning in computer science. Journal of Technology and Science Education, 7, 162-171.

    LaPaglia, J. A. (2020). Escape the evil professor! Escape room review activity. Teaching of Psychology, 47(2), 141-146.

    Monaghan, S. R., & Nicholson, S. (2017). Bringing escape room concepts to pathophysiology case studies. Journal of Human Anatomy and Physiology Society, 21, 49–62.

    Nicholson, S. (2018). Creating engaging escape rooms for the classroom. Childhood Education 94(1), 44–49.

    Ragan, C. (2019, June 27-28). Escape the (class)room! [Paper presentation]. Psychology One Conference, Durham, NC, United States.

  • 06 Apr 2020 4:27 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Justina M. Oliveira (Southern New Hampshire University )

    Correspondence concerning this article should be sent to Justina M. Oliveira, PhD, SNHU 2500 North River Rd, Manchester, NH 03016; 


    As a field, psychology is ripe for opportunities to bridge its content to the dynamic and artistic world around us. As a means of building a more engaging and challenging class experience, I have incorporated the arts into my Social Psychology course in multiple ways: through photography, poetry, and music (which is essentially lyrical poetry). The focus of this essay is to provide a window of discovery in which educators can peer in to glimpse one example of how I’ve used poetry in psychology classrooms. I also discuss a bit about  why poetry is an effective tool in the classroom to evoke deeper learning. I am however, no expert in poetry. I enjoy poetry, write a little of it, but have little experience formally studying poetry and even less training in writing it. However, my students have voiced extreme interest in the enveloping of psychology content into poetry and have often surprised me with their passion and talent and at times, even writing their own poems for an assignment in the course. This is a testament that a classroom environment energized with curiosity to learn together through perceived nontraditional assignments and activities such as those connecting with the arts, can be a surprising vehicle in which to capture psychology content. Poetry specifically “is a special, highly evocative form of speech that at once triggers new concepts, emotional responses, behaviors, and values” (Van Buskirk, London, & Plump, 2015, pp. 59). Van Buskirk and London (2012) explain how students can learn more deeply and in a holistic manner through poetry given its power in this way to evoke curiosity, energy, and engagement. 

    STEAM strategies 

    The use of poetry in psychology courses is well-aligned to the growing trend of adding arts into STEM courses (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), resulting in the updated acronym STEAM. More specifically, the scientific field of psychology could utilize poetry to build students’ understanding of human motivation, attitudes, and behaviors in a meaningful way. STEAM is a teaching movement that originated from the Rhode Island School of Design through their NSF funded workshop in 2011 and is now growing in use by numerous educational institutions with instructors at various education levels (, 2017). The basis of STEAM strategies is that the uncertainty of the economic future combined with the creativity and innovation required in the current workplace, results in the need for arts tbe added to traditional education (Maeda, 2013). I argue psychology should play a role in such integrated strategies.  

    We educators with backgrounds in psychology and related fields could benefit from the concepts involved in this STEAM movement. Innovative uses of STEAM strategies have been published in recent years which provide insights to its usefulness (e.g., Gregorio et al., 2015; Guyotte et al., 2014; Keane & Keane, 2016; Patton Knochel, 2017). The goal of STEAM is to encourage the integration of disciplines which have traditionally been taught in a compartmentalized manner. 

    Poetry in Psychology 

    The  field of psychology is invested in integrating the arts into psychology-related research and practice (think art therapy but also research on what aspects of art influence our perceptions of it). The existence of APA’s Division 10: The Society for the Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts is evidence of this. This division publishes the journal of  Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts which incorporates research in all artistic domains including poetry. For example, in this journal, Lüdtke et al. (2014) published interesting work regarding poetry’s ability to evoke emotional responses such as empathy. The results of their study “indicate that general surface and affective features of a piece of literature alone are not enough to understand and explain emotional involvement and aesthetic appreciation” and that “only the interaction between reader and text brings a poem to life” (pp. 373). Their research findings explaining the more holistic understanding of the power of poetry is quite useful. I think as a field however, we can do a better job at integrating the arts, including poetry, into our teaching. 

    Psychology educators have the goal of actively engaging students in the process  of learning as seekers  of knowledge compared to as passive receivers of course content. Student learning can be enhanced through unexpected assignments (such as poetry in psychology courses), which may help them pay attention to how psychology is relevant to the broader world around them. Such assignments can provide our students with opportunities to combine their creativity of expression through poetry (both traditional forms and the poetic nature of music lyrics) with psychology content learning.  

    Recent innovative uses of STEAM strategies, which provide insights to its usefulness, range from creative problem solving in a music technology program with students from traditional STEM backgrounds (Gregorio et al., 2015) to the use of poetry to understand metaphors, values, and emotions within the leadership and ethics training with West Point cadets (Van Buskirk et al., 2015). Van Buskirk et al. (2015) state that metaphors often found in poetry allow students to “transfer not only conceptual understanding but emotional tone as well from one domain to another. These emotions may be both tacit and explicit, coherent or in conflict, conscious or unconscious, but they are almost always present in some way” (pp. 58). Van Buskirk and London (2012) have found that the use of poetry in management courses can shift the classroom climate to one that is more personal, higher in energy, and evokes greater levels of critical thinking. Psychology, too can benefit from this approach. 

    The Assignment 

    I created, used, and shaped the assignment (see Appendix A for full assignment directionsover the period of four years with undergraduate students in my Social Psychology course who were both psychology and non-psychology majors. I have used this or a very similar version of the assignment across 11 sections during this timeframe with about 325 students total. After using the assignment the first few times, I elicited anonymous feedback from students right after they completed it. Overwhelmingly, students enjoyed the experience of integrating poetry with the constructs we’d covered in social psychology. They found it interesting, stated I should continue using the assignment in future courses, and that it aided in their learning of the content. They also felt the in-class activity utilizing the poetry they found was helpful to getting to know their fellow classmates better. See Appendix B for samples of the poems students found for the assignment. One of these poems is written by the student herself and the others are existing poems students found relevant to the assignment. Please email me to see examples of students’ full write-ups. 

    The Assignment as the Basis for a Classroom Activity 

    On the day students bring in this assignment to share in small groups, during the first 20 minutes of class, I share a few poems including (Rupi Kaur’s poem First be Full on Your Own) with the class and we discuss them as aligned to the assignment prompts. Then, they do Kuhn and McPartland’s (1954) Twenty Statements Test on self-concept. This involves students writing 20 statements about themselves with the only prompt that each statement must start with the phrase “I am…”. I then go over a bit more about the topics of self-concept with students, especially in regards to social psychology and we have a discussion on how these “I am” statements uncover information about their self-concept. This discussion naturally leads to a conversation around culture and dual attitudes, two other topic choices within this assignment. At this point, the full class is on the same page in regards to understanding all the assignment topic choices (we had discussed violence and prosocial behavior, the last topic choices as related to social psychology a few weeks prior)In the next phase of the class period, students share their poems in small groups. They tend to listen attentively and follow along with the extra copies when each group member reads the poem they chose out loud. They make guesses as to the topic that student likely chose given their poem and they have a conversation around what it meant to them and why. I typically end the class period with debriefing the common topics students seemed to choose that class and some students share their poem with the class as a whole for additional reflection. I end the class period by showing a video of Maya Angelou reciting her poem ‘Still I Rise’ to allow students to see the visual power of poetry when seeing someone share their own written work out loud to a bigger audience. We finish by taking the time to connect this poem to Social Psychology topics of discrimination, culture, and ingroups/outgroups. This class period never fails to be a time of deep reflection, high levels of engagement, and an opportunity to build a brave and safe classroom environment that helps us to dig into the topics throughout the rest of the semester. 


    Gregorio, J., Rosen, D.S., Morton, B.G., Halula, A.M., Caro, M., Scott, J., Kim, Y., & Lindstrom, K.M. (2015). Introduction to STEAM through music technology (evaluation).  Proceedings of the ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition. 

    Guyotte, K.W., Sochacka, N.W., Costantino, T.E., Walther, J., & Kellam, N.N. (2014). Steam as social practice: Cultivating creativity in transdisciplinary spaces.  Art Education, 67(6), 12-19. 

    Keane, L., & Keane, M. (2016). STEAM by design.  Design and Technology Education, 21, 61-82. 

    Kuhn, M.H., & McPartland, T.S. (1954). An empirical investigation of self-attitudes. American Sociological Review, 19(1), 68-76. 

    Maeda, J. (2013).  Artists and scientists: More alike than differentScientific American .  

    Patton, R.M., & Knochel, A.D. (2017) Meaningful makers: Stuff, sharing, and connection in STEAM curriculum.  Art Education, 70, 36-43. 

    Rhode Island School of Design. What is STEAM? (2017).

    Van Buskirk, W., London, M., & Plump, C. (2015). Poetry and poetic metaphor in teaching leadership and ethics . Journal of Leadership Studies, 9(1), 56–62.   

    Appendix A & B can be accessed at:

  • 02 Mar 2020 8:28 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Wind Goodfriend (Buena Vista University) & Thomas Heinzen (William Paterson University)

    In B. F. Skinner’s Walden Two, the fictional Professor Burris reflects on his long teaching career (Skinner, 1948, p. 6-7) with the following regret:

    “My [former students] would gape with ignorance when I alluded to a field that we had once explored together—or so I thought—but they would gleefully remind me, word for word, of my smart reply to some question from the class or impromptu digression… I would have been glad to let them all proceed henceforth in complete ignorance of the science of psychology, if they would forget my opinion of chocolate sodas or the story of the amusing episode on a Spanish streetcar.”

    Many of us have experienced the chagrin that Skinner is describing. Our students may choose to pay attention to our personal stories or anecdotes, focusing on what happened instead of the more important (in our opinion) point of why the story came up in the first place, and how it’s tied to the psychological topic of that day’s class. Why do students care about the stories? Because the stories are real, personal, engaging, and help the students see the psychology all around them, in their everyday lives.

    Instead of dismissing such stories as regrettable distractions (as Skinner seems to be doing), why not capitalize on the power of story in the classroom? The effectiveness of case studies won’t be a surprise to those of us who have been showing pictures of “classics” in the history of psychology, such as Phineas Gage, Clive Wearing, Little Albert, and Kitty Genovese. We argue here that faculty should use case studies more. Walter Mischel noted the power of a good case study when he wrote (Mischel, 1979, p. 741):

    “We all know that our students may ignore the weighty evidence we painstakingly convey in our lectures while to our dismay they remember for years one dramatic case study example or personal anecdote.”

    And in the influential book Make It Stick, about how to master the effectiveness of lectures, Brown, Roediger, & McDaniel (2014) started almost all their chapters with a powerful case study. How can we use case studies more explicitly in our classes? Here are two examples.

    Example 1: Non-Fiction

    Almost all of us discuss the infamous Milgram studies, at least in Intro Psych. It’s a powerful procedure with even more powerful results. For years, we [the authors] emphasized to our students the “power of the situation” and that most of the participants went all the way to 450 volts—and that they (the students) would probably have done the same thing. In other words, many teachers focus on the peer pressure and power of obedience inherent in Milgram. Even Milgram knew the importance of case studies; he included in his book Obedience to Authority quotations from people who did go “all the way,” like this one (1974, p. 87):

    “I said, ‘Good God, he’s dead; well, here we go, we’ll finish him.’ And I just continued all the way through to 450 volts.”

    But here is a perfect opportunity to use case studies to inspire students to go against the self-fulfilling prophecy of giving in to obedience and peer pressure. Consider August Landmesser, shown in the link below, refusing to participate in the Nazi salute:


    Landmesser was in love with a Jewish woman, so he stood up against authority and instead let his ethics guide his choices. That choice came at a great cost: His lover died in a concentration camp, and he died in a German penal battalion. But he didn’t give in. And Milgram saw this in his own participants—one third didn’t go to 450 volts. In Chapters 4 and 6 of Obedience to Authority, he profiles participants who disobeyed, and why.

    When a participant hesitated, Milgram’s experimenter prodded them with phrases such as they “had no other choice” but to continue. One man, a Dutch immigrant who had seen Jewish people persecuted during the War, stopped at 255 volts and responded by stating (p. 51):

    “I do have a choice. Why don’t I have a choice? I came here on my own free will. I thought I could help in a research project. But if I have to hurt somebody to do that, or if I was in his place, too, I wouldn’t stay there. I can’t continue. I’m very sorry. I think I’ve gone too far already, probably.”

    In perhaps the most poignant case in the entire study, another participant refused to continue after 210 volts. She was a German immigrant who had been raised in the Hitler Youth program. After disobeying and being asked why she stopped, she calmly responded, “Perhaps we have seen too much pain” (p. 84). These are the case studies we want to emphasize to our students—these are the ones we want to inspire them in the future, when they remember our classes.


    Example 2: Fiction

    Students certainly spend a lot of their free time engaging in popular culture, including videogames, streaming TV, and movies. So, appealing to these interests may help students feel connected to the material. Here we discuss two examples of popular culture and how they relate to psychology.

    First: Attachment Theory is a common subject in a wide variety of psych courses (Intro, Development, Relationships, Social, etc.). In the original model, Bowlby (1958) suggested three attachment styles. Each style results from how children interact with their primary caregiver and later causes different behavioral patterns in romantic relationships. All three styles are illustrated well in the trio of main characters in Harry Potter (see Goodfriend, 2007).

    Harry grew up as an orphan being abused by his aunt and uncle; this results in his fearful/avoidant attachment. He struggles with close relationships in adolescence, showing the tendency to isolate himself when possible. Despite attraction to girls, he avoids interacting with them and only responds when they take the initiative.

    In contrast, Ron shows an anxious-ambivalent style. His parents were inconsistent with him, sometimes showing love and support and sometimes being distracted or playing the role of harsh punisher. His attachment style comes out when he creates a co-dependent relationship with his first girlfriend (Lavender) and becomes highly jealous of Hermione’s interest in anyone except himself.

    Finally, Hermione displays secure attachment. Her parents consistently showed her loving support, resulting in her high self-esteem, confidence, and choice of boyfriends because of mutual respect and common intellectual interests (e.g., Viktor Krum).

    Second: Many courses also discuss the development of the “self” and self-concept. A common theory is Higgins’s (1987, 2012) self-discrepancy theory, which describes the actual, ought, and ideal self. The struggle between selves may be most salient when considering superheroes who have a secret identity. Which identity is their “actual” self, and which is their “ideal?” Can both really exist simultaneously? And is either of these selves reflective of social expectations and standards—thus, the “ought” self?

    Wonder Woman, or Diana Prince, reveals these questions in interesting ways (see Goodfriend & Formichella-Elsden, 2017). While her “real” name is Diana, the character of Diana Prince that she plays to the public (e.g., glasses and a nurse or secretary role) is covering up the “actual” self she has in the extraordinary abilities she shows as Wonder Woman. Her love interest often compares the two women explicitly. He tells Diana, for example, that she’s acceptable—but nothing in comparison to Wonder Woman. He thus loves only one aspect of her.

    Many panels from the original comic strips and books display her struggle between these parts of her self. Those early panels also present a public that judges her positively (e.g., when she helps the U.S. military defeat enemies) or negatively (for what are considered “scandalous” clothes for the time). These judgments again relate to the ought self. The example of Wonder Woman—or any other similar superhero with multiple sides of life—leads to interesting class discussions and memorable applications of Higgins’s ideas to students’ own lives.


    Other people have noted the utility of case studies in the classroom (e.g., Krain, 2010, McManus, 1986, Oliver, 2019). Milgram himself knew the power of case studies in making a point. In Obedience to Authority, he wrote (1974, p. 44):

    “We need to focus on the individuals who took part in the study not only because this provides a personal dimension to the experiment but also because the quality of each person’s experience gives us clues to the nature of the process.”

    Individual instructors should, of course, feel free to select both fictional and non-fictional case studies that speak to them, personally. Students can sense authentic engagement and will enjoy their professors’ expertise about particular cases. One of us (Wind) enjoys discovering psychological insights already lurking in fictional popular culture, especially from wizards and superheroes. The other (Tom) derives similar enjoyment and meaning from discovering non-fictional historical details like the story of August Landmesser.

    Choosing a range of studies from different contexts will likely be best for the variety and diversity of student interests in a given class. Regardless of the specific cases chosen, use of case studies appears to be a promising way to keep students engaged within the classroom, to help them retain material for testing purposes, and to apply those insights to the complicated lives they are already living (Bromley, 1986; Rolls, 2015).


    Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child’s tie to his mother. International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 39, 350-373.

    Bromley, D. B. (1986). The case study method in psychology and related disciplines. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.

    Brown, P. C., Roediger, H. M., & McDaniel, M. A. (2014). Make it stick: The science of successful learning. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

    Goodfriend, W. (2007). Attachment styles at Hogwarts: From infancy to adulthood. In N. Mulholland (Ed.), Psychology of Harry Potter (pp. 73-88). Dallas, TX: BenBella Books.

    Goodfriend, W., & Formichella-Elsden, A. (2017). Multiple identities, multiple selves? Diana Prince’s actual, ideal, & ought selves. In T. Langley & M. Wood (Eds.), Wonder Woman psychology: Lassoing the truth (pp. 139-149). New York, NY: Sterling.

    Higgins, E. T. (1987). Self-discrepancy: A theory relating self and affect. Psychological Review, 94(3), 319-340.

    Higgins, E. T. (2012). Regulatory focus theory. In Van Lange, P., Kruglanski, A. W., & Higgins, E. T. (Eds.), Handbook of theories of social psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 483-504). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    Krain, M. (2010). The effects of different types of case learning on student engagement. International Studies Perspectives, 11, 291-308.

    McManus, J. L. (1986). “Live” case study/journal record in adolescent psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 13(2), 70-74.

    Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority. New York, NY: Harper-Perennial.

    Mischel, W. (1979). On the interface of cognition and personality: Beyond the person–situation debate. American Psychologist, 34(9), 740-754.

    Oliver, J. A. (2019). Essays from E-xcellence in teaching (Vol. 18). Retrieved from the Society for the Teaching of Psychology Web site:

    Rolls, G. (2015). Classic case studies in psychology (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Routledge.

    Skinner, B. F. (1948). Walden two. New York, NY: MacMillan.

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