After leaving most academic conferences, I board my flight home exhausted both mentally and physically. In the past, my days at most conferences are dedicated to session after session where I learn about new research in my field, which generates a mountain of research ideas that I have little time to organize. However, leaving NITOP, instead of feeling mentally drained from information overload, I feel invigorated with new ideas for the spring semester. My motivation to attend NITOP is similar to many. The conference helps me learn new ways to improve my teaching, and connects me to a community of like-minded academics within the psychology community. After another great conference, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite sessions and experiences from the conference.
Participant Idea Exchange
The PIE’s at NITOP may be one of my favorite parts of the conference. At these exchanges, small round-table discussions allow individuals to discuss special topics with colleagues. This year, Jennifer and I hosted our first ever PIE focused on how to address some of the challenges educators face at open admission institutions. I am grateful to all the people who shared their experiences, and offered up their recommendations for how to better support students at open admission universities and colleges. Jennifer and I will be writing a post in a few weeks reviewing our talk in detail. If you are interested in some of the ideas we discussed, you can find a summary of them here. On that list, we include ideas for improving office hour attendance, how to better help students within the classroom, and other tips to improve learning at open admission institutions. Thank you to all of the people who stopped by our table to chat with us!
Incorporating stories into lectures:
As a new instructor, I am still figuring out how I want to structure my classes. This year at NITOP, there was one idea that kept coming up in various presentations. It was the idea of using story telling in the classroom to increase student engagement and interest (I know Ciara mentioned me talking about backwards design, which is an idea that I love and really want to talk about, but I got carried away with this post so I decided to stick to one topic). This has been an idea discussed by many before, and if memory serves, it was a topic presented on at NITOP 2017 as well. Story telling can be used in a couple different ways to help liven up lectures.
By using a brief, relevant personal story, students can connect the topics they are learning to their day-to-day lives. At a talk by Jeff Nevid this year, he gave an example of how telling stories about his kids aided in teaching his students about different stages of child development. Using stories like this give the students tangible examples that they can apply to their own lives. Not only will this make class more engaging, but I think it will also give them information that they can relate back to well after the course is finished.
Wind Goodfriend also discussed the idea of using story telling in the classroom, but emphasized that the stories we tell may have a lasting impact on our students. There are some examples in psychology, such as the Genovese case or the famous Milgram experiment, that send a strong but dark message to our students. These examples create great opportunities for an instructor to turn their lecture into a story, using emotionally charged examples to engage the class. However, when including these topics in lectures, we need to consider how their message is being perceived. If discussing seminal examples, consider the take-home message. Goodfriend demonstrated this with Milgram’s shock studies: it is easy to tell you students that the two thirds of them would easily be coerced into harming another person if the circumstances were correct. Goodfriend recommended that rather than focusing on the 2/3rds that administered the deadly shock, try emphasizing the 1/3rd that resisted. She told the story of a conversation between Milgram and one of the non-obedient participants. Milgram asked why the participant refused to continue administering the shocks. The participant answered that in the wake of WWII, maybe the world had seen enough violence; maybe it was time to rise above the violence rather than obey it. Wouldn’t this be a strong message to end a lecture on? I would much rather teach my students that they can rise above the external pressure and do what is right, instead of teaching them that most of us are doomed to obey deadly orders.
How have you used story telling in the classroom? Are there any stories that you use to connect to students or make lectures more engaging? When teaching statistics, I have used a form of “story telling” of sorts, by talking about previous success stories in my classes. One of my favorite stories is about a student that met with me at least once a week, and routinely questioned why she even needed to know statistics. I gave her the usual “statistics are everywhere” pep talks, but as she wasn’t a psychology major, she never really bought in to that idea. Despite her doubts, she worked incredibly hard to pass the class (that’s right, not get an A, but pass the class). The following semester, she sent me the kindest email, explaining how she is able to use everything she learned in her statistics class. She is now able to explain public health research studies, and understand basic research methodology, all because of her Intro Stats course. Telling stories about former students has helped my current students realize that they aren’t alone in their struggle with statistics. It teaches the “why-do-I-need-to-know-this students” that there may be purpose to this after all. Even if you can’t tell engaging stories about seminal studies, telling students about previous successes (or even personal failures!) can help them relate more with you and your class.
May we all have a story-filled Spring semester ahead of us!
Written by Karly Schleicher
P.S. Here are some obligatory beach pictures from NITOP 2018.
We braved the frigid temperatures to take a windy beach shot.
(Left to right: Jen, Karly, and Karly's sister)
Don't feed the birds... :) (but really, don't feed them.)
Have a wonderful weekend, and may next week be filled with endless productivity.