PSYC 2023: Introduction to Research Methods
PSYC 2413: Social Psychology
PSYC 3413: Advanced Social Psychology
PSYC 4423: Seminar in Social Psychology
The Diversity of Learning. My graduate training as a teaching assistant (GTA) and early faculty teaching was at comprehensive universities in British Columbia and, since 1999, has been in the liberal arts undergraduate curriculum at STU. Both as a GTA and as a faculty member, my many experiences with students have taught me the importance of having clear expectations, communicating those expectations, and creating an environment for learning in which students with many different levels of capability and expertise come together to explore knowledge. People have different strengths and interests, and finding ways to engage the diversity of learners is one of most challenging features of life as a teacher. Among the many rewards of university teaching and learning are the opportunities to develop and to explore the world of ideas, research, theory, issues, and one’s own possibilities.
Critical Thinking. At the forefront of my teaching is a focus on ways to help students develop the critical thinking skills they will need and will carry with them into the future. By choosing psychology courses, students have chosen a path in life that often leads them into a health and/or human services domain for their careers/employment. Since we are barraged daily with complex information, there is a great demand for people with good critical thinking skills, and the lack of those skills makes people vulnerable to mistaken beliefs about human behaviour, the nature of consciousness, health risks, and so on.
Science Literacy and Numeracy. The study of scientific psychology requires a high level of statistics knowledge and practice, and a solid understanding of research methods. Thus, another focus of my teaching is to emphasize a good working knowledge of research design and statistics for the level of training. In my methods courses, upper division courses, and thesis sessions, I work to ensure that students are well-versed in statistics and research design. These skills are essential, as scientific psychology strives to examine and verify claims about human behaviour. In psychological sciences, like other science fields, knowledge is evidence based. A key to science literacy is understanding that subjective beliefs and opinions are not the same as evidence-based knowledge. People construct beliefs all the time, and sometimes fool themselves into believing anything. But evidence-based discoveries aren’t mere beliefs—those discoveries tell us about what’s objectively real, not what’s just our wishful thinking or opinion. Objective reality isn’t a matter of perspective.
Understanding Fundamentals. My teaching emphasizes fundamental assumptions and knowledge in the discipline or area, to help students become aware of the “bedrock” knowledge about a particular area of study that will enable their further understanding. In teaching fourth year courses and honours students, drawing on basic research findings and theory, I focus on helping students to understand (i) how evidence and theory are integrated to explain psychological phenomena in a field of study, (ii) the key areas where we have knowledge, and (iii) areas/questions that have yet to be explored. Along the way, through the stories I tell them about research, about pitfalls we know about, about research issues, controversies, and emerging developments, students come to gain an appreciation for where we are now, and what went before—i.e., that knowledge is gained through (often) painstaking attention to the details, and that knowing what has already been learned is essential before moving on to building new knowledge.
Learning by Doing. I regularly teach research methods, and supervise theses (honours, and graduate), so I typically spend many hours with students helping with the planning of studies, with careful examination and interpretation of the data. I regularly receive requests for supervision of research projects and theses (more than I can accommodate) from potential Ph.D., Master’s, and Honour’s students. In their research with me, students are involved in all aspects of the data analyses and interpretation, in ways that they are able to improve their understanding and their skills. Because many aspects of data analysis involve judgement, students have the opportunity learn through discussions with me (and other experts on the research team) how best to clarify and communicate important findings. When I supervise theses, students typically are involved in all phases of the research, from planning through to the simpler tasks of preparing stimulus materials, questionnaires, and finding participants for studies, as well as to the more complex tasks of testing, running individual experimental sessions, analyzing/interpreting findings, and preparing reports for submission to scholarly journals and meetings. In order to facilitate their development into independent learners, students are encouraged to think through research projects in stages, design new studies (thinking also of ways they won’t work), and develop methods based on their own ideas to test research hypotheses. In later stages of the research, students learn how to manage and maintain the data from the studies (e.g., how to work with data files, how to check for errors, how to deal with missing data). Of key importance in teaching psychology is helping students gain an understanding and appreciation of research ethics, the ethics evaluation process, informed consent, and debriefing procedures.
Apprenticeship: University Teaching and Research. Being actively involved in my own program of research, I share my experiences, ideas, and findings with students. Often, hearing about and being involved in actual research is an engaging experience that can solidify aspects of Psychology that might otherwise not have as much meaning. Since my research contributes basic and applied research findings to the field of social psychology, and addresses social, health, and achievement issues, an effective teaching approach has been to involve students in ongoing research (e.g., by having an honour’s student come and talk to the class about their thesis research project). Research on social and achievement problems are topics of interest (e.g., how can unhealthy ways of explaining events be changed for the better? how can people change the behaviours that put themselves and others at risk of harm? how can persistence in academic (or sports) tasks be improved by interventions focused on peoples’ explanations of their failures?). Another topic of interest to students in psychology is understanding prejudice and discrimination, so talking about research (including my own) on fundamental processes of self- and person-perception (e.g., the centrality of personality traits in people’s causal thinking; the causal structure of cognitions about self and others; the determinants of causal attributions and spontaneous causal inferences about behavior)—links these processes to social issues in everyday life.