Researchers in psychology know that learning isn’t simple. Learning and memory have been researched extensively throughout psychology’s evolution. They are complex topics that have spawned more than 100 years of research. Despite this, when it comes to teaching psychology, we seem to fall short in extending what we understand about the mind by applying it to those minds that are trying to learn in our classroom. To this end, Chew and colleagues (2018) discuss how we need to “Practice What We Teach” in an article published this month in Teaching of Psychology. In the article, the authors highlight numerous points (9 total) that need to be addressed in our field in order to promote teaching and learning in psychology. The article itself is fairly short (about 5 pages of text, excluding references), so I strongly encourage folks to read their concise review of how we can improve teaching in our field.
I won’t review each point they raised, but there were a couple key themes that really struck home for me. [read more below]
Teaching is valuable.
We as psychology educators need to hold teaching to a higher standard. In academia, the phrase is “publish or perish” not “garner strong learning outcomes or perish”. By holding research and publication rate to a higher standard, teaching has been placed on the back-burner in many colleges and universities. As someone who is going on the job market this year, it was made clear to me that the Outstanding Teaching Award I earned was nice, but that I should spend less time on teaching and more time on publishing. Even at teaching oriented institutions, publications can often be valued more than teaching expertise when it comes to evaluating new hires. The assumption is that if you are an expert in the field, you have the knowledge necessary to teach the course. However, knowing information and teaching information are two completely different things. If we want to improve teaching and learning outcomes in our field, we have to hold it to a higher standard. This can be done through incentives to implement evidence-based changes in the classroom, or improving the assessment of both teaching and student learning outcomes.
Training is necessary.
Despite our expertise within our areas of psychology, people don’t intrinsically know how to teach effectively. A few years ago, my university was interviewing candidates for a new faculty position here. After attending numerous job talks and looking over their CV’s, I was talking with an established professor about the lack of teaching experience for a few of the candidates. This concern was waved away, with a casual “oh, they will figure out eventually” response. And of course, faculty members do “figure it out” once they are thrown into a classroom. But that doesn’t mean they are effective. Sure, faculty members can share their PowerPoint slides and exam questions with the new faculty, but teaching is more involved than flipping through slides and handing out multiple choice test.
To improve our teaching practices in psychology, universities and departments should emphasize more professional development opportunities for their faculty and graduate students. Ah, but that is the burden of the administration, they will never pay to have expensive speakers show up! No one has time for multi-day workshops, we have manuscripts and grants to prepare! Yes, both statements may be true, but training doesn’t mean contracting expensive, time consuming workshops. For example, in my department, we have weekly colloquiums where students and professors (within and outside our department) give an hour long presentation. These are often casual brown-bag style talks, rather than formal presentations. Last year, in lieu of a presentation, a couple of our colloquiums were dedicated to various aspects of teaching, such as how to incorporate writing assignments into your class. For an hour, faculty and graduate students discussed their experiences, problems, and solutions to each teaching-oriented topic. This was 100% free, and only took up an hour of everyone’s time. There are numerous free training resources out there. Chew and colleagues (2018) suggest a variety of openly available articles and websites that psychology educators can use:
Invest in teaching.
A list of possible SoTL journals (comment below with any I have left out!):
Written by Karly Schleicher
Chew, S. L., Halonen, J. S., McCarthy, M. A., Gurung, R. A., Beers, M. J., McEntarffer, R., Landrum, R. E. (2018). Practice what we teach: Improving teaching and learning in psychology. Teaching of Psychology, 45(3), 239-245. https://doi.org/10.1177/0098628318779264
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