College Success Skills

27 04 2008

My former colleague wrote this little piece elucidating some skills every college student should have for sloth-based success in college.

Saucy Pedantic Wretch: April 2008:

Every semester, most of us see a few students commit certain basic mistakes, heartbreaking errors that bespeak a sad lack of preparation for higher education. And preparation, as we all know, is one of the keys, perhaps the key, to success in college. Even if we covered the information outlined below in a college-skills course (and as far as I know, no school does), not all students take such a course in time to avert a disastrous first semester. So I propose that we add the following item to all syllabi so that all first-semester students have some essential college skills.

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Don’t use red in those exam questions!

12 11 2007

It is always surprising when what might seem to be the most innocuous things have an effect on performance…

Cognitive Daily: Does the color red really impair performance on tests?:

In these carefully controlled experiments, the researchers have demonstrated that even brief exposure to the color red does appear to impair performance in a variety of different types of tests!

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Evaluating the credibility of science information in secondary sources

13 10 2007

ScienceWoman had an interesting post on the issue of college students assessing credibility of the information they read in secondary sources. In my Intro to Psychology classes, we are covering this using the James Bell workbook, Evaluating Psychological Information. Nevertheless, it is an interesting read on the process of establishing the credibility of information in the media.

On being a scientist and a woman : What does it mean to assess the credibility of science reporting? (And can we expect students to do so?):

this post is intended to be a guide for my current and future students. I would greatly appreciate any feedback my readers have for me.

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Back at it!

18 09 2007

I am returning (slowly) from my summer break.

I didn’t realize just how burned-out I had become until a few weeks into the summer break my fiancée commented on just how relaxed I looked, and how she hadn’t seen me like that since the school year started. I still feel relaxed, but as usual, I am feeling the anxiety of the impending class schedule.

I am trying a couple of new things this term — In my Intro Psych class, I’ll be doing more with psychophysiology, because of a NSF-sponsored workshop I attended over the summer. I’ll be creating “Laboratory” sessions in my class, to measure the physiological (body) response to psychological stimuli (mind). It’s also a laboratory in doing science — the experimental method, and how it works. It should be very valuable (and fun) for my students, and it is also serving as a test for a research project being run by the people who ran the workshop.

In Abnormal Psych, I will be implementing a service-learning component, so my students will be conducting a mood disorders screening event. It’s part of the National Depression Screening Day program, and I have run it at another school, but never at this one. It’ll be a little scary, a little risky, a lot of work, and a lot of fun. My job is to help them pul together the resources they need to create a great event educating about and screening for mood disorders.

Classes start in a week, so I’ll be posting more on here this week, and getting content ready for the new school year!

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Petra Boynton on Sex Research

10 05 2007

The excellent psychology blog, Mind Hacks, has a very interesting interview with a psychologist and sex researcher, Petra Boynton. I link frequently to her blog. Here, she talks about one thing I always try to emphasize in my teaching — behavior in a historical-cultural context.

Knowing your history. You can’t study anything in social science without understanding historical and cultural issues. This is particularly the case in the study of sex where there’s a trend towards reductionism – just studying hormones, the brain or behaviour. To really understand sex you need to understand history, culture, global differences and sex as an holistic issue rather than just one issue. Otherwise it just doesn’t make sense.

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Vocal technique in lecturing

3 05 2007

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article on the use of voice in lecture.

As much as we might want to resist the notion of teaching as a performance — thinking that our focus should be on student learning — it can’t be denied that our voices, gestures, and movement in the classroom can help or harm student attentiveness.

Reading textbooks in introductory courses

23 03 2007

As a community college instructor, I teach exclusively introductory survey courses: Introduction to Psychology; Abnormal Psychology; Human Sexuality; Organizational Psychology. I can occasionally assign a technical reading, or a primary source, but for the most part, my students will be reading textbooks.

I was recently reading a post about college reading over on the Uncertain Principles blog. It concerns mostly technical reading, of primary science sources. But it got me thinking about reading textbooks and what makes it different from, say, pleasure reading or technical article reading.

Textbooks in psychology are generally arranged in such a way as to lay out the development of thinking around a particular topic. They will expound upon the major theorists in a particular area, and go on to talk about the experimental evidence supporting the theoretical position. These books often will point to both historical research as well as contemporary findings, and explore how the various perspectives in the field (e.g. biological, social, evolutionary, cultural, psychodynamic, behavioral) approach studying the topic.

It would be difficult to skim textbooks in the way one skims technical reading or journal articles or even literature. You really need to read every sentence to get the full usefulness. And it certainly is not pleasure reading. You cannot take the time to leisurely read as you would a summer novel on the beach. You will have to read efficiently.

So, how do I read textbook material to get the most out of it? Well, I’ll tell ya…

First, put the hi-liter away! Hi-liting texts is the quickest way to read without the slightest comprehension. It will give you the illusion of having read (and by extension, comprehended) the textbook material, but after you’re done, you’ll wind up with little comprehension.

Second, take out a pad of paper. In order to really comprehend textbook material, you’ll need to take notes on what you’re reading. You want to turn it into your own knowledge, not the textbook author’s knowledge. That means taking what’s in the book and writing down what’s important in your own words. How do you do that? Read on, oh intrepid reader.

Second, do NOT read the chapter starting with the first page! You need some context within which to “hang” the details in the textbook material. Virtually all textbooks include an outline at the beginning of the chapter. Read that first. Write it down on your pad of paper. This will form the beginning of the framework in your mind (schemas, in the parlance of cognitive psychology) which will hold the details of the chapter. If a text does not have a chapter outline, use the topic headings within the chapter to write your own.

Third, read (and take notes on) the chapter summary. Virtually all textbooks include a summary of the key points at the end of each chapter. This will begin to flesh out the framework you started with the chapter outline.

Fourth, paraphrase in your own words. When you read the chapter summary, stop yourself after reading a paragraph (or two) and ask yourself, “what did that just say?” then write down on your pad of paper, in your own words, a paraphrase of the paragraph(s). If you can’t, or get stuck, reread the paragraph(s), and continue on. Keep at this until the end of the chapter summary. Now, do the same for the whole chapter, beginning from the first page. When you’re done, you’ll have the chapter in your own words, a much more valuable way to understand the chapter’s contents.

Fifth, and last, check yourself. Use the review questions in the textbook (or textbook’s study guide) to see if you can recount what you learned in the chapter. If not, go over your paraphrased notes, and see what is missing, or what you forgot. Modify your paraphrasing technique to help you understand in the context of the review questions.

One more point about textbooks: keep them! It is tempting to take ten or twenty bucks from a used book buyer and go get yourself a double-skinny-half-caf-no-foam-caramel-whipped-cream monstrosity from Charbuck$, but resist the temptation. In a subsequent semester or year, when you want to later review what you learned, it will be easier if you do so using the materials you originally used in learning. You never know when you might want that information later. Keep your original paraphrased notes with your textbook or in a file.

Do you have any other handy tips for reading textbooks? Add them in the comments.

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Podcasting in Teaching Presentation

2 03 2007

I presented at the 19th Southeastern Conference for the Teaching of Psychology on my use of podcasts as a pedagogical tool. Here is a description:

“Web 2.0” “Wiki” “Blog” “Podcast” — Words that are often unfamiliar to faculty, yet hugely meaningful to students. This session will introduce not only these concepts, but also show their use as part of the pedagogical toolbox. Podcasts can bring our thinking (and our lectures) to students on their terms, deepening meaningful dialogs inside and outside of class. Dana Leighton will explain how podcasting works, explore why it’s useful in pedagogy, and also present data on student use of podcast lectures.

You can play it in the player below, or you can download it using the following link:

If you download it, unzip the file (usually happens automatically), and be sure you have iTunes to play it, and to open the iTunes Artwork Viewer (instructions here) so you can see the presentation sildes. It will load as an audiobook.

Presentation at SETOP

Stanley Fish on academic freedom and lecturing

23 07 2006

The NY Times has an Op-Ed piece by Stanley Fish on academic freedom and lecturing.

Any idea can be brought into the classroom if the point is to inquire into its structure, history, influence and so forth. But no idea belongs in the classroom if the point of introducing it is to recruit your students for the political agenda it may be thought to imply.

There is a world of difference, for example, between surveying the pro and con arguments about the Iraq war, a perfectly appropriate academic assignment, and pressing students to come down on your side. Of course the instructor who presides over such a survey is likely to be a partisan of one position or the other — after all, who doesn’t have an opinion on the Iraq war? — but it is part of a teacher’s job to set personal conviction aside for the hour or two when a class is in session and allow the techniques and protocols of academic research full sway.

I do become somewhat political in my lectures, but I try to present reasoned debate, rather than position statements. The main reason I do is to bring the subject of psychology into our real everyday lives. I am always careful to present it as the topic of academic inquiry and to demonstrate critical thinking.

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General Psychology Lectures podcast episode 5

30 05 2006

Episode 5 of the General Psychology lecture series is available for download. It covers sensation – particularly vision & hearing.

Download the podcast using this link to subscribe (if you have iTunes).

If not, subscribe to the following feed:

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