Data indicate that large percentages of the general public regard psychology's scientific status with considerable skepticism.-Lilienfeld (2012, p. 111)
This skepticism is a unique challenge for our field and, as a result, psychology professors are responsible for demonstrating to our students and the community at large that psychology is science. Further, it is our responsibility to foment trust in psychological science. As such, ethical practices, rigorous scientific methodology, and excellent science communication are essential skills we must all strive to develop in ourselves and teach in our students. It is for these reasons that I believe my most important role as a teacher is to facilitate scientific and media literacy. My goal is to help provide students with the tools they need to be critical consumers of psychological research and to impress upon them the importance of identifying unsound findings. I have found success in achieving this critical learning outcome by demonstrating the value of the scientific method through lecture, discussion, lab demonstrations, and assigning various activities which require exploration of the psychological literature and practice in science communication. Across these class activities I demonstrate how psychologists operationalize and measure their constructs as well as what makes these operationalizations reliable and valid. I also strive to emphasize how prevalent and important psychology is for students' everyday lives, i.e., that applications of psychological research are all around them.
From both personal experience and my teaching experiences, I discovered that students engage in the challenging process of self-discovery which includes whether they wish to further pursue psychology further in their collegiate studies and beyond. To facilitate this process, I share with my students what led me to pursue a career in cognitive psychology. I share the excitement and inspiration I felt when I first came across a particular group's research on working memory, and the path that led me to become a graduate student in the same lab that inspired me to become a cognitive psychologist. In doing so, I have found success in my ability to instill a greater appreciation and enthusiasm for psychological research among my students.
I also strive to facilitate discussion of topics that are relevant to everyday life and therefore have practical utility. This involves focusing on psychological findings and phenomena that are either counterintuitive or contradict how said phenomena are conceptualized by the broader public. Additionally, given that students often only take away a couple things from a lecture (e.g., McKeachie & Svinicki, 2006, p. 58), I strive to develop class activities that make these relatively few takeaways meaningful beyond the scope of the classroom. Teaching on a trimester schedule (ten weeks per course) has pushed me to maximize these core learning outcomes and to minimize elements of college courses such as rote memorization that have less impact on long-term learning. This includes utilization of in-class demonstrations, activities, and videos that show the effects and principles of psychological concepts in action. For example, one of my modules on long-term memory focuses on empirical research on memory errors, distortions, and misconceptions. We discuss the real-world (and often tragic) implications of these cognitive biases as well as evidence-based strategies students can use to overcome them (e.g., Fry, 2018). This module begins with the students watching a classic video of a car crash from Loftus and Palmer (1974), then toward the end of the class students are asked about what they saw but in slightly differing ways. Subsequently, we explore whether students gave different answers based on the framing of the question and discuss the implications of our results.
My hope for my students is that they will apply the concepts they learn in my classes to their daily lives long after they have completed my course. An optimal learning environment is one that mitigates grade-related stress so that students will be free to pursue learning based on their intrinsic curiosity and their passions. For this to be possible, it is critical that I develop an inclusive learning environment in which all students feel safe, empowered, and heard. My research interests in minimizing adverse impact and my deep understanding of the role of cognitive load inform my teaching practices to facilitate my ability to maintain a comfortable learning environment for my students. If we have learned anything from the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that flexibility is essential, particularly for those from minoritized groups who may face more structural barriers than students with more privilege. Some examples of this from my courses are a flexible grading system and class structure such that students are not overly penalized when external factors affect their performance, including dropping the lowest grade(s) for every assignment type (including exams). Exams are also designed with flexibility and long-term learning in mind: exam grades are given less weight in calculating the final course grade; multiple-choice questions are de-emphasized in favor of questions that require response generation and thought; and students are given the option of which short-answer and/or essay questions to answer to allow them the opportunity to capitalize on their interests and their strengths. In addition, I often seek opportunities to facilitate students' self-efficacy and freedom of choice in pursuit of learning in my classes. For example, I encourage students to pursue their passions and seek more depth of learning by offering a variety of extra credit assignments and, when feasible, students are given multiple options for their in-class project. Students are encouraged, but not required, to step out of their comfort zones in all instances.
I embody my values by using what I learned from my background in cognitive psychology and applying it to my daily life in my role as an educator. I believe that my primary role as a teacher is to instill the same in my students by first helping them to become interested and invested in topics covered in the course, and then providing the foundation and tools for their long-term success. I look forward to the opportunity to teach upcoming generations to appreciate the value of science, no matter what career path they choose.
Fry, R. (2018). How to Study: The Program that Has Helped Millions of Students Study Smarter, Not Harder (Vol. 3). Open Road Media.
Lilienfeld, S. O. (2012). Public skepticism of psychology: why many people perceive the study of human behavior as unscientific. American Psychologist, 67(2), 111-129.
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(5), 585-589.
W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2006). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies,
research, and theory for college and university teachers (12th ed.).