This month’s corner focuses on how research can inform one’s teaching. This is an important topic given that there is a myriad of ways in which instructors tend to utilize research in their courses. Here, some of the GSTA committee members share their own stories when it comes to teaching practices that are informed by research, as well as general practices of assessment and how those inform their future instruction.
Authors: Jackson Pelzner, Chris Kleva, Morgan Franklin, William Ridgway
Jackson: I think when it comes to teaching, understanding research is critical to our roles as instructors. Whether in the form of new teaching practices or new discoveries in experimental research, I think we owe it to our students to provide a course that keeps up with the current trends. When I started out in this graduate program, I was mainly interested in how we use mental representations to improve learning. My thesis focused on how we form mental representations from visual narratives (e.g., comics/graphic novels) to aid learning. Because of this interest, I tend to use a lot of images with my slide text seeing as I have a good understanding of dual code processing. Being a memory researcher gives me the added benefit of applying my research to my course because I know several mnemonic strategies that can help students. Likewise, I spend a good amount of time in between semesters improving the structure of my course so that students avoid many of the pitfalls in human memory. Altogether, I think being a graduate student researcher and instructor allows me to approach the topics in my course with both a more critical eye as well as the ability to convey my expertise in learning and memory.
Chris: Similar to research, teaching is ever-evolving. One strives to become better at teaching, but one must continuously work towards improving and adapting in order to be effective and successful. For me, teaching is not merely the act of sharing knowledge but requires the tailoring of how the knowledge is being shared with others. To that end, I attempt, to the best of my ability, to match my teaching methods to ensure the needs of each student are being met. I emphasize effective communication with my students and prioritize making myself available. In my own research, investigating which characteristics both teachers and students find most important in the classroom, effective communication is frequently highly ranked. While I encourage students to meet with me outside of office hours, I also try to arrive to each class early and stay until each student has left. My intention is that this allows time for students to approach me to ask questions if they are anxious or nervous to set up another office time or to speak in front of the class. While I hope to foster an environment where students can express to me when they are struggling and how I may improve, I also rely heavily on structured, formal evaluations from my students mid-way through the semester and at the end of the semester. This allows me to adapt and improve my teaching to ensure I am successful in sharing knowledge with students in a way they gain the most.
Morgan: I try to supplement my teaching with research wherever possible. This may include digging into the literature surrounding whatever topic I may be discussing in lecture so I may support my information with data, or it may include assigning additional readings (peer-reviewed articles) related to a particular week’s content. I discuss articles in class with my students and work with them to build skills of critical analysis of research.
William: Throughout my time in academia, I have come across many helpful resources when it comes to effective teaching practices. From research that focuses on basic skills for facilitating student learning, to understanding students, there exists a wide range of resources. For example, McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers (Svinicki & McKeachie, 2013) is a phenomenal resource for instructors. When it comes to the teaching of forensic psychology, I utilize a variety of empirical articles while also relying on notable forensic cases that tie together many psycholegal concepts. One of the ways in which I approach the teaching of psychology is to begin with the idea of skepticism and how that mindset can be quite useful. Influenced by the work of Scott O. Lilienfeld, I make sure to lay a foundation comprised of many key principals that students should consider, such as ruling out rival hypotheses (Have important alternative explanations for the findings been excused?), correlation vs. causation (Can we be sure that A causes B?), falsifiability (Can the claim be disproved?), replicability (Can the results be duplicated in other studies?), extraordinary claims (Is the evidence as strong as the claim?), and Occam’s razor (Does a simpler explanation fit the data just as well?). Overall, the emphasis of scientific skepticism and informing students of a basic framework for scientific thinking is crucial.
Svinicki, M. D., & McKeachie, W. J. (2013). McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers. Wadsworth.