My approach to teaching has very much grown from my own experience as an undergraduate student studying philosophy and psychology. In any given philosophy course, my fundamental beliefs about the world were regularly questioned or challenged. This quickly helped me develop an appreciation for the value of new perspectives as I worked to critically evaluate and integrate information from multiple sources to make informed judgments. These experiences were invaluable as I continued to study psychology and conduct research, and have shaped my approach to teaching, as summarized by three interconnected goals:
- To create an environment in which students are actively engaged and invested in the course
- To promote an integrative understanding of course content and the field of psychology
- To develop critical thinking and effective communication skills
Promoting Student Engagement and Investment
I believe that a crucial part of effective teaching is ensuring that students are actively engaged with and invested in the course content. My teaching style suits this goal, as I express my own interest in the material by presenting it with excitement, enthusiasm, and humor. I work to establish an environment in which students feel comfortable asking questions and participating in discussion. On the first day of any class, I devote time to having everyone introduce themselves and share why they are interested in the course. I also encourage students to optionally share more about themselves, such as what their plans are for the future or their preferred gender pronouns. This activity helps students begin developing a rapport with one another and me, and promotes an understanding that our classroom will be a safe place to engage in a productive dialogue.
I incorporate a wide range of active learning activities to promote student engagement and investment in the course content. One of the most effective and versatile tools I have used is engaging students in thoughtful and critical discussion of course topics and related issues. In my seminar courses, class meetings are largely devoted to a collaborative examination of that week’s material guided by student-submitted discussion questions that present critical perspectives or relate the material to the broader themes of the course. I have found that establishing a collaborative environment helps students develop a sense of accountability toward one another that motivates them to come to class prepared for discussion and to build upon one another’s ideas.
Making course content personally relevant to students has also been extremely effective in fostering interest and engagement. For example, I use a short autobiography assignment in all of my courses to help me get to know the students and what they hope to get out of the course so I can tailor my teaching and course content to better fit their needs and interests. I also solicit student feedback midway through the semester to provide me with insight into the effectiveness of my teaching, and to remind students that their feedback is valued. In many of my courses, students are directly involved in selecting and designing the course content. For example, I dedicate lecture days to cover special topics chosen by the students.
Promoting Integrative Understanding
I believe that there is considerable value in presenting psychology as an integrated whole rather than a collection of nebulously related research areas. To accomplish this goal, I often establish one or more guiding questions at the beginning of the course that provide context and a foundation for our discussion of particular topics throughout the semester. For example, discussions in my positive psychology course regularly come back to the questions of “What is well-being?” and “How can we effectively measure subjective psychological states?” that were introduced in the very first class meeting. This approach allows me to facilitate an ongoing dialogue about a course’s fundamental questions while integrating the new information introduced each week.
Active learning activities also play a large role in helping students develop an understanding of course content that is informed by multiple perspectives and integrated within a broader context. Each week, students in my positive psychology seminar complete an activity directly relevant to our topic of discussion, write a reflection paper, and discuss their experience in class. For example, they complete a questionnaire with common self-report measures when we cover issues associated with assessing well-being. This firsthand experience provides insight into measurement issues that is difficult for students to acquire by simply reading textbook descriptions. Students subsequently put this knowledge into practice as they develop a research proposal over the course of the semester.
I find that by grounding abstract psychological concepts using examples from the real world, students more easily attain a deeper understanding and recognize the relevance of psychology to their own experiences. In addition to using diverse examples when presenting new material, I incorporate this technique in my assignments. When learning about intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, students complete a reflection paper applying these concepts to their own academic motivation. I also regularly have students consider the experiences and perspectives of others. For example, when covering abnormal psychology, I have asked students to read an autobiographical novel or listen to a podcast in which a person discusses their lived experience with a particular psychological disorder. Students then write an integrative review that contextualizes the person’s lived experience within the course content. In a general sense, I encourage students to consider psychology as a means to better understand ourselves, other people, and the world around us.
Critical Thinking and Effective Communication Skills
I firmly believe that psychology has much to offer students by developing their skills in critical thinking and communication as part of a comprehensive liberal arts education. Many of the techniques that I use to pursue my first two teaching goals also provide valuable opportunities for students to constructively engage in critical thinking and communication. One general approach that I use to promote critical thinking is intentionally introducing alternative perspectives for students to critically analyze. I have asked students to consider arguments that may challenge their preexisting beliefs, debate seemingly true myths about psychology, apply psychological constructs to understand and potentially address social issues, and even consider critiques that could undermine whole fields of psychology.
I also value opportunities for students to practice and develop communication skills in different domains and in different mediums. Through class discussion, students practice effectively communicating complex ideas and engaging in constructive dialogue with one another. When presenting empirical articles to the class, students must determine what information is most important and effectively communicate it through public speaking and visual aids. I also have students complete a wide range of written work, from reflection papers to comprehensive research proposals. For larger assignments, I provide constructive feedback focusing on how the student could more effectively make their argument, but more importantly why those changes are important. By emphasizing principles of effective communication before minutiae such as the quirks of APA formatting, the learning experience is more readily translated into broadly applicable communication skills, while at the same time establishing a strong foundation upon which more specialized skills can be developed.
The enthusiasm I demonstrate inside the classroom also extends to my mentoring and advising. I have mentored many talented undergraduates conducting independent research or completing Honors Theses, and I fully intend to continue engaging students in all phases of the research process. I am committed to excellence in my teaching and advising and strive to continuously improve in this regard. To that end, I regularly participate in teaching and advising workshops offered by respected instructors within psychology and from other fields in order to learn new pedagogical approaches. My teaching goals have guided the development and instruction of all of my courses, including positive psychology, introduction to psychology, personality psychology, abnormal psychology, and labs in research methods and social/personality psychology. My teaching interests are broad and I would be interested in offering a variety of courses in addition to those I have already taught, including but not limited to courses in social psychology, research methods, self and identity, social cognition, and statistics. I am passionate about teaching, mentoring, and guiding students as they grow intellectually, and I have every intention to continue to grow and improve as a teacher with them.