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Psychology Education Research

The past few decades the field of psychology has expanded and the teaching community must respond by addressing the various perspectives, aims, and recommendations this has engendered. These pages are designed to assist faculty and teaching associates who may be interested in applying psychology education research to the teaching of their undergraduate courses. The following material has been organized around many of the larger themes. Some of the major concerns in the psychological education community are: addressing the increasingly large classroom sizes, the pseudoscience that plagues the field of psychology, and effective recruitment & maintenance of diverse students into the field.


Students' Attitudes, Background & Expectations:

The field of psychology: students' attitudes, background & expectations.

The field of psychology is a uniquely broad discipline because it is conceptualized as both a biological and social science [1]. In addition to the field of study being diverse, there is limited preparation for psychology in secondary school [2]. In light of these two issues, it is not surprising that students enter the classroom with varied academic backgrounds and preparation.

Research into factors contributing to success in general psychology courses has shown that student performance is correlated to prior knowledge [3,4] and more specifically to math skills which is associated with increased success in the area of discipline related statistics [5]. In addition academic aptitude [3] and positive expectations at course onset [5, 6] are associated with positive course performance. There does not seem to be a specific course or background which best prepares students for the study of psychology.

Student come to classroom from various backgrounds and not all will be equally prepared for study. Indeed, these challenges are compounded in many first year students by poor study skills [7].

Students’ day to day experiences may impact their learning processes. In increasingly diverse academic environments, being aware of students’ current needs and histories may aid in student performance. Several articles for responding to diverse educational needs, such as English as a second language students, disabled students, low income students, are available [7, 8, 9].

References on Students' Attitudes, Background & Expectations:

  1. Blackman D. E. (1991). B. F. Skinner and G. H. Mead: on biological science and social science. Journal of the Experimental Analysis of Behavior 55, 251-265. Available here.
  2. Griggs, R. A., Jackson, S. L. & Meyer, M. E. (1989). College Psychology: Two Different Worlds. Teaching of Psychology, 16, 118-120. Available here.
  3. Thompson, R. A. & Zamboanga, B. L. (2004). Academic Aptitude and Prior Knowledge as Predictor of Student Achievement in Introductory Psychology. Journal of Educational Psychology, 96(4), 778-784. Available here.
  4. Halpern, D. F. & Hakel, M. D. (2003). Applying the science of learning to the university and beyond: Teaching for long-term retention and transfer. Change, 35(4), 36-41. Available here.
  5. Harlow, L. L., Burkholder, G. J. & Morrow, J. A. (2002). Evaluating Attitudes, skills, and performance in a learning enhanced quantitative methods course: A structural modeling approach. Structural Equation Modeling, 9(3), 413-430. Available here.
  6. Svanum, S. & Bigiatti, S. (2006). Grade expectations: informed or uninformed optimism or both? Teaching of Psychology, 33(1), 14-18. Available here.
  7. Walqui, A. (2000, September). Contextual Factors in Second Language Acquisition. Center for Applied linguistics: online digests, EDO-FL-00-05. Available here.
  8. Hill-Briggs, F., Evans, J. D. & Norman, M. A. (2004). Racial and Ethnic diversity among trainees and professionals in psychology and neuropsychology: Needs, trends and challenges. In R. J. Echemendia, Ed. Applied Neuropsychology Vol. 11. (1st ed. pp. 13-22). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Available here.
  9. Littleford, L. N. (2005). Understanding and expanding multicultural competence in teaching: a faculty guide. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology. Available here.

Course Content and Problem-Solving

What are the typical issues or topics with which students have difficulty?

Of the many teaching difficulties mentioned in the literature, three stand out: the false preconceptions students enter the classroom with, the challenges of teaching large classes, and how to assist students with poor study skills.

Many undergraduate psychology students enter the classroom with false preconceptions, commonly due to material that is popularized from various media outlets and self-help books [10, 11, 12]. These misconceptions affect student’s abilities to learn. Some of the more common misconceptions within the field of psychology are: “we use only 10% of our brain”, or opposites attract romantically, and schizophrenics have multiple personalities [11]. Students’ performance in their current classes is based on prior knowledge, so many researchers advocate actively addressing and discrediting common myths during coursework. This can also assist students in developing their ability to critically consider the source of information and to learn how to discern real science from pseudoscience [10, 11, 12].

The challenges of large classroom sizes are frequently mentioned in the literature [14, 15] and some teaching techniques that can be used to address them can be found in the following section, instructional strategies[add link].

Some students are ill equipped academically or lack the necessary study skills for undergraduate study. One way to address this is to refer students to academic assistance, another is to briefly review study skills in the classroom at the start of class (which is a good idea for first year courses), or finally, students can be directed to online resources for improving study skills. that review how to learn new material. A decent to students is A link to the Academic Advancement Center at Ohio University, which has a good website that provides study skills recommendations, is provided in the additional resources section.

References on Course Content and Problem Solving:

  1. Lilienfeld, S. O. (2005). The 10 commandments of helping students to distinguish science from pseudoscience in psychology. Observer, 18(9). Available here.
  2. Chemistry lessons for universities?: a review of constructivist ideas, Keith S. Taber, U. Chem. Ed. 4 (2), 2000. Available here.
  3. Lilienfeld, S. O. (June 2004). Teaching Psychology Students to Distinguish Science from Pseudoscience: Pitfalls and Rewards. Essays in E-xcellence in Teaching, (4). Available here.
  4. Murray, B. Helping students decern science from snake oil. APA Monitor Online, 30(8). Available here.
  5. Sleigh, M. J. & Ritzer, D. R. (2001) Encouraging Student Attendance. APS Observer 14 (9) Available here.
  6. Byrant, B. K. (2005). Electronic discussion sections: A useful tool in teaching large university classes. Teaching of Psychology, 32(4), 14-18. Available here.
  7. Meyers, S.A. (1997) Increasing student participation and productivity in small group activities for psychology classes. Teaching of psychology, 24 (2), 105-115.

Instructional Strategies:

What sorts of techniques are effective for delivery of the class? What is the impact of demonstrations?

Research into instructional strategies within the field of psychology has shown that strictly teaching via lectures is not as effective as alternative modes of instruction [16, 17, 18]. Classrooms that get students actively involved, such as reinforcing ice breakers [19], small-group collaborative learning [18], game quizzes [19], extra credit [20, 21], and electronic discussion sections [22], tend to improve learning outcomes.

References on Instructional Strategies:

  1. Henderson, B.B. (1995) Critical-thinking exercises for the history of psychology course. Teaching of Psychology, 22(1), 60-63
  2. Giordano, P.J. & Hammer, E.Y. (1999). In-class collaborative learning : Practical suggestions from the teaching trenches. Teaching of Psychology, 26 (1) 42-44. Available here.
  3. Eggleston, T. & Smith, G. (2002). Community in the classroom through ice-breakers and parting ways. Office of Teaching Resources in Psychology. Available here.
  4. Norcross, J.C., Dooley, H.S., & Stevenson, J.C.(1993). Faculty use and justification of extra credit :No middle ground. Teaching of Psychology, 20 (4) 240-242. Available here.
  5. Padilla-Walker, L. M. (2006). The impact of extra credit quizzes on exam performance. Teaching of Psychology, 33(4), 236-239. Available here.
  6. Byrant, B. K. (2005). Electronic discussion sections: A useful tool in teaching large university classes. Teaching of Psychology, 32(4), 14-18. Available here.

Assessment and Feedback:

What sorts of procedures exist for feedback and assessment? How can assessment be used most effectively?

Many students take introductory psychology courses merely to satisfy a requirement for their degree, getting a good grade may be a student's only motivation for studying the material. Instructors can therefore encourage students constructive assessment strategies.

The American Psychological Association (APA) has several recommendations for how to approach feedback within psychology; faculty should identify clear, measurable learning tasks, faculty and teaching assistants should provide assistance to students working to achieve these tasks, faculty should provide continual and predictable feedback and finally, faculty should evaluate assessments regularly to ensure their appropriate use [23, 24]. Employing multiple types of assessment, such as exams, oral presentations, group work and experiential work, is considered a best practice [26] as it allows individuals to better retain learned material and apply concepts in multiple domains. This also increase opportunities for diverse learners [24] and contributes to the goal of the APA to increase diversity within the field of psychology.

Feedback & assessment procedures should be clearly outlined in the course syllabus[25], which is also a good place to articulate your expectations for student achievement. Altman & Cashin offer some practical assistance for faculty designing a course syllabus[25].

References on Assessment and Feedback:

  1. American Psychological Association. (n.d.) a. Designing viable assessment plans. Available here.
  2. American Psychological Association. (n.d.) b. Understanding Assessment. Available here.
  3. Altman, H. B. & Cashin, W. E. (September 1992). Writing a syllabus. Idea Paper, (27), 1-6. Available here.
  4. Hill-Briggs, F., Evans, J. D. & Norman, M. A. (2004). Racial and Ethnic diversity amoung trainees and professionals in psychology and neuropsychology: Needs, trends and challenges. In R. J. Echemendia, Ed. Applied Neuropsychology Vol. 11. (1st ed. pp. 13-22). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc. Available here.
  5. Forrest, K. D. (2003). Overcoming unintentional barriers with intentional strategies:Educating faculty about students disabilities. Teaching of Psychology, 30(3), 270-276. Available here.

Additional online teaching resources in psychology