Intro Psych Series #4: Can you do that in a big class? Course-based undergraduate research (CURE) in introductory psychology at CSU Monterey Bay
We've spent the last two weeks here at The Novice Professor teaming up with several wonderful guest posters who are sharing their takes on teaching the general survey course in psychology. Even if you don't teach this course, there are lots of great ideas you can modify for your classroom. Join us as we get into the nitty gritty from textbook selection to favorite assignments to assessment strategies!
For our final post, Jen Dyer-Semour discusses how she plans to incorporate research into her Intro Psych class at CSU Monterey Bay.
Hi everyone. I’m Jen Dyer-Seymour and I live in Santa Cruz, CA. Let me start by telling you a little bit about who I am. It’s a hard question to answer in a short post. I’ve hit my mid-40s and I’m learning so many new things about myself. For example, I recently took this personality test from Northwestern (it’s not Myers-Briggs! - it’s quite good) and learned that “trusting” was one of the strongest parts of my personality. I do tend to think that most people have good intentions even if their actions don’t always look that way. This turns out to be a really good trait for teaching (and kind of bad for other arenas, but that’s a different post!). I do believe that most students want to learn and are trying really hard. I have had lots of practice checking my assumptions about students, colleagues, and even administrators in my 15 years of work at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). Most of those years have been spent as coordinator and then chair of the psychology program and then department. Our first year as a major was 2007-08 and we graduated 8 students. We grew exponentially for a few years there and recently we have finally slowed down. Thank goodness! This past spring 2019 we graduated about 300 students. We typically have about 800 majors on a campus of 7000.
CSUMB is a Hispanic-Serving Institution (HSI) and we are dedicated to our local tri-county region, although we recruit from all over California in order to grow our campus. In the psychology major the majority of our students come from Monterey County, are women of color, and will be the first in their family to graduate from college. I see myself in these students because I am also the first in my family to graduate from college and I’m Mexican. I try to share my story with students because I want them to know that being Mexican is great and we are smart and driven even though that is not how we are portrayed in the media.
So, I have to confess right away that I haven’t taught introductory psychology in a long time. My goal in this post is to share my experience of preparing to teach it and see if I can recruit some of you to collaborate with me on a project to assess hands-on research in introductory psychology (message me if you’re interested in talking about it at firstname.lastname@example.org). My campus supports CUREs (course-based undergraduate research experience) which is to say that that they pay faculty to do course development. Yes, it’s true! So this summer I don’t have to labor for free, unlike many of my previous summers, to design a new course.
At CSUMB we have taught the course in at least two ways, small sections with different instructors who taught it quite differently and one big section of 120 students with one instructor. We do not have a graduate program so we teach this course without discussions sections or lab sections led by graduate student instructors. As I prepare to teach a section of 120 students in spring 2020 I am grappling with my own discontent with the way I have taught for most of my fifteen years at CSUMB, that is, in a classroom with rows of desks somewhat disconnected from the world outside. I want to prepare students to “do things” out in the world realizing that I do not know the full range of things they will do out there. And I want them to learn things, but more importantly I want to teach them how to learn things because I just do not know exactly what information will be valuable to them in the future. Thus, I want to design my course such that the students learn techniques and strategies for obtaining and evaluating information. And that’s where I see hands-on research projects coming into the class.
One of the ways that a person can obtain information is by gathering systematic empirical evidence or evaluating the systematic empirical evidence that others have gathered. Thus, I want first-year psychology students to learn how to gather and evaluate systematic empirical evidence. Recall, that I will be working with a class of 120, and I see that as a strength and a challenge for conducting research. The strength is that if we do studies with the students as participants then we have quite a nice sample size with just our class. One of the many challenges is that it is difficult to coordinate 120 students with no TAs. But we press on.
I want to start right away with an exciting research project and I learned from one of the posters I saw at the most recent WPA (Western Psychological Association) that students’ favorite module in their introductory psychology class at Whitworth University in Spokane was a sleep log (Rogers, Czirr, & Reynolds, 2019). So my job is to turn a sleep log assignment into a research project using the five principles of a CURE, according to Auchincloss, et al. (2014):
To begin, I want to engage the students in the scientific practices of identifying a research question and generating hypotheses. After watching our past WPA President, Laura Freberg, use TopHat during her Presidential Address at WPA 2019, I plan to use TopHat in class to facilitate discussion. With TopHat, students will use their devices to respond to questions in and outside of class.
As for the other four aspects of a CURE, I have a few thoughts. For discovery, I will assign a few articles for students to read so we can try to extend the previous work rather than reiterate something that has already been done. If we extend previous work then we should be doing important and relevant work (#3 of a CURE). As for collaboration, certainly the students and I will be collaborating with each other. Whether and how I can guide students to collaborate with each other, I’m not sure. That needs more thought. Finally, I think the most interesting part of this whole enterprise will be iteration, because I get to formally design failure into the course. Students will see how one attempt to answer a question may fail and they will refine accordingly. This is the most interesting part of the experience because I’m a recovering perfectionist myself and I know how painful it can be to experience failure. In my past, I wish I had been forced to fail, guided on how to address it, and then forced to try again.
To close, I’m focused on designing an introductory psychology course that guides students to learn how our discipline uses evidence to answer questions about behavior and mental processes. I’m opting to spend more time on guiding students to conduct research so I clearly will not be able to “cover” all the topics that other courses might. In addition to sleep, there are two other “must include” topics, and those are growth mindset and a possible intervention to teach students about their brain and its malleability (i.e., Blackwell, Trzesniewski, & Dweck, 2007), and the diversity of our pioneers of psychology because students should know more about how our discipline was built and who built it (i.e., Cramblet Alvarez, et al., 2019).
Written by Jen Dyer Seymour