The core of my teaching philosophy centers on bringing enthusiasm, utility, and inclusivity to subject matter that might otherwise be intimidating. Doing so fosters a classroom environment where students of all backgrounds can thrive and develop their “toolbox” of statistical and methodological knowledge. Through my experiences preparing and teaching Statistical Principles of Psychological Research (PSYC210), Laboratory Research in Psychology (PSYC270), and Graduate Statistical Methods in Psychology I (PSYC830), I have had the privilege of watching students overcome their trepidation and gain both a greater understanding and a richer appreciation for the techniques that form the bedrock of our discipline. My experiences teaching small, upper-level courses like Theoretical, Empirical Perspectives on Personality (PSYC501), Stereotyping, Prejudice, and Discrimination (PSYC565), and Sex and Gender (PSYC490/572) have given me the opportunity to see my student refine of their “toolbox” of theoretical knowledge. There is no greater joy than seeing my students’ eyes light up when they realize the course material can be exciting, utilitarian, and accessible to all. I strive for these moments in each course.
For every course – and indeed, every class – I teach, I have three primary goals that reflect my philosophy of fostering enthusiasm, utility, and inclusivity to promote a positive learning environment. I use these specific goals to ensure that all students are able to learn effectively and see the usefulness of even the most intimidating subject matter
First, I aim to promote active learning through hands-on experience. There is no better way to breathe enthusiasm, utility, and inclusivity into a course than to have students actually do what they read about in their textbooks. An evidence-based teaching strategy, active learning empowers students to have a participatory role in their education. In methodological courses, active learning is particularly important because students must not only learn why we conduct research, but also how we conduct it.
To promote active learning, I employ various in-class activities that encourage students to apply what they have learned in lectures, readings, and supplemental videos. In my Laboratory Research in Psychology course, for example, I challenge students to code prosocial behavior in a series of ambiguous pictures. Students use PollEverywhere to independently rate the level of helpfulness in each picture before breaking into small groups where they discuss their ratings. We reconvene to consider their findings as a class. Students use PollEverywhere to re-vote and see if they are able to increase interrater reliability. The energy and enthusiasm is palpable when students begin to view these ambiguous pictures in new ways. Students passionately advocate for their ratings, while others laugh and marvel that they completely missed key attributes of the pictures. I conclude this in-class activity by having students develop an operational definition of prosocial behavior that they then use to recode the images. Inevitably, my students learn the importance of constructing strong operational definitions and the need for diverse viewpoints when coding data. Increasing awareness of multiple viewpoints is also an effective way foster an inclusive learning environment. More often than not, students who might fall asleep at the thought of validity and reliability in coding qualitative data exude energy and enthusiasm when they actually experience this hands-on activity. More importantly, they learn the utility of coding qualitative data while taking in account the diverse views of their classmates.
Second, I aim to promote learning through critical thinking. A powerful way to foster enthusiasm, utility, and inclusivity in the classroom, critical thinking allows students to dissect abstract theories and formulas. Rather than teaching students to digest material for later regurgitation, I encourage them to think critically to empower a greater understanding. This type of critical thinking is also pragmatic in that it allows students to build on previous knowledge and apply it in their own lives.
To promote learning through critical thinking, I employ a variant of Socratic Method for in-class discussions and debates. In my Theoretical, Empirical Perspectives on Personality course, for example, students complete daily reflection discussions/debates on various personality assessments. In small groups, students take various stances on the validity of the measurement items and their relation to the broader theories we have covered in lecture. Students are energized and enthusiastic as they begin to realize that they are experts; that they can evaluate why one test might represent one theory better than another. Inevitably, the students and I learn a great deal about ourselves along the way! In courses where class discussion can be difficult to stimulate (e.g., Statistical Principles of Psychological Research), I utilize think-pair-share activities to encourage students to interact and process the material on a deeper level. I find this active learning strategy especially effective at stimulating critical thinking immediately after giving a low-stakes, in-class assessments. I have students reflect on the items they missed, pair with a neighbor, and discuss why the correct answer was correct and ways that different wording might have elicited a different correct response. I find this strategy helps students with the nuances of technical language and creates an environment where students can think of new ways to look at the same question. These one-on-one interactions build camaraderie in classes where students may not feel comfortable sharing out in a larger group.
My third primary teaching goal is to promote learning in the form of effective communication. To be successful, students must learn to communicate their knowledge to diverse audiences. As with my first two teaching goals, communication empowers students to get actively involved and to give voice to their ideas. This process not only encourages energy and enthusiasm, but is also utilitarian: Regardless of whether students desire to apply what they learn in academic (other classes, graduate school, etc.) or applied settings (workplace, internship, etc.), fostering effective communication helps students improve their chances of success.
To promote learning in the form of effective communication, I employ group assignments, papers, and presentations. For example, in Laboratory Research in Psychology and Sex and Gender, I ask students to work as a team to develop a semester-long research project that requires them to communicate their results as they would in a professional paper. I also require students to present their projects to the class as a way to practice in public speaking. To assess other forms of effective communication, I utilize low-stakes writing assignments. In my Statistical Principles of Psychological Research course, students write weekly lab reports to give them experience in analyzing data and communicating results in the language of psychologists. In my summer Theoretical, Empirical Perspectives on Personality course, students complete daily, low-stakes, in-class writing assignments before debating the relative merits of assessment instruments. As with the hands-on activities and critical thinking exercises, students are often pleasantly surprised by how much they enjoy the chance to communicate and exercise their growing body of knowledge pertaining to theory, methodology, and statistics. They also learn the value of their classmates’ points of view and lived experiences.
I strongly believe that bringing enthusiasm, utility, and inclusivity to any course is crucial to students’ ability and willingness to reflect those traits in their own scholarship. In my nine years of teaching college undergraduates, I have discovered that promoting active learning, critical thinking, and effective communication are effective ways to put this philosophy into practice. Sometimes, casual statements from my students are the most powerful indicators of how far they have come in my courses. Hearing “I didn’t think methodology (or statistics) could be fun, but I felt like I was part of a team and had a great time in this class” or “I was so worried about this class, but now I see how useful statistics can be” encourages me to make the most of my teaching opportunities. These student statements also allude to the critical importance, above all, of enthusiasm, utility, and inclusivity in creating a learning environment where students of all disciplines, diverse backgrounds, and abilities feel comfortable engaging with the course material.