I chose this article for my SOTL post because in all likelihood I will continue to teach introductory psychology for the foreseeable future. I taught two sections of intro last year, am currently teaching two sections this semester, and am scheduled to teach two more sections in the spring semester. After reading the abstract I was interested in what Pfund et al. (2018) had found during their investigation in regards to the purpose of various intro psychology classes, the student learning outcomes (SLOs) that are employed, and popular assessment practices. It was my hope that reading this article would give me a better idea of the role intro psych plays at other institutions and how I can go about improving my own intro courses.
The authors begin the article by stating, “Between 1.2 and 1.8 million undergraduate students enroll in the introductory psychology course each year (Gurung et al., 2016).” I had no idea the number was this large! My first exposure to the field of psychology was an intro psych. class while I was at Denison…and that class is what got me hooked on pursuing my studies in psychology.
More specifically, the authors analyzed data from the 2016 Undergraduate Study in Psychology (USP), with a focus on the purpose, SLOs, and assessments in introductory courses. Data for the USP was compiled from chairs or program directors at all manner of institutions ranging from programs that only grant associate degrees to programs that grant bachelor’s and doctoral degrees. The results of this study indicated that an overwhelming majority of introductory psychology courses are part of the general education service track for each institution and are intended as an introduction to the major. This finding falls perfectly in line with the function introductory psychology is supposed to serve at my intuition. In fact, our version of intro psych is actually called “Social World” and is primarily part of the core liberal arts curriculum for the university. But at the same time, from the perspective of my department, intro serves as the primer course for psychology majors. Last fall semester, the majority of my students were first semester freshman intending to major in psychology. However, in the spring semester, I only had one psychology major out of the 40 students between my two sections. I found myself wondering if I should change the style, format, and content of my course to better fit the students in my class. This was a tension I grappled with and wondered if I could resolve it somehow. It was revealing to see that most institutions assign intro psych a dual purpose. I decided not to adjust my class in any way despite the fact the students were vastly different each semester, so it was refreshing to see Pfund et al. (2018) cite the APA’s Board of Educational Affairs Working Group on Strengthening the Common Core of the Introductory Psychology Course (2014) in recommending that the intro course provide similar content for both majors and non-majors.
Another tension I uncovered teaching introductory psychology last year was the fact that the SLOs I have for my intro class might be wildly different from the SLOs for other intro psychology classes with different instructors. Because intro psych is part of the core curriculum here at my institution, like I mentioned earlier, there has been a push to standardize all SLOs for this class. But as Pfund et al. (2018) point out, the APA has a set of Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major 2.0 to help with this standardization. Pfund et al. (2018) conclude their piece by stressing the implementation of uniform SLOs for all sections of intro, and using empirically validated assessment tools and rubrics (see the Association of American Colleges and Universities Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education rubrics and APA’s learning outcomes).
Lastly, and not surprisingly, the USP revealed that the most popular assessments for intro psychology were written assessment and professor-developed quizzes and exams (shocker – these are the exact assessments I use). Upon reading this, what stood out to me is that the Association of American Colleges and Universities Valid Assessment of Learning in Undergraduate Education identifies 12 categories of assessment. Some of these categories are portfolio assignments, oral presentations, and department-developed exams. I think it would be outstanding to have standardized department SLOs and standardized department-developed exams. This is something I plan to discuss with my chair in the near future. I also believe asking students to prepare oral presentations is a valid form of assessment, because at least here at my institution most upper-level courses use this as an assessment tool. So, if my intro psych class is supposed to help prepare psychology majors for the rest of their undergraduate career here I should include this form of assessment.
Upon conclusion of the article, the thought I was left pondering centered around the statistic the authors began their article with – that approximately 1.5 million students take intro psych each year – and I was left wondering who teaches these classes? Are the majority of intro instructors adjunct faculty, graduate students, early tenure-track faculty members? I would have loved to see some data on this question. Overall, I enjoyed this concise article that neatly relayed the major findings from the USP.
Pfund, R. A., Norcross, J. C., Hailstorks, R., Stamm, K. E., & Christidis, P. (2018). Introduction to Psychology: Course Purposes, Learning Outcomes, and Assessment Practices. Teaching of Psychology, 45(3), 213-219.
written by Brian Day