Teaching Psychology

Dr. Charles has a long-standing interest in finding more effective ways of teaching psychology. He also has an unfourtunate, burning desire to write an Ecological Psychology textbook, and eventually an Introductory Psychology textbook. He will happily talk to you for hours about what is wrong with current books, the standard methods of teaching current classes, etc. You will also find him highly opinioated about other aspects of the curriculum.

Introductory Psychology
English 202A Project
Ecological Psychology
General Program Assessment


Introductory Psychology

Introductory psychology is, on average, horribly conceived. The textbooks, the content, and the class style seem as if they were designed to convince students that psychology was not a science - and the attempts at a more "scientific" textbook are little improvement. We just don't teach psychology as the sciences are taught - intro psych could expose students to 150 years worth of things psychologists know, integrated into a coherent story, but it does not. If you want to know more about what I think is wrong with Intro Psych, and what a better version might look like, see more here:

Charles, E. P. (2008). Eight things wrong with introductory psychology courses in America: A warning to my European colleagues. Journal fur Psychologie, 2.

Note that I actually think there are two coherent ways to teach intro psych: 1) You teach it like a science class (see above article), 2) You teach it like a humanities class. If you go the latter route, then Introduction to Psychology becomes a History of Psychology class. The problem with the current system is that it does not do either of those options well. It is, typically, a hodgepodge of disconnected facts and ideas that inevitably does not serve our students or our field very well. 


English 202A Project

At Penn State Altoona, English 202A is Writing for the Social Sciences, and is required for all psychology majors (and many others). In the research lab, we have spent the last 2 years assessing the course to determine how it serves our majors. This includes gathering survey data from students in the class, and doing interviews and document assessments with the 202A faculty and the social science faculty. This has resulted in several presentations (including the first student presentation every given at the campus Teaching and Learning Consortium) and a senior thesis for Steven McFall (now in grad school at Indiana University of PA). We are in the process of producing a report for publication and an internal document that provides recommendations to future 202A instructors.

I am a big fan of academic freedom, so we are not trying to tell anyone what to do in their classes. Our goal is to better explain how this course fits into the sequence of social science classes, so that the faculyt can make informed decisions about how to best help their students.  The Engish Department faculty have been very receptive to this approach, and I will post the final documents when we produce them.



Ecological Psychology

The field of Ecological Psychology has not had a new "text" in several decades. The last books that could count were Gibson's last book, from 1979, and Michaels and Carello's Direct Perception, from 1981. The field has changed much in the intervening years. In particular, we now have a discipline's worth of empirical success stories that can be told, where as in much had to be kept speculative while the field was still emerging.

At the International society for Ecological Psychology meeting in Indiana, Bill Mace gave at talk where he speculated as to what would be included in an Annual Review article about the state of the field. He also speculated that it would be very difficult for any individual member of the field to write such a book. This led me to the conclusion that we needed a new textbook, and that we needed to write it as a group. I have been working slowly, since that time, to wrangle a large group of Ecological Psychologists into writing a textbook. Several chapters are underway now. Anyone interested in helping out should contact me. The plan is to have large blocks finished by 2013, a solid draft with all the holes filled in by 2014, and a finished draft by 2015. The goal is to create an undergraduate textbook that can be used for any class on 'Perception' or 'Perception and Action', as well as specialized courses on the Ecological Approach. Psychology Press has expressed considerable interest. Because of the massively-multicolored nature of this book, all proceeds will go to ISEP. 

Email me if you are interested in helping out! 

General Program Assessment

Altoona's psychology program shot to the forefront of assessment efforts on campus a few years before I arrived. Despite my skepticism, there was even some evidence accumulating that the time and effort spent thereon was useful. I have been involved in these efforts since arrival, including helping to design some control conditions that allowed us to better monitor changes in knowledge from freshman to senior year (as opposed to simply assessing seniors). This research is being written up, and will be submitted in late Fall 2012 to Teaching Psychology. 

I have already used some of the findings to create supplements for my Intro class. We will see if it helps scores.


 

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