At the beginning of the first day in my introductory psychology course, the entire class participates in a short exercise. I present them with a series of 21 “facts” about psychology, and it is everyone’s task to determine, by raise of hands, which are true and supported by research, and which are in fact false and represent pseudoscience or “folk psychology”. Students see this as a fun way to begin engaging with the course material, and I see this exercise as serving three important functions—functions that are central to my teaching philosophy: the exercise gets students to participate in class and actively engage in their own learning, it helps students become critical thinkers and critical consumers of information, and it demonstrates how something can seem true or easy to understand just because it seemingly make sense; allowing me to stress the importance of developing a deep understanding of psychological concepts. These goals form the basis of my teaching philosophy and will guide my development of future courses as I continue to grow and gain experience as a teacher.
Provide students with an active role in their own learning
I believe that attendance alone does not lead to success in a course; rather success in a course comes through active engagement and participation. As such, I strive to consistently provide students with opportunities to be actively engaged with and excited by the course material. In my introductory psychology course, I incorporate questions throughout lecture to either give students practice applying concepts they have just learned, or to assess student’s prior beliefs before introducing a new concept. When there is widespread disagreement in the class, I ask for volunteers with differing opinions to share their thought processes or defend their position, and encourage discussion and debate among the students. This can be especially effective and interesting in courses where the students come from different departments with diverse learning backgrounds. In weekly lab meetings, students are expected to have read an assigned paper prior to the meeting and to come prepared to contribute their thoughts, ideas, interpretations, speculations, and criticisms. I tell the students that the quality of the discussions we have will depend entirely on their preparation and willingness to participate, and that my primary role is to guide the discussion and to provide relevant information beyond the paper.
Additionally, I realize that not all students are comfortable voicing their opinions in class, so I strive to incorporate varied opportunities for participation; I conduct mini in-class experiments, do demonstrations, utilize online discussion forums, and make myself available immediately after class and outside of class for discussions with students.
Finally, in all of my interactions with students, I make explicit my genuine enthusiasm for talking to them about their interests, opinions, and concerns. I encourage them to ask me questions, and am honest with them when I do not know the answers, sharing with them my hypotheses, and promising them that I will research their question before the next class or meeting while encouraging them to do the same.
Cultivate critical thinkers and consumers of information
I believe that my students should develop skills that will continue to serve them well in any future pursuit, even if they forget the specific details from my course or their time working with me on research. Indeed, my main goal is not that they remember the entire content of the course. Instead I want them to walk away with the ability to critically evaluate the information they consume, to think of alternative explanations for results they encounter, and to articulate their ideas to others.
I explicitly tell my students that taking a class in psychology is not about learning all of the right answers. Rather I tell them that it is an opportunity to learn about the current state of the field and the research that brought us here. I let them know that there will often be alternative explanations for phenomena we discuss and that they will get the opportunity to assume the role of a scientist—considering and evaluating alternative theories and hypotheses throughout the course. In the lab, our research assistants submit questions and responses to weekly papers in advance of our lab meetings. To encourage critical thinking, these responses must contain at least one thought provoking question, critical evaluation of the data or conclusions, or proposed future direction inspired by the paper.
Furthermore, whenever possible in class and lab meetings, I try to incorporate results of current research that either my colleagues or I are conducting to demonstrate that researchers are actively working to discover the answers to the questions they are studying and learning about.
Encourage deep understanding
I believe that the best way to ensure that you understand something is to successfully convey that thought or idea to someone else. When I first served as a teaching assistant in graduate school, I was amazed by how much deeper my understanding of the material became as I was forced to find ways to effectively communicate concepts and ideas to students. Because of my experience, I try to create opportunities for my students and research assistants to assume a teaching role themselves through peer instruction. During lab meetings, research assistants are encouraged to pose questions to one another, and when a research assistant answers a question, I challenge them to continue elaborating on or rephrasing their explanation until the other research assistants understand their reasoning.
Additionally, I consistently caution students about the difference between familiarity and understanding, because I find that students have a tendency to falsely believe that they understand something simply because it “makes sense” initially or seems easy to process. I encourage my students to bear this fallacy in mind when they are studying, and strongly caution against study approaches that only include reviewing and rereading the material. Instead, I push them to test themselves to recall information from memory and to explain concepts to one another.
Furthermore, I am committed to taking the time necessary to make sure that my students fully understand the material I am presenting. I recognize that if my students don’t understand something the first time I explain it, repeating that information to them in the same way does us both a disservice. Instead, I challenge myself every day in the classroom to find alternative ways of explaining concepts that students initially do not understand, and to generate concrete examples to help them relate the material both to their own experiences and other course material.
Finally, I recognize that every student learns in a different way, so I frequently meet with students outside of class to work with them individually or in small groups, and in 2014, following student nomination, I was recognized by the UCSD Office for Students with Disabilities for outstanding service in providing accommodations for students with disabilities.